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Important elements of a dissertation

A dissertation or thesis is a part of academic writing based on the original research done by a student as a part of his under graduation, graduation, or doctoral degree. It is quite lengthy and often gets too intimidating for the students. They get confused about where to start and what to include or eliminate. The order of the chapters gets so jumbled up that it results in stressful all-nighters. Therefore, it becomes important to have a proper understanding of the components in a dissertation project.

Most dissertations have a similar basic structure and include major parts like

  • Title
  • Acknowledgment
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methodology and Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • References

The details of each part can differ depending upon the topic of the dissertation, degree program, and the institution. Many universities have specific rules related to word length, fonts, sub-parts, and the order of the chapters in a dissertation project. It is important to follow these rules and regulations to produce an impactful dissertation.

Details of the elements

  1. Title of a Dissertation: The first and the foremost component of your dissertation is the title page. It includes the topic of your dissertation, your name, institute's name, degree's name, supervisor's name & department, student roll number, and the university logo.
    Many universities often divide the title page into two parts
  • Half Title Page
  • Title Page

Half-title page is the very first page of your dissertation. It includes just the topic of your dissertation and nothing else. Whereas the title Page includes the topic name, sub-title (if any), institute's logo, degree program, and all the other details.

  1. Table of Contents: Commonly titled as Index or Contents, this part of your dissertation includes the page number of each chapter and subchapter of your dissertation.
  2. Lists: The data of your dissertation becomes easy to understand when presented with the help of tables and illustrations, making them an essential part of your project.
    List of Tables: This page contains the title and page number of all the tables that are a part of your dissertation.
    List of Illustrations: In order to present the data systematically, many maps, charts, and graphs are added in a dissertation. This page includes the page number and title of all the illustrations that can be found in your dissertation.
    List of abbreviations: This list contains all the abbreviations of your dissertation arranged in alphabetical order.
  1. Abstract: An abstract usually appears after the contents page of your dissertation. It includes a brief description of your project- the issue highlighted and also the solution proposed. It represents the first expression of your dissertation and allows the reader to decide whether to spend more time reading your dissertation or not. The word limit of an abstract range between 150-250 and can also be titled as Summary or Executive Summary. An abstract is typically written after the entire dissertation research is completed so that it can provide a complete picture to the potential readers.


  1. Acknowledgments: An acknowledgment is the only part of your dissertation which allows you to present personal information about your life. It is the place where you thank the people who have contributed and supported you throughout your degree program. These people generally include your supervisors, co-supervisors, professors, colleagues, friends, family, etc. The language of your dissertation is quite informal as compared to the other chapters in the dissertation. The sequential order of the acknowledgments page depends upon the structure selected by a particular university or institution.
  2. Introduction: An introduction is the first major chapter of your dissertation. It acts as the basic ground for the explanatory research chapters ahead. The purpose of this chapter is to inspire an interest in your work and explain all about the background of the selected topic and your reasons to choose the same. The length of an introduction varies from 2-3 pages long. Aim of your dissertation, its background, the key area being explored or highlighted, and a brief outline of the structure are the major components of a dissertation introduction.
    It gives a clear idea to the readers about what to expect from the main theme, methodology, and the findings of your dissertation. The introduction is where you try to raise a reader's curiosity about the conclusion of a dissertation. However, you should avoid using too many personal stories in an introduction. The examiner, as well as the reader, will get turned off if you overstate the importance of your work. The ideal way to write an effective introduction is to stick to one point per paragraph. Use subheadings to structure your introduction in a clean and precise manner.
  3. Methodology and Discussion: The introduction and abstract are pretty standard for all the dissertation projects irrespective of your research topic, the level of detail, and the structure of the project. It is the methodology and discussion section that differs sparingly from one project to another.

This chapter contains a brief introduction about the research design, overview of the scholar's approach, techniques, and measurements included in the entire dissertation project. The content of this part depends largely on your choice to take an empirical or non-empirical route for your dissertation. This chapter is developed to provide the relevant answer to the highlighted problem areas or the main research questions of your dissertation. General sections described in this chapter are

  • Means of data collection (both primary & secondary)
  • Study Area
  • Sampling
  • Measurement system
  • Data Analysis
  • Timeline for research
  • Budget for research

The discussion part of this chapter is where you relate the findings with the framework built in the previous sections of the dissertation. If an alternate or unexpected result has ascended, you can offer explanations for the same in this part of the chapter. The limitations of your dissertation research are also included in this chapter only.

  1. Conclusion: Conclusion is an inevitable part of your dissertation project. It might be one of the last chapters in your dissertation but it certainly is the most important one. This chapter summarizes your entire dissertation research process and highlights the discovered solution to the selected problem area or the research question raised at the beginning of the project. The conclusion is relatively shorter in length as compared to the other chapters of your dissertation. It should be written in such a way that it is loud enough to clearly state your findings and can stand alone in the entire dissertation. A conclusion often provides new suggestions for future research as well. The purpose of this chapter should be to provide the reader with a clear understanding of the core argument.
  2. References/Bibliography: Creating an accurate and complete list of references used in your dissertation is a tedious but important task. It is essential to include the details of all the sources you have consulted during the project. The gathering of content for this chapter commences from the day you start your project and continues until the last minute.

The content includes an alphabetical list of the background readings, books, and articles cited in the work. References or bibliography evolves with your dissertation. One should be careful while formatting the references chapter because it usually gets quite fussy. This chapter follows a consistent citation style as per the guidelines of your institute.

  1. Appendix: This part of the dissertation provides additional information to an examiner or reader. It includes supporting documents like survey questionnaires, interview transcripts, etc. Appendices are a part of dissertations that use primary research sources to collect data.

It is essential for you to devote an ample amount of time to planning and structuring your dissertation. Your approach towards the most important assessment of your academic career will determine the quality of your finished project.

All the elements of a dissertation require proper skills, knowledge, profound research, appropriate formatting, and polishing of the text. Once you're done writing different parts of your dissertation, the time is to edit and proofread your final draft. Make sure that you spare enough time for checking your final draft and make the desired changes. Sentence structure, grammatical mistakes, sloppy errors, language mistakes, typos, and other inconsistencies should receive special attention to ensure that your hard work pays off in the right direction. It is crucial to ensure that all the chapters are in the right order and place as per the rules and regulations of your university. Also, it is always beneficial to have a fresh mind to analyze your project before the final submission, thus refer your friends or family for the same.

Writing a dissertation is complex and might need more than 10,000 words to cover your entire concept. Due to the atrociousness of the task, scholars tend to accidentally skip a significant part of the dissertation while writing. The key is to tackle the project stage by stage and you’ll achieve the desired results in no time. It is a guarantee that your dissertation will become one of the greatest achievements of your academic career so, take pleasure in the journey of your accomplishment and you'll definitely look back with pride.

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