How to Structure a Dissertation: Chapters Explained

Proper formatting and organization of your dissertation are almost as important as finding information and doing the research – if you want your work to succeed, you cannot neglect it. Here you will find a short explanation of what should be present in every segment of your paper.

Title Page

Self-explanatory. Here you place basic information about your work: its title, your name and the name of your supervisor and so on. Simply follow the guidelines of your university and the style guide.

Dedication and Acknowledgements

This page is optional and usually has no restrictions on style and format. Here you acknowledge those who helped and supported you during your graduate studies.


A short (usually no more than a page) summary of your work.

Table of Contents

Self-explanatory. Make sure you follow the style guide.


This is the introductory information about the dissertation and context of your research. Here you formulate the problem, the goal of research and give a short overview of the dissertation’s structure.

Literature Review

Here you give a broader context of existing theory pertinent to the issue in question. State the current state of research on the subject and, in general, establish the starting point of your study. End it with the list of questions you intend to address in your work.


This section explains how the research was done. It should be subdivided into further parts dealing with methods of information gathering and analysis, the general strategy of research, ethical considerations of the subject matter, limitations you had to contend with and so on.


Here you enumerate factual results of your research without getting too deep into your interpretation.


Here you return to where it all started and analyze the results in the context of previous research, draw connections between your work and that of others. Try to answer the question: were you able to find enough evidence in support of your initial hypothesis? Return to the list of questions from the literature review and discuss all of them separately.

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The end result of your entire study. You summarize your work, point out possible flaws in your research and provide recommendations for future researchers in the same field.


Self-explanatory. Simply follow the guidelines of your university and style guide.


Here goes all the information that doesn’t belong in any other part of your dissertation but is important for the overall research. It may be anything: tables, graphs, statistical data, results of polls and questionnaires and so on, depending on the subject matter. Appendices aren’t considered to be a part of the dissertation per se and don’t belong in the total word count, which means that you can dump some data here if you are dangerously close to your limit.

More or less the same rules apply to the secondary studies as well, although you are expected to spare more space and attention to the source acquisition methods and the ways you looked for them. At the same time, the section dedicated to the methods of research proper will probably be shorted and less elaborate.

All in all, you should always follow the guidelines of your college – if they are different from this structure, they should take preference.

Jimmy Kilpatrick, a national recognized professional special education advocate since 1994.

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