A dissertation , a piece of academic writing that is long and based on your original research, is called a thesis . This is typically submitted at the end of a PhD program.

Your dissertation is the most complex piece of writing you have ever written. This requires solid research skills as well as writing and analysis skills. It can be daunting to know where to start.

Most likely, your department has guidelines regarding how to structure your dissertation. If you are unsure, speak with your supervisor.

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Below you can download the complete dissertation template in any format. This template comes with a table of contents that you can easily modify to meet your department’s needs.

Prospectus and dissertation committee

Once you have completed your coursework and any comprehensive exams, or other requirements, the status of “ABD” (All But Dissertation Status) is granted. This is when you have completed all requirements except for your dissertation.

Before you can start writing, you need to form your committee. Your advisor will be part of your committee, along with a few faculty members. You can have them from your department or from other departments if you work in a more interdisciplinarian area. Your committee will help you navigate the dissertation process and decide whether or not you are eligible to defend your dissertation and get your PhD.

Your prospectus, which is usually presented orally to the committee in defense, outlines your research goals and objectives. Once you have passed your prospectus defense, it is time to begin your research and writing.

How to structure and write a dissertation

Your discipline, topic, and approach will all influence the structure of your dissertation. Humanities dissertations are more structured like an essay. They provide an argument for a central thesis and chapters that are organized around specific themes or case studies.

Hard science and social sciences dissertations usually include a review and analysis of previous works, a methodology section and an analysis of your original research. Finally, you present your results in different chapters.

Dissertation examples

To help you get started, we have compiled a list with dissertation examples.

  • Example dissertation #1 Energy Demand: An Examination Of Residential Buildings And Community Equity (a dissertation written by C. A. Antonopoulos on the effects of extreme heat/wildfire on residential buildings, and occupant exposure risk).
  • Example dissertation 2: Exploring income volatility and financial health among middle-income houses (a dissertation written by M. Addo on income volatility and declining economic safety for middle-income households).
  • Example dissertation #3 Mindfulness Meditation to Enhance the Efficacy Of Mirror Visual Feedback for Reducing Phantom Limb pain in Amputees (a dissertation written by N. S. Mills on the effects of mindfulness-based interventions upon the relationship between pain levels in amputees suffering from phantom limbs pain and mirror visual feedback).

Title page

Your dissertation title, name, department, institution and degree program are all on the first page of your document. It may also include your student number, the name of your supervisor, and the logo of your university.

Preface or acknowledgments

The acknowledgments section, which is often optional, allows you to thank all those who have helped you write your dissertation. These could include your supervisors, research participants, and family members who supported you. Sometimes, acknowledgements can be part of a preface.


An abstract is a brief summary of your dissertation. It’s usually between 150 and 300 words in length. Although it may seem brief, the abstract is one of the most important parts in your dissertation. It introduces you to your audience.

When you have finished your dissertation, write your abstract.

Your abstract should:

  • Be specific about your main topic and the goals of your research.
  • Please describe your method
  • Summarize the main results
  • Describe your conclusion

Table of Contents

The table of contents lists all chapters along with their subheadings. This table of contents gives the reader a visual overview of your structure, and allows them to easily navigate your document.

Make sure to include all the main points of your dissertation in your table. If you use heading styles, it’s simple to create a Word table automatically. You should only include the level 2 and 3 headings in your final work.


Tables and figures

Although it is not required, it is a good idea to include a list or tables of figures and tables in your dissertation. You can easily create one using Word’s Insert Caption feature.


Liste of abbreviations

You can also include abbreviations that are industry-specific in your dissertation in an alphabetized list. This will allow the reader to quickly look up their meanings.



A glossary is a useful addition to the list. You can alphabetize terms and give a description or definition.



Your introduction sets the stage for your dissertation’s topic, purpose, relevance, and structure. The introduction tells the reader what they can expect from the remainder of your dissertation. The introduction should:

  • Your research topic should be established. You will need to provide background information that will contextualize your work.
  • Focus your research and determine the scope.
  • Talk about the current state of research on the topic. Show your relevance to a larger problem or discussion.
  • Clearly define your research objectives
  • Sketch the flow of your work

The introduction should be engaging, clear, and relevant. The reader should be able to understand the why, what, and how of your research by the end.


Literature review

Your literature review is an important part of your research. This will help you to gain an in-depth understanding of academic work on the topic.

Literature reviews encompass:

  • Finding relevant resources (e.g. books, journal articles)
  • Assessing the credibility and reliability of your sources
  • Analyzing and evaluating every source
  • To strengthen your overall point, you can draw connections (e.g. themes, patterns or conflicts) between them

Literature reviews are more than a summary of the existing sources. A literature review must have a cohesive structure and an argument that supports your research. You might want to:

  • You can either address a gap in existing literature or expand on existing knowledge.
  • Try a new methodological or theoretical approach to your topic
  • Propose a solution for a problem unsolved or present one side to a theoretical discussion


Theoretical framework

A literature review is often the foundation for your theoretical framework. This section helps you identify and analyze key concepts, theories, and models that will frame your research.



Your methodology chapter will describe how you did your research and allow your reader to evaluate its credibility. Your methodology section should be accurate and concise, while convincing your reader that it was the best way to answer research questions.

The methodology section should contain:

  • The overall research approach ( qualitative vs.) as well as research methodologies (e.g. a longitudinal study ).
  • Your data collection techniques (e.g. interviews, or a controlled experimental).
  • Information about where, when and with whom the research was conducted
  • All tools and materials that you used (e.g. computer programs, laboratory equipment).
  • You can use data analysis methods such as statistical analysis or discourse analysis.
  • A justification or evaluation of your methods



The results section should reflect the findings of your methodology. This section can be arranged around sub-questions or hypotheses . However, you should avoid any subjective interpretations.

Your discipline will determine whether your results section should be combined with your discussion or separately. To ensure that you are following the correct procedure, make sure you review your departmental guidelines. The results of most quantitative studies should be presented separately before discussing their meaning.

Your results section should include:

  • Each relevant result should be concisely stated together with the relevant descriptive statistics (e.g. mean, standard deviation) as well as inferential statistics (e.g. test statistics, P values).
  • Briefly explain how the result relates with the question or whether it supports the hypothesis.
  • All results relevant to your research questions should be reported, even those that do not match your expectations.

An appendix can contain additional data, such as raw numbers, complete questionnaires or interview transcripts. Tables and figures can be included, provided they are helpful to the reader.


The discussion section allows you to discuss the implications and meaning of your results relative to your research question. This section will allow you to discuss your results and determine if they meet your expectations. To show how your results relate to existing research in your field, refer back to the relevant source material.

Some guiding questions include:

  • What does your result mean?
  • What is the point of your results?
  • What are the limitations of the results?

If you are unsure of any results, explain why. You might consider other interpretations of your data.



The conclusion of your dissertation should answer your primary research question clearly. It should also highlight the contributions that your research has made to the field.

The conclusion in some disciplines is just a brief section before the discussion section. In other contexts it is the last chapter of your work. This section is where you conclude your dissertation. It includes a reflection on the findings, as well as suggestions for future research.

It is important to give the reader a clear understanding of why your research is important. What has your research added to the existing knowledge? Your research is essential for the future success of your field.


Refer to the Reference List

To avoid plagiarism, it is important to include a list of references or works cited along with all details. You should choose only one citation type to use throughout your dissertation. Each style has its own formatting requirements.

The most common styles are MLA and Chicago. However, your department or field will often determine which style you should use.

Use the Scribbr Citation Generators to ensure that your citations are consistent and correctly formatted!



Only include information that directly answers your research question in your dissertation. You can add documents such as interview transcripts and survey question to your dissertation as an appendix, instead of adding them directly to the main body.


Editing and proofreading

A well-written dissertation is not complete without ensuring that your sections are placed in the correct places. You should also make sure to allow enough time for proofreading and editing, since grammar errors and poor spelling can have a negative impact on your dissertation.

It can take five years to complete a dissertation. You will want to ensure that everything is in order before you submit it. To ensure that your final project is flawless before you submit, you might consider hiring a professional editing service.

Defending your dissertation

Your committee will schedule a defense after your dissertation has been approved. Dissertation defenses are similar to the defense of your prospectus. They are oral presentations that present your work. Your committee will ask questions after you present your dissertation. Many departments welcome family members, friends, or other interested people to join.

Your committee will then meet and inform you if you have passed or not. Remember that defenses are often a formality. Most committees will have discussed any issues you may have with your work long before your defense. This gives you plenty of time to correct any issues.

No cost checklist and slides for lectures

This simple checklist can be used to ensure that you have included all essentials when writing your dissertation.

Checklist: Dissertation

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  • My title page contains all the information required by my university.
  • I have added acknowledgmentsthanking all those who helped me.
  • My abstract gives a brief summary of my dissertation and provides the reader with a clear understanding of my main findings or arguments.
  • To help my reader navigate through my dissertation, I created a table to contents.
  • The table of contents contains all chapter titles but does not include the title page, acknowledgments or abstract.
  • My introduction introduces my topic and highlights the relevance of my research.
  • My introduction clearly identifies the focus of my research and outlines my research questions as well as my objectives.
  • The introduction contains a summary of the structure of my dissertation.
  • To show the state of the knowledge in my area, I have reviewed the best literature.
  • My literature review is more than a summary. It engages critically with sources and evaluates the strengths and limitations of existing research.
  • My literature review focuses on patterns, themes, debates, and theories in literature.
  • My literature review shows how my dissertation fills a gap or adds to existing research.
  • I have explained the theoretical framework and the theories and models that supported my approach.
  • I have detailed described my methodology and explained how I collected, analyzed, and stored the data.
  • I have presented all pertinent results in a concise and objective manner.
  • I have interpreted and evaluated the meaning of my discussion.
  • I have acknowledged any limitations to the results.
  • In the conclusion, I have clearly stated my main research question.
  • I have explained clearly the implications of my conclusion and highlighted what new insights my research has provided.
  • I have made relevant recommendations for further research and practice.
  • If applicable, I have added appendices with supplemental information.
  • Every time I use words or ideas from a source, I have added an intext citation.
  • Every source has been listed in the reference list at my dissertation’s end.
  • I have always followed the rules of my citation style.
  • I have followed all guidelines for formatting provided by my university.

These slides can be downloaded and adapted by educators to help them teach their students how to structure a dissertation.

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