This section of the guide describes the structure of a dissertation, from cover to cover. After reading this, you will have an insight into how a dissertation is put together and the techniques that make it coherent. Here the various sections and the contents of a typical dissertation are described and the following symbols are used:

An important point, or a problem to avoid.


A transition to the next section or sub-section.




Cover page

The format of the cover page is usually fixed. Take advice from the institution you are studying at. Sometimes a back page is needed. Once again, ask advice.


No more than 1-2 pages. These pages are not numbered.

This section is for your personal thoughts and to name those whom you wish to thank. Obvious candidates are your supervisor and anyone (at work, or in the field) who has helped you during your project.


1 page maximum. This section is not numbered.

Here you outline the heart of your argument. The ideas expressed here must correspond to, and be in the same order as the sections of your manuscript. Therefore, you must talk about the context for your question, outline the big ideas found in the literature, present your hypotheses, explain your methods, detail your results and discuss them, and form a conclusion. Each of these sections must relate to the one following it.

To reinforce the point: your dissertation should resemble an action-packed thriller where the end of each section foreshadows the next episode.

Do not under-estimate the importance of the summary. It is the hook that will draw your readers in. While your jury probably won’t need it to motivate them to read your work, it is crucial for any potential future reader, who may have to make a snap decision on whether to read your dissertation or not. Write it last.

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May 2, 2011

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