dissertation structure ideas

Dissertation Structure Strategies: A Roadmap to Academic Success

dissertation structure ideas

Dissertations, often hailed as the pinnacle of academic achievement, represent the culmination of years of research, dedication, and intellectual prowess. They are your opportunity to make a significant contribution to your field of study, a chance to leave your mark on the academic world.

What might surprise you, however, is that the average dissertation contains roughly 80,000 to 100,000 words—equivalent to a short novel! These comprehensive research projects require not just intellectual prowess but also a clear, well-structured roadmap to guide readers through your academic exploration.

These research documents are vital as they allow scholars to delve deeply into a particular subject, fostering a deeper understanding of complex topics and offering the opportunity to make meaningful contributions to their respective disciplines. Structuring a dissertation effectively is crucial to communicating these contributions clearly and coherently.

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How to Structure Your Dissertation

The structure of a dissertation is the blueprint that underpins your entire research endeavor, a scaffold upon which the intricate layers of your study will be built. Like a skilled craftsman, a well-structured piece ensures that your ideas flow logically, offering readers a clear and engaging path through your scholarly exploration. In the following sections, we will delve into the essential dissertation chapters that compose its structural framework, equipping you with the knowledge and tools necessary to create a research document that stands as a testament to your academic rigor and expertise.


The introduction is your first opportunity to set the stage, frame the research problem, and provide a roadmap for what lies ahead. This section typically encompasses the following key elements:

dissertation intro

  • Contextualization : Begin by introducing the broader context of your research. Why is the topic important, and how does it fit into the larger field of study? For instance, if your own research, as outlined on the title page, explores the impact of climate change on agriculture, you might highlight the growing global concern over environmental issues and their implications for food security.
  • Problem Statement : Clearly state the specific problem or research question your research aims to address. Make it concise and thought-provoking. For example, 'How can sustainable agricultural practices mitigate the adverse effects of climate change on crop yields in developing countries?'
  • Objectives and Hypotheses : Outline the objectives of your research and any hypotheses you intend to test. For the above problem statement, you might state that your objectives are to analyze existing agricultural practices, assess their sustainability, and test the hypothesis that sustainable methods can enhance crop resilience in the face of climate change.
  • Justification : Why is your research significant? What knowledge gaps will it fill? Perhaps you'll mention the lack of comprehensive studies on sustainable agriculture in specific regions or the urgency of addressing food security in the face of climate-related challenges.
  • Scope and Limitations : Define the scope of your academic writing, setting clear boundaries on what you will and won't cover. Mention any potential limitations, such as constraints on data availability or time for fieldwork.

Questions to Consider :

  • What led me to choose this topic, and how does it resonate with my academic interests?
  • How does my research relate to existing knowledge in the field?
  • What are the specific challenges or gaps in the current literature that my actual research addresses?
  • What are the broader implications of my research findings?

By addressing these components in your introduction, you'll provide readers with a solid foundation for understanding the purpose and significance of your research project. It's your opportunity to engage their interest and prepare them for the intellectual voyage that follows in the subsequent chapters.

Experimental Design

In these pivotal parts of a dissertation, you'll delve into the heart of your research process: the experimental design. Here, you will describe in detail how you conducted your study, the methods employed, and the rationale behind your choices. The chapter typically consists of the following key components:

dissertation experimental design

  • Research Methodology : Begin by explaining the research methodology you've chosen. Common methodologies include qualitative, quantitative, mixed methods, case studies, surveys, or experiments. Each has its own strengths and limitations, so justify your choice based on what best suits your research question.
  • Data Collection : Describe how you collected the data. What instruments or tools did you use? For instance, if your study involves surveys, specify the survey questions and distribution methods. If it's a laboratory experiment, explain the equipment and procedures.
  • Sampling : Detail the process of selecting your sample. Who or what is included, and why? If your research involves human subjects, address ethical considerations and provide evidence of any necessary approvals from ethics committees.
  • Variables and Measurements : Clearly define the variables under investigation and the measurements you used. Explain how each variable was operationalized. If you're measuring something like crop yield in agriculture, specify the units of measurement, tools, and techniques.
  • Data Analysis : Briefly introduce the statistical or analytical methods you'll employ to analyze the data. If your research is qualitative, describe the approach you'll use for coding and thematic analysis.
  • Pilot Study : Mention any pilot studies or pre-tests you conducted to refine your methodology. This demonstrates your commitment to the rigor of your research.
  • Validity and Reliability : Address the validity and reliability of your research methods. How did you ensure that your data collection tools measure what they are supposed to, and how consistently do they do so?
  • Limitations : Acknowledge any limitations in your experimental design. No study is perfect, and recognizing limitations demonstrates transparency and thoughtful evaluation of your research.
  • Why did you choose this specific methodology and data collection techniques?
  • How did you mitigate potential biases or confounding variables?
  • What challenges did you encounter during data collection, and how did you overcome them?
  • What steps did you take to ensure the credibility and trustworthiness of your findings?

The Results chapter is where the fruits of your research labor come to light. Here, you'll present the outcomes of your study, providing a clear and objective account of the data you've collected. This section is crucial for demonstrating the empirical support for your research hypothesis or objectives. It typically includes the following components:

dissertation results

  • Data Presentation : Begin by presenting your data in a clear and organized manner. This can involve tables, graphs, charts, and textual descriptions. Make sure to label and title all visual representations and use clear, concise language when discussing the findings.
  • Descriptive Statistics : If applicable, provide descriptive statistics, such as means, medians, and standard deviations, to summarize your data. This helps readers quickly grasp the central tendencies and variations in your results.
  • Inferential Statistics : If your study involves statistical analysis, present the results of your tests or models. Explain the statistical significance of your findings and their implications for your research question.
  • Relationships and Patterns : Interpret the data by discussing any observed relationships, patterns, or trends. Are there any noteworthy correlations or variations? Are the results in line with your expectations, or do they challenge your initial hypotheses?
  • Validity and Reliability : Reflect on the validity and reliability of your results. Discuss any potential sources of error or bias and explain how you addressed them during the data collection and analysis phases.
  • Negative or Null Results : Be candid about any findings that did not support your hypotheses or expectations. This transparency is essential for a comprehensive research account.
  • Comparisons : If your study involves multiple groups, conditions, or variables, make comparisons to highlight differences or similarities. Use appropriate statistical tests to support your comparisons.
  • Visual Aids : Consider using visual aids, like charts and graphs, to illustrate key findings. These can make complex data more accessible to your readers.
  • How do the results align with your research objectives and hypotheses?
  • What are the most important findings, and what do they mean in the context of your study?
  • Are there any unexpected or anomalous results, and how can you explain them?
  • How do the results contribute to the broader understanding of the topic in your field?

The Discussion chapter is the intellectual nucleus of your dissertation, where you dissect and interpret the results you've presented in the previous section. According to our essay service experts, here, you'll not only explain the significance of your findings but also relate them to existing knowledge in your field.

dissertation discussion

  • Interpretation of Results : Begin by interpreting the results of your study. Explain what the data you've presented in the Results chapter means in the context of your research objectives and hypotheses.
  • Comparison with Existing Literature : Relate your findings to the existing research in your field, as explored in the literature review chapter. Discuss how your results align with or differ from previous research, and articulate the implications of these comparisons.
  • Theoretical Framework : If your research is rooted in a particular theoretical framework, discuss how your results support, challenge, or expand this framework.
  • Answering Research Questions : Address each of your research questions or hypotheses one by one, indicating whether they were confirmed or refuted by your data.
  • Limitations Revisited : Revisit the limitations you identified in the earlier chapters and discuss how they may have influenced your results. This demonstrates your awareness of the study's constraints and their potential impact, underscoring your research skills in critically evaluating your work.
  • Implications : Explore the broader implications of your findings. How do they contribute to the advancement of knowledge in your field? Are there practical applications or policy implications stemming from your research?

Questions to Consider as per our dissertation service experts:

  • What do your results reveal about the topic of your dissertation?
  • How do your findings compare to previous research, and what do these comparisons signify?
  • What theoretical, practical, or policy implications can be drawn from your research?
  • How have you addressed the research questions or hypotheses that guided your study?

Whether you buy dissertation or write yourself, remember that the discussion chapter is an opportunity to articulate the broader significance of your research. By providing a clear and insightful analysis of your findings and their implications, you create a compelling narrative that underscores the value of your work.

While learning how to structure a dissertation, the Conclusion chapter serves as the culminating segment as it brings together the key elements of your study. This is your chance to offer a succinct yet comprehensive synthesis of your work and its implications. This section typically comprises the following components:

dissertation conclusion

  • Restate Research Objectives : Begin by reiterating the primary research objectives or questions that guided your research project. Concisely remind your readers of the core focus of your study.
  • Summary of Key Findings : Provide a condensed summary of the most significant findings from your research. Highlight the main takeaways without delving into exhaustive detail.
  • Contributions to the Field : Emphasize the contributions your research has made to the field. Discuss how your study has added to existing knowledge, addressed research gaps, or opened new avenues for exploration.
  • Practical and Theoretical Implications : Elaborate on the practical and theoretical implications of your findings. Consider the real-world applications, policy recommendations, or theoretical advancements your research suggests.
  • Final Thoughts on Hypotheses : Reflect on whether your research hypotheses were supported by the data. If they were not, discuss what this means in the context of your study and the broader field.
  • Closing Remarks : Offer some closing remarks that encapsulate the essence of your research. This is an opportunity to leave a lasting impression on your readers by tying together the threads of your study.
  • Research Journey Reflection : Share your personal reflections on the research journey. Discuss the challenges you encountered, the insights you gained, and the significance of the experience.
  • Future Directions : Suggest possible avenues for future research based on the findings and questions that have emerged from your work. Highlight the ongoing conversation in your field and how your research can contribute.
  • How do your findings and contributions align with your initial research objectives and the broader context of your field?
  • What key messages do you want readers to take away from your research project?
  • How has your research advanced the academic discourse and addressed gaps in the literature?
  • What further research opportunities have emerged as a result of your study?

Final Perspective

As you learn how to write a dissertation , it's essential to keep in mind that this journey is not just about academic rigor; it's also an opportunity for personal and intellectual growth. Along the way, you'll encounter challenges, make discoveries, and contribute to the ever-evolving landscape of human knowledge.

Here are some unique and specific education dissertation topics you may find useful for your endeavor:

  • Digital Privacy and Surveillance in the Age of Smart Cities : Investigate the ethical and legal implications of increased digital surveillance in urban environments.
  • The Psychology of Decision-Making in Extreme Environments : Analyze the cognitive and emotional factors influencing decision-making in high-stress, life-threatening situations, such as emergency medicine or space exploration.
  • The Role of Music Therapy in Pediatric Pain Management : Explore the effectiveness of music therapy in alleviating pain and anxiety in children undergoing medical procedures.
  • Preserving Indigenous Languages in the Digital Age : Investigate the role of technology and social media in revitalizing and preserving endangered indigenous languages.
  • Psychological Impact of Virtual Reality (VR) Therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) : Evaluate the therapeutic potential of VR in treating PTSD and related mental health conditions.

These topics cover a wide range of subjects and offer unique perspectives that can make your master's dissertation or journal articles both engaging and impactful within your chosen field.

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How To Write A Dissertation Introduction Chapter:

The 7 essential ingredients of an a-grade introduction.

By: Derek Jansen (MBA). Reviewed By Dr Eunice Rautenbach (D. Tech) | March 2020

If you’re reading this, you’re probably at the daunting early phases of writing up the introduction chapter of your dissertation or thesis. It can be intimidating, I know. 

In this post, we’ll look at the 7 essential ingredients of a strong dissertation or thesis introduction chapter, as well as the essential things you need to keep in mind as you craft each section. We’ll also share some useful tips to help you optimize your approach.

Overview: How To Write An Introduction Chapter

  • Understand the purpose and function of the intro chapter
  • Craft an enticing and engaging opening section
  • Provide a background and context to the study
  • Clearly define the research problem
  • State your research aims, objectives and questions
  • Explain the significance of your study
  • Identify the limitations of your research
  • Outline the structure of your dissertation or thesis

The perfect dissertation or thesis introduction chapter

A quick sidenote:

You’ll notice that I’ve used the words dissertation and thesis interchangeably. While these terms reflect different levels of research – for example, Masters vs PhD-level research – the introduction chapter generally contains the same 7 essential ingredients regardless of level. So, in this post, dissertation introduction equals thesis introduction.

Start with why.

To craft a high-quality dissertation or thesis introduction chapter, you need to understand exactly what this chapter needs to achieve. In other words, what’s its purpose ? As the name suggests, the introduction chapter needs to introduce the reader to your research so that they understand what you’re trying to figure out, or what problem you’re trying to solve. More specifically, you need to answer four important questions in your introduction chapter.

These questions are:

  • What will you be researching? (in other words, your research topic)
  • Why is that worthwhile? (in other words, your justification)
  • What will the scope of your research be? (in other words, what will you cover and what won’t you cover)
  • What will the limitations of your research be? (in other words, what will the potential shortcomings of your research be?)

Simply put, your dissertation’s introduction chapter needs to provide an overview of your planned research , as well as a clear rationale for it. In other words, this chapter has to explain the “what” and the “why” of your research – what’s it all about and why’s that important.

Simple enough, right?

Well, the trick is finding the appropriate depth of information. As the researcher, you’ll be extremely close to your topic and this makes it easy to get caught up in the minor details. While these intricate details might be interesting, you need to write your introduction chapter on more of a “need-to-know” type basis, or it will end up way too lengthy and dense. You need to balance painting a clear picture with keeping things concise. Don’t worry though – you’ll be able to explore all the intricate details in later chapters.

The core ingredients of a dissertation introduction chapter

Now that you understand what you need to achieve from your introduction chapter, we can get into the details. While the exact requirements for this chapter can vary from university to university, there are seven core components that most universities will require. We call these the seven essential ingredients . 

The 7 Essential Ingredients

  • The opening section – where you’ll introduce the reader to your research in high-level terms
  • The background to the study – where you’ll explain the context of your project
  • The research problem – where you’ll explain the “gap” that exists in the current research
  • The research aims , objectives and questions – where you’ll clearly state what your research will aim to achieve
  • The significance (or justification) – where you’ll explain why your research is worth doing and the value it will provide to the world
  • The limitations – where you’ll acknowledge the potential limitations of your project and approach
  • The structure – where you’ll briefly outline the structure of your dissertation or thesis to help orient the reader

By incorporating these seven essential ingredients into your introduction chapter, you’ll comprehensively cover both the “ what ” and the “ why ” I mentioned earlier – in other words, you’ll achieve the purpose of the chapter.

Side note – you can also use these 7 ingredients in this order as the structure for your chapter to ensure a smooth, logical flow. This isn’t essential, but, generally speaking, it helps create an engaging narrative that’s easy for your reader to understand. If you’d like, you can also download our free introduction chapter template here.

Alright – let’s look at each of the ingredients now.

dissertation structure ideas

#1 – The Opening Section

The very first essential ingredient for your dissertation introduction is, well, an introduction or opening section. Just like every other chapter, your introduction chapter needs to start by providing a brief overview of what you’ll be covering in the chapter.

This section needs to engage the reader with clear, concise language that can be easily understood and digested. If the reader (your marker!) has to struggle through it, they’ll lose interest, which will make it harder for you to earn marks. Just because you’re writing an academic paper doesn’t mean you can ignore the basic principles of engaging writing used by marketers, bloggers, and journalists. At the end of the day, you’re all trying to sell an idea – yours is just a research idea.

So, what goes into this opening section?

Well, while there’s no set formula, it’s a good idea to include the following four foundational sentences in your opening section:

1 – A sentence or two introducing the overall field of your research.

For example:

“Organisational skills development involves identifying current or potential skills gaps within a business and developing programs to resolve these gaps. Management research, including X, Y and Z, has clearly established that organisational skills development is an essential contributor to business growth.”

2 – A sentence introducing your specific research problem.

“However, there are conflicting views and an overall lack of research regarding how best to manage skills development initiatives in highly dynamic environments where subject knowledge is rapidly and continuously evolving – for example, in the website development industry.”

3 – A sentence stating your research aims and objectives.

“This research aims to identify and evaluate skills development approaches and strategies for highly dynamic industries in which subject knowledge is continuously evolving.”.

4 – A sentence outlining the layout of the chapter.

“This chapter will provide an introduction to the study by first discussing the background and context, followed by the research problem, the research aims, objectives and questions, the significance and finally, the limitations.”

As I mentioned, this opening section of your introduction chapter shouldn’t be lengthy . Typically, these four sentences should fit neatly into one or two paragraphs, max. What you’re aiming for here is a clear, concise introduction to your research – not a detailed account.

PS – If some of this terminology sounds unfamiliar, don’t stress – I’ll explain each of the concepts later in this post.

Dissertation writing

#2 – Background to the study

Now that you’ve provided a high-level overview of your dissertation or thesis, it’s time to go a little deeper and lay a foundation for your research topic. This foundation is what the second ingredient is all about – the background to your study.

So, what is the background section all about?

Well, this section of your introduction chapter should provide a broad overview of the topic area that you’ll be researching, as well as the current contextual factors . This could include, for example, a brief history of the topic, recent developments in the area, key pieces of research in the area and so on. In other words, in this section, you need to provide the relevant background information to give the reader a decent foundational understanding of your research area.

Let’s look at an example to make this a little more concrete.

If we stick with the skills development topic I mentioned earlier, the background to the study section would start by providing an overview of the skills development area and outline the key existing research. Then, it would go on to discuss how the modern-day context has created a new challenge for traditional skills development strategies and approaches. Specifically, that in many industries, technical knowledge is constantly and rapidly evolving, and traditional education providers struggle to keep up with the pace of new technologies.

Importantly, you need to write this section with the assumption that the reader is not an expert in your topic area. So, if there are industry-specific jargon and complex terminology, you should briefly explain that here , so that the reader can understand the rest of your document.

Don’t make assumptions about the reader’s knowledge – in most cases, your markers will not be able to ask you questions if they don’t understand something. So, always err on the safe side and explain anything that’s not common knowledge.

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#3 – The research problem

Now that you’ve given your reader an overview of your research area, it’s time to get specific about the research problem that you’ll address in your dissertation or thesis. While the background section would have eluded to a potential research problem (or even multiple research problems), the purpose of this section is to narrow the focus and highlight the specific research problem you’ll focus on.

But, what exactly is a research problem, you ask?

Well, a research problem can be any issue or question for which there isn’t already a well-established and agreed-upon answer in the existing research. In other words, a research problem exists when there’s a need to answer a question (or set of questions), but there’s a gap in the existing literature , or the existing research is conflicting and/or inconsistent.

So, to present your research problem, you need to make it clear what exactly is missing in the current literature and why this is a problem . It’s usually a good idea to structure this discussion into three sections – specifically:

  • What’s already well-established in the literature (in other words, the current state of research)
  • What’s missing in the literature (in other words, the literature gap)
  • Why this is a problem (in other words, why it’s important to fill this gap)

Let’s look at an example of this structure using the skills development topic.

Organisational skills development is critically important for employee satisfaction and company performance (reference). Numerous studies have investigated strategies and approaches to manage skills development programs within organisations (reference).

(this paragraph explains what’s already well-established in the literature)

However, these studies have traditionally focused on relatively slow-paced industries where key skills and knowledge do not change particularly often. This body of theory presents a problem for industries that face a rapidly changing skills landscape – for example, the website development industry – where new platforms, languages and best practices emerge on an extremely frequent basis.

(this paragraph explains what’s missing from the literature)

As a result, the existing research is inadequate for industries in which essential knowledge and skills are constantly and rapidly evolving, as it assumes a slow pace of knowledge development. Industries in such environments, therefore, find themselves ill-equipped in terms of skills development strategies and approaches.

(this paragraph explains why the research gap is problematic)

As you can see in this example, in a few lines, we’ve explained (1) the current state of research, (2) the literature gap and (3) why that gap is problematic. By doing this, the research problem is made crystal clear, which lays the foundation for the next ingredient.

#4 – The research aims, objectives and questions

Now that you’ve clearly identified your research problem, it’s time to identify your research aims and objectives , as well as your research questions . In other words, it’s time to explain what you’re going to do about the research problem.

So, what do you need to do here?

Well, the starting point is to clearly state your research aim (or aims) . The research aim is the main goal or the overarching purpose of your dissertation or thesis. In other words, it’s a high-level statement of what you’re aiming to achieve.

Let’s look at an example, sticking with the skills development topic:

“Given the lack of research regarding organisational skills development in fast-moving industries, this study will aim to identify and evaluate the skills development approaches utilised by web development companies in the UK”.

As you can see in this example, the research aim is clearly outlined, as well as the specific context in which the research will be undertaken (in other words, web development companies in the UK).

Next up is the research objective (or objectives) . While the research aims cover the high-level “what”, the research objectives are a bit more practically oriented, looking at specific things you’ll be doing to achieve those research aims.

Let’s take a look at an example of some research objectives (ROs) to fit the research aim.

  • RO1 – To identify common skills development strategies and approaches utilised by web development companies in the UK.
  • RO2 – To evaluate the effectiveness of these strategies and approaches.
  • RO3 – To compare and contrast these strategies and approaches in terms of their strengths and weaknesses.

As you can see from this example, these objectives describe the actions you’ll take and the specific things you’ll investigate in order to achieve your research aims. They break down the research aims into more specific, actionable objectives.

The final step is to state your research questions . Your research questions bring the aims and objectives another level “down to earth”. These are the specific questions that your dissertation or theses will seek to answer. They’re not fluffy, ambiguous or conceptual – they’re very specific and you’ll need to directly answer them in your conclusions chapter .

The research questions typically relate directly to the research objectives and sometimes can look a bit obvious, but they are still extremely important. Let’s take a look at an example of the research questions (RQs) that would flow from the research objectives I mentioned earlier.

  • RQ1 – What skills development strategies and approaches are currently being used by web development companies in the UK?
  • RQ2 – How effective are each of these strategies and approaches?
  • RQ3 – What are the strengths and weaknesses of each of these strategies and approaches?

As you can see, the research questions mimic the research objectives , but they are presented in question format. These questions will act as the driving force throughout your dissertation or thesis – from the literature review to the methodology and onward – so they’re really important.

A final note about this section – it’s really important to be clear about the scope of your study (more technically, the delimitations ). In other words, what you WILL cover and what you WON’T cover. If your research aims, objectives and questions are too broad, you’ll risk losing focus or investigating a problem that is too big to solve within a single dissertation.

Simply put, you need to establish clear boundaries in your research. You can do this, for example, by limiting it to a specific industry, country or time period. That way, you’ll ringfence your research, which will allow you to investigate your topic deeply and thoroughly – which is what earns marks!

Need a helping hand?

dissertation structure ideas

#5 – Significance

Now that you’ve made it clear what you’ll be researching, it’s time to make a strong argument regarding your study’s importance and significance . In other words, now that you’ve covered the what, it’s time to cover the why – enter essential ingredient number 5 – significance.

Of course, by this stage, you’ve already briefly alluded to the importance of your study in your background and research problem sections, but you haven’t explicitly stated how your research findings will benefit the world . So, now’s your chance to clearly state how your study will benefit either industry , academia , or – ideally – both . In other words, you need to explain how your research will make a difference and what implications it will have.

Let’s take a look at an example.

“This study will contribute to the body of knowledge on skills development by incorporating skills development strategies and approaches for industries in which knowledge and skills are rapidly and constantly changing. This will help address the current shortage of research in this area and provide real-world value to organisations operating in such dynamic environments.”

As you can see in this example, the paragraph clearly explains how the research will help fill a gap in the literature and also provide practical real-world value to organisations.

This section doesn’t need to be particularly lengthy, but it does need to be convincing . You need to “sell” the value of your research here so that the reader understands why it’s worth committing an entire dissertation or thesis to it. This section needs to be the salesman of your research. So, spend some time thinking about the ways in which your research will make a unique contribution to the world and how the knowledge you create could benefit both academia and industry – and then “sell it” in this section.

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#6 – The limitations

Now that you’ve “sold” your research to the reader and hopefully got them excited about what’s coming up in the rest of your dissertation, it’s time to briefly discuss the potential limitations of your research.

But you’re probably thinking, hold up – what limitations? My research is well thought out and carefully designed – why would there be limitations?

Well, no piece of research is perfect . This is especially true for a dissertation or thesis – which typically has a very low or zero budget, tight time constraints and limited researcher experience. Generally, your dissertation will be the first or second formal research project you’ve ever undertaken, so it’s unlikely to win any research awards…

Simply put, your research will invariably have limitations. Don’t stress yourself out though – this is completely acceptable (and expected). Even “professional” research has limitations – as I said, no piece of research is perfect. The key is to recognise the limitations upfront and be completely transparent about them, so that future researchers are aware of them and can improve the study’s design to minimise the limitations and strengthen the findings.

Generally, you’ll want to consider at least the following four common limitations. These are:

  • Your scope – for example, perhaps your focus is very narrow and doesn’t consider how certain variables interact with each other.
  • Your research methodology – for example, a qualitative methodology could be criticised for being overly subjective, or a quantitative methodology could be criticised for oversimplifying the situation (learn more about methodologies here ).
  • Your resources – for example, a lack of time, money, equipment and your own research experience.
  • The generalisability of your findings – for example, the findings from the study of a specific industry or country can’t necessarily be generalised to other industries or countries.

Don’t be shy here. There’s no use trying to hide the limitations or weaknesses of your research. In fact, the more critical you can be of your study, the better. The markers want to see that you are aware of the limitations as this demonstrates your understanding of research design – so be brutal.

#7 – The structural outline

Now that you’ve clearly communicated what your research is going to be about, why it’s important and what the limitations of your research will be, the final ingredient is the structural outline.The purpose of this section is simply to provide your reader with a roadmap of what to expect in terms of the structure of your dissertation or thesis.

In this section, you’ll need to provide a brief summary of each chapter’s purpose and contents (including the introduction chapter). A sentence or two explaining what you’ll do in each chapter is generally enough to orient the reader. You don’t want to get too detailed here – it’s purely an outline, not a summary of your research.

Let’s look at an example:

In Chapter One, the context of the study has been introduced. The research objectives and questions have been identified, and the value of such research argued. The limitations of the study have also been discussed.

In Chapter Two, the existing literature will be reviewed and a foundation of theory will be laid out to identify key skills development approaches and strategies within the context of fast-moving industries, especially technology-intensive industries.

In Chapter Three, the methodological choices will be explored. Specifically, the adoption of a qualitative, inductive research approach will be justified, and the broader research design will be discussed, including the limitations thereof.

So, as you can see from the example, this section is simply an outline of the chapter structure, allocating a short paragraph to each chapter. Done correctly, the outline will help your reader understand what to expect and reassure them that you’ll address the multiple facets of the study.

By the way – if you’re unsure of how to structure your dissertation or thesis, be sure to check out our video post which explains dissertation structure .

Keep calm and carry on.

Hopefully you feel a bit more prepared for this challenge of crafting your dissertation or thesis introduction chapter now. Take a deep breath and remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day – conquer one ingredient at a time and you’ll be firmly on the path to success.

Let’s quickly recap – the 7 ingredients are:

  • The opening section – where you give a brief, high-level overview of what your research will be about.
  • The study background – where you introduce the reader to key theory, concepts and terminology, as well as the context of your study.
  • The research problem – where you explain what the problem with the current research is. In other words, the research gap.
  • The research aims , objectives and questions – where you clearly state what your dissertation will investigate.
  • The significance – where you explain what value your research will provide to the world.
  • The limitations – where you explain what the potential shortcomings and limitations of your research may be.
  • The structural outline – where you provide a high-level overview of the structure of your document

If you bake these ingredients into your dissertation introduction chapter, you’ll be well on your way to building an engaging introduction chapter that lays a rock-solid foundation for the rest of your document.

Remember, while we’ve covered the essential ingredients here, there may be some additional components that your university requires, so be sure to double-check your project brief!

dissertation structure ideas

Psst… there’s more (for free)

This post is part of our dissertation mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project. 

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Thanks very much for such an insight. I feel confident enough in undertaking my thesis on the survey;The future of facial recognition and learning non verbal interaction

Derek Jansen

Glad to hear that. Good luck with your thesis!

Thanks very much for such an insight. I feel confident now undertaking my thesis; The future of facial recognition and learning non verbal interaction.

Emmanuel Chukwuebuka Okoli

Thanks so much for this article. I found myself struggling and wasting a lot of time in my thesis writing but after reading this article and watching some of your youtube videos, I now have a clear understanding of what is required for a thesis.

Saima Kashif

Thank you Derek, i find your each post so useful. Keep it up.


Thank you so much Derek ,for shedding the light and making it easier for me to handle the daunting task of academic writing .

Alice kasaka

Thanks do much Dereck for the comprehensive guide. It will assist me queit a lot in my thesis.


thanks a lot for helping

SALly henderson

i LOVE the gifs, such a fun way to engage readers. thanks for the advice, much appreciated


Thanks a lot Derek! It will be really useful to the beginner in research!

Derek Jansen

You’re welcome


This is a well written, easily comprehensible, simple introduction to the basics of a Research Dissertation../the need to keep the reader in mind while writing the dissertation is an important point that is covered../ I appreciate the efforts of the author../

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You just saved me from going astray in writing a Dissertation for my undergraduate studies. I could not be more grateful for such a relevant guide like this. Thank you so much.


Thank you so much Derek, this has been extremely helpful!!

I do have one question though, in the limitations part do you refer to the scope as the focus of the research on a specific industry/country/chronological period? I assume that in order to talk about whether or not the research could be generalized, the above would need to be already presented and described in the introduction.

Thank you again!

Jackson Lubari Wani

Phew! You have genuinely rescued me. I was stuck how to go about my thesis. Now l have started. Thank you.

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Powerful insight. I can now take a step


Thank you very much for these valuable introductions to thesis chapters. I saw all your videos about writing the introduction, discussion, and conclusion chapter. Then, I am wondering if we need to explain our research limitations in all three chapters, introduction, discussion, and conclusion? Isn’t it a bit redundant? If not, could you please explain how can we write in different ways? Thank you.

Md. Abdullah-Al-mahbub

Excellent!!! Thank you…


Thanks for this informative content. I have a question. The research gap is mentioned in both the introduction and literature section. I would like to know how can I demonstrate the research gap in both sections without repeating the contents?


I’m incredibly grateful for this invaluable content. I’ve been dreading compiling my postgrad thesis but breaking each chapter down into sections has made it so much easier for me to engage with the material without feeling overwhelmed. After relying on your guidance, I’m really happy with how I’ve laid out my introduction.


Thank you for the informative content you provided


Hi Derrick and Team, thank you so much for the comprehensive guide on how to write a dissertation or a thesis introduction section. For some of us first-timers, it is a daunting task. However, the instruction with relevant examples makes it clear and easy to follow through. Much appreciated.

Raza Bukhari

It was so helpful. God Bless you. Thanks very much


I thank you Grad coach for your priceless help. I have two questions I have learned from your video the limitations of the research presented in chapter one. but in another video also presented in chapter five. which chapter limitation should be included? If possible, I need your answer since I am doing my thesis. how can I explain If I am asked what is my motivation for this research?

Simon Musa Wuranjiya

Thank you guys for the great work you are doing. Honestly, you have made the research to be interesting and simplified. Even a novice will easily grasp the ideas you put forward, Thank you once again.


Excellent piece!


I feel like just settling for a good topic is usually the hardest part.


Thank you so much. My confidence has been completely destroyed during my first year of PhD and you have helped me pull myself together again

Happy to help 🙂

Linda Adhoch

I am so glad I ran into your resources and did not waste time doing the wrong this. Research is now making so much sense now.

Danyal Ahmad

Gratitude to Derrick and the team I was looking for a solid article that would aid me in drafting the thesis’ introduction. I felt quite happy when I came across the piece you wrote because it was so well-written and insightful. I wish you success in the future.

ria M

thank you so much. God Bless you

Arnold C

Thank you so much Grad Coach for these helpful insights. Now I can get started, with a great deal of confidence.

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How to write an undergraduate university dissertation

Writing a dissertation is a daunting task, but these tips will help you prepare for all the common challenges students face before deadline day.

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Grace McCabe

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Writing a dissertation is one of the most challenging aspects of university. However, it is the chance for students to demonstrate what they have learned during their degree and to explore a topic in depth.

In this article, we look at 10 top tips for writing a successful dissertation and break down how to write each section of a dissertation in detail.

10 tips for writing an undergraduate dissertation

1. Select an engaging topic Choose a subject that aligns with your interests and allows you to showcase the skills and knowledge you have acquired through your degree.

2. Research your supervisor Undergraduate students will often be assigned a supervisor based on their research specialisms. Do some research on your supervisor and make sure that they align with your dissertation goals.

3. Understand the dissertation structure Familiarise yourself with the structure (introduction, review of existing research, methodology, findings, results and conclusion). This will vary based on your subject.

4. Write a schedule As soon as you have finalised your topic and looked over the deadline, create a rough plan of how much work you have to do and create mini-deadlines along the way to make sure don’t find yourself having to write your entire dissertation in the final few weeks.

5. Determine requirements Ensure that you know which format your dissertation should be presented in. Check the word count and the referencing style.

6. Organise references from the beginning Maintain an alphabetically arranged reference list or bibliography in the designated style as you do your reading. This will make it a lot easier to finalise your references at the end.

7. Create a detailed plan Once you have done your initial research and have an idea of the shape your dissertation will take, write a detailed essay plan outlining your research questions, SMART objectives and dissertation structure.

8. Keep a dissertation journal Track your progress, record your research and your reading, and document challenges. This will be helpful as you discuss your work with your supervisor and organise your notes.

9. Schedule regular check-ins with your supervisor Make sure you stay in touch with your supervisor throughout the process, scheduling regular meetings and keeping good notes so you can update them on your progress.

10. Employ effective proofreading techniques Ask friends and family to help you proofread your work or use different fonts to help make the text look different. This will help you check for missing sections, grammatical mistakes and typos.

What is a dissertation?

A dissertation is a long piece of academic writing or a research project that you have to write as part of your undergraduate university degree.

It’s usually a long essay in which you explore your chosen topic, present your ideas and show that you understand and can apply what you’ve learned during your studies. Informally, the terms “dissertation” and “thesis” are often used interchangeably.

How do I select a dissertation topic?

First, choose a topic that you find interesting. You will be working on your dissertation for several months, so finding a research topic that you are passionate about and that demonstrates your strength in your subject is best. You want your topic to show all the skills you have developed during your degree. It would be a bonus if you can link your work to your chosen career path, but it’s not necessary.

Second, begin by exploring relevant literature in your field, including academic journals, books and articles. This will help you identify gaps in existing knowledge and areas that may need further exploration. You may not be able to think of a truly original piece of research, but it’s always good to know what has already been written about your chosen topic.

Consider the practical aspects of your chosen topic, ensuring that it is possible within the time frame and available resources. Assess the availability of data, research materials and the overall practicality of conducting the research.

When picking a dissertation topic, you also want to try to choose something that adds new ideas or perspectives to what’s already known in your field. As you narrow your focus, remember that a more targeted approach usually leads to a dissertation that’s easier to manage and has a bigger impact. Be ready to change your plans based on feedback and new information you discover during your research.

How to work with your dissertation supervisor?

Your supervisor is there to provide guidance on your chosen topic, direct your research efforts, and offer assistance and suggestions when you have queries. It’s crucial to establish a comfortable and open line of communication with them throughout the process. Their knowledge can greatly benefit your work. Keep them informed about your progress, seek their advice, and don’t hesitate to ask questions.

1. Keep them updated Regularly tell your supervisor how your work is going and if you’re having any problems. You can do this through emails, meetings or progress reports.

2. Plan meetings Schedule regular meetings with your supervisor. These can be in person or online. These are your time to discuss your progress and ask for help.

3. Share your writing Give your supervisor parts of your writing or an outline. This helps them see what you’re thinking so they can advise you on how to develop it.

5. Ask specific questions When you need help, ask specific questions instead of general ones. This makes it easier for your supervisor to help you.

6. Listen to feedback Be open to what your supervisor says. If they suggest changes, try to make them. It makes your dissertation better and shows you can work together.

7. Talk about problems If something is hard or you’re worried, talk to your supervisor about it. They can give you advice or tell you where to find help.

8. Take charge Be responsible for your work. Let your supervisor know if your plans change, and don’t wait if you need help urgently.

Remember, talking openly with your supervisor helps you both understand each other better, improves your dissertation and ensures that you get the support you need.

How to write a successful research piece at university How to choose a topic for your dissertation Tips for writing a convincing thesis

How do I plan my dissertation?

It’s important to start with a detailed plan that will serve as your road map throughout the entire process of writing your dissertation. As Jumana Labib, a master’s student at the University of Manchester  studying digital media, culture and society, suggests: “Pace yourself – definitely don’t leave the entire thing for the last few days or weeks.”

Decide what your research question or questions will be for your chosen topic.

Break that down into smaller SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) objectives.

Speak to your supervisor about any overlooked areas.

Create a breakdown of chapters using the structure listed below (for example, a methodology chapter).

Define objectives, key points and evidence for each chapter.

Define your research approach (qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods).

Outline your research methods and analysis techniques.

Develop a timeline with regular moments for review and feedback.

Allocate time for revision, editing and breaks.

Consider any ethical considerations related to your research.

Stay organised and add to your references and bibliography throughout the process.

Remain flexible to possible reviews or changes as you go along.

A well thought-out plan not only makes the writing process more manageable but also increases the likelihood of producing a high-quality piece of research.

How to structure a dissertation?

The structure can depend on your field of study, but this is a rough outline for science and social science dissertations:

Introduce your topic.

Complete a source or literature review.

Describe your research methodology (including the methods for gathering and filtering information, analysis techniques, materials, tools or resources used, limitations of your method, and any considerations of reliability).

Summarise your findings.

Discuss the results and what they mean.

Conclude your point and explain how your work contributes to your field.

On the other hand, humanities and arts dissertations often take the form of an extended essay. This involves constructing an argument or exploring a particular theory or analysis through the analysis of primary and secondary sources. Your essay will be structured through chapters arranged around themes or case studies.

All dissertations include a title page, an abstract and a reference list. Some may also need a table of contents at the beginning. Always check with your university department for its dissertation guidelines, and check with your supervisor as you begin to plan your structure to ensure that you have the right layout.

How long is an undergraduate dissertation?

The length of an undergraduate dissertation can vary depending on the specific guidelines provided by your university and your subject department. However, in many cases, undergraduate dissertations are typically about 8,000 to 12,000 words in length.

“Eat away at it; try to write for at least 30 minutes every day, even if it feels relatively unproductive to you in the moment,” Jumana advises.

How do I add references to my dissertation?

References are the section of your dissertation where you acknowledge the sources you have quoted or referred to in your writing. It’s a way of supporting your ideas, evidencing what research you have used and avoiding plagiarism (claiming someone else’s work as your own), and giving credit to the original authors.

Referencing typically includes in-text citations and a reference list or bibliography with full source details. Different referencing styles exist, such as Harvard, APA and MLA, each favoured in specific fields. Your university will tell you the preferred style.

Using tools and guides provided by universities can make the referencing process more manageable, but be sure they are approved by your university before using any.

How do I write a bibliography or list my references for my dissertation?

The requirement of a bibliography depends on the style of referencing you need to use. Styles such as OSCOLA or Chicago may not require a separate bibliography. In these styles, full source information is often incorporated into footnotes throughout the piece, doing away with the need for a separate bibliography section.

Typically, reference lists or bibliographies are organised alphabetically based on the author’s last name. They usually include essential details about each source, providing a quick overview for readers who want more information. Some styles ask that you include references that you didn’t use in your final piece as they were still a part of the overall research.

It is important to maintain this list as soon as you start your research. As you complete your research, you can add more sources to your bibliography to ensure that you have a comprehensive list throughout the dissertation process.

How to proofread an undergraduate dissertation?

Throughout your dissertation writing, attention to detail will be your greatest asset. The best way to avoid making mistakes is to continuously proofread and edit your work.

Proofreading is a great way to catch any missing sections, grammatical errors or typos. There are many tips to help you proofread:

Ask someone to read your piece and highlight any mistakes they find.

Change the font so you notice any mistakes.

Format your piece as you go, headings and sections will make it easier to spot any problems.

Separate editing and proofreading. Editing is your chance to rewrite sections, add more detail or change any points. Proofreading should be where you get into the final touches, really polish what you have and make sure it’s ready to be submitted.

Stick to your citation style and make sure every resource listed in your dissertation is cited in the reference list or bibliography.

How to write a conclusion for my dissertation?

Writing a dissertation conclusion is your chance to leave the reader impressed by your work.

Start by summarising your findings, highlighting your key points and the outcome of your research. Refer back to the original research question or hypotheses to provide context to your conclusion.

You can then delve into whether you achieved the goals you set at the beginning and reflect on whether your research addressed the topic as expected. Make sure you link your findings to existing literature or sources you have included throughout your work and how your own research could contribute to your field.

Be honest about any limitations or issues you faced during your research and consider any questions that went unanswered that you would consider in the future. Make sure that your conclusion is clear and concise, and sum up the overall impact and importance of your work.

Remember, keep the tone confident and authoritative, avoiding the introduction of new information. This should simply be a summary of everything you have already said throughout the dissertation.

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  • Dissertation

What Is a Dissertation? | 5 Essential Questions to Get Started

Published on 26 March 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on 5 May 2022.

A dissertation is a large research project undertaken at the end of a degree. It involves in-depth consideration of a problem or question chosen by the student. It is usually the largest (and final) piece of written work produced during a degree.

The length and structure of a dissertation vary widely depending on the level and field of study. However, there are some key questions that can help you understand the requirements and get started on your dissertation project.

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Table of contents

When and why do you have to write a dissertation, who will supervise your dissertation, what type of research will you do, how should your dissertation be structured, what formatting and referencing rules do you have to follow, frequently asked questions about dissertations.

A dissertation, sometimes called a thesis, comes at the end of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. It is a larger project than the other essays you’ve written, requiring a higher word count and a greater depth of research.

You’ll generally work on your dissertation during the final year of your degree, over a longer period than you would take for a standard essay . For example, the dissertation might be your main focus for the last six months of your degree.

Why is the dissertation important?

The dissertation is a test of your capacity for independent research. You are given a lot of autonomy in writing your dissertation: you come up with your own ideas, conduct your own research, and write and structure the text by yourself.

This means that it is an important preparation for your future, whether you continue in academia or not: it teaches you to manage your own time, generate original ideas, and work independently.

Prevent plagiarism, run a free check.

During the planning and writing of your dissertation, you’ll work with a supervisor from your department. The supervisor’s job is to give you feedback and advice throughout the process.

The dissertation supervisor is often assigned by the department, but you might be allowed to indicate preferences or approach potential supervisors. If so, try to pick someone who is familiar with your chosen topic, whom you get along with on a personal level, and whose feedback you’ve found useful in the past.

How will your supervisor help you?

Your supervisor is there to guide you through the dissertation project, but you’re still working independently. They can give feedback on your ideas, but not come up with ideas for you.

You may need to take the initiative to request an initial meeting with your supervisor. Then you can plan out your future meetings and set reasonable deadlines for things like completion of data collection, a structure outline, a first chapter, a first draft, and so on.

Make sure to prepare in advance for your meetings. Formulate your ideas as fully as you can, and determine where exactly you’re having difficulties so you can ask your supervisor for specific advice.

Your approach to your dissertation will vary depending on your field of study. The first thing to consider is whether you will do empirical research , which involves collecting original data, or non-empirical research , which involves analysing sources.

Empirical dissertations (sciences)

An empirical dissertation focuses on collecting and analysing original data. You’ll usually write this type of dissertation if you are studying a subject in the sciences or social sciences.

  • What are airline workers’ attitudes towards the challenges posed for their industry by climate change?
  • How effective is cognitive behavioural therapy in treating depression in young adults?
  • What are the short-term health effects of switching from smoking cigarettes to e-cigarettes?

There are many different empirical research methods you can use to answer these questions – for example, experiments , observations, surveys , and interviews.

When doing empirical research, you need to consider things like the variables you will investigate, the reliability and validity of your measurements, and your sampling method . The aim is to produce robust, reproducible scientific knowledge.

Non-empirical dissertations (arts and humanities)

A non-empirical dissertation works with existing research or other texts, presenting original analysis, critique and argumentation, but no original data. This approach is typical of arts and humanities subjects.

  • What attitudes did commentators in the British press take towards the French Revolution in 1789–1792?
  • How do the themes of gender and inheritance intersect in Shakespeare’s Macbeth ?
  • How did Plato’s Republic and Thomas More’s Utopia influence nineteenth century utopian socialist thought?

The first steps in this type of dissertation are to decide on your topic and begin collecting your primary and secondary sources .

Primary sources are the direct objects of your research. They give you first-hand evidence about your subject. Examples of primary sources include novels, artworks and historical documents.

Secondary sources provide information that informs your analysis. They describe, interpret, or evaluate information from primary sources. For example, you might consider previous analyses of the novel or author you are working on, or theoretical texts that you plan to apply to your primary sources.

Dissertations are divided into chapters and sections. Empirical dissertations usually follow a standard structure, while non-empirical dissertations are more flexible.

Structure of an empirical dissertation

Empirical dissertations generally include these chapters:

  • Introduction : An explanation of your topic and the research question(s) you want to answer.
  • Literature review : A survey and evaluation of previous research on your topic.
  • Methodology : An explanation of how you collected and analysed your data.
  • Results : A brief description of what you found.
  • Discussion : Interpretation of what these results reveal.
  • Conclusion : Answers to your research question(s) and summary of what your findings contribute to knowledge in your field.

Sometimes the order or naming of chapters might be slightly different, but all of the above information must be included in order to produce thorough, valid scientific research.

Other dissertation structures

If your dissertation doesn’t involve data collection, your structure is more flexible. You can think of it like an extended essay – the text should be logically organised in a way that serves your argument:

  • Introduction: An explanation of your topic and the question(s) you want to answer.
  • Main body: The development of your analysis, usually divided into 2–4 chapters.
  • Conclusion: Answers to your research question(s) and summary of what your analysis contributes to knowledge in your field.

The chapters of the main body can be organised around different themes, time periods, or texts. Below you can see some example structures for dissertations in different subjects.

  • Political philosophy

This example, on the topic of the British press’s coverage of the French Revolution, shows how you might structure each chapter around a specific theme.

Example of a dissertation structure in history

This example, on the topic of Plato’s and More’s influences on utopian socialist thought, shows a different approach to dividing the chapters by theme.

Example of a dissertation structure in political philosophy

This example, a master’s dissertation on the topic of how writers respond to persecution, shows how you can also use section headings within each chapter. Each of the three chapters deals with a specific text, while the sections are organised thematically.

Example of a dissertation structure in literature

Like other academic texts, it’s important that your dissertation follows the formatting guidelines set out by your university. You can lose marks unnecessarily over mistakes, so it’s worth taking the time to get all these elements right.

Formatting guidelines concern things like:

  • line spacing
  • page numbers
  • punctuation
  • title pages
  • presentation of tables and figures

If you’re unsure about the formatting requirements, check with your supervisor or department. You can lose marks unnecessarily over mistakes, so it’s worth taking the time to get all these elements right.

How will you reference your sources?

Referencing means properly listing the sources you cite and refer to in your dissertation, so that the reader can find them. This avoids plagiarism by acknowledging where you’ve used the work of others.

Keep track of everything you read as you prepare your dissertation. The key information to note down for a reference is:

  • The publication date
  • Page numbers for the parts you refer to (especially when using direct quotes)

Different referencing styles each have their own specific rules for how to reference. The most commonly used styles in UK universities are listed below.

You can use the free APA Reference Generator to automatically create and store your references.

APA Reference Generator

The words ‘ dissertation ’ and ‘thesis’ both refer to a large written research project undertaken to complete a degree, but they are used differently depending on the country:

  • In the UK, you write a dissertation at the end of a bachelor’s or master’s degree, and you write a thesis to complete a PhD.
  • In the US, it’s the other way around: you may write a thesis at the end of a bachelor’s or master’s degree, and you write a dissertation to complete a PhD.

The main difference is in terms of scale – a dissertation is usually much longer than the other essays you complete during your degree.

Another key difference is that you are given much more independence when working on a dissertation. You choose your own dissertation topic , and you have to conduct the research and write the dissertation yourself (with some assistance from your supervisor).

Dissertation word counts vary widely across different fields, institutions, and levels of education:

  • An undergraduate dissertation is typically 8,000–15,000 words
  • A master’s dissertation is typically 12,000–50,000 words
  • A PhD thesis is typically book-length: 70,000–100,000 words

However, none of these are strict guidelines – your word count may be lower or higher than the numbers stated here. Always check the guidelines provided by your university to determine how long your own dissertation should be.

At the bachelor’s and master’s levels, the dissertation is usually the main focus of your final year. You might work on it (alongside other classes) for the entirety of the final year, or for the last six months. This includes formulating an idea, doing the research, and writing up.

A PhD thesis takes a longer time, as the thesis is the main focus of the degree. A PhD thesis might be being formulated and worked on for the whole four years of the degree program. The writing process alone can take around 18 months.

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Caulfield, J. (2022, May 05). What Is a Dissertation? | 5 Essential Questions to Get Started. Scribbr. Retrieved 26 February 2024, from https://www.scribbr.co.uk/thesis-dissertation/what-is-a-dissertation/

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Other students also liked, how to choose a dissertation topic | 8 steps to follow, how to write a dissertation proposal | a step-by-step guide, what is a literature review | guide, template, & examples.

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Writing a dissertation is a significant challenge for many students, especially when it comes to structuring the document effectively. 

Without a proper structure, a dissertation can become confusing and fail to convey the intended message.

In this blog, we will provide you with a comprehensive guide to dissertation structure. 

We'll explain the essential components of a dissertation. Plus, we’ll provide you with tips and tricks for structuring your document effectively.

By the end of this blog, you'll have a clear understanding of how to organize your dissertation and communicate your ideas clearly.

Let’s get started!

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How to Structure a Dissertation?

The first and foremost step to take after choosing a dissertation topic is figuring out how you want your work laid out. This can be tricky, but if we break it down into simple terms, then everything should become much more straightforward!

A dissertation structure is based on several essential elements that each contribute to the overall success of your project. Although not every dissertation is structured similarly, you need to know what kind (or variant) will suit your needs best.

The structure of your dissertation will depend on the type of paper you’re writing. For example, a humanities-related document has different guidelines than one that deals with science-based topics and theories.

Usually, the structure and format in which your dissertation should be written are provided for you. Make sure to read them thoroughly before outlining any sections or writing up conclusions!

The elements that can be used to structure all types of dissertations are as follows:

Remember, this is a generic structure. The specific requirements may vary depending on the field of study and the guidelines provided by your institution or advisor.

Let's discuss these points in detail.

Title/Cover Page

The cover or title page of your dissertation is the first page. This includes important details such as:

  • Your roll number
  • Your supervisor’s name
  • Your department name
  • Institute’s name
  • Degree program
  • Submission date
  • Institute’s logo

It is important to know that a title page will be written according to the format of your dissertation. For example, if you write in MLA or Chicago style, make sure this information is on cover pages accordingly.

Check out the sample below of a title page in MLA format.

Dissertation Title Page Sample

A dissertation abstract is the summary of your entire paper. It should contain about 150-300 words and must be written after writing the whole thing to avoid any confusion or mistakes.

The following information should include in the dissertation:

  • The main topic of your dissertation
  • Objectives and research methods used in it
  • The most important part is to summarize what you found out during analysis. So that other people can read about them while not wasting too much time on details!

To make people want to read your dissertation, you need an interesting and informative abstract. Ensure that all relevant information is included in this first paragraph without any unnecessary details; prove how great it would be for them to read!

Dissertation Abstract Sample

Table of Contents

The table of contents is a list that shows which chapter and heading each passage belongs in. Each entry has page numbers, so you can easily find the right place for any given piece of writing!

The table of content is one of the most important parts of any document. It helps readers navigate and provides an overview of how your dissertation will be structured, so make sure to include it.

Dissertation Table of Content Sample

List of Tables and Figures

Tables, charts, and figures are an integral part of any dissertation. This section lists them all down for your readers to follow along with what you're saying.

The glossary is a useful resource for those who want to understand the terms and concepts in the text. It includes definitions of unfamiliar words to make it easier for you.

To ensure that no important term is left out, list all the glossary terms alphabetically and provide their definition or explanation. Usually, this step comes after writing your dissertation but can be done earlier if needed.

Dissertation Glossary Sample


The introduction of the dissertation is often where you make your first impression. It's important that this section grabs the reader’s attention. 

It should provide sufficient information about what they will be reading throughout all future sections. For that, it should contain some exciting content.

The introduction of your dissertation is an opportunity to introduce readers to all the relevant information they need before diving into research. It includes objectives, purposes for writing this particular paper, and the thesis statement, which will be explained in more detail later on.

The following information contains in the dissertation introduction:

  • Introduce the research topic
  • Give some background information
  • Provide the focus of your study
  • Present your research scope
  • Provide a reference for your topic’s existing research
  • Tell how your research contributes to the broader issue
  • State your major research question
  • State our dissertation aims
  • Give an overview of the dissertation structure elements

All the information in your introduction should be explicitly presented to engage readers. Ensure that you give them a complete picture of what, why, and how this research was conducted. 

So, they can have an enjoyable time reading about it!

Dissertation Introduction Sample

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Literature Review

The literature review is an integral part of the dissertation. It's written to have a complete understanding of your topic through already existing works by academics in that field.

To write a literature review, you need to follow these steps:

  • Choose the most relevant and credible sources to gather information for your work (books or journals).
  • Evaluate and analyze each source
  • Make a connection between the themes, gaps, conflicts, etc.

A literature review is more than just a summary of the relevant studies. Instead, it requires you to develop an argument and structure that further becomes its basis for justification. This provides insights into your work and summarizes other people's findings.

  • Existing work gaps
  • Discuss your research outcome into the theoretical framework and underlying assumptions
  • State a solution to a problem
  • Start a theoretical debate
  • Strengthens the knowledge with new information

Dissertation Literature Review Sample


The methodology chapter is a crucial step in the process, as it discusses how to conduct your research and collect data.

This section begins by explaining how the writer achieved their findings and reasons for reliability. The methodology includes:

  • What is the approach of the research? (whether it is qualitative, quantitative, ethnographic, or experimental)
  • What techniques do you use to collect the data? (interviews, surveys, etc.)
  • Define the “how, what, when, and where” of the research.
  • What type of research will you do? (empirical or non-empirical research and is it primary or dissertation structure for secondary research)
  • What methods were used to analyze the data (for example, statistical analysis, etc.)
  • The materials and tools used in gathering the data should be clearly described. For example, computer programs (Excel or STAT)
  • State research limitations and problems faced during the research.
  • Provide an evaluation of the methods used.

The major objective of writing this section is to report what the writer did in their research. Moreover, it persuades readers that approaches and methods used successfully solve problems. This makes them feel more confident about exploring a similar situation themselves!

Methodology Dissertation Structure

The research results are reported in this section. The goal of writing it is to make only relevant information available that supports your argument or objective. This ensures that you don't waste space with unimportant statistics and details.

The final dissertation chapter is often summarizing all the information gathered throughout. It can be difficult to keep track, so it's best if this part has tables and charts too! This will help readers understand what was said and how it fits into their own life or work environment.

The meaning and implications of research findings are discussed in a discussion section concerning your main question. Interpretations can be more detailed by including relevant examples or analogies that illustrate points better than discussing them on paper.

The discussion section is an opportunity for the writer to make recommendations about future research. This can be done by noting any new findings or predictions related to their study and how these results fit into existing knowledge.

Dissertation Results And Discussion Sample

The conclusion section should leave readers clear on what they need to know about the main argument. It can be written to answer any remaining questions or strengthen points made earlier.

It should be analytical enough not to seem sentimental when closing out an entire paper with its conclusions. The conclusion is the final stage in a dissertation, where you can share your thoughts about what has been learned from conducting research and how it will help others.

Dissertation Conclusion Sample


The bibliography or reference list is where all the information about sources is provided. This includes citations relevant to your research explanations and authorship details for each entry included in your dissertation.

The bibliography is written following the chosen citation referencing style, APA and MLA. This section has certain requirements that need to be fulfilled for each specific format of citations, given they're different from one another.

Dissertation Bibliography Sample

Dissertation Examples

Students need examples to understand the format and structure of a dissertation proposal. Experts also recommend looking at a few already written samples to make sure they write theirs successfully!

Here are some great dissertation examples to help you write your own winning paper.

Sample Dissertation

Undergraduate Dissertation Example

Masters Dissertation Structure

10,000 words dissertation structure

EPQ dissertation structure

Still struggling to write your dissertation? Given below are a few additional examples of dissertation structures.

8000 word dissertation structure

History dissertation structure

Law dissertation structure

15000 word dissertation structure

Looking for more examples? Take a look at your blog featuring dissertation examples .

Dissertation Writing Tips

When it comes to writing a dissertation, it's not just about the structure but also about the quality of your content. Here are some valuable tips to enhance your dissertation writing:

  • Start Early: Begin your dissertation as early as possible to allow ample time for research, writing, and revisions. Procrastination can lead to unnecessary stress and compromise the quality of your work.
  • Research Thoroughly: Conduct a comprehensive literature review to familiarize yourself with the existing body of knowledge related to your topic. This will help you identify research gaps and formulate relevant research questions.
  • Plan Your Time: Create a realistic timeline or schedule that outlines specific tasks and milestones. Break down your work into manageable sections to stay organized and motivated throughout the process.
  • Organize Your Thoughts: Create an outline or a mind map to structure your ideas logically. This will help you maintain a clear flow of information and ensure that your arguments are presented coherently.
  • Write in Clear and Concise Language: Use simple and precise language to convey your ideas effectively. Avoid unnecessary jargon or complex terminology that may confuse readers.
  • Revise and Edit: Take the time to review and refine your work. Proofread for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. Additionally, critically evaluate the clarity and coherence of your arguments.
  • Seek Feedback: Share your work with your supervisor, peers, or other trusted individuals. Constructive feedback can provide valuable insights and help you improve the quality of your dissertation.
  • Follow Guidelines and Formatting Requirements: Adhere to the specific guidelines and formatting requirements provided by your institution. Pay attention to citation styles, referencing, and formatting of headings, tables, and figures.

By implementing these tips, you can enhance the overall quality of your dissertation and increase your chances of success.

Looking for more insights on structuring your dissertation? Check out this video below.

In conclusion, writing a dissertation can be a challenging but rewarding process. By understanding the essential components and structuring your document, you can convey your ideas clearly. 

Remember that organizing your dissertation is essential. Instructors and the audience expect work advancing their knowledge in this field. So it’s important to be organized with all aspects of it, from writing skills down to research accuracy.

If you are struggling to write a dissertation, seek help from our writing service.

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Home » Dissertation Methodology – Structure, Example and Writing Guide

Dissertation Methodology – Structure, Example and Writing Guide

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Dissertation Methodology

Dissertation Methodology

In any research, the methodology chapter is one of the key components of your dissertation. It provides a detailed description of the methods you used to conduct your research and helps readers understand how you obtained your data and how you plan to analyze it. This section is crucial for replicating the study and validating its results.

Here are the basic elements that are typically included in a dissertation methodology:

  • Introduction : This section should explain the importance and goals of your research .
  • Research Design : Outline your research approach and why it’s appropriate for your study. You might be conducting an experimental research, a qualitative research, a quantitative research, or a mixed-methods research.
  • Data Collection : This section should detail the methods you used to collect your data. Did you use surveys, interviews, observations, etc.? Why did you choose these methods? You should also include who your participants were, how you recruited them, and any ethical considerations.
  • Data Analysis : Explain how you intend to analyze the data you collected. This could include statistical analysis, thematic analysis, content analysis, etc., depending on the nature of your study.
  • Reliability and Validity : Discuss how you’ve ensured the reliability and validity of your study. For instance, you could discuss measures taken to reduce bias, how you ensured that your measures accurately capture what they were intended to, or how you will handle any limitations in your study.
  • Ethical Considerations : This is where you state how you have considered ethical issues related to your research, how you have protected the participants’ rights, and how you have complied with the relevant ethical guidelines.
  • Limitations : Acknowledge any limitations of your methodology, including any biases and constraints that might have affected your study.
  • Summary : Recap the key points of your methodology chapter, highlighting the overall approach and rationalization of your research.

Types of Dissertation Methodology

The type of methodology you choose for your dissertation will depend on the nature of your research question and the field you’re working in. Here are some of the most common types of methodologies used in dissertations:

Experimental Research

This involves creating an experiment that will test your hypothesis. You’ll need to design an experiment, manipulate variables, collect data, and analyze that data to draw conclusions. This is commonly used in fields like psychology, biology, and physics.

Survey Research

This type of research involves gathering data from a large number of participants using tools like questionnaires or surveys. It can be used to collect a large amount of data and is often used in fields like sociology, marketing, and public health.

Qualitative Research

This type of research is used to explore complex phenomena that can’t be easily quantified. Methods include interviews, focus groups, and observations. This methodology is common in fields like anthropology, sociology, and education.

Quantitative Research

Quantitative research uses numerical data to answer research questions. This can include statistical, mathematical, or computational techniques. It’s common in fields like economics, psychology, and health sciences.

Case Study Research

This type of research involves in-depth investigation of a particular case, such as an individual, group, or event. This methodology is often used in psychology, social sciences, and business.

Mixed Methods Research

This combines qualitative and quantitative research methods in a single study. It’s used to answer more complex research questions and is becoming more popular in fields like social sciences, health sciences, and education.

Action Research

This type of research involves taking action and then reflecting upon the results. This cycle of action-reflection-action continues throughout the study. It’s often used in fields like education and organizational development.

Longitudinal Research

This type of research involves studying the same group of individuals over an extended period of time. This could involve surveys, observations, or experiments. It’s common in fields like psychology, sociology, and medicine.

Ethnographic Research

This type of research involves the in-depth study of people and cultures. Researchers immerse themselves in the culture they’re studying to collect data. This is often used in fields like anthropology and social sciences.

Structure of Dissertation Methodology

The structure of a dissertation methodology can vary depending on your field of study, the nature of your research, and the guidelines of your institution. However, a standard structure typically includes the following elements:

  • Introduction : Briefly introduce your overall approach to the research. Explain what you plan to explore and why it’s important.
  • Research Design/Approach : Describe your overall research design. This can be qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods. Explain the rationale behind your chosen design and why it is suitable for your research questions or hypotheses.
  • Data Collection Methods : Detail the methods you used to collect your data. You should include what type of data you collected, how you collected it, and why you chose this method. If relevant, you can also include information about your sample population, such as how many people participated, how they were chosen, and any relevant demographic information.
  • Data Analysis Methods : Explain how you plan to analyze your collected data. This will depend on the nature of your data. For example, if you collected quantitative data, you might discuss statistical analysis techniques. If you collected qualitative data, you might discuss coding strategies, thematic analysis, or narrative analysis.
  • Reliability and Validity : Discuss how you’ve ensured the reliability and validity of your research. This might include steps you took to reduce bias or increase the accuracy of your measurements.
  • Ethical Considerations : If relevant, discuss any ethical issues associated with your research. This might include how you obtained informed consent from participants, how you ensured participants’ privacy and confidentiality, or any potential conflicts of interest.
  • Limitations : Acknowledge any limitations in your research methodology. This could include potential sources of bias, difficulties with data collection, or limitations in your analysis methods.
  • Summary/Conclusion : Briefly summarize the key points of your methodology, emphasizing how it helps answer your research questions or hypotheses.

How to Write Dissertation Methodology

Writing a dissertation methodology requires you to be clear and precise about the way you’ve carried out your research. It’s an opportunity to convince your readers of the appropriateness and reliability of your approach to your research question. Here is a basic guideline on how to write your methodology section:

1. Introduction

Start your methodology section by restating your research question(s) or objective(s). This ensures your methodology directly ties into the aim of your research.

2. Approach

Identify your overall approach: qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods. Explain why you have chosen this approach.

  • Qualitative methods are typically used for exploratory research and involve collecting non-numerical data. This might involve interviews, observations, or analysis of texts.
  • Quantitative methods are used for research that relies on numerical data. This might involve surveys, experiments, or statistical analysis.
  • Mixed methods use a combination of both qualitative and quantitative research methods.

3. Research Design

Describe the overall design of your research. This could involve explaining the type of study (e.g., case study, ethnography, experimental research, etc.), how you’ve defined and measured your variables, and any control measures you’ve implemented.

4. Data Collection

Explain in detail how you collected your data.

  • If you’ve used qualitative methods, you might detail how you selected participants for interviews or focus groups, how you conducted observations, or how you analyzed existing texts.
  • If you’ve used quantitative methods, you might detail how you designed your survey or experiment, how you collected responses, and how you ensured your data is reliable and valid.

5. Data Analysis

Describe how you analyzed your data.

  • If you’re doing qualitative research, this might involve thematic analysis, discourse analysis, or grounded theory.
  • If you’re doing quantitative research, you might be conducting statistical tests, regression analysis, or factor analysis.

Discuss any ethical issues related to your research. This might involve explaining how you obtained informed consent, how you’re protecting participants’ privacy, or how you’re managing any potential harms to participants.

7. Reliability and Validity

Discuss the steps you’ve taken to ensure the reliability and validity of your data.

  • Reliability refers to the consistency of your measurements, and you might discuss how you’ve piloted your instruments or used standardized measures.
  • Validity refers to the accuracy of your measurements, and you might discuss how you’ve ensured your measures reflect the concepts they’re supposed to measure.

8. Limitations

Every study has its limitations. Discuss the potential weaknesses of your chosen methods and explain any obstacles you faced in your research.

9. Conclusion

Summarize the key points of your methodology, emphasizing how it helps to address your research question or objective.

Example of Dissertation Methodology

An Example of Dissertation Methodology is as follows:

Chapter 3: Methodology

  • Introduction

This chapter details the methodology adopted in this research. The study aimed to explore the relationship between stress and productivity in the workplace. A mixed-methods research design was used to collect and analyze data.

Research Design

This study adopted a mixed-methods approach, combining quantitative surveys with qualitative interviews to provide a comprehensive understanding of the research problem. The rationale for this approach is that while quantitative data can provide a broad overview of the relationships between variables, qualitative data can provide deeper insights into the nuances of these relationships.

Data Collection Methods

Quantitative Data Collection : An online self-report questionnaire was used to collect data from participants. The questionnaire consisted of two standardized scales: the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) to measure stress levels and the Individual Work Productivity Questionnaire (IWPQ) to measure productivity. The sample consisted of 200 office workers randomly selected from various companies in the city.

Qualitative Data Collection : Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 participants chosen from the initial sample. The interview guide included questions about participants’ experiences with stress and how they perceived its impact on their productivity.

Data Analysis Methods

Quantitative Data Analysis : Descriptive and inferential statistics were used to analyze the survey data. Pearson’s correlation was used to examine the relationship between stress and productivity.

Qualitative Data Analysis : Interviews were transcribed and subjected to thematic analysis using NVivo software. This process allowed for identifying and analyzing patterns and themes regarding the impact of stress on productivity.

Reliability and Validity

To ensure reliability and validity, standardized measures with good psychometric properties were used. In qualitative data analysis, triangulation was employed by having two researchers independently analyze the data and then compare findings.

Ethical Considerations

All participants provided informed consent prior to their involvement in the study. They were informed about the purpose of the study, their rights as participants, and the confidentiality of their responses.


The main limitation of this study is its reliance on self-report measures, which can be subject to biases such as social desirability bias. Moreover, the sample was drawn from a single city, which may limit the generalizability of the findings.

Where to Write Dissertation Methodology

In a dissertation or thesis, the Methodology section usually follows the Literature Review. This placement allows the Methodology to build upon the theoretical framework and existing research outlined in the Literature Review, and precedes the Results or Findings section. Here’s a basic outline of how most dissertations are structured:

  • Acknowledgements
  • Literature Review (or it may be interspersed throughout the dissertation)
  • Methodology
  • Results/Findings
  • References/Bibliography

In the Methodology chapter, you will discuss the research design, data collection methods, data analysis methods, and any ethical considerations pertaining to your study. This allows your readers to understand how your research was conducted and how you arrived at your results.

Advantages of Dissertation Methodology

The dissertation methodology section plays an important role in a dissertation for several reasons. Here are some of the advantages of having a well-crafted methodology section in your dissertation:

  • Clarifies Your Research Approach : The methodology section explains how you plan to tackle your research question, providing a clear plan for data collection and analysis.
  • Enables Replication : A detailed methodology allows other researchers to replicate your study. Replication is an important aspect of scientific research because it provides validation of the study’s results.
  • Demonstrates Rigor : A well-written methodology shows that you’ve thought critically about your research methods and have chosen the most appropriate ones for your research question. This adds credibility to your study.
  • Enhances Transparency : Detailing your methods allows readers to understand the steps you took in your research. This increases the transparency of your study and allows readers to evaluate potential biases or limitations.
  • Helps in Addressing Research Limitations : In your methodology section, you can acknowledge and explain the limitations of your research. This is important as it shows you understand that no research method is perfect and there are always potential weaknesses.
  • Facilitates Peer Review : A detailed methodology helps peer reviewers assess the soundness of your research design. This is an important part of the publication process if you aim to publish your dissertation in a peer-reviewed journal.
  • Establishes the Validity and Reliability : Your methodology section should also include a discussion of the steps you took to ensure the validity and reliability of your measurements, which is crucial for establishing the overall quality of your research.

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Online EdD Programs

Guide to the Doctor of Education (EdD) Dissertation

dissertation structure ideas

The Doctor of Education (EdD) dissertation is considered a central component of EdD programs. The EdD dissertation is a five-chapter document that investigates an issue in education, reviews the existing literature on this issue, adds additional insight through a qualitative and/or quantitative research study, and proposes one or more solutions. It is considered the culmination of a student’s knowledge of education systems and his or her training in the academic research process. Most EdD programs require students to formally publish their dissertation and/or present their findings to a group of faculty and peers.

The dissertation and dissertation defense are two of the most challenging experiences students will have during their program, but are also two of the most engaging and rewarding from an intellectual perspective. The dissertation allows students to truly apply all the skills and knowledge they have gained during their graduate work to an education issue in which they are invested. Below is a more detailed description of EdD dissertations and the important steps students should take to successfully prepare for, complete, and defend their dissertation.

Doctorate of Education Dissertations

EdD dissertations are students’ opportunity to contribute original research on and insight into an issue in education, such as educational disparities, curriculum development or instruction challenges, school funding problems, college counseling and guidance, job skills development, or standardized testing. For their dissertation, students complete research under the guidance of a research mentor, and receive academic credit for this work. Students typically attend seminars and/or other classes that provide structure around the processes of developing a research question, formulating a research plan, reviewing existing academic literature, and writing about their findings. Many programs require students to present their findings to a committee and/or publish their dissertation in an academic journal.

The Structure of EdD Dissertations

As mentioned previously, dissertations are traditionally divided into five chapters: Introduction, Literature Review, Research Methodology, Results and Analysis, and Discussion and Conclusions. A brief description of each chapter section is below:

  • Introduction : The introduction includes background information about the topic of study and its purpose, the significance of the student’s research, and existing literature on the subject. It also provides a summary of the results of one’s study, and their implications.
  • Literature Review : This section explains the existing literature on the student’s topic of study, and places the student’s work in the context of existing theoretical frameworks that are relevant to one’s research.
  • Research Methodology : This chapter focuses on how the student gathers qualitative and/or quantitative data regarding his or her research query.
  • Results and Analysis : This section explains in detail the results of the student’s study, and analyzes it to arrive at actionable conclusions.
  • Discussion and Conclusions : This chapter places the student’s findings in the context of the educational system(s) of focus (e.g. private or public education, secondary or post-secondary) to illustrate how the student’s research contributes to the larger understanding of the educational issue at hand. This section also makes recommendations for the application of the student’s findings to real-world education practice as well as further research on the subject.

Dissertations are typically very long, in-depth works. Many dissertations are between 100 and 200 pages in length or longer, and seek to comprehensively investigate a specific issue or problem in education. Due to the intensive nature of dissertation research and writing, students must plan their research query and methodology well in advance, and seek the support of research mentors and other faculty throughout the process.

Overview of the EdD Dissertation Completion Process

In general, students begin thinking about their dissertation topic during the second year of their program. The second year is also when students begin taking courses in research and data analysis. The term prior to the beginning of their independent research, students typically take a dissertation seminar, during which they discuss potential research topics to explore and learn more about the academic research process. During their third year, students delve into independent research, while still receiving guidance from their selected faculty research mentor. Students generally submit several drafts to a dissertation committee for review and revision suggestions before they finalize their paper. Upon the completion of their dissertation, students may be required to publish their writing and/or present on their research.

Below is a general timeline of the dissertation completion process, followed by a description of the eight steps to successfully completing an EdD dissertation. The timeline below should be used for example purposes only, as programs vary in terms of when they have students complete their requisite research courses.

The Steps to Completing an EdD Dissertation

Choose a research topic and review the existing literature.

During their classes, students should take note of the topics within education that interest them and the issues that they have encountered during their work in education that they would like to see resolved. These areas are often rich with potential research questions. Conducting research within these areas of interest by reading academic articles is an important step in finding a potential question or issue in education that merits further investigation. It is important that students select a research question that is specific enough to allow for in-depth research, is not overwhelming, and is engaging enough to students to carry them through over a year of independent research.

After identifying their field of focus and preliminary research query, students must gain a thorough understanding of the existing literature concerning their field, as well as the theoretical frameworks and conceptual models that have shaped current research methodologies. In general, students should start with articles that have been published within the last 3-5 years, and then review less recent studies that are considered flagship works that have shaped the field in important ways. While reading through this research, students should stay organized with their notes, the conclusions they draw from their literature review, and how these conclusions impact their research study, as they will have to write about these topics in their dissertation.

Select a Research Advisor and Committee

One of the most important parts of students’ research process is selecting a dissertation advisor and committee. Students’ dissertation advisors are faculty members within the school’s EdD program who work closely with students to ensure that they select a research question and project that are manageable in scope, meet certain research and writing deadlines, and have the support and mentorship they need to succeed.

The dissertation committee is comprised of a group of faculty members and instructors who are qualified to read through and provide feedback on a student’s dissertation. The chair of the committee is a student’s dissertation advisor, and the student selects other members based off of their work and expertise in their area of research. Many schools have guidelines around the individuals students can select to be a part of their committee. For example, an EdD program may require students to select one more faculty member from within the EdD program (in addition to their faculty advisor), one individual outside of the department who works in a related field, and one subject matter expert from inside or outside the department who can give in-depth advice regarding the student’s research project. Students must obtain approval from their program for their committee member selections.

A student’s dissertation committee not only provides feedback and support on a student’s research, but also serves as a collective evaluator of a student’s research progress and final product. For example, the committee generally sets dissertation chapter completion and submission deadlines to keep students on track, and also listens to and evaluates students’ dissertation defense, which is a requirement for graduation.

Create and Defend Research Proposal

After students receive approval of their dissertation committee, they work individually and with their dissertation chair/advisor to develop a formal research proposal. The proposal typically includes the first three chapters of a student’s dissertation: the Introduction, the Literature Review chapter, and the Research Methodology chapter. In this proposal, students must outline their specific research query and its relevance to and impact on different spheres of education. They must also explain the work that has already been done in their area of research, their methodologies for the study they will conduct, and their tools and plans for analysis.

Once students have written these three chapters and formalized their research proposal, they must meet with their committee to present and defend their research proposal. This defense is meant to identify any issues with a student’s research objective, review of the literature, or study methodology, so that the student can address these issues prior to conducting their research.

Develop a Timeline for Research and Writing

Students work with their dissertation committee to establish timelines for the completion of certain chapters and milestones in their study (e.g. the conducting of surveys or the compilation and analysis of data or records). A reasonable timeline may have students writing the first three chapters during the fall term of their third year, and the fourth and fifth chapters during the spring term of the same year. However, dissertation timelines will vary depending on whether students are pursuing their degree full-time or part-time, how early in their program they are able to take the requisite research courses prior to starting their independent work, how soon they are able to identify a research question, and other factors.

Apply for Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval

The Institutional Review Board protects the rights and well-being of human subjects of research studies by working to ensure their consent to certain research procedures, and assuring their ethical treatment during the research process. All EdD research projects must receive IRB approval before proceeding. The IRB approval application is generally comprised of any study subject consent forms; copies of any surveys, questionnaires, or other data collection methods and tools to be used; a completed application form; and proof of IRB Training completion. IRB Training is typically completed through an online course module that is delivered through the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) program.

Conduct Study and Analyze Results

Once students have received IRB approval, they are ready to proceed with their planned study. Data collection methods vary depending on the nature and scope of one’s research project, but may include sending out surveys, conducting interviews, conducting student or teacher assessments, compiling student performance metrics from public records, and other methods of collecting relevant data to try and answer their research query. Once students have gathered sufficient data, they move to the analysis of this data to try and find trends or patterns that help answer their research question. Throughout this process, students consult with their advisor and with members of their dissertation committee as necessary.

Complete Dissertation and Submit for Review and Revision

Once students have completed their analysis, they must write the Results and Analysis and Discussion and Conclusions sections of their dissertation. The Results and Analysis chapter is a straightforward explanation of one’s study results and the conclusions that can be drawn from them. The Discussion and Conclusions section places the study results in the context of the larger educational issue(s) affected by one’s research, makes recommendations for the application of one’s findings, and also provides suggestions for further research in the area of study. Upon the completion of a full dissertation manuscript, students submit their work to their committee for review and commentary. Students may go through several revisions and then final edits of their dissertation prior to their final defense and formal manuscript submission.

Conduct Dissertation Final Defense

A milestone in the EdD student’s graduate school career is the dissertation final defense, which is a formal presentation that students make to their dissertation committee, in which they explain their research objectives, methodology, and findings. During and after their presentation, committee members ask questions in an effort to identify any weaknesses, inconsistencies, or other issues in the student’s research. When faced with these questions, students must answer clearly and defend the validity of their research methods, results, and conclusions. After the presentation and questions are over, the committee confers to decide whether the student has passed his or her final defense and will receive the doctoral degree.

Before completing their dissertation defense, it is recommended that students prepare well in advance by attending the defenses of other students within the same program and discussing their dissertation manuscript with their advisor and asking any questions regarding what to expect during the defense. Students should craft a strong and well-organized presentation, and also anticipate questions that their committee members may ask them.

Submit Dissertation for Formal Review

The final step students need to take to complete their dissertation is to submit their fully edited manuscript for formal review by their dissertation committee, after making any necessary modifications in response to recommendations given during their dissertation defense. Some programs require students to publish their dissertation in an academic journal, which requires students to format their manuscript according to journal guidelines.


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“There are a lot of indicators to suggest that our democracy is not at the healthiest point a democracy can be,” said Danielle Allen, the James Bryant Conant University Professor and director of the Allen Lab for Democracy Renovation at Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. She pointed to a few of those indicators: young people seem less committed to democracy than past generations; general trust in institutions is in decline ; and polarization is getting worse .

Even so, says the legal scholar Stephen Sachs, it’s important to remember that the U.S. has experienced rough patches before and navigated them. The task before leaders and citizens is defining (and addressing) the specific nature of our current challenges.

“We’ve had roughly the same constitutional structure for a very long time, but now it seems to be doing less well in particular, unique ways,” said Sachs, the Law School’s Antonin Scalia Professor of Law. “I think that’s really what we need to figure out.”

Steven Levitsky, a professor of government and the co-author of “How Democracies Die” and “Tyranny of the Minority,” said that some of these modern challenges should prompt a serious look at constitutional reform. We need to examine where other democracies have found success and urge lawmakers to open their minds to change, he said.

“Our constitution is arguably the most successful national constitution in the history of the world,” Levitsky said. “We [also] have, among democracies, quite far and away the hardest constitution in the world to amend. That handicaps us.”

In this episode, host Samantha Laine Perfas speaks with Allen, Levitsky, and Sachs on how citizens and leaders can reenergize and protect U.S. democracy.

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Stephen Sachs: I honestly think that a very great number of the changes that have made American democracy seem to be performing less well are really not constitutional in origin. We’ve had roughly the same constitutional structure for a very long time, but now it seems to be doing less well in particular, unique ways.

Samantha Laine Perfas: U.S. democracy has seen better days. In recent years, the country has experienced enormous stress in the face of intense polarization and a crisis of trust. What will it take for citizens and leaders to reignite our democratic spirit?

This is “Harvard Thinking,” a podcast where the life of the mind meets everyday life.

Today, I’m joined by:

Danielle Allen: Danielle Allen. I’m the James Bryant Conant University Professor. I am a political philosopher and scholar of public policy.

Laine Perfas: She’s a democracy advocate and also runs the organization Partners in Democracy, which works on democracy renovation. Our second guest:

Steve Levitsky: Steve Levitsky. I am the David Rockefeller Professor of Latin American Studies and professor of government at Harvard.

Laine Perfas: He’s also the co-author of the best-sellers “How Democracies Die” and “Tyranny of the Minority.” And finally:

Sachs: Stephen Sachs. I’m the Antonin Scalia Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.

Laine Perfas: He teaches and writes about constitutional law, as well as how U.S. democratic structures have changed and remained the same throughout history.

And I’m Samantha Laine Perfas, your host and a writer for the Harvard Gazette. In today’s episode, we’ll discuss the past, present, and uncertain future of democracy in the United States.

Right off the bat, I want to get a sense from each of you: Do you think U.S. democracy is fragile right now? Why or why not?

Allen: Well, yes, I think it is fragile at the moment. One can point to any number of indicators. For me, one of the most important ones is the disconnection of younger people to our democracy.

Younger people are much less likely to express a high degree of commitment to democracy than older people. There are indicators around general trust in our political institutions where there’s been massive decline, huge increases in polarization, and of course we are watching before our eyes, month to month, significant governance dysfunction play out in Congress.

So there are a lot of indicators to suggest that our democracy is not at the healthiest point a democracy can be.

Levitsky: A comparative perspective, there are now several organizations that measure levels of democracy in every country in the world each year. And, some are better than others, but they tend to converge and all of them show a decline in the level of U. S. democracy since 2016. Freedom House, for example, a decade ago, U.S. had a pretty decent score of 94. That put us on par with Canada and Japan and Germany and the U.K.; today [it] has us at 83, which is still a democracy, but it is tied with Panama and below Mongolia and Argentina, so that’s a step backward.

Sachs: So my sense is that many of our democratic institutions are still functioning in their ordinary way, but what has been happening is a problem outside those institutions. So are polarization, gridlock, inability to reach compromises, and those are things that are causing a great deal of dissatisfaction with our governing institutions.

But I don’t think that they have much made us in any way less democratic. It’s more that people are more willing to tolerate things that might be outside the democratic norm.

Laine Perfas: Could you talk about that a little bit more, Stephen?

Sachs: So it’s not that Congress has become a less-democratic institution. We still have elections. We still have regular turnover in office. We still have free speech. We still have all of the aspects that you would want.

I think the reason for the decline in identification with democracy and open support for democracy is in part because the democratic institutions are functioning less well than they could be and less well than expectations.

And I think that’s a result of a lot of different changes. Part of those are social changes that cause political polarization. Part of those are media changes that in the era of social media, it’s very easy to see where the government is failing. And some of those are legal changes that the party structure as a means of producing compromise is much weaker. You wouldn’t see something like the recent defenestration of the Speaker of the House if the parties were as strong as they have traditionally been in the American government. And that’s a problem because a lot of the places where compromises are hammered out and agreement is achieved is inside, you know, the smoke-filled room of the party bosses, and those smoke-filled rooms are doing a lot less work nowadays. So in some ways, perhaps paradoxically, it’s because the hidden institutions of democracy are working less well, and more is argued out in the open on a stage, that democracy itself is performing less well as a check on those in power.

Levitsky: I think the last point is right on, that in many respects our system has become more democratic, but that has challenged the way that democracy works.

We now have among the most internally democratic parties, but that has badly weakened party leaderships and has closed off a lot of that smoke-filled room, party-boss negotiations that Steve mentioned.

I do think that, I guess I have a slightly more holistic or broader view of institutional functioning perhaps than Professor Sachs. I do think some of our democratic institutions are functioning less democratically. For example, we have evidence from a recent biography of Mitt Romney, but I’ve had this confirmed to me by several congressmen and former congresspeople, that the decisions they are making are being influenced not just by voters or constituents or lobbyists or their calculations, but threats of violence. That they are making decisions or not making major decisions calculating the potential violence or threats of violence against them or their families. That suggests to me that we’re living in a polity that’s less democratic than it was a decade ago.

Allen: I want to appreciate Stephen for putting the question of parties on the table and Steve’s seconding their importance. It’s a paradox that we have a combination of weaker parties and parties that are more ideologically focused than in the past. So both parties were much bigger, broader tents. They had to do the work of forging coalitions inside themselves. That’s also because they saw their responsibility to be drawing membership from the American electorate broadly. It is not that long ago that 75 percent of Americans were members of parties. We’re down to 50 percent of Americans as members of parties. And when you put that number together with the effects of gerrymandering, which results in a lot of elections that are decided in the primary, not in the general election, you reach a point where a very small percentage of Americans is actually electing most of our members of Congress. So to take the examples of two of the most sort of lightning-rod figures in Congress from either side: Marjorie Taylor Greene is elected by 8 percent of the voters in her electorate, AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] on the other side is elected by 5 percent of the voters in her electorate. And that is a direct outgrowth of how our party structure has evolved over time. So it includes unintended consequences of the reforms that made primaries state-funded, taxpayer-funded. They’re no longer the responsibility of the private association. As a result, parties can lose members, but they still get their primaries paid for.

And so you don’t have the kind of corrective mechanism in place that would help parties actually work to broaden their tents again and start to do that coalition-building work in meaningful ways. So there are a lot of interlocking pieces of our system. That’s one of the challenges of really understanding the dynamics of our contemporary democracy.

Laine Perfas: Have there been other times in history where we faced such challenges or is this just how democracy works?

Allen: My hunch would be that we’re all in agreement that the U. S. system is one of the most complex systems the world has ever seen. And that we have a degree of opacity that is actually pretty special and requires thought about how do we deal with it. That said, I mean, certainly democracies have always had complicated institutional structures, even in ancient Athens. If you try to read the instructions for how they selected people to be members of a jury, it can take literally a whole college semester to work your way through the manual explaining how those things worked because of the degree of complications. They tried to achieve accountability and randomness and transparency and all these other things, different values. And certainly in Britain, in the period 1760s and 1770s, where their system was under great strain, particularly with the colonial expansion and then the sort of problem of the American Revolution and the like. They were trying to find their ways to reform, but all the pieces were so intricately connected that you move one thing and something else falls apart, and they really struggled with that problem.

Sachs: Certainly democracy has always required ordinary people to make complicated decisions about complicated policies that they’re not experts on. And so one of the big virtues of democracy is that it prevents the system from going so haywire that even the ordinary person can tell that something has gone wrong here.

In the United States, there have been many periods where democracy seemed to be breaking down. Some of them are less sanguine for our current circumstances than others; the 1850s things seemed to be breaking down and indeed they were. I don’t think it’s quite like that today. There is definitely a greater sense, in an era of ease of disseminating information and ease of organizing, that the kinds of simple yes/no questions or Party A versus Party B questions that you could provide to the electorate now are much more complicated. And the ability of a relatively disengaged public to make good decisions in all of those circumstances is unclear.

So we have had periods of intense polarization before, but there are some things that are new. First of all, our political community is more diverse and more inclusive than any other period in history. That includes the electorate, but also the political elite. And secondly, thanks to the changes brought about in particular by access to the internet and social media, voters have so much more information than they had before, and for reasons I think we’re still beginning to come to grips with, are less trusting of political elites. So if you go back a couple of generations or a few generations, voters took their leads, for better or worse, from their party, from their local politician, from other figures, and didn’t do their own research, to use contemporary language. And today, for better or worse, we do not defer to our party leaders. We make our own decisions and that’s a big burden on citizens. It’s hard. I have a Ph.D. in political science. It’s hard for me.

Laine Perfas: One of the things we’re seeing now is this hyper-polarized environment that’s leading to gridlock politics. I’ve always found that to be really interesting because when you look at the views of most voters, a lot of people do find themselves to be pretty moderate. So what’s happening there? Why is it that it feels and is that we are so polarized when in fact it does seem that a lot of people are somewhere in that middle ground?

Levitsky: We’re obviously a very big, heterogeneous, diverse country, and one of the great moderating forces in our political system was that very diversity. We had considerable cross-cutting cleavages, which meant that you and I might agree on issues A, B, and C, but invariably we would disagree on issues D, E, and F. That might be foreign policy, abortion rights, healthcare, you name it. We would agree with our neighbor on some things, we would disagree with our neighbor on other things. And that meant that we had to get along with our neighbor. We would form our coalitions over certain issues: Professor Sachs and I would get together and be on one side of an issue, but the next day, I would have to get together with Danielle and line up with her. And so we had to be on reasonably good terms with different kinds of people. And that meant that no single cleavage defined us, and that no single political fight was all or nothing. And a very unexpected, I think, phenomena that has occurred over the last generation or two is that almost all of our social and political cleavages have aligned such that if you agree with me on issues A, B, and C, it is very likely that you’re going to agree with me on issues D, E, and F. And so, if you and I disagree on something, we’re likely to disagree on everything. Which means we have no history of collaboration, no likelihood of collaborating in the future, and a sense that if you win, you win on everything, which is creating an all-or-nothing sense to our politics.

Sachs: So what I would say is that even people who are moderates are not necessarily actually moderate. They may just be crazily radical in unpredicted directions. So someone who sometimes votes Republican because they hate immigration, but sometimes votes Democrat because they want massive unions, you know, that’s going to look on the charts like a moderate but in each direction there are sort of very, very pronounced political views. And so part of it is that now many people’s strong political views point in consistent directions with their fellows’. And I agree with Professor Levitsky about that. And then there are the two other changes are, first, the informational and news media change. There was a time when everybody in media could just agree, OK, we’re not reporting on that negative fact about John F. Kennedy. There’s just no way that would work today. And so in part, people’s trust in the system and in each other is shaken by facts about the system and in part by the fact that they now know the flaws of the system which were being deliberately hid from them in a cozier media age. And then finally I think you know a last factoring is that it’s just much easier to run an independent kind of candidacy without being beholden to other interests. So if you’re someone in the House of Representatives and you get your funding through a super PAC and not from the party and you want to raise money by going on Twitter or going on cable television and not by trying to have the Speaker of the House like you, it’s a lot easier to be essentially a totally independent actor. And then your incentives are to polarize as far as you can go, because that’s the sort of engaged person who will give you money because you’re going to tear the system down.

Allen: So I have a slightly different take, I think, than my two colleagues. When I was a kid, we used to spend summers in Santa Fe, and one of the things that my brother and I most enjoyed doing was playing with magnets that we could use to draw various magnetically attracted minerals out of the soil, out of the ground. It was just a fun game. And I think, honestly, that’s a little bit like what the situation is here. Different political dynamics can draw different results out of the American people. Our national political landscape draws very different results out of us than our state political landscape. When you look at the results from national elections, we are pitted against each other, 49-49, with a little bit of swing back and forth, and we look highly polarized. And that lineup does reflect the kind of pattern that Steve Levitsky was just describing, right? Where people are lined up on all dimensions on either side of a line. But if you look at state elections, and in particular ballot propositions, in exactly the same period of time, we frequently see the achievement of supermajority outcomes. That means outcomes where both Republicans and Democrats are voting for the same thing: felon re-enfranchisement in Florida in 2018; cannabis legalization all over the country; a new state flag in Mississippi to get rid of emblems of the old Confederacy. Some of the recent state-level reproductive freedom decisions as well have been either supermajority or near-supermajority outcomes. And you look at what those ballot propositions are about, they tend to be about fairness, inclusion, sticking up for people getting the short end of the stick in some fashion or other. As a people, there is a kind of recognizable moral compass that the American people has across partisan lines, and we do have the capacity to forge coalitions across those lines. I think the important point, though, is that our state political structures generate different incentives for political actors than our national political structures do. And the result of the two different incentive environments is you get like a highly polarized outcome in the one case and across ideological supermajority outcome in the other case. But to me that says, gosh, we’ve really got to step back from thinking that national polarized picture is an accurate snapshot of who the American people are, because different set of incentives, you get a different snapshot of who we the people are.

Laine Perfas: Thinking about the national level, one factor in that that I wanted to talk a little bit about is the Constitution, and if it is helping or hurting the current climate right now.

Levitsky: Our constitution is arguably the most successful national constitution in the history of the world. It’s the oldest written constitution. It is one of the critical foundations for prosperity and stability in the United States. So it’s very clearly part of the solution in a really fundamental way. I do think it is part of the problem, in certain targeted respects. Our constitution was written in a pre-democratic era and key elements of it were forged out of compromise at a time when our framers were worried about the union literally coming apart. And so they had to forge a set of consensuses and created some pretty interesting institutions, but we have changed those institutions relatively little since the 1780s. The difficulty of changing the U. S. Constitution, we have among democracies quite far and away the hardest constitution in the world to amend; that handicaps us.

Sachs: So my view is that the Constitution does relatively little with respect to our present predicament. I think that some institutions like the Electoral College or the Senate very much can create a situation where a minority of votes produces a majority outcome. I don’t think that our constitutional structures are the ones that have caused it. I think that it’s much more the many other parts of American life and American politics.

So let me, so one quick answer to your question, Sam, but then I’ve got a question for both Steve and Stephen. So constitutionalism helps us. Let’s start there. OK, let’s separate constitutionalism from the Constitution. Constitutionalism has made the durable existence of a free society of free and equal self-governing citizens possible. I think, as both have already said, what hurts is either other things that are accreting and causing us problematic dynamics, or parts of the Constitution that we haven’t been able to adapt that are no longer fit for purpose in contemporary circumstances. And so on that point, I think the single biggest and most interesting question, actually, is what we all think about the role of states in politics. Does a person think that we continue to be a union of states and need to recognize that every given state community is a distinctive community, and therefore one has to have a design that accounts for that? Or do we think that that is a thing of the past and that we are genuinely a single national people with soft borders and boundaries and so forth between our states? In which case you will have different answers to our current constitutional conundrum, depending on which view you have about the place of states in the lives of Americans.

Allen: I certainly do not think that the role of states is anywhere near what it was in 1787. This was a time when the former colonies thought of themselves as independent states, much, much closer to states in the European Union today. So the need, for example, to provide equal representation to each state in the U.S. Senate, because Delaware as a state needs protection from Virginia as a state, I think that’s a lot less compelling. Now that said, we are a very decentralized Republic. We should be a decentralized Republic. There should be a whole bunch of self-governing decisions taken at the local level and at the state level. So even though I, for example, am an advocate of a more proportional representation in the Senate so that larger states like Texas and California have greater representation than smaller states, I’m still an advocate of federalism.

Sachs: So I think the arrow of which direction over time is pretty clear, and I think that’s absolutely right. States are way less important today than they were 200 years ago. I don’t know that it means that they’re unimportant today. My former colleague Ernie Young has argued that in fact, state identity still does matter a lot. And one thing that I think is very interesting is that if we look at what’s happened since the Dobbs decision by the Supreme Court, look at how different states have reacted with regard to abortion policy; it’s been very state-by-state focused, in a world in which it’s very hard to imagine what the national consensus would be or if there is one. We’ve seen states go in very different directions and I think that it is important in some ways to reflect the fact that people have different preferences, because it’s not always easy to pick one answer that everyone will then have to live with.

Just anecdotally, I grew up in rural Minnesota on a farm. And now I live in Boston, Massachusetts, which is very different. It was a huge culture shock. But I think about the things that my community cared about, and how different that is now being in Massachusetts and being surrounded by different people. And how in some ways then when you bring it up to the national level, I can almost appreciate the impossible challenge of creating an overarching national identity.

Laine Perfas: I don’t know. And Danielle, I know it was your question, but I also want to hear your answer to your own question.

Allen: I appreciate your sharing that, Sam. And I asked the question because I have a bit of a more heterodox view on this point. I do think states still matter. I do think that as the story you just told illustrates, interests are meaningfully different from place to place and there is benefit to the elasticity that comes from recognizing that. So that has made me, for example, an advocate when it comes to the problem of the Electoral College, of not getting rid of it, not radically changing it, but of increasing the size of the House of Representatives as was the initial plan, so that the Electoral College is rebalanced and that you have a kind of reasonable weighting between populous and less-populous states as opposed to what we now have, which is a highly unreasonable weighting in the favor of less-populous states.

Levitsky: So I think it’s important not to conflate urban and rural identities with state identities. I mean, growing up on a farm in Minnesota is different from living in a city in Massachusetts. But it’s not super clear to me how dramatically different that is from growing up on a farm in Wisconsin, or even California for that matter.

Laine Perfas: Well, at least in my case, you know, if I think about the cultural identity of my state, one thing that I’ve even joked about is, what side of my now dual identity do I lean into: the Minnesota nice or the Masshole?

Levitsky: We all have both.

Laine Perfas: But, but it just creates this picture of like … it’s so hard to put into words, I don’t know if it’s values or just cultural identity, if you meet other Minnesotans, you, there’s something just about the way they are, but also if you meet other people in Massachusetts, whether they’re rural or urban, there’s this edge that you don’t always find when you go to a place like Minnesota.

Allen: Steve makes a good point though, in the sense that the urban/rural split was also split that matter at the founding, but it was balanced the other way around. That is to say the rural populations were more significant than the urban populations, but that was another feature underlying the compromise decisions, right? So it’s a good example of a place where demography is quite different now from at the founding. And so it raises the question of whether or not the institutional designs whose purpose was to achieve an equilibrium, despite the tensions flowing from those facts, do those designs still work given the fact that the demography has flipped on its head? And I think that’s honestly a very open question that we don’t have good answers to.

Levitsky: I just want to reinforce a point that Stephen made, which is that we have in the United States, despite the difficulty of amending the Constitution, we do have a tradition and moments in our history where we engaged in extremely important, either constitutional or quasi-constitutional reform, but it’s something we’ve stopped doing in the last half century. We’ve gotten out of the practice of thinking seriously about how to amend or improve our constitution, which is why, I’m not sure everyone in this room will agree with me, but I am in favor of making it somewhat easier to amend the Constitution. And I, for the reasons we were just talking about, would eliminate the process of going through three-quarters of the states and leave it up to two-thirds of two chambers of Congress for constitutional reform, which would put us a bit more in the mainstream of other democracies.

Sachs: So I, I have a crank proposal, not to change the threshold of constitutional proposal and ratification, but to flip the order to say that if three-fourths of the state legislatures want to agree on a proposal, they can send it to Congress for ratification by two-thirds of each house. I think it’ll be much easier to get the ball rolling in individual state legislatures than it is if you need the big bang of two-thirds of the House or two-thirds of the Senate to actually approve something.

Allen: I would put something else on table which is either/or; either two-thirds of Congress or three-quarters of the state, either one should be good enough for an amendment, from my point of view.

Sachs: Well, I think it would be, I think it would be very difficult to persuade either the two-thirds of the Congress that would need to propose this under the current system, or the three-fourths of the states that would need to ratify this, that they should allow amendments to go through without their having weighed in. Maybe that would be a better amendment system, but I don’t see the agreement there. Whereas if we just keep the threshold the same and allow either order, I think maybe we could get that one through. And maybe we could see from there, maybe things will seem more likely, once we’ve done it. But I honestly think that a very great number of the changes that have made American democracy seem to be performing less well are really not constitutional in origin. We’ve had roughly the same constitutional structure for a very long time, but now it seems to be doing less well in particular, unique ways, and ways that were different from the ways in which it was doing less well in other eras. And so I think that’s really what we need to figure out. Like, why is it that it seems that there are lots of policies that might get majority support in a plebiscite, but no compromise along those lines could possibly get through Congress. Why is that?

Levitsky: If I could just say very quickly, just because the problems facing our democracy are not constitutional in origin, and I agree with that, doesn’t necessarily mean that constitutional amendment or institutional reform can’t or shouldn’t be part of the solution.

Sachs: Fair enough.

Samantha Perfas: Whether it’s changing the constitution or some other reforms, what are things that we could do that would help address the current moment that we’re facing?

Allen: Abolish party primaries.

Sachs: Hear, hear.

Levitsky: I agree.

Allen: There are five states that have replaced party primaries with all comers, or nonpartisan preliminaries, as they’re called. So what that means is in a first round, you have all candidates from different parties running on the same ballot. Some number of finalists go on to the final round. But this means the politicians are responsible for campaigning to the whole electorate in both rounds. So you don’t have people just campaigning to the intense party base. It means once elected, they don’t have the same sort of fear of being primaried by a very small percentage of the electorate. So there looks to be real opportunity for more independence of decision-making, more room for compromise, if politicians don’t have to be afraid of being quote-unquote primaried in the current structure that we have.

Levitsky: Another, radically different way to go: Argentina has not only mandatory voting, it has mandatory primary voting. Everybody’s got to vote in a primary; choose your party, and you’ve got to vote. That would help to overcome one pretty serious problem that we have now, which is that our primary participation is relatively low. And so primary outcomes tend to be shaped by committed activist types, and that doesn’t always have a radicalizing outcome, but it often does. And it’s almost certainly contributing to our polarization.

Laine Perfas: Just to be clear, Danielle, you were proposing that we get rid of primary voting and Steve is proposing everybody has to do it?

Allen: Correct, I think either approach would solve our problem. I’ll tell you, though, I do think abolishing party primaries is the path that we’re on that has real feasibility to it.

Sachs: Just to add one more suggestion to the mix, I think something like ranked-choice voting or some other way of allowing people to indicate their second preference is crucially important. We see this in the Republican presidential primary right now, and in 2016 it would have been very different if we had a world where people had to talk about who their second and third preferences were, and you saw who was most broadly acceptable to the people in that party, in that state I think would make a very big difference.

I think it’s Jonathan Rauch who’s argued for a number of changes that would essentially diminish public input. And the idea is that the point of democracy is that you can throw the bums out. You can look around and say, “Wow, this is not working. We need something different,” and you can intervene in that way. It is not that members of the public take part in every level of the decision-making process before that point, because there’s lots of stuff that goes on in government that requires people in a closed off room to discuss things. One of the things I’ve found very interesting, people I’ve talked to who have been on various government commissions have found that the open-meetings laws make it incredibly difficult to actually have a real conversation about what should be done because everything is done on a stage. If I could make one change to Congress tomorrow, I would ban CSPAN. And the reason is not because I don’t want people to know what their government is doing, it’s that I want them to know what their government is doing, but I also want the government to be able to do it. I don’t want a world where you have to be a theater performer in order to hash out some kind of agreement in a committee room, and I think that a lot of the current political incentives favor show horses over workhorses. And I think that’s not an arrangement that we really want.

Allen: Thank you guys for joining me for such a great conversation.

Levitsky: Thanks for having us.

Laine Perfas: Thanks for listening for a transcript of this episode and to see all of our other episodes, visit harvard.edu/thinking. This episode was hosted and produced by me, Samantha Laine Perfas. It was edited by Ryan Mulcahy, Paul Makishima, and Simona Covel, with additional production support from Al Powell and Christy DeSmith. Original music and sound designed by Noel Flatt. Produced by Harvard University.

Recommended reading/listening:

  • “ How Democracies Die ” and “ Tyranny of the Minority ” by Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky
  • “ Justice by Means of Democracy ” and “ Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality ” by Danielle Allen
  • “Amendments should start with states” by Stephen Sachs

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March 1, 2024

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How cell structure can lead to health issues

by Hilary Douwes, University of Delaware

How cell structure can lead to health issues

Human bodies make 2 million red blood cells per second. They each live for 120 days and spend that time zooming completely around the body every 20 seconds, carrying oxygen from the lungs to other tissues and bringing back carbon dioxide that is exhaled.

Velia M. Fowler, professor and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Delaware, can tell you almost everything about the architecture of those cells.

The disk-shaped cells have two dimples, one on each side, and are perfectly symmetric when at rest. In the blood stream , they flexibly deform and fold to squeeze through narrow capillaries smaller than they are, returning to their original biconcave shape when they emerge.

"I always liked the red cell shape because it's just so beautiful," Fowler said. "I always wanted to figure out how it worked."

Fowler's lab at UD studies cell architecture and how each cell's interior structural scaffolding creates its unique shape, mechanical strength and physiological functions . This scaffolding is made of a protein called actin, which assembles into filaments (F-actin) that resemble a helical strand of beads. Unlike the structural scaffoldings in buildings, the F-actin in cells is dynamic, with actin subunits, "beads," coming on and off the filament ends every second.

F-actin is a key regulator of cellular architecture and how appropriate cellular forms support cellular functions, according to Fowler. Dysregulation of F-actin can lead to changes in cell shapes and biomechanics, which can contribute to a range of diseases including blood disorders, immunodeficiencies, muscle myopathies, cataracts, presbyopia, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and tendinosis.

The lab studies how the dynamic F-actin scaffolding creates particular cell shapes and how this contributes to normal cell function or dysfunction. The research is focused on red blood cells, the cells in the ocular lens and cells in the musculoskeletal system.

"We're trying to understand the locations of F-actin structures [inside the cells], their dynamic organizations, shapes and the gradients of concentration, and how they contribute to cell functions. I just love that interplay," Fowler said.

Fowler and her team are examining two different aspects of F-actin in red blood cells: how the red blood cell precursors rearrange their F-actin to get rid of their nucleus, enabling the mature cells to circulate many times through the tiny capillaries; and how F-actin assembles into a thin network at the membrane (skin) of the cell and interacts with a motor protein called myosin to control cell shape and flexibility.

The work with the ocular lens studies how F-actin structures in lens cells contribute to lens transparency and focusing for vision. The research in bone, cartilage and tendon cells examines how F-actin structures are maintained to prevent problems in the musculoskeletal system. The latter work is done with the Delaware Center for Musculoskeletal Research Center.

The broad impact of F-actin in cells was one of the reasons biomedical engineering doctoral student Heather Malino joined Fowler's lab. She was attracted to the foundational aspect of the research, rather than specializing in practical solutions to health problems like prosthetics.

"Learning about the fundamental biological phenomenon that happens can be really rewarding because you're looking at the cellular and molecular processes," she said. "You find out something about the lens, but cells are cells. So things that we learned about the lens, can also be more overarching to different processes in the body."

Building on the past

The work builds on groundbreaking discoveries related to the F-actin network that Fowler has made throughout her 40-year career. As a post-doctoral fellow Fowler was the first to discover myosin in red blood cells. Without myosin motors pulling on F-actin networks to create tension, the red blood cell precursors would not be able to generate enough force to expel their nucleus, and the mature cells would not be able to withstand the repetitive cycles of deformation, folding and unfolding required during their lifespan.

She also discovered a previously unknown protein called tropomodulin. Tropomodulin stops the ends of the F-actin from growing or shrinking, stabilizing them at a certain length. When the filaments are the same length, the networks they create when binding to other proteins in various types of cells are stronger and more stable. If the filaments are different lengths, the networks are irregular and mechanically weaker, and cell shapes are abnormal.

Fowler showed that tropomodulin's function is critical for development of the heart and blood cells, and for proper function of many cells and tissues, including eye lens, neurons in the brain, epithelial cells lining the gut, endothelial cells lining blood vessels, as well as platelets, red blood cells . It is required for efficient muscle contraction in both skeletal and cardiac muscles.

"I started with a molecule that had a function in one tissue, and I thought the function had to happen in these other tissues," she said. "I connected the dots."

Recently, Fowler was part of a team that discovered that a mutation in the tropomodulin proteins which prevents the protein from functioning properly causes a severe inherited cardiomyopathy in children. This is the first time the protein's function has been directly linked to heart disease in humans. The research was published in the journal Communications Biology .

Fowler was recently recognized as a 2023 Lifetime Fellow of the American Society of Cell Biologists (ASCB), partly for her work on tropomodulin. She is one of 19 scientists from around the world to receive the honor this year. The society includes the top researchers in the field and counts several Nobel Prize winners as members.

"Dr. Fowler has advanced our understanding of fundamental questions in cell biology," Jia Song, associate professor of biological sciences, said in her letter nominating Fowler for the award. "Her groundbreaking work, published in more than 140 research articles, has significantly advanced our understanding of actin cytoskeletal function in architecture and behavior of diverse cells."

Journal information: Communications Biology

Provided by University of Delaware

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  • Knowledge Base
  • How to Write a Thesis Statement | 4 Steps & Examples

How to Write a Thesis Statement | 4 Steps & Examples

Published on January 11, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on August 15, 2023 by Eoghan Ryan.

A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . It usually comes near the end of your introduction .

Your thesis will look a bit different depending on the type of essay you’re writing. But the thesis statement should always clearly state the main idea you want to get across. Everything else in your essay should relate back to this idea.

You can write your thesis statement by following four simple steps:

  • Start with a question
  • Write your initial answer
  • Develop your answer
  • Refine your thesis statement

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Table of contents

What is a thesis statement, placement of the thesis statement, step 1: start with a question, step 2: write your initial answer, step 3: develop your answer, step 4: refine your thesis statement, types of thesis statements, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about thesis statements.

A thesis statement summarizes the central points of your essay. It is a signpost telling the reader what the essay will argue and why.

The best thesis statements are:

  • Concise: A good thesis statement is short and sweet—don’t use more words than necessary. State your point clearly and directly in one or two sentences.
  • Contentious: Your thesis shouldn’t be a simple statement of fact that everyone already knows. A good thesis statement is a claim that requires further evidence or analysis to back it up.
  • Coherent: Everything mentioned in your thesis statement must be supported and explained in the rest of your paper.

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The thesis statement generally appears at the end of your essay introduction or research paper introduction .

The spread of the internet has had a world-changing effect, not least on the world of education. The use of the internet in academic contexts and among young people more generally is hotly debated. For many who did not grow up with this technology, its effects seem alarming and potentially harmful. This concern, while understandable, is misguided. The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its many benefits for education: the internet facilitates easier access to information, exposure to different perspectives, and a flexible learning environment for both students and teachers.

You should come up with an initial thesis, sometimes called a working thesis , early in the writing process . As soon as you’ve decided on your essay topic , you need to work out what you want to say about it—a clear thesis will give your essay direction and structure.

You might already have a question in your assignment, but if not, try to come up with your own. What would you like to find out or decide about your topic?

For example, you might ask:

After some initial research, you can formulate a tentative answer to this question. At this stage it can be simple, and it should guide the research process and writing process .

Now you need to consider why this is your answer and how you will convince your reader to agree with you. As you read more about your topic and begin writing, your answer should get more detailed.

In your essay about the internet and education, the thesis states your position and sketches out the key arguments you’ll use to support it.

The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its many benefits for education because it facilitates easier access to information.

In your essay about braille, the thesis statement summarizes the key historical development that you’ll explain.

The invention of braille in the 19th century transformed the lives of blind people, allowing them to participate more actively in public life.

A strong thesis statement should tell the reader:

  • Why you hold this position
  • What they’ll learn from your essay
  • The key points of your argument or narrative

The final thesis statement doesn’t just state your position, but summarizes your overall argument or the entire topic you’re going to explain. To strengthen a weak thesis statement, it can help to consider the broader context of your topic.

These examples are more specific and show that you’ll explore your topic in depth.

Your thesis statement should match the goals of your essay, which vary depending on the type of essay you’re writing:

  • In an argumentative essay , your thesis statement should take a strong position. Your aim in the essay is to convince your reader of this thesis based on evidence and logical reasoning.
  • In an expository essay , you’ll aim to explain the facts of a topic or process. Your thesis statement doesn’t have to include a strong opinion in this case, but it should clearly state the central point you want to make, and mention the key elements you’ll explain.

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

  • Ad hominem fallacy
  • Post hoc fallacy
  • Appeal to authority fallacy
  • False cause fallacy
  • Sunk cost fallacy

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A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . Everything else you write should relate to this key idea.

The thesis statement is essential in any academic essay or research paper for two main reasons:

  • It gives your writing direction and focus.
  • It gives the reader a concise summary of your main point.

Without a clear thesis statement, an essay can end up rambling and unfocused, leaving your reader unsure of exactly what you want to say.

Follow these four steps to come up with a thesis statement :

  • Ask a question about your topic .
  • Write your initial answer.
  • Develop your answer by including reasons.
  • Refine your answer, adding more detail and nuance.

The thesis statement should be placed at the end of your essay introduction .

Cite this Scribbr article

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McCombes, S. (2023, August 15). How to Write a Thesis Statement | 4 Steps & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/academic-essay/thesis-statement/

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