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Dissertation Organization & Structure
The requirements set for a dissertation are unique to every program. Some elements are essential and universal across dissertations.
The Title Page
The title page is your space to offer some information regarding your work. Aside from the title of your dissertation, you can provide your name and other information pertaining to your course of study.
The Information Page
The information page allows you to elaborate on the small amount of information you provided on the title page with the addition of the date of submission for your paper. The title is reiterated here; you can also provide some commentary regarding your advisors and some more personal contact information.
The preface is the space to thank the people who helped you throughout the process of writing your dissertation. The list may include educators, friends, and family. This space should also contain a description of the dissertations relation to you personally.
The Acknowledgements Page
The acknowledgments page is to be used exclusively to offer thanks to the people who may have contributed to the writing of the dissertation. No other information should be added to this section.
The abstract summarizes your work into an easily digestible description of what the dissertation contains. The abstract should answer four questions concisely: What did you investigate? How did you carry out your investigation? What did you find? How did you interpret your results?
Table of Contents
The table of contents maps out the page location of each of your chapters and subsections. You must include every part of your dissertation in the table of contents.
List of Figures and Tables
As a companion to your table of contents, the list of figures and tables will contain the name and location of each figure and table throughout the paper.
The List of Abbreviations
Either at the end or beginning of your dissertation (the choice is entirely up to you), you should include a list of abbreviations. This alphabetized list will contain the abbreviation for each key term used throughout your dissertation.
Many of the terms or phrases used in your paper may require definitions or further explanation. The glossary provides your reader with an alphabetized list of terms and their definitions.
The introduction should contain a clear description of your problem statement and the topic you chose for your dissertation. The introduction, if written well, can serve to capture the interest of the reader.
The theoretical framework chapter should describe the conceptual underpinnings of the study you conducted, and why its completion was feasible. Each concept should be described in a section separate from the others.
Conducting a literature review allows you to formulate a hypothesis or support or reject other previously developed hypotheses. Later, your research will test the hypothesis you formulated.
The Research Design
The research design is part of your overall research plan. Here, you will provide descriptions of the various details of your study. These details should include the time, location, and some information regarding the participants of your study.
The Research Results
After carrying out your investigation, you can describe any difficulties or other events experienced and provide analysis for the results of the study.
The conclusion of the study is essentially an answer to the problem statement you established earlier.
After carrying out your investigation, you can describe any difficulties or other events experienced and provide analysis for the results of the study.
The discussion section allows you to present the different perspectives and interpretations of the results that may arise. The discussion also presents an opportunity to suggest future research in the topical area as part of your recommendations.
The afterword is best used as a space for reflecting upon the study, your collaboration with another researcher or author, or perhaps the topic or methodology
The Reference List
In the reference list, you will include references for every source you cited throughout your paper. The references are to be written in the style stipulated by your department which is often APA at this point.
The appendices are comprised of the documents you have used but are not included in the main body of your dissertation. These documents include but are not limited to, questionnaires, instructions, and educational materials.
To create a title page in Word, simply click on the “Insert” tab and then click on “Cover Page.” The latter step will give you several options for the look of your cover page.
A Checklist for Your Title Page
- Indicate the type of dissertation you are writing.
- Your title should be sort and written to capture the attention of the reader.
- Your Subtitle should be no longer than one or two sentences to clarify the title.
- The publication date is the date you will submit your dissertation for a final review.
- Your name should include your first initials, last name, and any title that you may have been awarded.
- Your student identification number should be listed.
- Note your course of study or program.
- Name your University or Institution.
- List the title, function, initials and last name of your supervisor.
- List the title, function, initials and last name of your examiner.
If there is an abundant amount of information that would not fit well into the title page, or if this a requirement of your program, you may add an information page.
The preface is written after your work is complete. It is written primarily in the first person and is personal in nature.
The Elements of the Preface
You may include in your preface a brief description of your background, the impetus for writing the dissertation, some notes on your team’s work during the project, and some words of thanks.
A Quick Checklist for Your Preface
- Keep your preface professional, despite the personal nature of the content.
- Consistently use first and last names.
- End your preface with your name, location, and the date of your writing
- Give your thanks in order of contribution, such that those who are named first were also those that contributed the most.
- Keep the length of your preface to no more than five paragraphs.
The following work is a paper that represents the end result of my investigation into the efficacy of urinary interventions in the clinical setting. My previous work in clinical research provided the initial insight and inspiration necessary for this research. The year over which the research took place was full of challenges and lessons in equal measure. I came upon many answers and, as is always the case, many more questions. I hope that you will find the discoveries to be compelling and informative.
I would like to thank my dissertation advisor, Theresa Schmidt, for her unceasing support, incisive questions, and essential suggestions. I would also like to thank my wife for her understanding and her talent in managing both our lives and work.
February 18, 2018
The acknowledgments section is reserved only for offering thanks to anyone who helped you through the process of completing your dissertation. Although the preface contains acknowledgments, there are good reasons to include a section only for acknowledgments. For instance, your dissertation may have presented some unusually difficult challenges which required some additional assistance from different individuals. The length of time you took to complete it may have also necessitated the support of many more individuals over an extended and especially challenging period of time. An increased number of people to thank may require a separate acknowledgment section apart from the preface.
Your abstract serves as the initial window into the contents of your dissertation. It should quickly inform the reader, accurately and thoroughly, regarding the scope and details of your research and the paper that contains it. The abstract must be well written in order to ensure that your work reaches as expansive an audience as possible.
The Abstract’s Primary Objectives
The Rapid Communication of Information
The abstract should be a quick read offers enough information to support the title of your paper and, thus, justify the reader’s interest in the dissertation. The abstract should also offer a succinct overview of the study’s intent, background, and execution. The discussion should the seamlessly turn to the results and a very short statement regarding the conclusions drawn from the study. Include information regarding the problem you addressed, your methodology, and results, all in brief. Overall, the abstract should provide a description of the context and the essential information regarding the study. Remember, the abstract helps the reader decide whether to commit to reading the rest of your paper.
Length and Location of the Abstract
To allow for the quickest perusal of your abstract, you should limit it to the length of one page. This brevity will allow the reader to engage with the summary with a minimum of time and effort committed. You should write your abstract in the present tense and place after the preface. The abstract should also precede the table of contents.
Final Words on Content
We caution against using information in the abstract that may not be familiar to the reader. This information gap may present another obstacle to reading the abstract quickly. Another impediment worth noting is the use of referenced material, since this may necessitate further research on the part of the reader.
- Allow only a page for your abstract, after the preface, before the table of contents.
- Write your abstract in the present tense.
- Allow your abstract to indicate the problem you addressed clearly.
- Allow your abstract to describe any research questions you addressed.
- Briefly address your methodology, results, and conclusions.
- Exclude any information or terms which may initially hinder your reader.
The table of contents provides the location for every major section and documents that are essential to your dissertation. Through this section you will give your reader an additional reference regarding the information in your dissertation.
Microsoft Word possesses a powerful table of contents function that can quickly format and update a table of contents. The table should allow the reader to easily distinguish between chapters and sections. The specific guidelines for the proper formatting vary between educational programs. However, we can offer some tips that are safe to follow across institutions.
First, limit the length of the table of contents to only what is necessary to list every major section and essential document used in the dissertation. This includes the reference list and the appendices, which are best listed together as “appendices” rather than individually.
Second, each section should be concisely and accurately titled. This will ensure that your table of contents is maximally effective. Expect your reader to reference the table of contents often and fashion it accordingly.
Finally, including a list of figures and tables will round out the preliminary information your reader may need. This list will also be referenced often and its design should reflect that.
The figure and table list serves the same function as the table of contents by indicating the placement of each figure and table. It allows the reader to quickly find the graphical displays of information you used throughout your paper. Many educational programs may not require this list, but we recommend you use it. The figure and table list is a great feature and really adds polish to your work. Numbers and concise titles should be used for each figure and table. You should always cite your sources and include them in the reference list.
Now, let’s go over the creation of captions for your figures to enable the creation of a figure and table list.
Captioning the Figures and Tables and Generating the List
Your first step is to ensure that every figure and table is appropriately labeled. To accomplish this task, highlight or click the figure, depending on what type of image it is, right click, then select “Insert Caption.” This action will open a menu that allows you to set the title for the figure and other details, select the appropriate label in the “Label” drop-down menu (Figure 1). This menu is also accessible through the “References” tab.
Once every figure and table has been appropriately labeled, click on the desired location for the list after the table of contents to position the cursor. In the menu, select “References,” then click on “Insert Table of Figures.” Word will detect either the figures you have captioned or the tables depending on your selection in the menu that is opened by the “Insert Table of Figures” button (Figure 2). To create a combined list of both figures and tables, select “Options” from the “Table of Figures Menu” and check the “Style” box and select “Caption” in the drop-down menu directly next to it (For the sake of demonstration this image is labeled Table 1). You will see the list generated below Table 1.
The list of abbreviations, similar to its counterparts, the table of contents and list of figures and tables, offers an alphabetized list of abbreviations used throughout your paper. We recommend using the list of abbreviations because it is another tool you can use to ensure that your reader can make his way through your dissertation as efficiently as possible.
The customary location for this list is after the table of contents and the list of figures and tables. However, this may vary depending on program guidelines.
One final note: the customary rules regarding the introduction of abbreviations or acronyms still apply to your text. In other words, you must still introduce your terms and provide a parenthetical abbreviation directly beside it. The abbreviation will then be used throughout the text. This is certainly true for the APA writing style.
A list of abbreviations can easily be generated using the “Table” function on Word. This option allows you to harness all of the design features inherent to the table function. The menu can be found under “Insert.” Again, consult the guidelines of your institution. Your options for customizing the list are abundant.
The glossary is another feature that maximizes the impact of your paper. Like the table of contents and similar additions to the paper, the glossary illuminates some of the information present in your dissertation. In this case, you should explain key terms that are found throughout your dissertation. These terms should include the most esoteric and technical terms as well as the basic concepts that form the framework of your research.
Arrange your glossary alphabetically and place it just after the table of contents and the other lists that customarily follow the table of contents. The “Table” function in Word, found under the “Insert” tab, is perfect for generating the glossary. It offers a myriad of options for customization and is easily formatted and updated.
Your introduction describes the topic and the relevance of your research in a way that captures your reader’s attention. The introduction should contain your motivation to pursue your research. You should then describe the scope of your work and how it fits into the context of the current state of its scientific area. You should include your problem statement and your objectives as you conceived them t the outset of the study. Finally, add a description of the research design and provide an outline of your dissertation.
The following descriptions address elements that should be included in your introduction.
The Scope and Motivation
The scope and motivation should fit neatly into a package that provides your reasoning for pursuing your research and the boundaries of your chosen topic. Make every attempt to narrow your focus.
The Relevance of Your Research
Explain as precisely as possible the theoretical and practical use of your research. What gaps in knowledge can it fill? What questions can it answer?
Current State of Topic Area
The current state of the science surrounding your topic area should be addressed with a description of the papers written about the subject. This description includes the number of papers that address your topic area and which of these are most influential.
The Problem Statement and Objective
The problem statement and objective are distinct concepts. Be sure to describe each in clear terms. The problem statement should describe the problem that must be addressed. The objective describes your goal for the study in the context of the problem statement.
The Research Design
The research design portion of your introduction should briefly touch upon the method, location time, and subject population of your research.
Your outline should summarize the essential elements of your dissertation. Describe each chapter and subheading succinctly.
The topic is clearly defined with a narrow scope.
- Every aspect of your research’s relevance is demonstrated.
- Provide the objective.
- Provide the problem statement.
- The conceptual framework is described.
- Research questions are reviewed.
- The research design and overview are given.
As defined by Miles and Huberman (1994), a conceptual framework “explains, either graphically or in narrative form, the main things to be studied-the key factors, concepts, or variables-and the presumed relationships among them” (p. 18). This passage should provide you with a good starting point for constructing your conceptual framework before beginning your study.
Testing Your Idea
A conceptual framework can help you determine if you can prove your idea using science. This involves establishing a cause-effect relationship and identifying the variables within it.
Identifying Independent and Dependent Variables
Two types of variables always form a part of any cause-effect relationship. These are the independent and dependent variables. There are frequently multiple independent variables that can influence the dependent variable. Before constructing your framework begin by identifying each variable. The dependent variable is the variable that depends on each of the other variables.
Your Conceptual Framework
After identifying the variables, you can begin designing your conceptual framework. Using graphical arrows, boxes, and lines, place each variable within a box, use arrows to indicate the relationship between them. Lines connecting variables indicate correlation rather than causation. The arrows, meanwhile, begin with the causal variables and end with the dependent variable.
Miles, MB. & Huberman, AM. (1994). Qualitative Data Analysis (2nd edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Once you have begun constructing your conceptual framework, you may add moderator variables and other variable types to the existing structure.
Moderator variables cause what is called an interaction effect. Here, the impact an independent variable has on a dependent variable is changed by the moderator variable.
For example, if the independent variable is “Hours of Sleep” and the dependent variable is “Work Output,” we can easily see the relationship between the two. More sleep, we surmise, would equal greater work output. Now we introduce “Caffeine Consumption” as a moderator variable. The logic here is that caffeine consumption can influence the effect that the number of hours a person sleeps has on their performance.
A mediator variable falls between an independent variable and a dependent variable and clarifies the relationship between the two. These variables are difficult to isolate and identify correctly and present a challenge when attempting to interpret them. Mediating variables must, therefore, be supported by statistical analysis.
Let’s illustrate this variable using the example established in our model for moderator variables.
Simply stated, the more hours a worker sleeps, the more productive each of his work hours will be. This, in turn, increases the worker’s overall work output. This illustration is intended only to relate the concepts involved. Greater mathematical and conceptual precision is necessary when incorporating mediating variables.
The control variable is a factor that must be addressed despite the fact that it is not the primary focus of the research. The control variable impacts the dependent variable. Incorporating control variables into your work increases its accuracy.
For our example, we will modify the diagram used in the mediator variable article.
In this case, we must control for the incidental tasks that take up time throughout the workday. This variable affects the overall work output and must, therefore, be addressed in order to accurately determine the impact the independent variable has on the dependent variable.
The Purpose of the Theoretical Framework
To begin your research, you must understand the available information regarding your subject. This information includes articles, previously completed theses, and past research. Including this information in your paper will demonstrate your level of knowledge regarding your topic area. The concepts, definitions, and other essential components that you choose will set a foundation upon which you will build as your research progresses. Finally, the theoretical framework will also give your project scientific credibility as a natural extension of the existing body of research.
Begin building your theoretical framework by isolating fundamental concepts and conduct a literature review. Next, identify relevant concepts, models, and theories through your review. Also, describe any relationships between those ideas. In this second step, you must provide your reasoning behind your selection and the exclusion of other concepts. This reasoning reassures the reader that you have considered multiple aspects when approaching your research.
What Answers Can Your Theoretical Framework Offer?
Your theoretical framework is limited to answering descriptive questions. However, more practical questions and those that are not broached in the existing literature require field research to address.
How should your framework be written?
As you write your framework, establish a consistent logic so that your writing is sound in structure and tone. Combine good scholarly practices and cite consistently and thoroughly. Your theoretical framework can conclude as soon as you have covered all of the concepts and components that underpin your research. For effective communication of this information, you can use graphical representations.
Theoretical Framework Checklist
- Isolate key concepts and provide definitions.
- Gather relevant theories, concepts, and models.
- Explain the relationships between the previously described concepts.
- The current literature has been cited.
- Research questions are answered.
- The framework is written to the highest scholarly standards including excellent writing and proper citation.
A literature review forms the foundation of your theoretical framework and your research as a whole. The review allows you to collect the current research associated with your topic in order to form a coherent idea regarding the current state of your area of research. Use every legitimate source available to you including books, theses, and articles. The review should produce a robust discussion of the available knowledge related to your chosen topic.
The first step in conducting your review is gain a vantage point from which to view the area of research. In this step, you may begin by building a list of questions and terms. Begin by reading publications that are written by an authority on the subject and take careful notes and continue to compile core concepts.
- Now, begin running your list of concepts through various databases to begin gathering literature. These sources may include your university’s catalog, online sources such as Google Scholar, national databases abroad, and subject specific databases. Your imagination and judgement will be of tremendous use here.
- Next, assess the literature you have compiled. Be sure that the information you have gathered relates to your subject matter. This can be done using the authors’ introductory features, including the abstract and the introduction.
- You can now begin to assess the quality of the work you are reading. The publication must be recent and from a highly reputable source. The authors should also be experts in the field, cited by other authors, and extensively published. Their affiliation with institutions of higher learning is another indicator of the quality of the publication. Seek out government and scientific institutions for information.
- Finally, study the literature to understand how it can contribute to your own work. The concepts should relate to your research. Isolate the theories each author uses and assess their conclusions. Be sure to assess how the publication fits into the landscape of the research area.
Be sure to use high scholarly standards to compose the literature review. This entails the use of academic writing techniques and citations to avoid plagiarism and poorly constructed writing.
Below we have provided an example of an acknowledgments page.
The past twelve months were full of challenges and lessons that I had scarcely imagined when I first undertook my dissertation. After overcoming some unexpected adversity, I am finally able to write this word of thanks to the many individuals who supported this project and guided me to its completion. This paper represents the culmination of one of the most significant projects of my life. As such, I hope the people listed here understand the level of gratitude I am attempting to express in this short passage.
I should begin by thanking my advisor, Dr. P. Gorman, for her inspiration, guidance, and support.
It was she that helped me first to distill the ideas I wished to explore within the pages of this paper. Her wealth of knowledge and wisdom was indispensable to my work. I will be forever grateful to her for steady hand and patience.
My classmates and colleagues the Wildlife Discovery Institute provided substantial support as well. Jack Weatherman and Neal Jacobson both helped me articulate my ideas as thoroughly as possible. Thank you both for being great friends and impromptu instructors.
My wife and children occupy a special place on this list. Their patience, understanding, and good humor kept me committed to this project. Thank you so much, Sarah, Corbin, and Bernice.
Berkeley California, March 5, 2018
In this section of your research, you can describe the findings of your study. Below, we have laid out instructions for presenting your results efficiently.
Results of Quantitative Research
- Begin by informing the reader that the sample size was large enough to be reliable and that your analysis is complete.
- Next, communicate the results in a way that answers your hypotheses or research sub-questions as they were laid out at the beginning of work. These answers will lead to a resolution of your primary research question.
- Next, provide a concise discussion regarding the relationship between your findings and each of your sub-questions. You can repeat the process to test your hypotheses and discuss whether your findings proved them.
- You can now add tables and figures to accurately and logically present your results. These additions should be referenced in your narrative to convey the information to your reader seamlessly.
- Ensure that the results are accurate and relevant representations of your findings with another thorough review. Should you find any extraneous results, you can move them to an appendix.
- Begin by informing the reader of the number of interviews you administered. You must also describe your method of transcribing and coding the data you gathered.
- Next, communicate the results in a way that answers your hypotheses or research sub-questions as they were laid out at the beginning of work. These answers will lead to a resolution of your primary research question. The interviews you conducted will serve as the basis for your discussion since the topics you in the interview reflect your research objective.
- Next, provide a concise discussion regarding the relationship between your findings and each of your sub-questions. You can repeat the process to test your hypotheses and discuss whether your findings proved them. You can also provide supporting quotes from your interviews.
- Ensure that the results are accurate and relevant representations of your findings with another thorough review. Should you find any extraneous results, you can move them to an appendix. The tools used for your interviews and other materials can be included as appendices.
Research Results Checklist
- Your results have been analyzed at the conclusion of your research.
- Only relevant results were discussed.
- Figures and tables have been added to support the communication of your results.
- The discussion of your results addresses each sub-question or hypothesis.
- Hypotheses have been tested.
The conclusion offers a space to answer the primary research question of the dissertation of about 400 words. Otherwise, describe whether the evidence supported your hypothesis. This answer and question should be seamlessly woven into the present-tense narrative of the conclusion while maintaining a straightforward, results-oriented structure. You should also discuss the unbiased conclusions you reached after considering the findings.
- Answer the primary research question.
- Reveal whether the results support your hypothesis.
- Answer all remaining research questions.
- Avoid a narrative that includes examples, first-person viewpoint, new or irrelevant information, and verbatim repetition of the results.
The discussion provides a space for a robust discussion of the results. You can include more of your interpretations regarding the results and how they relate to the expectations you had at the outset. Also discuss the ramifications of the research, its limitations, and provide suggestions for further investigation. Use more descriptive language in the present tense.
Begin by supporting the design of your study or desk research. You can then move onto a discussion of whether your expectations came to fruition. Did you find anything new or unexpected? Were the results aligned with your framework? Continue your discussion in detail until you are satisfied the reader understands the significance of the results within the context of your research.
Limitations of your research
In a separate paragraph of your discussion, describe the limitations of your study. Also, present and elaborate concerning the conclusions you can draw from the results.
Go on to describe any obstacles you may have faced that could also affect the results of the study. Describe how these obstacles can be ameliorated in subsequent research.
Your final paragraph should contain various recommendations for further study. Be specific in detailing the manner in which others in your research area can contribute to the work you began.
- Establish the reliability of your research.
- Describe your expectations in relation to your results. Were they met?
- Describe novel insights.
- Discuss your interpretation of the study results.
- Provide specific recommendations for further research.
- Describe the consequences of the results.
- Discuss unexpected factors that may have affected the results
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