The title itself is an important opportunity to tell the potential reader what your research is about. You will need it to be succinct, specific, descriptive, and representative of the research you have done. There is likely to be a required format for the title page in your discipline, so you need to check what that is.
This may be one of the shortest sections of your thesis or dissertation, but it is worthwhile taking great care to write it well. Essentially, the Abstract is a succinct summary of the research. It should be able to stand alone in representing why and how you did what you did, and what the results and implications are. It is often only one page long, and there may be a word limit to adhere to. The Abstract is an important element of the thesis, and will become a document in its own right if the thesis is registered within any database. The examiners will therefore assess your Abstract both as part of your thesis, and as a potentially independent document.
It can be best to write the Abstract last, once you are sure what exactly you are summarising. Alternatively it can be useful to write the abstract earlier on, as an aid to identifying the crucial main thread of your research, its purpose, and its findings, which could then guide the structure of the dissertation.
Attending to the very restrictive word / space limit, while at the same including all the relevant material is quite a challenge. It might be useful to look at how others have managed. It is certainly an academic exercise, but perhaps not too different from the concise explanations of your research you may have had to give to relatives and neighbours over the last few years, in terms of its brevity, accessibility, and comprehensiveness.
This is your opportunity to mention individuals who have been particularly helpful. Reading the acknowledgements in other dissertations in your field will give you an idea of the ways in which different kinds of help have been appreciated and mentioned.
The contents pages will show up the structure of the dissertation. Any imbalance in space devoted to different sections of content will become apparent. This is a useful check on whether amalgamation of sections, or creation of further sections or sub-sections is needed.
Although this is the first piece of writing the reader comes to, it is often best to leave its preparation to last as, until then, you will not be absolutely sure what you are introducing. The introduction has two main roles:
The purpose of this chapter is to show that you are aware of where your own piece of research fits into the overall context of research in your field. To do this you need to:
This can lead logically into a clear statement of the research question(s) or problem(s) you will be addressing.
In addition to the research context, there may be other relevant contexts to present for example:
It can be difficult to identify the best order for sections in this chapter because the rationale for your choice of specific research question can be complicated, and there may be several inter-linked reasons why the research is needed. It is worth taking time to develop a logical structure as this will help to convince examiners of the relevance of your research, and that you understand its relevance. It will also provide you with a framework to refer back to in your discussion chapter, when you reflect on the extent to which your research has achieved what it set out to do.
In these chapters a straightforward description is required of how you conducted the research. If you used particular equipment, processes, or materials, you will need to be clear and precise in how you describe them. You must give enough detail for another researcher to replicate your study.
You will need to check which style of reporting is preferred in your field. For example a scientific dissertation would probably have very clear separation between the results and the discussion of those results; whereas a social science dissertation might have an overall chapter called Findings, bringing the results and their discussion together.
Decisions about style of presentation may need to be made about, for example:
This is where you review your own research in relation to the wider context in which it is located. You can refer back to the rationale that you gave for your research in the literature review, and discuss what your own research has added in this context. It is important to show that you appreciate the limitations of your research, and how these may affect the validity or usefulness of your findings. Given the acknowledged limitations, you can report on the implications of your findings for theory, research, and practice.
This chapter tends to be much shorter than the Discussion. It is not a mere ‘summary’ of your research, but needs to be ‘conclusions’ as to the main points that have emerged and what they mean for your field.
This section needs to be highly structured, and needs to include all of your references in the required referencing style. As you edit and rewrite your dissertation you will probably gain and lose references that you had in earlier versions. It is important therefore to check that all the references in your reference list are actually referenced within the text; and that all the references that appear in the text appear also in the reference list.
You need to check whether or not the appendices count within the word limit for your dissertation. Items that can usefully go in the appendices are those that a reader would want to see, but which would take up too much space and disrupt the flow if placed within the main text. Again, make sure you reference the Appendices within the main text where necessary.