Dissertation Writing Tips: How to Structure Your Dissertation

Chapter 1 – Introduction, research questions and hypotheses

It should be general in nature and present the background to the Project, the questions you plan to answer, the plan. It serves two main purposes:

  • Contextualises the research within a larger disciplinary framework and signals how you intend your work to be considered;
  • Identifies the main focus or research problem with which you are concerned about.

Chapter 2 – Literature review

A description of what is already known on your topic, what policy or business implications out of this, a discussion of these results and finally some conclusions that can be drawn and suggestions for future work.

Make sure you give adequate consideration to the classics in your topic area, the landmarks, and the most recent developments.

Chapter 3 – Methodology

Be careful: this is NOT a broad overview of research methods in business and the social sciences. You need to be very specific about YOUR own choice of research methods. You need to outline the method you have actually used, and explain why you have used it.

As you know from your Advanced Professional Development and Research course, you can choose between use of primary and/or secondary data.

Do NOT confuse secondary data and literature: the former consist of raw information, not polished results. Secondary data are statistical tables (for example, socio-demographic data), time series (for example, GDP or prices over several years), financial information on companies (from their financial statements or credit rating reports for instance).

If you do a primary data collection, you must explain:

  • How you defined and selected your sample (for example, employees of a particular company);
  • How you identified relevant subjects (how did you find the names of these employees);
  • How you approached them, when and where you did so (for example, someone in the company may have 
introduced you);
  • How many you approached, and how many actually responded (usually, many less respond than you 
would like);
  • Sample characteristics (gender, age, geographic location etc.);
  • Whether you used questionnaires or interviews or focus groups etc., and why (remember to include your 
questionnaire or interview guide as an annex);
  • How you developed your questions (how you built them based on your hypotheses);
  • Whether you sought informed consent from your participants;
  • Whether you surveyed/interviewed them face-to-face, or by phone, mail, email etc.;
  • How long it took to collect the data;
  • Whether any issues emerged (participants’ comments and feedback, your own feelings of what went right 
and what went wrong, lessons learned for any future research). If you use secondary data, you must explain:
  • What database you selected (for example Orbis, Datastream, British National Statistics data from ESDS- UKDA, etc.): remember that databases need to be cited (similarly to the literature);
  • How you accessed it (for example, if through the University portal);
  • What are the main characteristics of the database (you can refer here to information provided by the 
database authors: remember to cite them);
  • Whether you extracted parts of the database (for example, financial information on just one particular 
company; or just one particular year);
  • Whether you modified any of the variables and/or added new variables based on existing ones (for 
example, indices or rates of growth). 
Remember that primary data collection can be quite difficult and time-consuming as the response rate may be very low. Databases may instead provide you with good-quality information and save you time for analyses. You need to make sure you understand their content well, and cite them appropriately.

Chapter 4 – Data presentation, evidence, analysis and discussion

While the form in which you present your findings will be influenced by your methodological choices, a generally accepted good practice for quantitative data is to present them in tables and figures. Comment them in an effort to guide the reader through the significant and important points – you may wish to point out trends in the table, for example. As you move across categories of the independent variable, what happens to the dependent variables? You may wish to highlight the more theoretically or empirically interesting findings in the table. You must make sure that the table, as a whole, warrants inclusion in your paper and that you make reference to it in your text.

Remember to appropriately number and label tables and figures. If you re-use tables and figures from external sources, remember to acknowledge them.

Chapter 5 – Summary and conclusions

Give a brief explanation of why things appear as they are, state whether are not your initial hypotheses are confirmed or rejected, and provide possible reasons for that. Consider how aspects of the research process, the design of your investigation, the sample you constructed and the interview schedule you used, could be modified in order to generalize results to a broader variety of settings. Outline the implications of your research for public policy or company strategy, if any. Think about limitations of your work and directions for future improvements.

*A best practice for writing each chapter is to make sure that each one has a short and concise introduction and conclusion. The introduction sets the scene, and the conclusion sums up and announces what comes next.

2016-11-10T15:00:30+00:00 Academic Skills|