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The Dissertation

The culminating product of graduate work, the doctoral dissertation is likely to be by far the longest piece of writing a student has ever done, and it becomes the most important piece of evidence on the academic job market, the fullest and most visible expression of a candidate's intellectual values and accomplishments. It is useful for you to be aware from the outset what a dissertation is not.  It is not a book , though it may eventually become one at a subsequent phase: dissertations are typically shorter and more selective in scope than books.  Nor is a dissertation the kind of magisterial summing-up  that a scholar can try out following the award of tenure--a speculative or deeply personal work addressed essentially to a very general audience, or to oneself, but not focused on any particular audience of intermediate size.

Generally, the dissertation should accomplish two things:

Length, Scope, and Format

A typical dissertation runs between  250 and 300 pages , divided into four or five chapters, often with a short conclusion following the final full-scale chapter. There is no set minimum or maximum length, but anything below about 225 pages will likely look insubstantial in comparison to others, while anything over 350 pages may suggest a lack of proportion and control of the topic, and would probably take too long to write. For guidelines on formatting, students should consult the GSAS Dissertation Office website .

Dissertation Committee

Helping guide you through the process of writing the dissertation is your dissertation committee, a group of three faculty members. One member is designated the dissertation Advisor. The Advisor must be a faculty member of the English and Comparative Literature Department. The Advisor is directly responsible for overseeing your schedule, and ensures that regular chapter meetings take place, although the responsibility for scheduling those meetings lies with the student. Your faculty Advisor is also responsible for filling out departmental and GSAS progress reports. The other two members are the Second and Third Reader, faculty members from inside or outside the department who each act as full advisers. All three committee members should review your draft prospectus and will need to sign off on the final version of the prospectus. As you contemplate potential committee members, you should talk over your ideas with the DGS to help you decide what combination of people will be most useful to you in terms of specific knowledge as well as of general approach and interaction. The dissertation Advisor is responsible for the composition of the defense committee. For rules and regulations relating to the dissertation defense, click here .

Chapter Review Meetings

The department strongly encourages students to take advantage of our customary practice of having the entire dissertation committee convene to discuss each completely drafted dissertation chapter.  These meetings have the advantage of providing students with coordinated feedback on each dissertation chapter. 

It is the student's responsibility to contact faculty to schedule these meetings, which usually take place in the office of a dissertation committee member.  Typically students email faculty members a draft of a chapter and at that time also begin the process of scheduling a chapter meeting.  (Some faculty may request hard copies of chapter drafts.)  When scheduling meetings, keep in mind that faculty typically take two to six weeks to read drafts of chapters.  Students should consult committee members and the DGS about any significant divergences from this timetable.  Committees vary in terms of how polished they want drafts to be, so seek explicit instruction from your committee members about their expectations.

Dissertation Fellowship

The department makes available to all students who have completed the M.Phil. degree a full-year of funding in either their fifth or sixth year in the program free from any teaching obligation. Students are expected to use this "free year" to make significant progress on their dissertations, aiming to have a full draft done by the end of the year.  Students must have completed their prospectus and one chapter to be eligible to take the dissertation fellowship. S tudents applying for a 6th-year dissertation fellowship must have drafted at least two chapters of the dissertation.  Drafts must be at least 40 pages.

A list of external fellowships, some of which may lead to an additional year of funding, can be found on the GSAS website at  https://gsas.columbia.edu/student-guide/financing-your-education/fellowship-information-doctoral-students .

Dissertation Writing Groups and Departmental Colloquia

During the extended period of dissertation work, it is important to be in touch with other students as well as your advisers. To this end, the department sponsors several  research colloquia ; you are strongly encouraged to attend the colloquium of most use to you, and to take advantage of opportunities to discuss drafts of your chapters in a workshop setting.

The department also recommends that PhD candidates take advantage of the services offered by the  GSAS Writing Studio , including weekly dissertation writing groups, writing workshops, and one-on-one consulting sessions. Students have also found it helpful to share their work with friends, and to create informal writing groups that meet to swap drafts or simply keep one another on task by writing together. Whatever approach works for you, please remember that you don't need to take on this challenge all alone.

Dissertation Defense

The culminating rite of passage of graduate study, the defense should be, and usually is, a very satisfying experience. For complete information about applying for the defense, and rules and regulations governing the defense, please consult the GSAS dissertations defense website .

My Dissertation Editor

Dissertation Chapters: A Guide to Writing Your Dissertation

Embarking on your dissertation is equal parts exhilaration and trepidation. It’s finally your turn to stake out your territory in the body of knowledge and hone your expertise. Naturally, it’s a lot of work, the evidence of which is reflected in your dissertation chapters. These chapters, which comprise the bulk of your dissertation, offer a clear snapshot of your topic, the work that has already been done by other scholars in your field, gaps in the literature, complications, your approach, and more. 

There are many moving parts to a dissertation, and the best way to simplify them is by chapter. Each chapter follows certain rules and serves a specific purpose. The most efficient way to break down the work ahead of you into pieces is to understand the role each chapter plays in the dissertation. 

These are frequently asked questions about dissertation chapters.  

How Many Dissertation Chapters are in a Dissertation?

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Usually five. While there are no short answers in academia, five dissertation chapters is the convention across many fields, if not most. Five dissertation chapters is a safe bet. As always, though, do your homework and find out exactly what the expectations are for dissertations in your department. 

Read (skim) dissertations written by recent graduates from your department to determine norms for chapter length and the extensiveness of the critical research they did and the studies they conducted. The average could be anything from 130 pages (math) to 500+ pages (history) –either way, you need to know. Also, visit office hours and talk to a few faculty members in your department. Whether they end up on your dissertation committee or not, their perspective will be helpful. 

Content of Each Dissertation Chapter

There is a format for the structure of a dissertation that most fields adhere to, and it is very specific. The first three chapters constitute your dissertation proposal , which must be completed, defended, and approved by your dissertation committee. Once your proposal is successfully defended,  you can proceed with the research you will need to do to write the two final chapters. 

Dissertation Chapters

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How Long is a Dissertation Chapter?

Dissertation chapter lengths vary, though the number of pages you can expect to write will likely correlate with standard dissertation lengths in your discipline. If you are doing research in a field like anthropology or theology, be prepared to conduct extensive literature reviews and write lengthy chapters. Topics that require a great deal of background information also make the pages add up. 

When thinking about the length of your dissertation chapters, also be aware that chapter lengths are not evenly divided. The bulk of your writing happens in the first three chapters, especially if the literature review covers a lot of ground. If you are writing a 130-page dissertation, the dissertation proposal will take up more than half of that space. Results sections can be comparatively short, and many scholars linger in the conclusion chapter because it’s their time to shine and it’s fun to write. 

How Long Does It Take to Write Dissertation Chapters? 

The amount of time it takes to write a dissertation depends on many factors and can vary greatly depending on the student, the program, and the discipline. This is a great conversation to have with your dissertation advisor, or even the chair of your department if you are still in the early stages of your graduate education. It never hurts to have a rough timeline in mind so you can get organized and plan for the journey ahead. 

man taking notes from a laptop next to the window

These elements often determine the amount of time it takes to write dissertation chapters: 

Academic Discipline

Some graduate degrees take longer than others, and much of that disparity occurs after coursework is completed. In many arts programs, most of the dissertation is written while coursework is taking place. It’s a different story in the sciences and humanities. In fields like biology and chemistry, issues like lab space and institutional approval must be resolved before a study can even begin, much less be written about, and that can take months. In fields like history, the scholarly research phase is similarly extensive. 

University libraries are an academic wonderland, but that doesn’t mean they hold all the answers or everything that you’ll need to get to work on your literature review or background material. Like many burgeoning scholars, I was excited to discover that I would need to travel in order to undertake some archival research for the critical introduction to my dissertation. However, the time required to set this up and visit the sites extended the amount of time it took to write these dissertation chapters. 

Life has a sneaky way of persisting, even when you have a dissertation to write. Many scholars experience unavoidable stops and starts while writing their dissertations, and it’s important to make allowances for being human, even if it interferes with your writing schedule. In my experience, we do our best to write as quickly as possible, but there are inevitable hiccups along the way. No matter. Course correct and keep going. You can do this, and the rewards of having a completed, bound dissertation in your hands will make all the effort worthwhile. 

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Courtney Watson, Ph.D.

Courtney Watson, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of English at Radford University Carilion, in Roanoke, Virginia. Her areas of expertise include undergraduate and graduate curriculum development for writing courses in the health sciences and American literature with a focus on literary travel, tourism, and heritage economies. Her writing and academic scholarship has been widely published in places that include  Studies in American Culture ,  Dialogue , and  The Virginia Quarterly Review . Her research on the integration of humanities into STEM education will be published by Routledge in an upcoming collection. Dr. Watson has also been nominated by the State Council for Higher Education of Virginia’s Outstanding Faculty Rising Star Award, and she is a past winner of the National Society of Arts & Letters Regional Short Story Prize, as well as institutional awards for scholarly research and excellence in teaching. Throughout her career in higher education, Dr. Watson has served in faculty governance and administration as a frequent committee chair and program chair. As a higher education consultant, she has served as a subject matter expert, an evaluator, and a contributor to white papers exploring program development, enrollment research, and educational mergers and acquisitions.

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How Long Is a Dissertation?

Published by steve tippins on april 9, 2019 april 9, 2019.

Last Updated on: 30th August 2022, 04:40 am

How long is a dissertation? This is a question that almost every doctoral student asks at some point. It is not a new question–in fact, it’s been asked every time a paper of some sort is assigned in any class.

The simple answer (for any paper) is, “long enough to answer the question.” Not a really helpful answer, but satisfying from a professor’s perspective.

The truth is, there is no one answer to how long a dissertation is. I can’t say 146 pages is what’s needed, as you may write to page 146 and stop without fully exploring your topic. 90 pages could adequately address your research question, or you could write 200 pages and still not fully answer what you set out to. Every topic is unique, as is each person’s writing style.

Some websites even give specific answers that are simply inaccurate. In my experience, dissertations vary too much to be pinned down like that.

However, there are some practical suggestions I can make about how long your dissertation should be, how to adequately address the requirements of each section, as well as how to expand or reduce the length of specific chapters according to your needs. I’ll explore these below.

But first, let’s try and at least give the beginning of an answer to the question “how long is a dissertation?”

Marcus Beck Sets Out to Answer “How Long Is A Dissertation?”

Any discussion of dissertation length must include the work done by Marcus Beck . As a way to distract himself from his own dissertation writing, Beck calculated the average length of dissertations in the University of Minnesota database.

infographic outlining the different Average Dissertation Lengths

You can see from looking at his data that average length varies by discipline. So the first answer to how long a dissertation is, is that it depends upon what area you are writing your dissertation. It appears that a dissertation in History will be much longer, on average, than one in Chemistry. He also calculated the average across all disciplines.

chart about the length of a dissertation paper

Don’t be intimidated by how long the average dissertation is.

Many people look at the average length of a dissertation and get intimidated by the high page count. But, as Marcus Beck says in his blog post, “The actual written portion may only account for less than 50% of the page length.”

I’ve found this to be true. References, appendixes, tables and figures, page breaks, and white space all contribute to the high page count. The actual number of words you need to write is likely considerably less than the page count initially implies.

How Long Should My Dissertation Be?

Even though there’s no single answer about how long a dissertation should be, there probably is an ideal range which your dissertation falls into. This depends on your topic of research, but also on other factors. I’ll discuss some of these below.

Institutional Guidelines

I know of schools that have policies such as “Chapter 2 must be at least 40 pages long and no more than 60 pages.” Why this type of requirement? In my mind, there are two reasons.

First, they want to give some sort of guideline for students that is helpful but does not overburden faculty (a 230-page lit review is daunting to read).

Second, credibility is important. An 8-page lit review does not reflect well upon the student or the institution.

Most schools now have a dissertation template with the headings that are needed for most sections. If you take the time to completely fill in the headings with all of the relevant information, you should come up with an adequate number of pages. Remember, in academic writing, we don’t leave much to chance, we tell the reader everything.

Committee Preferences

It is likely that you will get a committee member who will give you priceless advice such as, “more is needed here.” When you get this type of comment it can be frustrating as specific feedback can be much more helpful.

Usually, what a committee member means by comments like this is that you haven’t really convinced the reader that you have fully explored the area or demonstrated a strong understanding of the material. So, expand what you are saying. Don’t imply anything, state it directly. This lets your committee know that you really do get it.

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Sometimes you will get committee members giving contradictory advice. One member may want more information and another may want less. My first piece of advice is to negotiate these types of requests through your Chairperson.

This is where your Chair’s experience and guidance can be very helpful. Second, if a member really wants material included but others do not think it is very helpful, then adding the material in an appendix may make everyone happy.

Practical Suggestions For Dissertation Length, Chapter-By-Chapter

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If you adequately and succinctly address each required section, you should end up with the right length for each chapter (and therefore, a dissertation of the right length). I’ll also give some rough guidelines on average page length where appropriate.

This is the introduction to your study. It is important to lay out the agenda for your research. Be sure that your problem statement, title, and research questions are in alignment (all referring to the same idea).

Chapter 1 tends to average in the 15-25 page range. If you get beyond 25 pages, you are usually including material that is better presented elsewhere in the dissertation.

Chapter 2 should thoroughly explore the existing research on your topic. However, it shouldn’t go on and on.

Make sure that you tell the reader what you did and how you did it. What type of analysis did you use and why? How many respondents were involved and how did you find them? The idea is to make sure that readers understand what you did and could replicate it if they want to.

As this is a plan for your research, it seems to naturally fall in the 15 to 20 page range.

The results of your study are presented here. Include all material that will help the reader understand what you found. There is a tendency to inundate the reader with tables, charts, and graphs. If they don’t directly relate to what you found or are redundant they can be included in an appendix. You don’t want to lose your reader in an avalanche of tables and numbers.

In most dissertations, it is Chapter 5 where you get to explain what the results of your research mean and the implications. This is the only chapter where you have some freedom to really express your opinions. Go ahead and do so.

I am always surprised when someone has spent 15 months of their life working on a research topic and they submit a Chapter 5 that is 8 pages long. Spread your wings and really explore what your results mean.

How Long is a Dissertation? Summary

The is no doubt about it, a dissertation is a long document. It is, however, not written in one sitting. You work on it for many months, crafting paragraphs and coming to conclusions. Many people find that because the document can be written in pieces that when it’s all put together, it is longer than expected. Keep writing and adding your thoughts and you will make it.

Many students find it helps to have a supportive guide who’s both been through the dissertation writing process before and is experienced in helping students. If that would be useful to you, feel free to reach out to me about my dissertation coaching or dissertation editing services.

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Steve Tippins, PhD, has thrived in academia for over thirty years. He continues to love teaching in addition to coaching recent PhD graduates as well as students writing their dissertations. Learn more about his dissertation coaching and career coaching services. Book a Free Consultation with Steve Tippins

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What Is a Dissertation? | Guide, Examples, & Template

Structure of a Dissertation

A dissertation is a long-form piece of academic writing based on original research conducted by you. It is usually submitted as the final step in order to finish a PhD program.

Your dissertation is probably the longest piece of writing you’ve ever completed. It requires solid research, writing, and analysis skills, and it can be intimidating to know where to begin.

Your department likely has guidelines related to how your dissertation should be structured. When in doubt, consult with your supervisor.

You can also download our full dissertation template in the format of your choice below. The template includes a ready-made table of contents with notes on what to include in each chapter, easily adaptable to your department’s requirements.

Download Word template Download Google Docs template

Table of contents

Dissertation committee and prospectus process, how to write and structure a dissertation, acknowledgements or preface, list of figures and tables, list of abbreviations, introduction, literature review, methodology, reference list, proofreading and editing, defending your dissertation, free checklist and lecture slides.

When you’ve finished your coursework, as well as any comprehensive exams or other requirements, you advance to “ABD” (All But Dissertation) status. This means you’ve completed everything except your dissertation.

Prior to starting to write, you must form your committee and write your prospectus or proposal . Your committee comprises your adviser and a few other faculty members. They can be from your own department, or, if your work is more interdisciplinary, from other departments. Your committee will guide you through the dissertation process, and ultimately decide whether you pass your dissertation defense and receive your PhD.

Your prospectus is a formal document presented to your committee, usually orally in a defense, outlining your research aims and objectives and showing why your topic is relevant . After passing your prospectus defense, you’re ready to start your research and writing.

The structure of your dissertation depends on a variety of factors, such as your discipline, topic, and approach. Dissertations in the humanities are often structured more like a long essay , building an overall argument to support a central thesis , with chapters organized around different themes or case studies.

However, hard science and social science dissertations typically include a review of existing works, a methodology section, an analysis of your original research, and a presentation of your results , presented in different chapters.

Dissertation examples

We’ve compiled a list of dissertation examples to help you get started.

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The very first page of your document contains your dissertation title, your name, department, institution, degree program, and submission date. Sometimes it also includes your student number, your supervisor’s name, and the university’s logo.

Read more about title pages

The acknowledgements section is usually optional and gives space for you to thank everyone who helped you in writing your dissertation. This might include your supervisors, participants in your research, and friends or family who supported you. In some cases, your acknowledgements are part of a preface.

Read more about acknowledgements Read more about prefaces

The abstract is a short summary of your dissertation, usually about 150 to 300 words long. Though this may seem very short, it’s one of the most important parts of your dissertation, because it introduces your work to your audience.

Your abstract should:

Read more about abstracts

The table of contents lists all of your chapters, along with corresponding subheadings and page numbers. This gives your reader an overview of your structure and helps them easily navigate your document.

Remember to include all main parts of your dissertation in your table of contents, even the appendices. It’s easy to generate a table automatically in Word if you used heading styles. Generally speaking, you only include level 2 and level 3 headings, not every subheading you included in your finished work.

Read more about tables of contents

While not usually mandatory, it’s nice to include a list of figures and tables to help guide your reader if you have used a lot of these in your dissertation. It’s easy to generate one of these in Word using the Insert Caption feature.

Read more about lists of figures and tables

Similarly, if you have used a lot of abbreviations (especially industry-specific ones) in your dissertation, you can include them in an alphabetized list of abbreviations so that the reader can easily look up their meanings.

Read more about lists of abbreviations

In addition to the list of abbreviations, if you find yourself using a lot of highly specialized terms that you worry will not be familiar to your reader, consider including a glossary. Here, alphabetize the terms and include a brief description or definition.

Read more about glossaries

The introduction serves to set up your dissertation’s topic, purpose, and relevance. It tells the reader what to expect in the rest of your dissertation. The introduction should:

Everything in the introduction should be clear, engaging, and relevant. By the end, the reader should understand the what, why, and how of your research.

Read more about introductions

A formative part of your research is your literature review . This helps you gain a thorough understanding of the academic work that already exists on your topic.

Literature reviews encompass:

A literature review is not merely a summary of existing sources. Your literature review should have a coherent structure and argument that leads to a clear justification for your own research. It may aim to:

Read more about literature reviews

Theoretical framework

Your literature review can often form the basis for your theoretical framework. Here, you define and analyze the key theories, concepts, and models that frame your research.

Read more about theoretical frameworks

Your methodology chapter describes how you conducted your research, allowing your reader to critically assess its credibility. Your methodology section should accurately report what you did, as well as convince your reader that this was the best way to answer your research question.

A methodology section should generally include:

Read more about methodology sections

Your results section should highlight what your methodology discovered. You can structure this section around sub-questions, hypotheses , or themes, but avoid including any subjective or speculative interpretation here.

Your results section should:

Additional data (including raw numbers, full questionnaires, or interview transcripts) can be included as an appendix. You can include tables and figures, but only if they help the reader better understand your results. Read more about results sections

Your discussion section is your opportunity to explore the meaning and implications of your results in relation to your research question. Here, interpret your results in detail, discussing whether they met your expectations and how well they fit with the framework that you built in earlier chapters. Refer back to relevant source material to show how your results fit within existing research in your field.

Some guiding questions include:

If any of the results were unexpected, offer explanations for why this might be. It’s a good idea to consider alternative interpretations of your data.

Read more about discussion sections

Your dissertation’s conclusion should concisely answer your main research question, leaving your reader with a clear understanding of your central argument and emphasizing what your research has contributed to the field.

In some disciplines, the conclusion is just a short section preceding the discussion section, but in other contexts, it is the final chapter of your work. Here, you wrap up your dissertation with a final reflection on what you found, with recommendations for future research and concluding remarks.

It’s important to leave the reader with a clear impression of why your research matters. What have you added to what was already known? Why is your research necessary for the future of your field?

Read more about conclusions

It is crucial to include a reference list or list of works cited with the full details of all the sources that you used, in order to avoid plagiarism. Be sure to choose one citation style and follow it consistently throughout your dissertation. Each style has strict and specific formatting requirements.

Common styles include MLA , Chicago , and APA , but which style you use is often set by your department or your field.

Create APA citations Create MLA citations

Your dissertation should contain only essential information that directly contributes to answering your research question. Documents such as interview transcripts or survey questions can be added as appendices, rather than adding them to the main body.

Read more about appendices

Making sure that all of your sections are in the right place is only the first step to a well-written dissertation. Don’t forget to leave plenty of time for editing and proofreading, as grammar mistakes and sloppy spelling errors can really negatively impact your work.

Dissertations can take up to five years to write, so you will definitely want to make sure that everything is perfect before submitting. You may want to consider using a professional dissertation editing service to make sure your final project is perfect prior to submitting.

After your written dissertation is approved, your committee will schedule a defense. Similarly to defending your prospectus, dissertation defenses are oral presentations of your work. You’ll present your dissertation, and your committee will ask you questions. Many departments allow family members, friends, and other people who are interested to join as well.

After your defense, your committee will meet, and then inform you whether you have passed. Keep in mind that defenses are usually just a formality; most committees will have resolved any serious issues with your work with you far prior to your defense, giving you ample time to fix any problems.

As you write your dissertation, you can use this simple checklist to make sure you’ve included all the essentials.

Checklist: Dissertation

My title page includes all information required by my university.

I have included acknowledgements thanking those who helped me.

My abstract provides a concise summary of the dissertation, giving the reader a clear idea of my key results or arguments.

I have created a table of contents to help the reader navigate my dissertation. It includes all chapter titles, but excludes the title page, acknowledgements, and abstract.

My introduction leads into my topic in an engaging way and shows the relevance of my research.

My introduction clearly defines the focus of my research, stating my research questions and research objectives .

My introduction includes an overview of the dissertation’s structure (reading guide).

I have conducted a literature review in which I (1) critically engage with sources, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of existing research, (2) discuss patterns, themes, and debates in the literature, and (3) address a gap or show how my research contributes to existing research.

I have clearly outlined the theoretical framework of my research, explaining the theories and models that support my approach.

I have thoroughly described my methodology , explaining how I collected data and analyzed data.

I have concisely and objectively reported all relevant results .

I have (1) evaluated and interpreted the meaning of the results and (2) acknowledged any important limitations of the results in my discussion .

I have clearly stated the answer to my main research question in the conclusion .

I have clearly explained the implications of my conclusion, emphasizing what new insight my research has contributed.

I have provided relevant recommendations for further research or practice.

If relevant, I have included appendices with supplemental information.

I have included an in-text citation every time I use words, ideas, or information from a source.

I have listed every source in a reference list at the end of my dissertation.

I have consistently followed the rules of my chosen citation style .

I have followed all formatting guidelines provided by my university.


The end is in sight—your dissertation is nearly ready to submit! Make sure it's perfectly polished with the help of a Scribbr editor.

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Updated: Mar 30, 2020

Dissertation is the research paper submitted by the candidate aspiring for a doctorate in a particular field of study. It is an extensive written work which is done on mastering a chosen field of study. A dissertation of thesis is mandatory to be submitted if a candidate is aspiring for a doctor degree. 

The university will provide with certain guidelines that has to be followed during the preparation of a dissertation. The guidelines would clearly mention the scopes as well as the limitation of a dissertation, and following those pointers would aid a candidate to complete her/his dissertation quickly.

Regarding the concern of chapters, a dissertation usually requires 5 chapter to give a complete and detailed account of the study. Thus, having 5 chapters will provide the academician with enough space to mention all her/his findings and thoughts on the field.

Dissertation Chapters


The first chapter is usually an introduction which will brief the topic and its contents. It is by reading the introduction that the readers will get to know the fields and areas which are covered in the paper and what are the questions that are been answered. The introduction must give a brief note on the subject matter and details about the paper and its depth in the study.


The methodology is the part which describes about the method through which the academician has did the research and presented the paper. It gives information on the procedures and steps of the thesis paper


This section or chapter is mainly focused on the data or factual information’s that are presented in order to prove a claim that has been mentioned in the thesis. It is essential that the claims and ideologies mentioned in the thesis are backed up by legitimate examples or data it helps the academician to have a firm hold on her/his subject matter.


Once the supporting data has been put forth, then the results or discoveries which are meant to be proven through the paper could be mentioned. This will include the main intention of the paper and its ideologies. The results will have to explained clearly in context with the information’s given in the previous chapters.


The last part of the thesis must summarize all the previous chapters of the thesis and must wind up with the final point. It must give a brief note on all the other chapters and conclude the paper with proving positive to its topic.

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Writing your thesis or dissertation is hard work. join the community and make writing social., the structure of your dissertation.

Dissertations vary in format, style, and content across disciplines, and as doctoral education evolves, these variations are subject to change. Two common forms of dissertation are the “big book thesis” of 60,000 to 100,000 words (traditional) and the papers model, where the student writes four or five papers of “publishable quality” with a total of approximately 60,000 words (Dunleavy, 2003, p. 5). Joined papers usually require an introduction and a conclusion to make them into a cohesive whole. This blog post discusses the “dissertation by publication model.” Although these two formats pose different problems for the writer, there are structural challenges common to both.

Structure types

Some disciplines have a built-in expectation of structure; for example in the Social Sciences, you may be expected to use the template Introduction/ Literature Review/ Methods/ Results/ Discussion/ Conclusion.  In English, you might be expected to produce a topic dissertation of six or more chapters, with several topic chapters sandwiched between the introduction and conclusion.

How to structure your dissertation

Dunleavy is an excellent source on organization.  Reading chapters 3 (Planning an integrated thesis)  and 4 (organizing a chapter or paper) can help you to understand the overall and chapter level organizational challenges and how to approach them. His book, Authoring a PhD , is in our library (LB2369 D85).   Following are key points from those chapters. And following those summaries are some other considerations about structure.

how many chapters should be in a dissertation

 A different perspective on structuring your dissertation

Other recommended resources:

Can you recommend any other resources on organization?  Email Madeline at [email protected]

Page written by Madeline Walker; last updated February 2, 2023.

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Dissertation Structure & Layout 101: How to structure your dissertation, thesis or research project.

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) Reviewed By: David Phair (PhD) | July 2019

So, you’ve got a decent understanding of what a dissertation is , you’ve chosen your topic and hopefully you’ve received approval for your research proposal . Awesome! Now its time to start the actual dissertation or thesis writing journey.

To craft a high-quality document, the very first thing you need to understand is dissertation structure . In this post, we’ll walk you through the generic dissertation structure and layout, step by step. We’ll start with the big picture, and then zoom into each chapter to briefly discuss the core contents. If you’re just starting out on your research journey, you should start with this post, which covers the big-picture process of how to write a dissertation or thesis .

Dissertation structure and layout - the basics

*The Caveat *

In this post, we’ll be discussing a traditional dissertation/thesis structure and layout, which is generally used for social science research across universities, whether in the US, UK, Europe or Australia. However, some universities may have small variations on this structure (extra chapters, merged chapters, slightly different ordering, etc).

So, always check with your university if they have a prescribed structure or layout that they expect you to work with. If not, it’s safe to assume the structure we’ll discuss here is suitable. And even if they do have a prescribed structure, you’ll still get value from this post as we’ll explain the core contents of each section.  

Overview: S tructuring a dissertation or thesis

As I mentioned, some universities will have slight variations on this structure. For example, they want an additional “personal reflection chapter”, or they might prefer the results and discussion chapter to be merged into one. Regardless, the overarching flow will always be the same, as this flow reflects the research process , which we discussed here – i.e.:

In other words, the dissertation structure and layout reflect the research process of asking a well-defined question(s), investigating, and then answering the question – see below.

A dissertation's structure reflect the research process

To restate that – the structure and layout of a dissertation reflect the flow of the overall research process . This is essential to understand, as each chapter will make a lot more sense if you “get” this concept. If you’re not familiar with the research process, read this post before going further.

Right. Now that we’ve covered the big picture, let’s dive a little deeper into the details of each section and chapter. Oh and by the way, you can also grab our free dissertation/thesis template here to help speed things up.

The title page of your dissertation is the very first impression the marker will get of your work, so it pays to invest some time thinking about your title. But what makes for a good title? A strong title needs to be 3 things:

Typically, a good title includes mention of the following:

For example:

A quantitative investigation [research design] into the antecedents of organisational trust [broader area] in the UK retail forex trading market [specific context/area of focus].

Again, some universities may have specific requirements regarding the format and structure of the title, so it’s worth double-checking expectations with your institution (if there’s no mention in the brief or study material).

Dissertations stacked up


This page provides you with an opportunity to say thank you to those who helped you along your research journey. Generally, it’s optional (and won’t count towards your marks), but it is academic best practice to include this.

So, who do you say thanks to? Well, there’s no prescribed requirements, but it’s common to mention the following people:

There’s no need for lengthy rambling. Just state who you’re thankful to and for what (e.g. thank you to my supervisor, John Doe, for his endless patience and attentiveness) – be sincere. In terms of length, you should keep this to a page or less.

Abstract or executive summary

The dissertation abstract (or executive summary for some degrees) serves to provide the first-time reader (and marker or moderator) with a big-picture view of your research project. It should give them an understanding of the key insights and findings from the research, without them needing to read the rest of the report – in other words, it should be able to stand alone .

For it to stand alone, your abstract should cover the following key points (at a minimum):

So, in much the same way the dissertation structure mimics the research process, your abstract or executive summary should reflect the research process, from the initial stage of asking the original question to the final stage of answering that question.

In practical terms, it’s a good idea to write this section up last , once all your core chapters are complete. Otherwise, you’ll end up writing and rewriting this section multiple times (just wasting time). For a step by step guide on how to write a strong executive summary, check out this post .

Need a helping hand?

how many chapters should be in a dissertation

Table of contents

This section is straightforward. You’ll typically present your table of contents (TOC) first, followed by the two lists – figures and tables. I recommend that you use Microsoft Word’s automatic table of contents generator to generate your TOC. If you’re not familiar with this functionality, the video below explains it simply:

If you find that your table of contents is overly lengthy, consider removing one level of depth. Oftentimes, this can be done without detracting from the usefulness of the TOC.

Right, now that the “admin” sections are out of the way, its time to move on to your core chapters. These chapters are the heart of your dissertation and are where you’ll earn the marks. The first chapter is the introduction chapter – as you would expect, this is the time to introduce your research…

Dissertation writing

Now that you’ve investigated the current state of knowledge in your literature review chapter and are familiar with the existing key theories, models and frameworks, its time to design your own research. Enter the methodology chapter – the most “science-ey” of the chapters…

In this chapter, you need to address two critical questions:

Remember, the dissertation part of your degree is first and foremost about developing and demonstrating research skills . Therefore, the markers want to see that you know which methods to use, can clearly articulate why you’ve chosen then, and know how to deploy them effectively.

Importantly, this chapter requires detail – don’t hold back on the specifics. State exactly what you’ll be doing, with who, when, for how long, etc. Moreover, for every design choice you make, make sure you justify it.

In practice, you will likely end up coming back to this chapter once you’ve undertaken all your data collection and analysis, and revise it based on changes you made during the analysis phase. This is perfectly fine. Its natural for you to add an additional analysis technique, scrap an old one, etc based on where your data lead you. Of course, I’m talking about small changes here – not a fundamental switch from qualitative to quantitative, which will likely send your supervisor in a spin!

You’ve now collected your data and undertaken your analysis, whether qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods. In this chapter, you’ll present the raw results of your analysis . For example, in the case of a quant study, you’ll present the demographic data, descriptive statistics, inferential statistics, etc.

Typically, Chapter 4 is simply a presentation and description of the data, not a discussion of the meaning of the data. In other words, it’s descriptive, rather than analytical – the meaning is discussed in Chapter 5. However, some universities will want you to combine chapters 4 and 5, so that you both present and interpret the meaning of the data at the same time. Check with your institution what their preference is.

Now that you’ve presented the data analysis results, its time to interpret and analyse them. In other words, its time to discuss what they mean, especially in relation to your research question(s).

What you discuss here will depend largely on your chosen methodology. For example, if you’ve gone the quantitative route, you might discuss the relationships between variables . If you’ve gone the qualitative route, you might discuss key themes and the meanings thereof. It all depends on what your research design choices were.

Most importantly, you need to discuss your results in relation to your research questions and aims, as well as the existing literature. What do the results tell you about your research questions? Are they aligned with the existing research or at odds? If so, why might this be? Dig deep into your findings and explain what the findings suggest, in plain English.

The final chapter – you’ve made it! Now that you’ve discussed your interpretation of the results, its time to bring it back to the beginning with the conclusion chapter . In other words, its time to (attempt to) answer your original research question s (from way back in chapter 1). Clearly state what your conclusions are in terms of your research questions. This might feel a bit repetitive, as you would have touched on this in the previous chapter, but its important to bring the discussion full circle and explicitly state your answer(s) to the research question(s).

Dissertation and thesis prep

Next, you’ll typically discuss the implications of your findings? In other words, you’ve answered your research questions – but what does this mean for the real world (or even for academia)? What should now be done differently, given the new insight you’ve generated?

Lastly, you should discuss the limitations of your research, as well as what this means for future research in the area. No study is perfect, especially not a Masters-level. Discuss the shortcomings of your research. Perhaps your methodology was limited, perhaps your sample size was small or not representative, etc, etc. Don’t be afraid to critique your work – the markers want to see that you can identify the limitations of your work. This is a strength, not a weakness. Be brutal!

This marks the end of your core chapters – woohoo! From here on out, it’s pretty smooth sailing.

The reference list is straightforward. It should contain a list of all resources cited in your dissertation, in the required format, e.g. APA, Harvard, etc.

It’s essential that you use reference management software for your dissertation. Do NOT try handle your referencing manually – its far too error prone. On a reference list of multiple pages, you’re going to make mistake. To this end, I suggest considering either Mendeley or Zotero. Both are free and provide a very straightforward interface to ensure that your referencing is 100% on point. I’ve included a simple how-to video for the Mendeley software (my personal favourite) below:

Some universities may ask you to include a bibliography, as opposed to a reference list. These two things are not the same . A bibliography is similar to a reference list, except that it also includes resources which informed your thinking but were not directly cited in your dissertation. So, double-check your brief and make sure you use the right one.

The very last piece of the puzzle is the appendix or set of appendices. This is where you’ll include any supporting data and evidence. Importantly, supporting is the keyword here.

Your appendices should provide additional “nice to know”, depth-adding information, which is not critical to the core analysis. Appendices should not be used as a way to cut down word count (see this post which covers how to reduce word count ). In other words, don’t place content that is critical to the core analysis here, just to save word count. You will not earn marks on any content in the appendices, so don’t try to play the system!

Time to recap…

And there you have it – the traditional dissertation structure and layout, from A-Z. To recap, the core structure for a dissertation or thesis is (typically) as follows:

Most importantly, the core chapters should reflect the research process (asking, investigating and answering your research question). Moreover, the research question(s) should form the golden thread throughout your dissertation structure. Everything should revolve around the research questions, and as you’ve seen, they should form both the start point (i.e. introduction chapter) and the endpoint (i.e. conclusion chapter).

I hope this post has provided you with clarity about the traditional dissertation/thesis structure and layout. If you have any questions or comments, please leave a comment below, or feel free to get in touch with us. Also, be sure to check out the rest of the  Grad Coach Blog .

how many chapters should be in a dissertation

Psst… there’s more (for free)

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

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How To Write A Dissertation Or Thesis 101: Big Picture Guide (With Examples)



many thanks i found it very useful

Derek Jansen

Glad to hear that, Arun. Good luck writing your dissertation.


Such clear practical logical advice. I very much needed to read this to keep me focused in stead of fretting.. Perfect now ready to start my research!


what about scientific fields like computer or engineering thesis what is the difference in the structure? thank you very much


Thanks so much this helped me a lot!

Ade Adeniyi

Very helpful and accessible. What I like most is how practical the advice is along with helpful tools/ links.

Thanks Ade!


Thank you so much sir.. It was really helpful..

You’re welcome!

Jp Raimundo

Hi! How many words maximum should contain the abstract?

Karmelia Renatee

Thank you so much 😊 Find this at the right moment

You’re most welcome. Good luck with your dissertation.


best ever benefit i got on right time thank you

Krishnan iyer

Many times Clarity and vision of destination of dissertation is what makes the difference between good ,average and great researchers the same way a great automobile driver is fast with clarity of address and Clear weather conditions .

I guess Great researcher = great ideas + knowledge + great and fast data collection and modeling + great writing + high clarity on all these

You have given immense clarity from start to end.

Alwyn Malan

Morning. Where will I write the definitions of what I’m referring to in my report?


Thank you so much Derek, I was almost lost! Thanks a tonnnn! Have a great day!

yemi Amos

Thanks ! so concise and valuable

Kgomotso Siwelane

This was very helpful. Clear and concise. I know exactly what to do now.

dauda sesay

Thank you for allowing me to go through briefly. I hope to find time to continue.

Patrick Mwathi

Really useful to me. Thanks a thousand times

Adao Bundi

Very interesting! It will definitely set me and many more for success. highly recommended.

mwepu Ilunga

Usefull, thanks a lot. Really clear

Chrisogonas Odhiambo

That was incredibly useful. Thanks Grad Coach Crew!


My stress level just dropped at least 15 points after watching this. Just starting my thesis for my grad program and I feel a lot more capable now! Thanks for such a clear and helpful video, Emma and the GradCoach team!


Do we need to mention the number of words the dissertation contains in the main document?

It depends on your university’s requirements, so it would be best to check with them 🙂


Such a helpful post to help me get started with structuring my masters dissertation, thank you!


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What are the seven sections of a dissertation?

how many chapters should be in a dissertation

This is the second of three chapters about Dissertations . To complete this reader, read each chapter carefully and then unlock and complete our materials  to check your understanding.   

– Discuss the overall dissertation structure

– Explore the common elements of a dissertation

– Consider additional elements which may be added

Chapter 1: What is an academic dissertation?

Chapter 2: What are the seven sections of a dissertation?

Chapter 3: What is an effective dissertation topic?

When writing a dissertation , like any type of essay , it’s important that relatively inexperienced writers follow tried and trusted structures and methods so as to convey ideas, arguments and research as clearly and easily as possible. This chapter therefore offers one such prescribed structure that’s particularly used in social-science dissertations, such as for linguistics, psychology or anthropology. Although other subjects may of course use a slightly different number of sections, place these seven sections in a slightly different order, or expect a different weighting for each section, the example structure we’ve included below should cover most dissertation and thesis types that students will be required to produce.

About Dissertations 2.1 Dissertation Structure

1. The Abstract (5%)

Both the shortest and first-encountered section of a dissertation , the abstract  is intended to provide a very brief overview of the entire research project, highlighting to the reader the aims of the dissertation, the background and context of the investigation, the methodology that’s been used, the study’s key findings, and how this particular study has contributed to the field of knowledge.

2. The Introduction (15%)

Following the abstract , the purpose of the introduction is usually to describe the focus of the dissertation by reviewing the topic’s background and context. An introduction may also identify gaps in the research and how the writer intends to fill those gaps, as well as an outline of the scope of the investigation and the general and argumentative structure of the dissertation. 

3. The Literature Review (25%)

The largest section of a dissertation is usually the literature review , which aims to provide a detailed discussion of the existing research that’s most relevant to the investigation. This section usually includes a critical review of both non-research and research literature, as well as any theoretical perspectives that require understanding to support and contextualise the study. Additionally, identification and justification of the research gap being filled in this dissertation as well as an explanation of how all of the above features have informed the dissertation are generally included.

4. The Methodology (15%)

The methodology is usually where the primary (and original) research of the dissertation begins. The purpose of this section is to highlight and justify to the reader the approach, design and processes that were followed to collect the findings, such as whether qualitative or quantitative methods were employed and whether questionnaires, interviews or recordings were used to collect the raw data. This section may include the study’s methodological approach, the research design, justification of the methods used, a discussion of the reliability and validity of those methods, and a description of the data collection and analysis procedures.

5. The Results (10%)

The fifth section (which is sometimes combined with the sixth section) of a dissertation is usually focussed on the results . The primary aim of this chapter is to present the results of the study’s primary research in a clear manner that demonstrates how these results address the dissertation’s research questions. Generally, in the results section the writer will present the relevant findings of the study, explain the implications of those findings, present evidence to support those findings, refer back to the methodology and introductory background information, and perhaps also refer forwards to the discussion of results .

6. The Discussion of Results (15%)

While the results section deals with the raw data, the discussion of results is where these findings are contextualised and their significance explained. As well as reminding the reader of the research aims and how the study’s results work to explore these aims, the writer should additionally present a discussion of how these findings have contributed to the dissertation’s hypotheses and therefore to the overall literature. Some time may also be spent interpreting the study’s findings, comparing them to other research, and evaluating their contribution to the literature.

7. The Conclusion (15%)

The final section of a dissertation is called the conclusion , the purpose of which is to remind the reader of the study’s aims, the key methodology, and the findings of the investigation. The writer may also wish to evaluate the significance of the research, commenting on how this research further develops the theory as well as highlighting any limitations that may have become apparent during the investigation. Finally, how this research can be applied practically may also be outlined to the reader, and any research gaps generated by the study explained.

Additional Sections

While these seven sections constitute the bulk of the dissertation , don’t forget to also include a table of contents , a reference list and an  appendix   if necessary.

Now that we’ve discussed what a dissertation  is, when one might be used, and which sections such an extended essay usually contains, the final chapter on this subject is about choosing an effective dissertation topic. 

To reference this reader:

Academic Marker (2022) About Dissertations . Available at: https://academicmarker.com/essay-writing/dissertations/about-dissertations/ (Accessed: Date Month Year).


Once you’ve completed all three chapters about dissertations , you might also wish to download our beginner, intermediate and advanced worksheets to test your progress or print for your students. These professional PDF worksheets can be easily accessed for only a few Academic Marks .

Our dissertations academic reader (including all three chapters about this topic) can be accessed here at the click of a button.

Gain unlimited access to our dissertations beginner worksheet, with activities and answer keys designed to check a basic understanding of this reader’s chapters.

To check a confident understanding of this  reader’s chapters , click on the button below to download our  dissertations intermediate worksheet with activities and answer keys.

Our dissertations advanced worksheet with activities and answer keys has been created to check a sophisticated understanding of this  reader’s chapters . 

To save yourself 5 Marks , click on the button below to gain unlimited access to all of our dissertations chapters and worksheets. The All-in-1 Pack includes every chapter in this reader, as well as our beginner, intermediate and advanced worksheets in one handy PDF.

Click on the button below to gain unlimited access to our about dissertations   teacher’s PowerPoint, which should include everything you’d need to successfully introduce this topic.

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  4. How Long Is a Dissertation?

    I know of schools that have policies such as “Chapter 2 must be at least 40 pages long and no more than 60 pages.” Why this type of requirement?

  5. How long does it take to write a dissertation? How many chapters

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    Your methodology chapter describes how you conducted your research, allowing your reader to critically assess its credibility. Your methodology section should


    Regarding the concern of chapters, a dissertation usually requires 5 chapter to give a complete and detailed account of the study.

  8. The structure of your dissertation

    In a typical big book dissertation of 80,000 words, you will have roughly 8 chapters of 10,000 words each. The opening or “lead in” material (

  9. Dissertation Structure & Layout 101 (+ Examples)

    Overview: Structuring a dissertation or thesis · Chapter 1: Introduction · Chapter 2: Literature review · Chapter 3: Methodology · Chapter 4: Results · Chapter 5:

  10. What are the seven sections of a dissertation?

    Chapter 2 · 1. The Abstract (5%) · 2. The Introduction (15%) · 3. The Literature Review (25%) · 4. The Methodology (15%) · 5. The Results (10%) · 6. The Discussion of