Grad Coach

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

  • Acknowledgements page
  • Abstract (or executive summary)
  • Table of contents , list of figures and tables
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: Literature review
  • Chapter 3: Methodology
  • Chapter 4: Results
  • Chapter 5: Discussion
  • Chapter 6: Conclusion
  • Reference list

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.:

  • The introduction chapter presents the core research question and aims .
  • The literature review chapter assesses what the current research says about this question.
  • The methodology, results and discussion chapters go about undertaking new research about this question.
  • The conclusion chapter (attempts to) answer the core research question .

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:

  • Succinct (not overly lengthy or verbose)
  • Specific (not vague or ambiguous)
  • Representative of the research you’re undertaking (clearly linked to your research questions)

Typically, a good title includes mention of the following:

  • The broader area of the research (i.e. the overarching topic)
  • The specific focus of your research (i.e. your specific context)
  • Indication of research design (e.g. quantitative , qualitative , or  mixed methods ).

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

Acknowledgements

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:

  • Your dissertation supervisor or committee.
  • Any professors, lecturers or academics that helped you understand the topic or methodologies.
  • Any tutors, mentors or advisors.
  • Your family and friends, especially spouse (for adult learners studying part-time).

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):

  • Your research questions and aims – what key question(s) did your research aim to answer?
  • Your methodology – how did you go about investigating the topic and finding answers to your research question(s)?
  • Your findings – following your own research, what did do you discover?
  • Your conclusions – based on your findings, what conclusions did you draw? What answers did you find to your research question(s)?

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?

dissertation masters thesis

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…

It’s important to understand that even though you’ve provided an overview of your research in your abstract, your introduction needs to be written as if the reader has not read that (remember, the abstract is essentially a standalone document). So, your introduction chapter needs to start from the very beginning, and should address the following questions:

  • What will you be investigating (in plain-language, big picture-level)?
  • Why is that worth investigating? How is it important to academia or business? How is it sufficiently original?
  • What are your research aims and research question(s)? Note that the research questions can sometimes be presented at the end of the literature review (next chapter).
  • What is the scope of your study? In other words, what will and won’t you cover ?
  • How will you approach your research? In other words, what methodology will you adopt?
  • How will you structure your dissertation? What are the core chapters and what will you do in each of them?

These are just the bare basic requirements for your intro chapter. Some universities will want additional bells and whistles in the intro chapter, so be sure to carefully read your brief or consult your research supervisor.

If done right, your introduction chapter will set a clear direction for the rest of your dissertation. Specifically, it will make it clear to the reader (and marker) exactly what you’ll be investigating, why that’s important, and how you’ll be going about the investigation. Conversely, if your introduction chapter leaves a first-time reader wondering what exactly you’ll be researching, you’ve still got some work to do.

Now that you’ve set a clear direction with your introduction chapter, the next step is the literature review . In this section, you will analyse the existing research (typically academic journal articles and high-quality industry publications), with a view to understanding the following questions:

  • What does the literature currently say about the topic you’re investigating?
  • Is the literature lacking or well established? Is it divided or in disagreement?
  • How does your research fit into the bigger picture?
  • How does your research contribute something original?
  • How does the methodology of previous studies help you develop your own?

Depending on the nature of your study, you may also present a conceptual framework towards the end of your literature review, which you will then test in your actual research.

Again, some universities will want you to focus on some of these areas more than others, some will have additional or fewer requirements, and so on. Therefore, as always, its important to review your brief and/or discuss with your supervisor, so that you know exactly what’s expected of your literature review chapter.

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:

  • Exactly HOW will you carry out your research (i.e. what is your intended research design)?
  • Exactly WHY have you chosen to do things this way (i.e. how do you justify your design)?

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:

  • Acknowledgments page

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 .

dissertation masters thesis

Psst… there’s more (for free)

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

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36 Comments

ARUN kumar SHARMA

many thanks i found it very useful

Derek Jansen

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

Sue

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!

hayder

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

Tim

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!

Aswathi

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.

moha

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?

Rose

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.

SAIKUMAR NALUMASU

Thank you soo much sir, for the opportunity to express my skills

mwepu Ilunga

Usefull, thanks a lot. Really clear

Rami

Very nice and easy to understand. Thank you .

Chrisogonas Odhiambo

That was incredibly useful. Thanks Grad Coach Crew!

Luke

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!

Judy

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 🙂

Christine

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

Simon Le

Great video; I appreciate that helpful information

Brhane Kidane

It is so necessary or avital course

johnson

This blog is very informative for my research. Thank you

avc

Doctoral students are required to fill out the National Research Council’s Survey of Earned Doctorates

Emmanuel Manjolo

wow this is an amazing gain in my life

Paul I Thoronka

This is so good

Tesfay haftu

How can i arrange my specific objectives in my dissertation?

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University Thesis and Dissertation Templates

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Theses and dissertations are already intensive, long-term projects that require a lot of effort and time from their authors. Formatting for submission to the university is often the last thing that graduate students do, and may delay earning the relevant degree if done incorrectly.

Below are some strategies graduate students can use to deal with institutional formatting requirements to earn their degrees on time.

Disciplinary conventions are still paramount.

Scholars in your own discipline are the most common readers of your dissertation; your committee, too, will expect your work to match with their expectations as members of your field. The style guide your field uses most commonly is always the one you should follow, and if your field uses conventions such as including all figures and illustrations at the end of the document, you should do so. After these considerations are met, move on to university formatting. Almost always, university formatting only deals with things like margins, font, numbering of chapters and sections, and illustrations; disciplinary style conventions in content such as APA's directive to use only last names of authors in-text are not interfered with by university formatting at all.

Use your university's formatting guidelines and templates to your advantage.

If your institution has a template for formatting your thesis or dissertation that you can use, do so. Don't look at another student's document and try to replicate it yourself. These templates typically have the necessary section breaks and styles already in the document, and you can copy in your work from your existing draft using the style pane in MS Word to ensure you're using the correct formatting (similarly with software such as Overleaf when writing in LaTeX, templates do a lot of the work for you). It's also often easier for workers in the offices that deal with theses and dissertations to help you with your work if you're using their template — they are familiar with these templates and can often navigate them more proficiently.

These templates also include placeholders for all front matter you will need to include in your thesis or dissertation, and may include guidelines for how to write these. Front matter includes your table of contents, acknowledgements, abstract, abbreviation list, figure list, committee page, and (sometimes) academic history or CV; everything before your introduction is front matter. Since front matter pages such as the author's academic history and dissertation committee are usually for the graduate school and not for your department, your advisor might not remember to have you include them. Knowing about them well before your deposit date means you won't be scrambling to fill in placeholders at the last minute or getting your work returned for revision from the graduate school.

Consider institutional formatting early and often.

Many graduate students leave this aspect of submitting their projects until it's almost too late to work on it, causing delays in obtaining their degree. Simply being aware that this is a task you'll have to complete and making sure you know where templates are, who you can ask for help in your graduate office or your department, and what your institution's guidelines are can help alleviate this issue. Once you know what you'll be expected to do to convert to university formatting, you can set regular check-in times for yourself to do this work in pieces rather than all at once (for instance, when you've completed a chapter and had it approved by your chair). 

Consider fair use for images and other third-party content.

Most theses and dissertations are published through ProQuest or another publisher (Harvard, for instance, uses their own open publishing service). For this reason, it may be the case that your institution requires all images or other content obtained from other sources to fall under fair use rules or, if an image is not considered under fair use, you'll have to obtain permission to print it in your dissertation. Your institution should have more guidance on their specific expectations for fair use content; knowing what these guidelines are well in advance of your deposit date means you won't have to make last-minute changes or removals to deposit your work.

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Thesis and Dissertation Resources

Here you can find resources and guidelines on how to prepare and submit your Thesis/Dissertation.

The Graduate School Thesis and Dissertation Guide

This Guide includes everything you need to know about what should be included in your final document, samples of specific sections, formatting guidelines, and a checklist for submitting your work.

Submit your thesis or dissertation

This link directs you to the ProQuest ETD Administrator site where you will set up an account and submit your completed electronic thesis or dissertation to The Graduate School.

The Graduate School Handbook

The Handbook provides additional information on master's thesis requirements or doctoral dissertation requirements .

Thesis and dissertation formatting workshops

  • Dissertation formatting workshop: PC version
  • Dissertation formatting workshop: Apple/Mac version

Stages of the thesis or dissertation process

These guidelines and advice will be helpful as you consider your thesis or dissertation from preparation through final submission.

Stages of the Thesis or Dissertation Process

Although you won't submit your thesis or dissertation until your final semester of graduate study, it is recommended that you begin thinking about many aspects of your thesis or dissertation much sooner.

  • Use The Graduate School's Thesis and Dissertation Guide to aid in preparing and submitting your thesis or dissertation. Read through the guidelines early and refer back to them as often as needed throughout the process.
  • Begin discussions with your advisor and committee early, as they may have useful information to impart to you as you begin your research and writing.
  • Be sure to determine which style manual is appropriate for your discipline. Formatting is often easier when applied at the beginning of the writing process rather than at the end, especially when concerning citations.
  • Review and discuss how copyrighting may impact your research and writing, including decisions about publishing your own work. The University Libraries' Scholarly Communications Office is a campus resource on scholarly publishing practices.
  • Take advantage of campus resources such as workshops, University Libraries, and the Writing Center.
  • As you approach your defense, set up your student account in the ProQuest ETD Administrator . Review the site for useful information about the online submission process.
  • After your defense has occurred and all final edits are approved by your committee, plan to submit your thesis or dissertation. Follow the checklist and submission instructions in the Thesis and Dissertation Guide to prepare your document.
  • In addition to uploading a PDF of your thesis or dissertation, be prepared to provide added information (e.g., abstract, keywords, and subject headings) about your work for indexing and identification purposes. This information will help make your work more discoverable online.
  • After you have submitted your thesis or dissertation, check your email regularly for updates. Make any required revisions promptly.
  • You will receive a final email notifying you that your ETD has been accepted. Once your document has been approved, you cannot make any further changes. ProQuest will make the title and abstract of your thesis or dissertation available online shortly after graduation. The University Libraries will make your thesis or dissertation available within one semester.

Frequently asked questions about electronic theses and dissertations

Follow the dates posted on The Graduate School's graduation deadlines website . Submit your thesis or dissertation after your defense has occurred and all final edits are approved by your advisor and committee. Your Committee Composition and Exam Report forms (with all approval signatures) must be submitted to The Graduate School before submitting your document.

The ETD Administrator uses statuses to help students and staff keep track of what step comes next during the ETD submission process. Some statuses require action on the part of the student while others indicate that staff are responsible for taking the next step. To help you understand what each status means, visit the ProQuest help page . You can also access this page from within the ETD Administrator by clicking on the “Help ?” link on the top right corner of most pages.

You should receive an email from the ETD Administrator immediately following submission of your thesis or dissertation. If you do not receive this email, please check your junk/spam folder and verify which email address you used when you set up your ETD Administrator account. You will continue to receive emails relating to time-sensitive required revisions, so it is important that you monitor the email account associated with your ETD Administrator account on a daily basis. You will receive a final email when The Graduate School has accepted the finalized document.

While you should receive emails notifying you of necessary changes, required revisions can also be viewed directly within the ProQuest ETD Administrator . To view required revisions:

  • Login to your account
  • Go to the “My Dissertations/Theses List”
  • Click on the “View” button under the entry for your ETD
  • Under “Manage this ETD” on the left margin, select “View decisions”
  • A list of the decisions that have been made will be displayed in the middle of the page; on the far right of each decision is a link for “View Email”
  • Click the “View Email” link to display the entire contents of the email that was sent to you, including any required revisions

Conflict of interest disclosures should be included in the Acknowledgements section of your document. Please contact [email protected] for more information.

The Thesis and Dissertation Guide has been designed as a comprehensive resource to aid you in preparing your thesis or dissertation for final acceptance and approval. If you have read the Guide and still have questions about the guidelines or submission process, email your Graduate School enrolled students specialist . Please note that Graduate School staff cannot offer formatting assistance. For technical assistance relating to the ETD Administrator submission website, contact ProQuest Tech Support or review the ETD Administrator Help pages .

Receipt of a submitted and approved thesis or dissertation in The Graduate School results in the publication of the document by the University Library at UNC-Chapel Hill. As such, each student grants the University a limited, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce the student's work, in whole or in part, in electronic form to be posted in the University Library database and made available to the general public at no charge. As a public institution, UNC-Chapel Hill is committed to disseminating research widely and furthering the free exchange of intellectual information, including approved theses and dissertations completed by graduating students. See the Thesis and Dissertation Guide Copyrighting section for information about the campus copyright policy.

Most students will not need to request an embargo. In certain circumstances (e.g., pending patent application, publisher requirements) it may be advisable to request one. If you would like to delay release of your thesis or dissertation, please discuss the advantages and disadvantages of an embargo with your advisor or academic program.

UNC-Chapel Hill only permits the request of a one or two year embargo – regardless of options and documentation displayed in ProQuest. If your request for an embargo is accepted by The Graduate School, online publishing of your thesis or dissertation will be delayed for one or two years. Please note that the title of your work, as well as your abstract, will be available through ProQuest Dissertations & Theses shortly after your work has been approved by The Graduate School and submitted to ProQuest. Please review the Thesis and Dissertation Guide Embargo section for more information.

The Open Access, full text of your thesis or dissertation will be available online through the UNC Libraries . There is an approximately one semester delay for processing and uploading electronic theses and dissertations to the Library's digital collections.

Shortly after graduation, your thesis or dissertation title and abstract will be available through several ProQuest databases that can be accessed through the UNC Libraries.

If you chose to order optional printed copies of your thesis or dissertation in the ETD Administrator as part of the submission process, your order will be filled by ProQuest. Your order summary and manuscript ID are in your submission confirmation email. For questions about your order, you will need to contact ProQuest directly. Neither The Graduate School nor the University Libraries can offer information about past orders or requests for print copies.

Theses and Dissertations

Defense and submission.

Sign on door that says "Dissertation in Progress"

Below is an overview of the main steps in preparing, defending, and submitting your thesis or dissertation. For detailed instructions on each step, see The Graduate School's  Guide for Electronic Submission of Thesis and Dissertation (PDF) , in addition to this video recording from a workshop given on the subject. 

  • Schedule your defense and apply for graduation in DukeHub ( defense and graduation deadlines ).  
  • At least 30 days before your defense: Confirm or update your defense committee.  
  • Give your thesis/dissertation to your advisor for inspection, and prompt your advisor to send a letter to [email protected] stating that it is complete and ready to defend. Note: For students in School of Medicine Ph.D. programs, their advisor letters are generated through T3.  
  • Request your DGSA to send a departmental defense announcement to  [email protected] . Note: For students in School of Medicine Ph.D. programs, their departmental defense announcements are generated through T3.  
  • At least 2 weeks before your defense: Submit your complete, correctly formatted dissertation/thesis to ProQuest (initial submission). Also provide it to each member of your committee.  
  • Optional: After you receive an email through ProQuest from the Graduate School administrator who reviewed your thesis/dissertation format, you may make an appointment for a brief, virtual meeting with the administrator to discuss any questions you have about the defense process or the recommended formatting revisions.  
  • A few days before your defense, The Graduate School will generate your final examination certificate and email it to the chair/co-chair(s) of your examination committee and the DGSA of your department. Note:  For students in School of Medicine Ph.D. programs, their final examination certificates are generated and released through T3.  
  • Defend your dissertation. After your final examination, your committee members will vote on whether you passed or failed. Your chair and DGS will record the votes on your final examination certificate, sign it, and submit it to The Graduate School. Your committee may vote that you passed but still require minor edits or corrections before final submission.  
  • As soon as possible after your defense, submit to [email protected] the Non-Exclusive Distribution License and Thesis/Dissertation Availability Agreement (“embargo agreement”) signed by yourself and your thesis/dissertation advisor.  
  • Within 30 days after your successful defense, or by the established final submission deadline (whichever is first): Submit the final version of your dissertation/thesis to ProQuest.

Guide for Electronic Submission of Thesis and Dissertation (PDF)

We provide the following templates for your convenience and to help you eliminate common formatting errors. However,  all submitted theses and dissertations must meet the specifications listed in the ETD guide . The manuscript must be a completed document, formatted correctly, with no sections left blank.

  • Word Template for Thesis/Dissertation (Word)
  • LaTeX Template for Thesis/Dissertation (ZIP)

Notes about the LaTeX Template

  • This LaTeX template is for both master's and Ph.D. students. Master's theses must also have an abstract title page.
  • Neither The Graduate School nor OIT supports LaTeX beyond providing this template.

Ph.D. and master’s students are required to apply for graduation in  DukeHub  by the established application deadline for the semester in which they plan to graduate.

Review the full graduation guidelines on the  Graduation Information and Deadlines  page. 

When you submit your thesis or dissertation electronically, you will also permit Duke University to make it available online through  DukeSpace  at Duke Libraries. See the pages below for more information about ETDs:

  • ETDs Overview
  • ETD Availability
  • ETD Copyright Information 
  • ETD Technical Help 

Check out the writing support  offered by The Graduate School, such as writing spaces, consultations, and access to online writing workshops, communities, and resources.

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How to write a masters dissertation or thesis: top tips.

How to write a masters dissertation

It is completely normal to find the idea of writing a masters thesis or dissertation slightly daunting, even for students who have written one before at undergraduate level. Though, don’t feel put off by the idea. You’ll have plenty of time to complete it, and plenty of support from your supervisor and peers.

One of the main challenges that students face is putting their ideas and findings into words. Writing is a skill in itself, but with the right advice, you’ll find it much easier to get into the flow of writing your masters thesis or dissertation.

We’ve put together a step-by-step guide on how to write a dissertation or thesis for your masters degree, with top tips to consider at each stage in the process.

1. Understand your dissertation (or thesis) topic

There are slight differences between theses and dissertations , although both require a high standard of writing skill and knowledge in your topic. They are also formatted very similarly.

At first, writing a masters thesis can feel like running a 100m race – the course feels very quick and like there is not as much time for thinking! However, you’ll usually have a summer semester dedicated to completing your dissertation – giving plenty of time and space to write a strong academic piece.

By comparison, writing a PhD thesis can feel like running a marathon, working on the same topic for 3-4 years can be laborious. But in many ways, the approach to both of these tasks is quite similar.

Before writing your masters dissertation, get to know your research topic inside out. Not only will understanding your topic help you conduct better research, it will also help you write better dissertation content.

Also consider the main purpose of your dissertation. You are writing to put forward a theory or unique research angle – so make your purpose clear in your writing.

Top writing tip: when researching your topic, look out for specific terms and writing patterns used by other academics. It is likely that there will be a lot of jargon and important themes across research papers in your chosen dissertation topic. 

2. Structure your dissertation or thesis

Writing a thesis is a unique experience and there is no general consensus on what the best way to structure it is. 

As a postgraduate student , you’ll probably decide what kind of structure suits your research project best after consultation with your supervisor. You’ll also have a chance to look at previous masters students’ theses in your university library.

To some extent, all postgraduate dissertations are unique. Though they almost always consist of chapters. The number of chapters you cover will vary depending on the research. 

A masters dissertation or thesis organised into chapters would typically look like this: 

Write down your structure and use these as headings that you’ll write for later on.

Top writing tip : ease each chapter together with a paragraph that links the end of a chapter to the start of a new chapter. For example, you could say something along the lines of “in the next section, these findings are evaluated in more detail”. This makes it easier for the reader to understand each chapter and helps your writing flow better.

3. Write up your literature review

One of the best places to start when writing your masters dissertation is with the literature review. This involves researching and evaluating existing academic literature in order to identify any gaps for your own research.

Many students prefer to write the literature review chapter first, as this is where several of the underpinning theories and concepts exist. This section helps set the stage for the rest of your dissertation, and will help inform the writing of your other dissertation chapters.

What to include in your literature review

The literature review chapter is more than just a summary of existing research, it is an evaluation of how this research has informed your own unique research.

Demonstrate how the different pieces of research fit together. Are there overlapping theories? Are there disagreements between researchers?

Highlight the gap in the research. This is key, as a dissertation is mostly about developing your own unique research. Is there an unexplored avenue of research? Has existing research failed to disprove a particular theory?

Back up your methodology. Demonstrate why your methodology is appropriate by discussing where it has been used successfully in other research.

4. Write up your research

Your research is the heart and soul of your dissertation. Conducting your actual research is a whole other topic in itself, but it’s important to consider that your research design will heavily influence the way you write your final dissertation.

For instance, a more theoretical-based research topic might encompass more writing from a philosophical perspective. Qualitative data might require a lot more evaluation and discussion than quantitative research. 

Methodology chapter

The methodology chapter is all about how you carried out your research and which specific techniques you used to gather data. You should write about broader methodological approaches (e.g. qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods), and then go into more detail about your chosen data collection strategy. 

Data collection strategies include things like interviews, questionnaires, surveys, content analyses, discourse analyses and many more.

Data analysis and findings chapters

The data analysis or findings chapter should cover what you actually discovered during your research project. It should be detailed, specific and objective (don’t worry, you’ll have time for evaluation later on in your dissertation)

Write up your findings in a way that is easy to understand. For example, if you have a lot of numerical data, this could be easier to digest in tables.

This will make it easier for you to dive into some deeper analysis in later chapters. Remember, the reader will refer back to your data analysis section to cross-reference your later evaluations against your actual findings – so presenting your data in a simple manner is beneficial.

Think about how you can segment your data into categories. For instance, it can be useful to segment interview transcripts by interviewee. 

Top writing tip : write up notes on how you might phrase a certain part of the research. This will help bring the best out of your writing. There is nothing worse than when you think of the perfect way to phrase something and then you completely forget it.

5. Discuss and evaluate

Once you’ve presented your findings, it’s time to evaluate and discuss them.

It might feel difficult to differentiate between your findings and discussion sections, because you are essentially talking about the same data. The easiest way to remember the difference is that your findings simply present the data, whereas your discussion tells the story of this data.

Your evaluation breaks the story down, explaining the key findings, what went well and what didn’t go so well.

In your discussion chapter, you’ll have chance to expand on the results from your findings section. For example, explain what certain numbers mean and draw relationships between different pieces of data.

Top writing tip: don’t be afraid to point out the shortcomings of your research. You will receive higher marks for writing objectively. For example, if you didn’t receive as many interview responses as expected, evaluate how this has impacted your research and findings. Don’t let your ego get in the way!

6. Write your introduction

Your introduction sets the scene for the rest of your masters dissertation. You might be wondering why writing an introduction isn't at the start of our step-by-step list, and that’s because many students write this chapter last.

Here’s what your introduction chapter should cover:

Problem statement

Research question

Significance of your research

This tells the reader what you’ll be researching as well as its importance. You’ll have a good idea of what to include here from your original dissertation proposal , though it’s fairly common for research to change once it gets started.

Writing or at least revisiting this section last can be really helpful, since you’ll have a more well-rounded view of what your research actually covers once it has been completed and written up.

How to write a masters dissertation

Masters dissertation writing tips

When to start writing your thesis or dissertation.

When you should start writing your masters thesis or dissertation depends on the scope of the research project and the duration of your course. In some cases, your research project may be relatively short and you may not be able to write much of your thesis before completing the project. 

But regardless of the nature of your research project and of the scope of your course, you should start writing your thesis or at least some of its sections as early as possible, and there are a number of good reasons for this:

Academic writing is about practice, not talent. The first steps of writing your dissertation will help you get into the swing of your project. Write early to help you prepare in good time.

Write things as you do them. This is a good way to keep your dissertation full of fresh ideas and ensure that you don’t forget valuable information.

The first draft is never perfect. Give yourself time to edit and improve your dissertation. It’s likely that you’ll need to make at least one or two more drafts before your final submission.

Writing early on will help you stay motivated when writing all subsequent drafts.

Thinking and writing are very connected. As you write, new ideas and concepts will come to mind. So writing early on is a great way to generate new ideas.

How to improve your writing skills

The best way of improving your dissertation or thesis writing skills is to:

 Finish the first draft of your masters thesis as early as possible and send it to your supervisor for revision. Your supervisor will correct your draft and point out any writing errors. This process will be repeated a few times which will help you recognise and correct writing mistakes yourself as time progresses.

If you are not a native English speaker, it may be useful to ask your English friends to read a part of your thesis and warn you about any recurring writing mistakes. Read our section on English language support for more advice. 

Most universities have writing centres that offer writing courses and other kinds of support for postgraduate students. Attending these courses may help you improve your writing and meet other postgraduate students with whom you will be able to discuss what constitutes a well-written thesis.

Read academic articles and search for writing resources on the internet. This will help you adopt an academic writing style, which will eventually become effortless with practice.

Keep track of your bibliography 

When studying for your masters dissertation, you will need to develop an efficient way of organising your bibliography – this will prevent you from getting lost in large piles of data that you’ll need to write your dissertation. 

The easiest way to keep the track of all the articles you have read for your research is to create a database where you can summarise each article/chapter into a few most important bullet points to help you remember their content. 

Another useful tool for doing this effectively is to learn how to use specific reference management software (RMS) such as EndNote. RMS is relatively simple to use and saves a lot of time when it comes to organising your bibliography. This may come in very handy, especially if your reference section is suspiciously missing two hours before you need to submit your dissertation! 

Avoid accidental plagiarism

Plagiarism may cost you your postgraduate degree and it is important that you consciously avoid it when writing your thesis or dissertation. 

Occasionally, postgraduate students commit plagiarism unintentionally. This can happen when sections are copy and pasted from journal articles they are citing instead of simply rephrasing them. Whenever you are presenting information from another academic source, make sure you reference the source and avoid writing the statement exactly as it is written in the original paper.

What kind of format should your thesis have?

How to write a masters dissertation

Read your university’s guidelines before you actually start writing your thesis so you don’t have to waste time changing the format further down the line. However in general, most universities will require you to use 1.5-2 line spacing, font size 12 for text, and to print your thesis on A4 paper. These formatting guidelines may not necessarily result in the most aesthetically appealing thesis, however beauty is not always practical, and a nice looking thesis can be a more tiring reading experience for your postgrad examiner .

When should I submit my thesis?

The length of time it takes to complete your MSc or MA thesis will vary from student to student. This is because people work at different speeds, projects vary in difficulty, and some projects encounter more problems than others. 

Obviously, you should submit your MSc thesis or MA thesis when it is finished! Every university will say in its regulations that it is the student who must decide when it is ready to submit. 

However, your supervisor will advise you whether your work is ready and you should take their advice on this. If your supervisor says that your work is not ready, then it is probably unwise to submit it. Usually your supervisor will read your final thesis or dissertation draft and will let you know what’s required before submitting your final draft.

Set yourself a target for completion. This will help you stay on track and avoid falling behind. You may also only have funding for the year, so it is important to ensure you submit your dissertation before the deadline – and also ensure you don’t miss out on your graduation ceremony ! 

To set your target date, work backwards from the final completion and submission date, and aim to have your final draft completed at least three months before that final date.

Don’t leave your submission until the last minute – submit your work in good time before the final deadline. Consider what else you’ll have going on around that time. Are you moving back home? Do you have a holiday? Do you have other plans?

If you need to have finished by the end of June to be able to go to a graduation ceremony in July, then you should leave a suitable amount of time for this. You can build this into your dissertation project planning at the start of your research.

It is important to remember that handing in your thesis or dissertation is not the end of your masters program . There will be a period of time of one to three months between the time you submit and your final day. Some courses may even require a viva to discuss your research project, though this is more common at PhD level . 

If you have passed, you will need to make arrangements for the thesis to be properly bound and resubmitted, which will take a week or two. You may also have minor corrections to make to the work, which could take up to a month or so. This means that you need to allow a period of at least three months between submitting your thesis and the time when your program will be completely finished. Of course, it is also possible you may be asked after the viva to do more work on your thesis and resubmit it before the examiners will agree to award the degree – so there may be an even longer time period before you have finished.

How do I submit the MA or MSc dissertation?

Most universities will have a clear procedure for submitting a masters dissertation. Some universities require your ‘intention to submit’. This notifies them that you are ready to submit and allows the university to appoint an external examiner.

This normally has to be completed at least three months before the date on which you think you will be ready to submit.

When your MA or MSc dissertation is ready, you will have to print several copies and have them bound. The number of copies varies between universities, but the university usually requires three – one for each of the examiners and one for your supervisor.

However, you will need one more copy – for yourself! These copies must be softbound, not hardbound. The theses you see on the library shelves will be bound in an impressive hardback cover, but you can only get your work bound like this once you have passed. 

You should submit your dissertation or thesis for examination in soft paper or card covers, and your university will give you detailed guidance on how it should be bound. They will also recommend places where you can get the work done.

The next stage is to hand in your work, in the way and to the place that is indicated in your university’s regulations. All you can do then is sit and wait for the examination – but submitting your thesis is often a time of great relief and celebration!

Some universities only require a digital submission, where you upload your dissertation as a file through their online submission system.

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Dissertations & theses: home, finding dissertations & theses.

The majority of dissertations in the UC Berkeley Libraries are from UC Berkeley. The libraries have a nearly complete collection of Berkeley doctoral dissertations and a large number of Berkeley master's theses.

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UC Berkeley PhD Dissertations

Dissertations and Theses (Dissertation Abstracts)     UCB access only  1861-present 

Index and full text of graduate dissertations and theses from North American and European schools and universities, including the University of California, with full text of most doctoral dissertations from UC Berkeley from 1996 forward. Dissertations published prior to 2009 may not include information about the department from which the degree was granted. 

UC Berkeley Master's Theses

UC Berkeley Digital Collections   2011-present

Selected UC Berkeley master's theses freely available online. For theses published prior to 2020, check UC Library Search for print availability (see "At the Library" below). 

At the Library:

Dissertations: From 2012 onwards dissertations are only available online.

Master's theses : From 2020 onwards theses are only available online. 

To locate older dissertations, master's theses, and master's projects in print, search UC Library Search by keyword, title or author. For publications prior to 2009 you may also include a specific UC Berkeley department in your search:  berkeley dissertations <department name> . 

Examples:  berkeley dissertations electrical engineering computer sciences  berkeley dissertations mechanical engineering

University of California - all campuses

Index and full text of graduate dissertations and theses from North American and European schools and universities, including the University of California.

WorldCatDissertations     UCB access only 

Covers all dissertations and theses cataloged in WorldCat, a catalog of materials owned by libraries worldwide. UC Berkeley faculty, staff, and students may use the interlibrary loan request form  for dissertations found in WorldCatDissertations. 

Worldwide - Open Access

Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD)

The Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD) is an international organization dedicated to promoting the adoption, creation, use, dissemination, and preservation of electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs).

Open Access Theses and Dissertations (OATD)

An index of over 3.5 million electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs). To the extent possible, the index is limited to records of graduate-level theses that are freely available online.

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Dissertation vs Thesis: The Differences that Matter

Dissertation-vs-Thesis-The-Differences-that-Matter

As a graduate student, you will have many different types of challenging coursework and assignments. However, the biggest project that you’ll work on when earning your master’s or doctoral degree will be your thesis or dissertation . The differences between a dissertation vs thesis are plenty. That’s because each of these pieces of writing happen at different times in one’s educational journey.

Let’s break down what a dissertation and thesis are so that you have a strong handle on what’s expected. For both a thesis and a dissertation, there is an obvious fluency and understanding of the subject one studies.

Let’s take a look at their similarities and differences.

Photo by  Glenn Carstens-Peters  on  Unsplash

What is a dissertation.

When you enter a doctoral program to earn a PhD, you will learn a lot about how to conduct your own research. At the culmination of your degree program, you’ll produce a dissertation.

A dissertation is a lengthy piece of written work that includes original research or expanded research on a new or existing topic. As the doctoral student, you get to choose what you want to explore and write about within your field of study.

What is a Thesis?

A thesis is also a scholarly piece of writing, but it is for those who are graduating from a master’s program. A thesis allows students to showcase their knowledge and expertise within the subject matter they have been studying.

Main Differences Between a Thesis vs. Dissertation

The biggest difference between a thesis and a dissertation is that a thesis is based on existing research.

On the other hand, a dissertation will more than likely require the doctoral student to conduct their own research and then perform analysis. The other big difference is that a thesis is for master’s students and the dissertation is for PhD students.

Structural Differences Between a Thesis and a Dissertation

Structurally, the two pieces of written analysis have many differences.

  • A thesis is at least 100 pages in length
  • A dissertation is 2-3x that in length
  • A thesis expands upon and analyzes existing research
  • A dissertation’s content is mostly attributed to the student as the author

Research Content and Oral Presentation

Once completed, some programs require students to orally present their thesis and dissertation to a panel of faculty members.

Typically, a dissertation oral presentation can take several hours. On the other hand, a thesis only takes about an hour to present and answer questions.

Let’s look at how the two scholarly works are similar and different:

Similarities:

  • Each is considered a final project and required to graduate
  • Both require immense understanding of the material
  • Written skills are key to complete both
  • Neither can be plagiarized
  • Both are used to defend an argument
  • Both require analytical skills
  • You will have to draft, rewrite, and edit both pieces of writing
  • For both, it is useful to have another person look over before submission
  • Both papers are given deadlines

Differences:

  • A dissertation is longer than a thesis
  • A dissertation requires new research
  • A dissertation requires a hypothesis that is then proven
  • A thesis chooses a stance on an existing idea and defends it with analysis
  • A dissertation has a longer oral presentation component

The Differences in Context: Location Matters

The united states.

In the US, everything that was previously listed is how schools differentiate between a thesis and a dissertation. A thesis is performed by master’s students, and a dissertation is written by PhD candidates.

In Europe, the distinction between a thesis and dissertation becomes a little more cloudy. That’s because PhD programs may require a doctoral thesis to graduate. Then, as a part of a broader post-graduate research project, students may complete a dissertation.

Photo by  Russ Ward  on  Unsplash

The purpose behind written research.

Each piece of writing is an opportunity for a student to demonstrate his or her ability to think critically, express their opinions in writing, and present their findings in front of their department.

Graduate degrees take a lot of time, energy, and hard work to complete. When it comes to writing such lengthy and informative pieces, there is a lot of time management that is involved. The purpose of both a thesis and a dissertation are written proof that you understand and have mastered the subject matter of your degree.

Degree Types

A doctoral degree, or PhD, is the highest degree that one can earn. In most cases, students follow the following path to achieve this level of education: Earn a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s, and then a PhD. While not every job title requires this deep educational knowledge, the salaries that come along with each level of higher education increase accordingly.

Earning Your Degree

Whether you are currently a prospective student considering earning your higher education degree or a student enrolled in a master’s or doctoral program, you know the benefits of education.

However, for some, earning a traditional degree on-campus doesn’t make sense. This could be because of the financial challenges, familial obligations, accessibility, or any other number of reasons.

For students who are seeking their higher education degrees but need a flexible, affordable, and quality alternative to traditional college, take a look at the programs that the University of the People has to offer.

University of the People is an entirely online, US accredited and tuition-free institution dedicated to higher education. You can earn your Master’s in Business Administration or your Master’s in Education . Not to mention, there are a handful of associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs to choose from as well.

If you want to learn more, get in touch with us !

The Bottom Line

Regardless of where and when you earn your master’s or doctoral degree, you will likely have to complete a thesis or dissertation. The main difference between a thesis and dissertation is the level at which you complete them. A thesis is for a master’s degree, and a dissertation is for a doctoral degree.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the prospect of having to research and write so much. Your educational journey has prepared you with the right time management skills and writing skills to make this feat achievable!

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/images/cornell/logo35pt_cornell_white.svg" alt="dissertation masters thesis"> Cornell University --> Graduate School

Guide to writing your thesis/dissertation, definition of dissertation and thesis.

The dissertation or thesis is a scholarly treatise that substantiates a specific point of view as a result of original research that is conducted by students during their graduate study. At Cornell, the thesis is a requirement for the receipt of the M.A. and M.S. degrees and some professional master’s degrees. The dissertation is a requirement of the Ph.D. degree.

Formatting Requirement and Standards

The Graduate School sets the minimum format for your thesis or dissertation, while you, your special committee, and your advisor/chair decide upon the content and length. Grammar, punctuation, spelling, and other mechanical issues are your sole responsibility. Generally, the thesis and dissertation should conform to the standards of leading academic journals in your field. The Graduate School does not monitor the thesis or dissertation for mechanics, content, or style.

“Papers Option” Dissertation or Thesis

A “papers option” is available only to students in certain fields, which are listed on the Fields Permitting the Use of Papers Option page , or by approved petition. If you choose the papers option, your dissertation or thesis is organized as a series of relatively independent chapters or papers that you have submitted or will be submitting to journals in the field. You must be the only author or the first author of the papers to be used in the dissertation. The papers-option dissertation or thesis must meet all format and submission requirements, and a singular referencing convention must be used throughout.

ProQuest Electronic Submissions

The dissertation and thesis become permanent records of your original research, and in the case of doctoral research, the Graduate School requires publication of the dissertation and abstract in its original form. All Cornell master’s theses and doctoral dissertations require an electronic submission through ProQuest, which fills orders for paper or digital copies of the thesis and dissertation and makes a digital version available online via their subscription database, ProQuest Dissertations & Theses . For master’s theses, only the abstract is available. ProQuest provides worldwide distribution of your work from the master copy. You retain control over your dissertation and are free to grant publishing rights as you see fit. The formatting requirements contained in this guide meet all ProQuest specifications.

Copies of Dissertation and Thesis

Copies of Ph.D. dissertations and master’s theses are also uploaded in PDF format to the Cornell Library Repository, eCommons . A print copy of each master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation is submitted to Cornell University Library by ProQuest.

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  • Dissertation & Thesis Manual

Preparation and Submission Manual Overview

Doctoral dissertations and master’s theses.

Doctoral dissertations and master’s theses submitted to UC San Diego must meet the requirements set by the Graduate Council of the University of California San Diego for the degree candidate to be eligible for a graduate degree. A doctoral dissertation must be the result of original research conducted in the candidate’s specialization and must be approved in its entirety by the student’s doctoral committee. A master’s thesis must be a significant research work that must be approved in its entirety by the master’s committee.

The final version of the dissertation/thesis must conform to the details outlined in the " Preparation and Submission Manual for Doctoral Dissertations and Master's Theses. " For reference, we have provided some highlights below, but please refer to the full PDF Manual for complete instructions.

We have also made a template available as an inital resource to assist students with proper formatting.

Co-author permission letters are submitted electronically via the Kuali Permission Letter Submission Form .  (see section below, "Use of Published Material," for additional information) 

Specifications and Formatting

Minimum Margins

The margins of your thesis/dissertation should be from 1" on all sides. (Slightly larger margins are acceptable, but should be a minimum of 1 inch.)

Font and Font Sizes

A font size of at least 10 must be used for the text; students may choose one of the following font sizes: 10pt, 11pt or 12pt. Standard fonts are Arial, Century Gothic, Helvetica, or Times New Roman. A consistent font must be used throughout the entire dissertation or thesis.

Page Numbers

All page numbers are centered at the bottom of the page, 0.5” from the bottom edge.

Except where noted below, each page of the entire dissertation or thesis must be numbered consecutively; pages should be numbered according to the following standards:

  • Neither the title page nor the blank or copyright page is to be numbered; however, the two pages are counted when numbering the preliminary pages that follow.
  • The dissertation/thesis approval page is always numbered as page “iii”.
  • The preliminary pages following the title and blank or copyright pages must be numbered consecutively beginning with lower case Roman numeral “iii” on the dissertation/thesis approval page. All preliminary pages are to be numbered using lower case Roman numerals (following the title and blank or copyright pages, begin with iii, iv, v, vi, etc.). This includes the dissertation/thesis approval page, dedication, epigraph, table of contents, list of abbreviations, list of symbols, list of illustrations, list of figures, list of schemes, list of tables, list of photographs, preface, acknowledgements, vita (required for doctoral dissertations), and the abstract. The page numbers must be placed at the bottom of the page and centered 0.5” from the bottom.
  • The main body of the text and any back matter must be numbered consecutively with Arabic numerals beginning with “1” (1, 2, 3, etc.), including text, illustrative materials, notes, appendices and bibliography. All pages are numbered at the bottom of the page and centered.

Correct pagination (no missing pages, blank pages, or duplicate numbers or pages) is required for the doctoral dissertation or master’s thesis to be acceptable.

Page Organization

Preliminary Pages

Except for the title page and blank or copyright page, all preliminary pages are numbered with lower case Roman numerals at the center bottom of the page. Pages are numbered in sequence, and page numbers are centered and placed 0.5” from the bottom of the page.

  • The name of the conferring institution – UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA SAN DIEGO – appears in all capital letters at the top of the page.
  • The title should be specific, unambiguous, and descriptive of the research, with easily identifiable key words that will ensure electronic retrieval.
  • Scientific titles must use words, not symbols, formulas, superscripts or Greek letters.
  • Doctoral students should refer to their document as a dissertation. Master’s students should refer to their document as a thesis.
  • “in” should be all lowercase and on a line alone.
  • The degree title listed should be the title that UC San Diego will actually confer; if unsure, contact your Graduate Coordinator.
  • “by” should be all lowercase and on a line alone.
  • Students may use either their legal or lived name as it is listed on the UC San Diego official record and remain consistent throughout the document
  • All committee members must be listed, chair first, using the title Professor. If professor is not applicable to all committee members, list all names without any titles. Use double spacing between “Committee in Charge” and the chair’s name. Alphabetize all members after chair and single space all names. Indent all committee members 0.5” from “Committee in Charge”. (This section is the only section of the title page that is not centered.)
  • Degree year: Students must use the year of the quarter of degree conferral.
  • The title page is not numbered; it is counted as page “i” in the numbering of the preliminary pages. The title and blank or copyright pages are the only manuscript pages without page numbers.

Dissertation/Thesis Approval Page

This page is always numbered page iii. Page numbers from here forward in the preliminary pages of the document will vary for individual students, depending on which of the optional pages described below students choose to include. The numbers must be internally consistent for the document.

There is no header on the dissertation/thesis approval page. The text at the top of the page is either left justified or fully justified. The text at the bottom of the page is centered. All information should be centered on the page vertically.

Effective November 2020, faculty signatures are not collected on the dissertation/thesis approval page. Faculty committee member approval is captured on the combined Final Report Form (this form is initiated and managed by the department/program graduate coordinator). Students should check with their department/program graduate coordinator to verify that the combined form is being used. The formatted page iii must still be included in the dissertation/thesis and must follow the format described above.

All dissertations or theses are required to have a table of contents. List the page number that each section first appears on. Use proper capitalization and include header and sectional titles exactly as they appear within the dissertation or thesis (for example, if “Chapter” is used in the text headers, it must be used in the Table of Contents).  

If illustrations such as figures, tables, graphs, maps, diagrams, photos, etc., are scattered throughout, make a separate “List of Figures,” “List of Tables,” “List of Graphs,” etc. to follow the table of contents. 

Acknowledgements

The acknowledgements, along with any other preliminary sections or parts of the dissertation or thesis, must be reviewed and approved by the committee members.

See the section “Using Published Material” (in the full PDF manual, and in the excerpted section below) if any portion of the dissertation or thesis is co-authored, published, submitted for publication, or is being prepared for publication. A paragraph acknowledging all co-authors and publishers is required in the acknowledgements page and as the last paragraph of text at the end of each applicable chapter.

Permission letters from the committee chair and all co-authors must be submitted electronically via the Kuali permission letter submission form   prior to or the day of the student’s final document review . See the full manual for sample letters and additional information.  Click here for step by step instructions and an overview of the Kuali form.

An abstract should provide a clear impression of the content and major divisions of the dissertation or thesis. Abstracts of doctoral dissertations must not exceed 350 words; master’s theses abstracts must not exceed 250 words.

Figures and Tables

All figures and tables must be accompanied by a caption. Captions for figures go below the figure. Captions for tables go above the table.

All figures and tables must have their captions formatted the same, ie numbering, spacing, bold/italicized text, text alignment (left, centered, justified), font.

Figures/tables and their captions need to fit on one page and within the page margins. If they cannot fit on one page, then format the captions as a facing caption, where the caption goes on the page before the figure/table. For example, page 1 would be the figure caption (no other text), and page 2 would be the figure itself.

If figures/tables go on multiple pages, then the caption must be on each page that the figure/table appears. Table headers must also be on each page.

Appendices and References

  • Appendices typically contain supporting material such as data sheets, questionnaire samples, illustrations, maps, charts, etc. Appendices may be single-spaced.

References/Biolography/Works Cited

  • The format of the references and/or bibliography should follow that of the student’s discipline and should be consistent throughout the dissertation/thesis.
  • All authors must be listed. Do not depersonalize non-primary authors by referring to them in the bibliography as et al.
  • Bibliographies, references, and works cited are to be single-spaced with a double space between entries, and should be the last entry in each chapter or in the dissertation/thesis.

Use of Published Material and Co-Author Permissions

If students are using material which has been submitted for publication or has been published, students must read the full text that follows and see the manual for additional details. 

Students must obtain permission letters from all co-authors, including committee members and UCSD faculty. Students submit the co-author letters to GEPA electronically via the Kuali permission letter submission form  for any chapter or portion of a chapter in the dissertation or thesis to which one or more of the following applies:

  • Students have co-authors (regardless of whether or not students are submitting it for publication);
  • The chapter or portion thereof is being prepared for publication;
  • The chapter or portion thereof has been submitted for publication;
  • The chapter or portion thereof has been published.

If approved by the committee members, reports of research undertaken during graduate study at UC San Diego that have been published or submitted for publication in appropriate media may be accepted in their printed form in full or in part as the dissertation or thesis.  

If the material has co-authors other than the committee chair, the student must obtain permission letters from all co-authors giving their approval for the co-authored material to be used. This must be done even if copyright has been retained.  Students need to determine if the publisher’s permission is also required.  Students collect their signed co-author permission letters and cover letter from their committee chair and submit electronically via the Kuali permission letter submission form  prior to or the day of their final document review with GEPA.  

Click here for a sample/template of the cover letter from the committee chair and the permission letter(s) from co-author(s).

Click here for step by step instructions and an overview of the Kuali form.

Copyright and Publishing Options

  • All students receive copyright when creating and publishing their dissertation/thesis.
  • Proquest offers to file for additional copyright with the US Copyright Office for a fee. Students can file for additional copyright through Proquest or on their own through the US Copyright Office .

Publishing Options

  • Your dissertation/thesis is published in two different libraries, Proquest and eScholarship.
  • Traditional = your paper can only be accessed if someone has access to Proquest or pays to access your paper. The default option.
  • Open access = your paper is available to anyone on the interent for free. You would have to pay a fee for this option.
  • eScholarship is the University of California's digital library. All papers are open access in eScholarship.

Dissertation and Thesis Release Form (Embargo)

Students, with approval from their committee chair, may choose to immediately publish or put an embargo/delay on publishing their disserrtation/thesis. The default option is immediate publication.

  • If an embargo is chosen, the options are for a 1 or 2 year delay. (Note: Students in the MFA in Writing program are required to have a 10 year embargo).
  • If the embargo needs to be extended, a request from the committee chair must be submitted to the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs via email before the embargo expires . Dissertations/theses cannot be re-embargoed once the embargo expires.

Your embargo choice must match in Proquest and on the dissertation/thesis release form . The release form must be signed by the student and the committee chair and must be uploaded as part of the submission to ProQuest. 

Please note: If you delay the release of your work, access to the full text of your work will be delayed for the period that you specify. However, the citation and abstract of your work will be available through ProQuest and through the UC California Digital Library (eScholarship).

Dissertation and Thesis Release Form (Embargo Form)

Embargo options are for a 1 or 2 year delay. (Note: Students in the MFA in Writing program are required to have a 10 year embargo).

Embargo Extension: If the embargo needs to be extended beyond initial embargo period, a request from the committee chair (with endorsement from the department chair / program director) must be submitted to the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs via email before the embargo expires . The request must specify the reason for the additional time and how long the embargo should continue. Dissertations/theses cannot be re-embargoed once the embargo expires. Please see the Policy on Open Access for Theses and Dissertations: https://policy.ucop.edu/doc/2000688/ .

For further questions about doctoral dissertation or master’s thesis formatting, students may contact the appropriate GEPA Academic Affairs Advisor . 

Master’s thesis formatting questions:

  • Kelsey Darvin, [email protected] : Biological Sciences, Biomedical Sciences, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Structural Engineering, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
  • Kim McCusker , [email protected]:  All Arts & Humanities, Physical Sciences, and Social Sciences, Materials Science, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering 
  • Karen Villavicencio , [email protected] : Bioengineering, Bioinformatics, Chemical Engineering, NanoEngineering, Computer Science and Engineering, Neurosciences  

 Doctor of Philosophy dissertation formatting questions:

Doctor of Musical Arts, Doctor of Education, all Rady programs, Biostatistics PhD, all joint PhD program dissertation, and Master of Public Health (MPH) formatting questions:

 After fully formatting your doctoral dissertation or master’s thesis you may schedule your appointments at: https://gradforms.ucsd.edu/calendar/ .

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Theses and Dissertations

Check Cornell’s library catalog , which lists the dissertations available in our library collection.

The print thesis collection in Uris Library is currently shelved on Level 3B before the Q to QA regular-sized volumes. Check with the library staff for the thesis shelving locations in other libraries (Mann, Catherwood, Fine Arts, etc.).

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses

According to ProQuest, coverage begins with 1637. With more than 2.4 million entries,  ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global  is the starting point for finding citations to doctoral dissertations and master’s theses. Dissertations published from 1980 forward include 350-word abstracts written by the author. Master’s theses published from 1988 forward include 150-word abstracts. UMI also offers over 1.8 million titles for purchase in microfilm or paper formats. The full text of more than 930,000 are available in PDF format for immediate free download. Use  Interlibrary Loan  for the titles not available as full text online.

Foreign Dissertations at the Center for Research Libraries

To search for titles and verify holdings of dissertations at the Center for Research Libraries (CRL), use the CRL catalog . CRL seeks to provide comprehensive access to doctoral dissertations submitted to institutions outside the U. S. and Canada (currently more than 750,000 titles). One hundred European universities maintain exchange or deposit agreements with CRL. Russian dissertation abstracts in the social sciences are obtained on microfiche from INION.  More detailed information about CRL’s dissertation holdings .

Please see our resource guide on dissertations and theses for additional resources and support.

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How to search for Harvard dissertations

  • DASH , Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard, is the university's central, open-access repository for the scholarly output of faculty and the broader research community at Harvard.  Most Ph.D. dissertations submitted from  March 2012 forward  are available online in DASH.
  • Check HOLLIS, the Library Catalog, and refine your results by using the   Advanced Search   and limiting Resource  Type   to Dissertations
  • Search the database  ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global Don't hesitate to  Ask a Librarian  for assistance.

How to search for Non-Harvard dissertations

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  • Many  universities  provide full-text access to their dissertations via a digital repository.  If you know the title of a particular dissertation or thesis, try doing a Google search.  

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Navigating Thesis and Dissertation Challenges: Advice from Experts

Headshots of the three interviewed experts. From left to right Drs. Andrea Hernandez Holm, Shelley Hawthorne Smith, and Leslie Dupont.

I like to think that crafting a thesis or dissertation is akin to setting sail on an academic odyssey, navigating uncharted waters filled with challenges. Fortunately, in this expedition at UArizona, we have seasoned academic advisors like Drs. Leslie Dupont, Shelley Hawthorne Smith, and Andrea Hernandez Holm. They, serve as wise navigators, offering insights that help you chart a course through the complexities of project data management, writing dilemmas, time constraints, and the climactic defense.

Meet the three experts interviewed for this article.

Dr. Andrea Hernandez Holm

A headshot of Dr. Andrea Hernandez Holm.

The Director of the Writing Skills Improvement Program (WSIP) at the University of Arizona, Dr. Holm has two decades of expertise as a writing specialist. With a focus on academic and professional writing, she coordinates projects like the Graduate Writing Institute and is an adjunct professor in the Mexican American Studies Department, holding a PhD in the field. She is also a published researcher, essayist, and poet, who contributes to the literary landscape.

Dr. Shelley Hawthorne Smith

A headshot of Dr. Shelley Hawthorne Smith.

Dr. Hawthorne Smith is an Assistant Professor of Practice and Associate Director of the Graduate Writing Lab where she passionately supports graduate students' writing development. Creator of Fellowship Application Development Programs, she holds an MFA in Creative Writing and a PhD in Rhetoric from the University of Arizona.

Dr. Leslie Dupont

A headshot of Dr. Leslie Dupont.

Dr. Dupont is a writing coach who helps College of Nursing students, staff, and faculty improve their scholarly and professional writing skills. With a PhD in Rhetoric, Composition, and the Teaching of English, she has been teaching writing since 1989, both at UA and online with Johns Hopkins University. Her passion lies in collaborative coaching and mentoring.

The Writer’s Blueprint: Strategies from Thesis and Dissertation Writing Mentors

According to Dr. Holm, one of the most important aspects of thesis or dissertation writing is mentorship. Though there are plenty of online resources that can help, students also need personalized guidance. Mentors can address student writers’ individual experiences, changes in academia, and the evolution of disciplines.

One area that Dr. Holm notes is often addressed last when it should be in the forefront is one's identity as a writer. In graduate school, the personal perspective often gets relegated to the bottom of the priority list. It's important to consider how you're feeling, assess your confidence level, and actively nurture your identity as a writer. 

Dr. Holm suggests the following self-reflections:

  • Celebrate what you have accomplished so far. Most students forget that writing their thesis/dissertation means that they have completed or are about to complete their coursework, which is in itself a great accomplishment. Recognizing that gives you more confidence to tackle the next task and helps you find your voice as an academic writer. 
  • Use the lessons you have learned while writing for courses or as a teaching assistant. What has worked for you so far and what hasn’t?  
  • Change your mindset. Do not view this piece of writing as a final hurdle but an opportunity to express your work in writing to a captive audience (your committee) and to the wider community. This is an opportunity to have your voice heard, your work expressed and shared.

On a similar note, Dr. Hawthorne Smith says that having a strong sense of purpose for your projects is important for success. While some students start with a clear understanding of this in their graduate studies, most develop it over time, often by the end of their dissertation. The challenge is understanding the significance of their work, which may not be clear at the beginning as ideas take time to develop. Students who develop their ideas later may not have the same initial motivation as those who start earlier. Therefore, it's essential to cultivate a deep understanding of the 'what' and 'why' behind your academic endeavors. However, if you do not know this at the start of your project, it is okay. Dr. Hawthorne Smith stresses that coming into the program with all the necessary understanding and motivation is rare. In fact, in her 12 years of working closely with writers, she has only met 3 such students. Don’t doubt yourself; you will in due course find your strong motivations and a richer understanding of the importance of your work that will propel you forward.

Data Management and Writing

  • Dr. Hawthorne Smith maintains that you do not have to finish data collection before starting the writing process. You can write as you go. Even writing twice a week in 30-minute sessions will help you develop your ideas and make progress in the writing phase. 
  • Dr. Dupont advises students to store data so they always have access to it. Even if you do not micro-organize it into specific subfolders, at least have a “project data” folder instead of simply keeping everything in your downloads. In addition, keep backups of your data on hard drives, flash drives, or a secure cloud storage platform, so you can access the work from any device. A good resource for information about secure storage of sensitive data is the  Institutional Review Board .
  • If you consult the internet while working on your writing, you can end up with too many open tabs. To avoid losing the links, create bookmark subfolders for your project, name it accordingly, and add to the subfolder all relevant papers and webpages you have open.
  • The  University of Arizona Libraries website has helpful information about both project and data management.

Unlocking the Writing Process

If you are in graduate school and have no idea how to navigate academic writing, you are not alone. After speaking to these three writing mentors, I understood that most graduate students need guidance as they start communicating their findings to the academic community. 

Here are some tips that can help you improve your writing or gain the confidence to keep going. 

1. Overcoming the Dreaded Writer's Block

  • Take breaks strategically, especially after significant milestones. Seek support from peers, tutors, or colleagues. Remember, community and support systems are your lifelines.
  • Gamify your writing process, set achievable goals, and reward yourself. Create a dynamic outline, experiment with different environments, and if you have an alternative way of processing information or dealing with some neurodivergence, utilize resources like the  Disability Resource Center .

2. Crafting the Manuscript: A Symphony of Words and Ideas

  • Understand your audience and the scholarly conversation you're joining. Break down the writing process into manageable steps. Leverage the support of writing tutors and groups at the  Graduate Writing Lab .
  • Make a mess during drafting. The first draft is for yourself, so don't aim for perfection. Start with organizing ideas, address content issues, and focus on sentence-level details later.

3. Harnessing Tools for Enhanced Writing

  • Tools like  Grammarly and  Chatgpt can be beneficial for non-native speakers. Use them for pattern recognition and flow improvement. AI tools are tools, not substitutes; use them ethically and professionally.
  • Read aloud for flow and pattern identification. Use AI tools for brainstorming, proofreading, and organizing ideas.

4. Thriving Amidst Challenges

  • Overcome shame and imposter syndrome by seeking support. Remember, challenges are part of the journey, and many share similar struggles.
  • Celebrate achievements along the way. Perceive writing as an opportunity for growth and knowledge dissemination. Prepare diligently by understanding department expectations and utilizing campus resources.

5. Charting the Course to Dissertation Defense

  • Collaborate with graduate writing tutors, set goals, and seek feedback. The dissertation defense is a performance; prepare like an actor rehearsing a play. Embrace nerves as a sign of readiness.
  • Know your department's expectations, communicate with advisors, and leverage campus writing resources. Feedback is not criticism; it's a tool for growth. Navigating writing challenges is a shared experience; avoid internalizing external opinions and seek support from writing specialists.

Time as a Precious Resource

Time management is paramount for success in graduate school. Here is valuable advice from our interviewees on optimizing your time for effective and efficient thesis or dissertation writing.

  • Creating Structures for Consistent Progress

Establishing writing structures and systems is laying tracks for a smooth academic journey. As suggested by seasoned writers, consider forming or joining  writing groups . These forums provide not only accountability but also a sense of camaraderie, fostering a conducive environment for consistent progress.

  • Embracing Flexibility and Acknowledging Trade-Offs

Flexibility is the ally of productivity. Recognize that sacrifices and trade-offs are often integral to academic pursuits. While commitment to your research is non-negotiable, understanding the art of balance is crucial. Whether it's compromising on leisure time or adjusting your schedule, being flexible is a key to success.

  • The Power of Accountability through Writing Partnerships

Embark on your writing odyssey with a companion. Join a writing group or find a writing partner who shares your academic aspirations. This not only adds an element of accountability but also provides a support system during the inevitable peaks and valleys of your writing journey.

  • Carving Out Dedicated Writing Time

Time, even in small increments, is a formidable ally in the writing process. Set aside dedicated periods for writing, making it a non-negotiable part of your routine. Daily commitment, even if brief, accumulates into significant progress over time. Remember, consistency is the linchpin of success.

  • Leveraging University Resources for Writing Improvement

The University of Arizona has a treasure trove of resources. Explore writing improvement programs and coaching services tailored for graduate students. These tools not only enhance your writing skills but also offer personalized guidance, aligning your academic pursuits with the highest standards.

Here is where you can start:

  • Graduate Writing Tutors - Free consultations by appointment with trained and certified graduate writing tutors. Our tutors offer helpful feedback on any kind of writing at any stage in the writing process. Work with them to set writing goals and create strategic plans. The Graduate Writing Tutors service is a collaboration between the  THINK TANK Writing Center and the Graduate Center’s  Graduate Writing Lab .
  • Writing Skills Improvement Program Tutoring and Consultations -  A free service for UA undergraduate and graduate students. Meet with a WSIP tutor to receive focused feedback on a shorter sample of writing. Sessions are 15-30 minutes, depending on availability. No appointment is necessary.
  • College of Nursing Writing Coaching - Dr. Dupont works directly with Nursing students, staff, and faculty on strengthening their scholarly and professional writing.
  • Task Prioritization and Safeguarding Writing Time

The academic landscape is teeming with tasks and commitments. Prioritize your responsibilities and zealously guard designated writing time against encroachments. Establishing clear boundaries ensures that your scholarly endeavors receive the attention they deserve.

Cultivate a Positive Attitude

When you get to the thesis or dissertation phase, it is important to remember that in addition to the anticipated challenges, there will likely be some unforeseen ones. However, no challenge should stop you from achieving your goal. This section consists of advice from Drs. Dupont, Hawthorne Smith, and Holm on the support you can get across campus, cultivating a positive mindset, and dealing with some ‘perceived’ writing problems.

Instead of isolating yourself while you marinade in thoughts of self doubt, acknowledge the potential for loneliness and combat it with intention. Tap into available resources and community support. Whether you turn to a mentor, fellow graduate students, or campus groups, writing can be easier when shared. Join the Graduate Center’s  Graduate Writing Groups and  Writing efficiency sessions . Even seasoned writers like Dr. Hawthorne Smith and Dr. Dupont meet up and write together in a cafe or online. 

A Strategic Approach to Preparing for the Thesis or Dissertation Defense

As you near the pinnacle of your academic journey—the defense—it's crucial to be prepared and confident. Dr. Hawthorne Smith offers suggestions for a successful defense that is also a celebration of your scholarly achievement.

  • Attend Dissertation Defenses

Familiarize yourself with dissertation defenses before your own moment in the spotlight. Attending peers’ defenses not only educates you about the process but also provides a firsthand look at the expectations and dynamics of a successful defense. Learn from others' experiences and envision yourself in a similar position.

  • Communicate with Advisors and Committee Members

View your advisors and committee members as allies. Foster open communication with them to demystify the defense process. Seek their guidance on what to expect, understand the nuances of the evaluation criteria, and discuss any specific areas they may emphasize. By learning their expectations, you set the stage for a more collaborative and informed defense.

  • Tap into the Wisdom of Recent Graduates

Knowledge is power, especially when it comes from those who have prior experience. Connect with recent graduates who have successfully defended their dissertations. They can offer you practical advice, share common pitfalls to avoid, and provide a nuanced perspective on the entire experience. Learn from their triumphs and challenges to better navigate your own defense.

Tune into our  Graduate Student’s Guide Podcast where you can listen to the conversations I had with these three writing experts. Their recommendations about embracing your identity as a writer, effective data management, unlocking the writing process, time mastery, and defense preparation serve as a compass for graduate students.

Thesis and Purpose Statements

Use the guidelines below to learn the differences between thesis and purpose statements.

In the first stages of writing, thesis or purpose statements are usually rough or ill-formed and are useful primarily as planning tools.

A thesis statement or purpose statement will emerge as you think and write about a topic. The statement can be restricted or clarified and eventually worked into an introduction.

As you revise your paper, try to phrase your thesis or purpose statement in a precise way so that it matches the content and organization of your paper.

Thesis statements

A thesis statement is a sentence that makes an assertion about a topic and predicts how the topic will be developed. It does not simply announce a topic: it says something about the topic.

Good: X has made a significant impact on the teenage population due to its . . . Bad: In this paper, I will discuss X.

A thesis statement makes a promise to the reader about the scope, purpose, and direction of the paper. It summarizes the conclusions that the writer has reached about the topic.

A thesis statement is generally located near the end of the introduction. Sometimes in a long paper, the thesis will be expressed in several sentences or an entire paragraph.

A thesis statement is focused and specific enough to be proven within the boundaries of the paper. Key words (nouns and verbs) should be specific, accurate, and indicative of the range of research, thrust of the argument or analysis, and the organization of supporting information.

Purpose statements

A purpose statement announces the purpose, scope, and direction of the paper. It tells the reader what to expect in a paper and what the specific focus will be.

Common beginnings include:

“This paper examines . . .,” “The aim of this paper is to . . .,” and “The purpose of this essay is to . . .”

A purpose statement makes a promise to the reader about the development of the argument but does not preview the particular conclusions that the writer has drawn.

A purpose statement usually appears toward the end of the introduction. The purpose statement may be expressed in several sentences or even an entire paragraph.

A purpose statement is specific enough to satisfy the requirements of the assignment. Purpose statements are common in research papers in some academic disciplines, while in other disciplines they are considered too blunt or direct. If you are unsure about using a purpose statement, ask your instructor.

This paper will examine the ecological destruction of the Sahel preceding the drought and the causes of this disintegration of the land. The focus will be on the economic, political, and social relationships which brought about the environmental problems in the Sahel.

Sample purpose and thesis statements

The following example combines a purpose statement and a thesis statement (bold).

The goal of this paper is to examine the effects of Chile’s agrarian reform on the lives of rural peasants. The nature of the topic dictates the use of both a chronological and a comparative analysis of peasant lives at various points during the reform period. . . The Chilean reform example provides evidence that land distribution is an essential component of both the improvement of peasant conditions and the development of a democratic society. More extensive and enduring reforms would likely have allowed Chile the opportunity to further expand these horizons.

For more tips about writing thesis statements, take a look at our new handout on Developing a Thesis Statement.

dissertation masters thesis

Writing Process and Structure

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Getting Started with Your Paper

Interpreting Writing Assignments from Your Courses

Generating Ideas for Your Paper

Creating an Argument

Thesis vs. Purpose Statements

Developing a Thesis Statement

Architecture of Arguments

Working with Sources

Quoting and Paraphrasing Sources

Using Literary Quotations

Citing Sources in Your Paper

Drafting Your Paper

Introductions

Paragraphing

Developing Strategic Transitions

Conclusions

Revising Your Paper

Peer Reviews

Reverse Outlines

Revising an Argumentative Paper

Revision Strategies for Longer Projects

Finishing Your Paper

Twelve Common Errors: An Editing Checklist

How to Proofread your Paper

Writing Collaboratively

Collaborative and Group Writing

Have a language expert improve your writing

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  • Dissertation

How to Write a Thesis or Dissertation Introduction

Published on September 7, 2022 by Tegan George and Shona McCombes. Revised on November 21, 2023.

The introduction is the first section of your thesis or dissertation , appearing right after the table of contents . Your introduction draws your reader in, setting the stage for your research with a clear focus, purpose, and direction on a relevant topic .

Your introduction should include:

  • Your topic, in context: what does your reader need to know to understand your thesis dissertation?
  • Your focus and scope: what specific aspect of the topic will you address?
  • The relevance of your research: how does your work fit into existing studies on your topic?
  • Your questions and objectives: what does your research aim to find out, and how?
  • An overview of your structure: what does each section contribute to the overall aim?

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Table of contents

How to start your introduction, topic and context, focus and scope, relevance and importance, questions and objectives, overview of the structure, thesis introduction example, introduction checklist, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about introductions.

Although your introduction kicks off your dissertation, it doesn’t have to be the first thing you write — in fact, it’s often one of the very last parts to be completed (just before your abstract ).

It’s a good idea to write a rough draft of your introduction as you begin your research, to help guide you. If you wrote a research proposal , consider using this as a template, as it contains many of the same elements. However, be sure to revise your introduction throughout the writing process, making sure it matches the content of your ensuing sections.

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dissertation masters thesis

Begin by introducing your dissertation topic and giving any necessary background information. It’s important to contextualize your research and generate interest. Aim to show why your topic is timely or important. You may want to mention a relevant news item, academic debate, or practical problem.

After a brief introduction to your general area of interest, narrow your focus and define the scope of your research.

You can narrow this down in many ways, such as by:

  • Geographical area
  • Time period
  • Demographics or communities
  • Themes or aspects of the topic

It’s essential to share your motivation for doing this research, as well as how it relates to existing work on your topic. Further, you should also mention what new insights you expect it will contribute.

Start by giving a brief overview of the current state of research. You should definitely cite the most relevant literature, but remember that you will conduct a more in-depth survey of relevant sources in the literature review section, so there’s no need to go too in-depth in the introduction.

Depending on your field, the importance of your research might focus on its practical application (e.g., in policy or management) or on advancing scholarly understanding of the topic (e.g., by developing theories or adding new empirical data). In many cases, it will do both.

Ultimately, your introduction should explain how your thesis or dissertation:

  • Helps solve a practical or theoretical problem
  • Addresses a gap in the literature
  • Builds on existing research
  • Proposes a new understanding of your topic

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Perhaps the most important part of your introduction is your questions and objectives, as it sets up the expectations for the rest of your thesis or dissertation. How you formulate your research questions and research objectives will depend on your discipline, topic, and focus, but you should always clearly state the central aim of your research.

If your research aims to test hypotheses , you can formulate them here. Your introduction is also a good place for a conceptual framework that suggests relationships between variables .

  • Conduct surveys to collect data on students’ levels of knowledge, understanding, and positive/negative perceptions of government policy.
  • Determine whether attitudes to climate policy are associated with variables such as age, gender, region, and social class.
  • Conduct interviews to gain qualitative insights into students’ perspectives and actions in relation to climate policy.

To help guide your reader, end your introduction with an outline  of the structure of the thesis or dissertation to follow. Share a brief summary of each chapter, clearly showing how each contributes to your central aims. However, be careful to keep this overview concise: 1-2 sentences should be enough.

I. Introduction

Human language consists of a set of vowels and consonants which are combined to form words. During the speech production process, thoughts are converted into spoken utterances to convey a message. The appropriate words and their meanings are selected in the mental lexicon (Dell & Burger, 1997). This pre-verbal message is then grammatically coded, during which a syntactic representation of the utterance is built.

Speech, language, and voice disorders affect the vocal cords, nerves, muscles, and brain structures, which result in a distorted language reception or speech production (Sataloff & Hawkshaw, 2014). The symptoms vary from adding superfluous words and taking pauses to hoarseness of the voice, depending on the type of disorder (Dodd, 2005). However, distortions of the speech may also occur as a result of a disease that seems unrelated to speech, such as multiple sclerosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

This study aims to determine which acoustic parameters are suitable for the automatic detection of exacerbations in patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by investigating which aspects of speech differ between COPD patients and healthy speakers and which aspects differ between COPD patients in exacerbation and stable COPD patients.

Checklist: Introduction

I have introduced my research topic in an engaging way.

I have provided necessary context to help the reader understand my topic.

I have clearly specified the focus of my research.

I have shown the relevance and importance of the dissertation topic .

I have clearly stated the problem or question that my research addresses.

I have outlined the specific objectives of the research .

I have provided an overview of the dissertation’s structure .

You've written a strong introduction for your thesis or dissertation. Use the other checklists to continue improving your dissertation.

If you want to know more about AI for academic writing, AI tools, or research bias, make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

Research bias

  • Survivorship bias
  • Self-serving bias
  • Availability heuristic
  • Halo effect
  • Hindsight bias
  • Deep learning
  • Generative AI
  • Machine learning
  • Reinforcement learning
  • Supervised vs. unsupervised learning

 (AI) Tools

  • Grammar Checker
  • Paraphrasing Tool
  • Text Summarizer
  • AI Detector
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The introduction of a research paper includes several key elements:

  • A hook to catch the reader’s interest
  • Relevant background on the topic
  • Details of your research problem

and your problem statement

  • A thesis statement or research question
  • Sometimes an overview of the paper

Don’t feel that you have to write the introduction first. The introduction is often one of the last parts of the research paper you’ll write, along with the conclusion.

This is because it can be easier to introduce your paper once you’ve already written the body ; you may not have the clearest idea of your arguments until you’ve written them, and things can change during the writing process .

Research objectives describe what you intend your research project to accomplish.

They summarize the approach and purpose of the project and help to focus your research.

Your objectives should appear in the introduction of your research paper , at the end of your problem statement .

Scope of research is determined at the beginning of your research process , prior to the data collection stage. Sometimes called “scope of study,” your scope delineates what will and will not be covered in your project. It helps you focus your work and your time, ensuring that you’ll be able to achieve your goals and outcomes.

Defining a scope can be very useful in any research project, from a research proposal to a thesis or dissertation . A scope is needed for all types of research: quantitative , qualitative , and mixed methods .

To define your scope of research, consider the following:

  • Budget constraints or any specifics of grant funding
  • Your proposed timeline and duration
  • Specifics about your population of study, your proposed sample size , and the research methodology you’ll pursue
  • Any inclusion and exclusion criteria
  • Any anticipated control , extraneous , or confounding variables that could bias your research if not accounted for properly.

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Thesis / graduate project / dissertation.

The GRAD Center provides a variety of resources and funding support to students that are working on their thesis/graduate project/dissertation.

Thesis / Graduate Project / Dissertation Writing Retreat

The GRAD Center collaborates with the Learning Resource Center to offer writing support to students working on their thesis/graduate project/dissertation during the summer and winter breaks.

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Thesis /Graduate Project / Dissertation Writing Workshop

The GRAD Center offers a writing workshop for students that are interested in receiving additional support with their thesis/graduate project/dissertation.

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The Learning Resource Center offers a variety of writing support to graduate students. We encourage students that are working on their thesis/ graduate project/dissertation to visit their website to learn about their resources.

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Dissertations and Theses

The dissertation is the hallmark of the research expertise demonstrated by a doctoral student. It is a scholarly contribution to knowledge in the student’s area of specialization. By researching and writing a dissertation, the student is expected to demonstrate a high level of knowledge and the capability to function as an independent scholar. 

A thesis is a hallmark of some master’s programs. It is a piece of original research, generally less comprehensive than a dissertation, and is meant to show the student’s knowledge of an area of specialization.  

Document Preparation

PhD and master’s students are responsible for meeting all requirements for preparing theses and dissertations. They are expected to confer with their advisors about disciplinary and program expectations and to follow Graduate School procedure requirements.

The Graduate School’s format review is in place to help the document submission process go smoothly for the student. Format reviews for PhD dissertations and master’s theses can be done remotely or in-person. The format review is required at or before the two-week notice of the final defense. 

Access and Distribution

Ohio State has agreements with two organizations— OhioLINK   and   ProQuest/UMI Dissertation Publishing —that store and provide access to Ohio State theses and dissertations.  

Examinations

Graduate degree examinations are a major milestone in all graduate students’ pursuit of their graduate degree. Much hinges on the successful completion of these examinations, including the ability to continue in a graduate program. 

The rules and processes set by the Graduate School ensure the integrity of these examinations for graduate students, the graduate faculty, and for Ohio State. 

Final Semester

During your final semester as a graduate student there are many activities that lead up to commencement and receiving your degree. Complete the final semester checklist and learn more about commencement activities.

Graduation Calendar

Select your expected graduation term below to see specific dates concerning when to apply for graduation, complete your examinations and reports, submit approved thesis and dissertation, commencement, and the end-of semester deadline.

Applications to Graduate Due 1  : January 26, 2024

Examinations and Reports completed by 2  : April 12, 2024

Approved thesis and dissertation submitted and accepted by 3  : April 19, 2024

Commencement 4  : May 5, 2024

End of Semester Deadline 5  : May 6, 2024

Applications to Graduate Due 1  : May 24, 2024

Examinations and Reports completed by 2  : July 12, 2024

Approved thesis and dissertation submitted and accepted by 3  : July 19, 2024

Commencement 4  : August 4, 2024

End of Semester Deadline 5  : August 19, 2024

Applications to Graduate Due 1  : September 6, 2024

Examinations and Reports completed by 2  : November 22, 2024

Approved thesis and dissertation submitted and accepted by 3  : November 27, 2024

Commencement 4  : December 15, 2024

End of Semester Deadline 5  : January 3, 2025

Applications to Graduate Due 1  : January 24, 2025

Examinations and Reports completed by 2  : April 11, 2025

Approved thesis and dissertation submitted and accepted by 3  : April 18, 2025

Commencement 4  : May 4, 2025

End of Semester Deadline 5  : May 5, 2025

1  Applications to graduate include current semester or End-of-Semester deadline. Applications must be received by close of business.

2 Format reviews may occur electronically or in person at the Graduate School during announced business hours.  Both options require submitting a digital version of the dissertation or DMA document draft in a PDF format to  [email protected] .  

3  Approved documents must be submitted via OhioLINK and accepted by the Graduate School by the close of business before the Report on Final Document will be processed.

4  Students not attending commencement must complete the commencement section on the Application to Graduate to indicate how their diploma should be disbursed.

5  A degree applicant who does not meet published graduation deadlines but who does complete all degree requirements by the last business day prior to the first day of classes for the following semester or summer term will graduate the following semester or summer term without registering or paying fees

Still Have Questions?

Dissertations & Theses 614-292-6031 [email protected]

Doctoral Exams, Master's Examination, Graduation Requirements 614-292-6031 [email protected]

Electronic Theses and Dissertations

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How to submit your thesis or dissertation (etd).

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Dissertation Submissions

Doctoral candidates on the Danforth campus submit their dissertations through their individual schools to ProQuest through an online form. If a guide is not listed below, contact your school's registrar for more information.

  • Office of Graduate Studies Guides (for Arts & Sciences) -- links to Dissertation Guide/Template
  • McKelvey School of Engineering Thesis & Dissertation Submission Procedures

After files for a given degree award period have been submitted to ProQuest and posted to their database, those files are then forwarded to Washington University Libraries, and library staff ingest the files into its institutional repository Open Scholarship. This usually occurs 2-3 months after commencement.

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COMMENTS

  1. Prize-Winning Thesis and Dissertation Examples

    Prize-Winning Thesis and Dissertation Examples. Published on September 9, 2022 by Tegan George.Revised on July 18, 2023. It can be difficult to know where to start when writing your thesis or dissertation.One way to come up with some ideas or maybe even combat writer's block is to check out previous work done by other students on a similar thesis or dissertation topic to yours.

  2. What Is a Thesis?

    A thesis is a type of research paper based on your original research. It is usually submitted as the final step of a master's program or a capstone to a bachelor's degree. Writing a thesis can be a daunting experience. Other than a dissertation, it is one of the longest pieces of writing students typically complete.

  3. OATD

    OATD.org aims to be the best possible resource for finding open access graduate theses and dissertations published around the world. Metadata (information about the theses) comes from over 1100 colleges, universities, and research institutions . OATD currently indexes 7,408,543 theses and dissertations. About OATD (our FAQ).

  4. Thesis and Dissertation: Getting Started

    The resources in this section are designed to provide guidance for the first steps of the thesis or dissertation writing process. They offer tools to support the planning and managing of your project, including writing out your weekly schedule, outlining your goals, and organzing the various working elements of your project.

  5. What Is 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 ...

  6. Thesis & Dissertation : Graduate School

    Policy requires the thesis/dissertation be submitted within 60 days of the final exam. The Graduate School uses a service called ProQuest to administer the electronic thesis/dissertation (ETD) submission and committee approval process. Once you have made any necessary revisions and the thesis/dissertation is final, you are ready to begin the ...

  7. Researching and Writing a Masters Dissertation

    It can be helpful to think of your Masters dissertation as a series of closely interlinked essays, rather than one overwhelming paper. The size of this section will depend on the overall word count for your dissertation. However, to give you a rough idea for a 15,000-word dissertation, the discussion part will generally be about 12,000 words long.

  8. Dissertations & Theses

    Over the last 80 years, ProQuest has built the world's most comprehensive and renowned dissertations program. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global (PQDT Global), continues to grow its repository of 5 million graduate works each year, thanks to the continued contribution from the world's universities, creating an ever-growing resource of emerging research to fuel innovation and new insights.

  9. Dissertation Structure & Layout 101 (+ Examples)

    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: Title page. Acknowledgments page. Abstract (or executive summary) Table of contents, list of figures and tables.

  10. University Thesis and Dissertation Templates

    University Thesis and Dissertation Templates. Theses and dissertations are already intensive, long-term projects that require a lot of effort and time from their authors. Formatting for submission to the university is often the last thing that graduate students do, and may delay earning the relevant degree if done incorrectly.

  11. Required Sections, Guidelines, and Suggestions : Graduate School

    The Graduate School recommends that each dissertation or thesis conform to the standards of leading academic journals in your field. For both master's and doctoral students, the same basic rules apply; however, differences exist in some limited areas, particularly in producing the abstract and filing the dissertation or thesis.

  12. Thesis and Dissertation Resources

    Use The Graduate School's Thesis and Dissertation Guide to aid in preparing and submitting your thesis or dissertation. Read through the guidelines early and refer back to them as often as needed throughout the process. Begin discussions with your advisor and committee early, as they may have useful information to impart to you as you begin ...

  13. Theses and Dissertations

    Below is an overview of the main steps in preparing, defending, and submitting your thesis or dissertation. For detailed instructions on each step, see The Graduate School's Guide for Electronic Submission of Thesis and Dissertation (PDF), in addition to this video recording from a workshop given on the subject. Schedule your defense and apply for graduation in DukeHub (defense and graduation ...

  14. How to Write a Dissertation or Masters Thesis

    Writing a masters dissertation or thesis is a sizable task. It takes a considerable amount of research, studying and writing. Usually, students need to write around 10,000 to 15,000 words. It is completely normal to find the idea of writing a masters thesis or dissertation slightly daunting, even for students who have written one before at ...

  15. Home

    Dissertations: From 2012 onwards dissertations are only available online. Master's theses: From 2020 onwards theses are only available online. To locate older dissertations, master's theses, and master's projects in print, search UC Library Search by keyword, title or author. For publications prior to 2009 you may also include a specific UC ...

  16. Dissertation vs Thesis: The Differences that Matter

    Structurally, the two pieces of written analysis have many differences. A thesis is at least 100 pages in length. A dissertation is 2-3x that in length. A thesis expands upon and analyzes existing research. A dissertation's content is mostly attributed to the student as the author.

  17. Dissertation & Thesis Outline

    Dissertation & Thesis Outline | Example & Free Templates. Published on June 7, 2022 by Tegan George.Revised on November 21, 2023. A thesis or dissertation outline is one of the most critical early steps in your writing process.It helps you to lay out and organize your ideas and can provide you with a roadmap for deciding the specifics of your dissertation topic and showcasing its relevance to ...

  18. Guide to Writing Your Thesis/Dissertation : Graduate School

    Definition of Dissertation and Thesis. The dissertation or thesis is a scholarly treatise that substantiates a specific point of view as a result of original research that is conducted by students during their graduate study. At Cornell, the thesis is a requirement for the receipt of the M.A. and M.S. degrees and some professional master's ...

  19. Dissertation & Thesis Manual

    A master's thesis must be a significant research work that must be approved in its entirety by the master's committee. The final version of the dissertation/thesis must conform to the details outlined in the "Preparation and Submission Manual for Doctoral Dissertations and Master's Theses." For reference, we have provided some highlights ...

  20. Theses and Dissertations

    With more than 2.4 million entries, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global is the starting point for finding citations to doctoral dissertations and master's theses. Dissertations published from 1980 forward include 350-word abstracts written by the author. Master's theses published from 1988 forward include 150-word abstracts.

  21. Find Dissertations and Theses

    How to search for Harvard dissertations. DASH, Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard, is the university's central, open-access repository for the scholarly output of faculty and the broader research community at Harvard.Most Ph.D. dissertations submitted from March 2012 forward are available online in DASH.; Check HOLLIS, the Library Catalog, and refine your results by using the Advanced ...

  22. Navigating Thesis and Dissertation Challenges: Advice from Experts

    5. Charting the Course to Dissertation Defense. Collaborate with graduate writing tutors, set goals, and seek feedback. The dissertation defense is a performance; prepare like an actor rehearsing a play. Embrace nerves as a sign of readiness. Know your department's expectations, communicate with advisors, and leverage campus writing resources.

  23. PDF University of Alaska Fairbanks Dissertation/Thesis/Project Formatting

    Doctoral Dissertation, Master's Thesis, or Master's Project Spring 2024. 2/14 Foreword Dear UAF Student, Congratulations, you have worked hard and done significant work to get to this point in your degree. As you complete your dissertation, thesis or project, I want to thank you for your perseverance and

  24. Thesis and Purpose Statements

    A thesis statement makes a promise to the reader about the scope, purpose, and direction of the paper. It summarizes the conclusions that the writer has reached about the topic. A thesis statement is generally located near the end of the introduction. Sometimes in a long paper, the thesis will be expressed in several sentences or an entire ...

  25. Electronic Theses and Dissertations Submission at GW

    Welcome to the George Washington University's Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETD) website. This website is a central resource for all of your ETD needs from formatting your manuscript to submission using the ProQuest ETD Administrator. ETDs at GW. Learn what an ETD is and the benefits of completing one. ETD Approval Deadlines

  26. How to Write a Thesis or Dissertation Introduction

    Overview of the structure. To help guide your reader, end your introduction with an outline of the structure of the thesis or dissertation to follow. Share a brief summary of each chapter, clearly showing how each contributes to your central aims. However, be careful to keep this overview concise: 1-2 sentences should be enough.

  27. Thesis / Graduate Project / Dissertation (GRAD Center)

    Valera Hall (VH) 275 18111 Nordhoff Street Northridge, CA 91330-8222. Phone: (818) 677-2138 Fax: (818) 677-4691 Send email. Check our social media for changes and updates.

  28. Dissertations and Theses

    The Graduate School's format review is in place to help the document submission process go smoothly for the student. Format reviews for PhD dissertations and master's theses can be done remotely or in-person. The format review is required at or before the two-week notice of the final defense. Dissertation and Thesis Submission.

  29. Electronic Theses and Dissertations

    About: Electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs) are the graduate research outputs of Texas Tech University. They represent years of work from our Master's and Doctoral graduates. If you find the ThinkTech digital repository useful, please tell us! Share how open access to scholarship benefits you. Your story matters to us.

  30. How to Submit Your Thesis or Dissertation (ETD)

    McKelvey School of Engineering Thesis & Dissertation Submission Procedures After files for a given degree award period have been submitted to ProQuest and posted to their database, those files are then forwarded to Washington University Libraries, and library staff ingest the files into its institutional repository Open Scholarship.