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How to write a dissertation


Daniel Higginbotham, Editor


February, 2017

Your approach to one of the most important challenges of your academic career will determine the quality of your finished work – discover how to devise and stick to a work schedule

Devoting sufficient time to planning and structuring your written work while at university is important, but when it comes to that all-encompassing dissertation, it’s essential that you prepare well.

From settling on a topic and coming up with a title, to the moment that you hand it in, the process is guaranteed to set you on an emotional rollercoaster of excitement, self-doubt, panic and euphoria. See our tips on managing stress .

Irrespective of whether it’s your undergraduate , Masters or PhD dissertation you’re gearing up for, the following pointers should help to keep you on track.

Choose your research topic carefully

It’s vital that your research topic is something that you find engaging and meaningful -perhaps an issue that fits with your career aspirations, and is important to the wider academic community, explains Dr Alexandra Patel, learning development adviser at the University of Leicester’s Learning Institute.

‘Your dissertation is an opportunity to showcase your thoughts and ideas, investigate an area in greater depth and consolidate previous knowledge,’ adds Michelle Schneider, learning adviser at the University of Leeds. ‘Picking something you’re genuinely interested in will keep you motivated.’

If you’re struggling for ideas, you can research course materials, academic journals, newspapers and other media, to identify current issues that relate to your field and to find some inspiration for your dissertation subject.

Additionally, Alexandra recommends that you work with your supervisor to agree a clear focus or research question, benefitting from their understanding of the research area, appropriate methods, and what might be achievable within your time frame.

‘Consider why it is important to tackle the topic you have chosen,’ she says. Once you’ve summarised your findings, think about how they link back to your justification of why this is an important question or topic.

Check what’s required of you

Christie Pritchard, learning developer at Plymouth University, recommends that you familiarise yourself with your faculty’s ethics protocols, module handbooks and referencing style guides to prevent any silly, costly mistakes. Before you begin to plan, make sure you understand what’s expected of you. You should endeavour to find out:

  • what academic writing looks like in your discipline
  • the word count
  • when and where you must submit your dissertation.

Alexandra advises students to ask questions of other dissertations or academic writing in their chosen discipline, including:

  • how is a dissertation structured?
  • what types of source are used?
  • how are these sources used?
  • what forms of analysis are perceived as appropriate?

Finally, Alexandra points out that you can consider developing a shared understanding of what a dissertation is, through discussion with your supervisor.

Have a clear goal and structure

Christie suggests that once you’ve settled on your topic, you’re then ready to write a dissertation proposal. By demonstrating how your research area is relevant, your introduction, literature review and methodology will become easier to tackle. ‘Your proposal outlines the purpose of your dissertation and how you intend to go about your research.’

Sticking closely to a plan will help you remain focused without getting too overambitious with your research, which increases your chances of developing a strong and coherent argument. Knowing where your ideas are headed will ensure that you remain on track and only relevant points are made.

If the direction does shift somewhat, there’s no problem with adjusting your plan – but your title, headings and content will have to be revised accordingly. Talking through your revised dissertation plan or structure with your supervisor can help you stay focused on the research, and determine if it’s logical.

As you consider what needs to be achieved by the submission deadline, Christie recommends that you factor in time for:

  • reading and researching
  • gathering and analysing data
  • structuring and restructuring
  • drafting and redrafting
  • proofreading
  • printing and binding.

This careful approach can be rewarded by the end result, suggests Alexandra, who also recommends Gantt charts as a useful tool for planning the research and writing process for some writers.

Write as you go

When you are ready to begin writing, aim for a suitable target, for example 1,000 words each week, as this can be both motivating and productive. ‘Can you use a meeting with your supervisor as a useful deadline?’ poses Alexandra.

Start writing straight away, and use the writing process as a tool to help you better understand the topic. Check that you’ve addressed everything you want to cover once a section is complete. Each should serve its own particular function, linking well with the rest of the content.

‘Your writing helps you to make better sense of the topic as you try to develop the narrative, and as you understand it more, your analysis, interpretation and emphasis will change. Editing can be the beginning, not the endpoint of your writing,’ says Alexandra.

You should frequently back up, make research notes and maintain a comprehensive list of your sources. ‘Keeping track of what you’ve been reading and where it came from will save you hours of work later on,’ says Christie. ‘It can be extremely difficult to remember where ideas came from, particularly when you have books piled high and folders bursting with journal articles.’


Continue to question

Alexandra’s colleague, Marta Ulanicka, also a learning development adviser at Leicester, stresses the importance of maintaining a questioning and critical mindset throughout the dissertation process – both in relation to your own work and findings, as well as those of others.

‘Remember to ask yourself how strongly you are convinced by a particular explanation or interpretation and why, and whether there are any potentially valid alternatives,’ Marta suggests.

You will also need to explain your reasoning to the reader. ‘As the author, you might think the justification for a particular point is obvious, but this might not be the case for someone coming across the concept for the first time. An assessor cannot give you the credit for forming a strong argument unless you provide evidence of how you reached a particular conclusion.’

As well as ensuring your bibliography contains plenty of references, make sure you’ve paid attention to the correct spelling of names and theories.

Don’t underestimate the editing stage

A thorough editing process is vital to ensuring that you produce a well-structured, coherent and polished piece of work. Leave yourself sufficient time to engage with your writing at a number of levels – from reassessing the logic of the whole piece, to proofreading, to checking that you have paid attention to aspects such as the correct spelling of names and theories and the required referencing format. ‘The art of editing‘ study guide from the University of Leicester suggests a five stage process and provides further guidance on what might be involved at each stage.

As well as ensuring your main argument is supported by relevant citations, make it clear to the reader that you are aware of the contributions of the most influential theories and research within your topic. This is because not doing so might make a writer appear ill-informed.

Enjoy the achievement

If you’ve used your time efficiently and adhered to a plan, even if things don’t go exactly how you envisaged, there’s no need to panic. Remember, you’ve chosen your dissertation topic after careful consideration, so ignore any irrational thoughts about possibly starting again from scratch.

‘Your dissertation is a chance to research, create knowledge and address an important issue within your discipline,’ says Dr Patel, so remain focused on your objective and you can be satisfied with your efforts.

Ultimately, your dissertation will become one of your greatest-ever achievements. ‘Completing your dissertation will be difficult at times, but make the most of it and you’ll look back with pride,’ adds Christie.

Also in this section…

You may also like…

How to write a dissertation


Daniel Higginbotham, Editor


February, 2017

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Writing a dissertation

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Dissertation Calculator

based on the Dissertation Calculator (University of Minnesota) — “breaks down the dissertation process into manageable deadlines and provides you with important resources and advice”

  • Home

    • Completing Your Thesis or Dissertation (ETD) at UCF
    • Stages of the Dissertation
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  • Stages 1-6

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    • 1 – Understanding Expectations

    • 2 – Identifying your research questions

    • 3 – Developing a methodology or methodological framework

    • 4 – Surveying literature to position your research in your field

    • 5 – Establishing a dissertation committee

    • 6 – Writing a dissertation proposal

  • Stages 7-12

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    • 7 – Creating a work plan

    • 8 – Creating a dissertation support network

    • 9 – Conducting research

    • 10 – Conducting a comprehensive literature review

    • 11 – Outlining & drafting chapters

    • 12 – Taking care of visual details (illustrations, tables, figures, graphics, etc.)

  • Stages 13-18

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    • 13 – Reviewing, revising, & submitting your text for comments & initial approval

    • 14 – Creating defense draft & defending dissertation

    • 15 – Writing the abstract

    • 16 – Finalizing revisions

    • 17 – Submitting dissertation

    • 18 – Getting closure

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Completing Your Thesis or Dissertation (ETD) at UCF

  • Completing Your Thesis or Dissertation (ETD) (UCF College of Graduate Studies)

    Step 1: Define Your Research & Form Your Committee
    Step 2: Learn about Thesis & Dissertation Resources & Requirements
    Step 3: Set Up Your Thesis or Dissertation Document with Proper Formatting
    Step 4: Conduct Your Research & Begin Writing
    Step 5: Submit Your Document for Initial Format Review
    Step 6: Resubmit for Additional Format Reviews as Needed
    Step 7: Doctoral Students: Complete the NORC Survey of Earned Doctorates
    Step 8: Prepare Your Defense
    Step 9: Submit Your Thesis or Dissertation Release Option eForm
    Step 10: Defend Your Thesis or Dissertation
    Step 11: Submit Your Final Thesis or Dissertation & Other Requirements

Stages of the Dissertation

(from University of Minnesota’s Dissertation Calculator)

  1. Understanding Expectations
  2. Identifying your research questions
  3. Developing a methodology or methodological framework
  4. Surveying literature to position your research in your field
  5. Establishing a dissertation committee
  6. Writing a dissertation proposal
  7. Creating a work plan
  8. Creating a dissertation support network
  9. Conducting research
  10. Conducting a comprehensive literature review
  11. Outlining & drafting chapters
  12. Taking care of visual details (illustrations, tables, figures, graphics, etc.)
  13. Reviewing, revising, & submitting your text for comments & initial approval
  14. Creating defense draft & defending dissertation
  15. Writing the abstract
  16. Finalizing revisions
  17. Submitting dissertation
  18. Getting closure

This guide is under construction

This guide is based on the original Dissertation Calculator at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Each stage will be modified during late 2016 to correspond with the procedures and appropriate offices at the University of Central Florida. In the meantime, use the original calculator to determine projected dates for each stage, the narrative for each stage provided by the University of Minnesota, and the links on the pages of this guide to update Minnesota’s links.

While awaiting completion of this version of the Dissertation Calculator, see Completing Your Thesis or Dissertation (ETD) at UCF for the current steps.

  • Next: UCF Steps >>

  • Last Updated: Aug 14, 2018 9:48 AM
  • URL: https://guides.ucf.edu/discalculator
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Writing a Dissertation

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Richard Fording ‘s Proposed Dissertation Outline

Chapter One: Introduction – – Tells reader what the topic area is. Extremely general and short.

Chapter Two: Literature Review – – Most people use this chapter to pay homage to some, excoriate others. You should try to make it useful. Since the lit review precedes your theory chapter, you can use the lit review to set up your theory as being a monumental contribution to the literature. In other words, organize the lit review around weaknesses/gaps that your theory (and your subsequent analysis) addresses.

Chapter Three: Theory – – Maybe the most important chapter, it tells readers specifically what your theory/model is. Length is determined by how large a contribution you are making. You should keep the language very general (at the conceptual level), but give a few examples to elucidate difficult conceptual issues. There is no lit review in this chapter, but the theory should flow directly from the weaknesses outlined in the previous chapter (so it is appropriate to reference this work as you develop the theory). The hypotheses you test are introduced, elucidated and listed in this chapter.

Chapter Four: Operationalizations – – You explain how each concept in your theory and hypotheses is operationalized, as well as where your data come from. Some brief lit citations may be appropriate here discussing how others have operationalized. But be brief.

Chapter Five: Empirical Evaluation – – First, succinctly restate your hypotheses. Then explain and justify the statistical/methodological procedure you employ. Present the results. More tables are better to a point. Every table should be relevant to one of the hypotheses being tested. If you replicate your results with some other data or some other technique, you probably just want to mention in a footnote or in the text what the results were and push any tables for such a replication into an appendix. Be sure to state explicitly how your hypotheses fared. Don’t make your reader work too hard to know whether your expectations were borne out. Any literature references in this chapter should be either parenthetical or should be limited only to technical matters. (Note: Those using some type of qualitative research design, such as case studies, present results here as well. If you are doing a comparative case study dissertation, this chapter may be a series of short chapters about each case.)

Chapter Six: Additional Empirical Considerations – – This is an optional chapter. If your analysis produces some paradox, or some puzzle, or you are aware of some situation that might negate your results, it is probably helpful to address them in a chapter like this.

Chapter Seven: Implications – – Pay a lot of attention to this chapter. This is where you bring the dissertation together. You explain the importance of your work. Show how your results might be generalized to a wide range of alternate areas of interest.

Chapter Eight: Summary and Conclusion(s) – – Summarize the dissertation, briefly restate the main conclusions, and suggest avenues for future work.

Appendixes – – If your data are self-collected, an appendix presenting and explaining the data is useful, if not suggested. If your operationalizations are controversial or especially novel, you may want an appendix to explain further. An appendix is a good place to present the results of alternate tests. If your dissertation is formal, a mathematical proof appendix is often expected.

Dissertating with Success

The Topic as Part of Your Academic Identity – Your dissertation is the most important component of your “academic identity.” This is extremely important because you will be hired based on this identity.

Elements of your Academic Identity:

  • Dissertation: This is probably the most important dimension on which you are evaluated. If your are applying to a department that is looking for someone who does work in a specific subfield, it will be extremely difficult to get past the first cut if your dissertation cannot be framed as fitting into this subfield.
  • Advisor: Who your advisor is automatically adds credibility to your expertise. But this really only works when your advisor has established a reputation in the general area that your work is in!!
  • Conference Papers/Publications: These are important, regardless of the topics, simply because they establish your credibility as a competent researcher. But the substantive aspects of these papers provide evidence that you are what you claim to be.
  • Courses Taught: Varies in importance depending on teaching emphasis of the department you are applying to.
  • Coursework: Probably the least important in terms of individual courses, but it will be difficult to apply for jobs in a particular major field (e.g. American Politics) if your major field in grad school was something else (e.g. IR).
  • Developing a “flexible” identity:

1.  Develop a flexible dissertation topic – one that can be characterized as fitting more than one subfield.

2.  Highlight different conference papers to support your claims of subfield expertise.

3.  Teach a variety of courses.

  • It is never too early to develop your topic: Since the topic is the most important element of your identity, ideally this should be the first part of your identity that you construct. Advisor and committee choices, conference papers, coursework and teaching should then all flow from your choice of a topic.
  • Two models of Writing a dissertation:

Dissertation from Scratch” – – topic is decided relatively late (third year), and most all of the work is subsequently completed. For this model, the process proceeds in the following order:

1. Question

2. Theory and Lit review chapters written

3. Data collection

4. Analysis

5. Remainder of dissertation written

This is probably the most common model. Weaknesses: (a) no spin-off article ready until the last stages are completed, (b) the model may bomb and then you are left w/o any interesting results!!!! At this point you can’t change the topic because you have too much invested.

“Dissertation by Article Expansion” – – The process proceeds as follows:

1.  Successful article length manuscript completed

2.  Expansion of scope of question

3.  Expansion of lit review and theory sections to use as prospectus

4.  Additional data collection and analysis

5.  Remainder of article expanded to reflect expander scope of analysis

  • Strengths: (a) competed article ready for submission much earlier (b) you already know that you will have some “good” results
    • Writing the Prospectus:

    1.  Definition of “prospectus”: “A statement outlining the main features of a new work.” In other words, DON’T WRITE THE DISSERTATION!!!!!

    2.  Present your advisor/committee with multiple drafts

    3.  Don’t put it off – it will keep you off the job market and will hurt your standing in the department.

    4.  The Prospectus defense – should be a formality if your committee has commented on several drafts and you have incorporated their comments (or at least come up with an acceptable defense that doesn’t make their criticism sound trivial or stupid). It is best to include this defense in the manuscript.

    • Writing the Dissertation: General Tips

    1.  Don’t just keep reading…Start writing!!!

    2.  Make a schedule for deadlines

    3.  Have a plan and be organized –filing system

    4.  Back-up, Back-up, Back-up!

    • After prospectus defense:  Go to grad studies office and get publication on style/format of dissertation – if you follow the guidelines carefully the first time, this will save you LOTS of painful editing after your defense

    1.  During data collection and analysis – Take notes on everything you do. If you don’t, I guarantee you will forget important things that you have done (filenames, variable names and definitions, sources, dropping/modifying variables)

    2. Don’t write too much. 200 pages is probably sufficient in most cases for a quantitative dissertation (140+60). In any case, don’t try to set the departmental record for length.

    3. Skim other dissertations recommended by your advisor.

    • The Defense:

    Stay in touch with your committee and especially your advisor.

    If you have consulted your advisor and committee along the way, the defense will be easy.

    After the defense, don’t procrastinate!!! Submission deadlines come quickly and there is generally a lot of minor editing and polishing to do before it is in an acceptable format for the university.


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    Home > Student Zone > Study Skills and Student Life > Writing a dissertation

    Writing a dissertation

    PDF Version - Writing a dissertation   Print view

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    • Planning
    • Structure
    • Presentation

    Most undergraduate business courses and post-graduate MBAs require students to complete a dissertation. This is an extended piece – often structured like a report – which usually involves undertaking research or a project (this may be based your placement or previous work experience) as well as reflection on and discussion of that work.

    The focus of this article will be on writing the dissertation – that is, producing the finished report.

    The whole project and dissertation process can cause students a lot of grief. It differs from what most have previously produced in requiring more of most things – more research in greater depth, more reading, more time, more independence (students select their own topics and work on them in isolation), more planning, and above all, a more extended piece of writing.

    As distinct from an essay, where you critically evaluate other people’s ideas, you will need to report on your own research or work and offer your own thoughts and interpretation. However, you will also need to include and critique the ideas of other writers in order to provide a theoretical framework for your own ideas.


    Image: Planning

    The first thing to say – and hopefully it is not too late for those of you reading this – is that you need to allow yourself sufficient time for the writing process. You may have done all the right reading, have a waterproof design and brilliant data, but if you don’t allow yourself sufficient time for the write-up you will let yourself down.

    Writing a dissertation is a much more involved process than the average assignment; you might occasionally have been able to burn the midnight oil over an essay but you are unlikely to be able to be able to keep up that level of intense writing for a longer piece of work.

    In fact, it’s best to start thinking about the writing from the start of the project. Probably the first thing to do is to get dissertation guidelines from your institution which should tell you the requirements on length, as well as what academic qualities you are expected to show.

    Anglia Business School (Cambridge, UK) requires its students to produce a dissertation of maximum 8,000 words, which should demonstrate:

    • Evidence of scholarly research, which can be empirical (i.e. consciously obtained through surveys etc.) or library-based
    • Evidence of independent thought
    • Interpretation of evidence – mere description is not sufficient
    • An understanding of the topic’s conceptual and theoretical framework
    • Clarity and lucidity of argument
    • Ability to use appropriate referencing and bibliographic style.

    Once you have determined the length of the dissertation, ensure that it does not remain an abstraction by calculating the number of pages involved – at 300 words per page double spaced, an 8,000 word dissertation would have around 26 pages, more with the addition of prelims and end matter, which do not come within the word count.

    Dissertations vary enormously in length – in the UK, some professional bodies require a piece of work of around 5,000 words (17 pages) while a higher level dissertation could be as long as 40,000 words (140 pages) although the latter would be unusual at undergraduate level. Also, note requirements as to what should go into the main body of the text – some organizations require you to put your methodology in the appendix for example.

    You should also have a plan for how you do the writing, taking account of:

    • Your available time to write, noting the times you are likely to be
      relatively alert.
    • What you have to write – do a plan of your chapters and their sections and what you aim to achieve in a given time.
    • The stages of writing: the various drafts, time for your supervisor to comment, time for editing.
    • The final stages – proof reading, and binding (check with your university repro department how long this is likely to take).

    You should start to think fairly early on how you will organize your work. This will depend on the basis for the dissertation – research, project, work experience, whether you are exploring one issue, or several, or taking a critical overview – and we shall describe below different types of structures.

    If you will be carrying out some kind of research or an organization-based project, you should be able to do some of the writing – at least in draft form – before or while you are doing your field work. Except in some projects which use grounded theory – which involve going back into the field several times with a new perspective – you will establish your research or project design fairly early, and in quantitative research, you will do your literature review before your field work. These chapters can be written up front, which will have the double advantage of getting some of the writing out of the way and also helping you practice the type of writing you will need to master.


    Various structures are possible for your report depending on the type of project and the audience. The main ones are outlined below: others are possible, and you should always discuss your proposed structure with your supervisor.

    Generic structure

    The following is possibly the most common and assumes an academic audience. The research is likely to be deductive and quantitative, with the literature review preceding data collection.


    IntroductionWhat is the scope of the research and why is it important? What are its objectives? What is the research question/hypothesis? Some essential background, but not too much. Should end with a brief summary of findings and the conclusion. The introduction is a very important part of your dissertation and is worth getting right.
    Literature review This will set the research problem in its conceptual framework and gives a critical perspective. It should be a discussion rather than a description, and you should highlight concepts and theories which have a particular bearing on the research.
    Research methodologyYour research design: what data did you collect; where did you collect it; how did you analyse it; why did you use those methods and what alternative approaches could you have taken. You could also discuss here the setting of the research, and how you selected your sample.
    FindingsSummarize the data, possibly with charts and tables, indicating the main themes that emerge.
    DiscussionNote: may be combined with the above. This should be an analysis of the findings, relating back to the conceptual models and the research question. Has the latter fully been answered? Is the research hypothesis supported? Are there any weaknesses or limitations? What is the main contribution to knowledge?
    ConclusionsWhat are the main lessons to be learnt from your study? What would you have done differently? What were the main problems and how did you overcome them? What are the implications for the stakeholders concerned, and what are the possible future directions of the research?

    Structure for a multi-issue or qualitative dissertation

    Image: Structure for a dissertation

    The above structure assumes a linear progression for the research, and may not be suitable for situations when:

    • You are adopting a qualitative approach, where research and literature review are more interwoven.
    • You are looking at several themes, and the dissertation will benefit from separating these out structurally.

    In this case, you may wish to follow a more thematic structure:

    Thematic structure

    IntroductionAs above
    Literature reviewProvides an overview
    Issue A
    Issue B
    Issue C
    Literature review and description of data collection methods
    Research Design  
    Issue A
    Issue B
    Issue C
    Presentation and analysis of data; conclusions
    Discussion Summary of findings, along with critique of method, implications for corporate setting, research etc.

    An alternative to the above would be to combine the literature review, but have separate chapters/sections for the data.

    Structure for a report aimed at a business sponsor

    If you have been sponsored by a specific organization, or your college has arranged for a placement on which your dissertation will be based, they may want a different kind of report or presentation. The structure of the report will depend on the scope you have been given, in particular to recommend or implement changes.

    If you are limited to analysing a situation and making a proposal for change, or you are reflecting on a project from the past, Maylor and Blackmon (2005, p. 407) recommend that you should concentrate on:

    • analysis of the practical problem
    • potential solutions
    • recommendations and suggestions for implementation.

    The academic parts such as the literature review and the research methodology should be either condensed or put in an appendix, although you should include (in the body of the report) enough to show the validity of your recommendations.

    If you are tasked with solving a business problem and expected to lead (to some extent) the resulting change, you are into the realm of action research. This is different to applied research and the structure of your report may be able to reflect this – speak to your supervisor to confirm. If so, Dick (1993) recommends:

    Dick (1993)

    IntroductionDescribe the situation and the reason for the project or study. Explain the structure of the thesis and the reasons for it.
    Research methodologyOutline and justify your approach. Explain the topic then consider possible research approaches, emphasizing the need for responsiveness.
    Iteration A
    Iteration B
    Iteration C
    Action research generally consist of a number of ‘plan-implement-review’ cycles. For each stage/major finding, clearly summarize then discuss the conclusions you have reached, your reasoning, the relevant confirming and disconfirming literature, and the implications.
    Conclusions What are the overall conclusions of the research or project? What ultimately happened? What does the study contribute – what is now understood that was less well understood before?

    Prelims and end matter

    The inclusion of prelims and end matter is another way in which the dissertation differs from the more run of the mill piece of written work. The former require Roman as opposed to Arabic numerals for page numbers.

    Here is a rough guideline as to what should be included:

    Prelims and end matter

    Title pageTitle; author surname and initials; ‘A thesis submitted to…in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of…in month/year’ (wording as directed by institution)
    Abstract A short summary covering the topic, the rationale for choosing it, the methodology and the conclusion
    Executive summaryA short summary giving a background to the issue discussed, the main recommendations, evidence for them, and the methods used to arrive at them
    Contents pageList main chapters/sections
    List of main figures and diagrams  
    AcknowledgementsThank the people who were especially helpful to you in compiling the report
    Main bodySee above
    ReferencesAll the works referred to in the body of the report, with full citations
    BibliographyOther sources which you used but did not quote, also listed in full
    AppendicesMaterial that is relevant but not essential to the main report: could include your research instrument, background information, etc.

    Exactly what to include will depend on your audience and the length of the report: the contents page, list of figures and acknowledgements can be omitted for a short report, while a business-orientated report should have an executive summary rather than an abstract (you may find it useful to leave in the former in an academic report for the benefit of any sponsors).


    Writing style, presentation and layout are all important in gaining you a good mark.


    We have already talked about how the dissertation will be divided into chapters or sections: within those divisions, there will be others, marked by headings and subheadings. This is another difference from the essay, but one that will work in your favour as these headings can serve as ways of organizing your thoughts as you plan.

    Use a font that is easy to read (and one you like as you will get very used to seeing it on the screen!), and make sure you have wide margins.

    Writing style

    This should be formal, concise and academic. Here are a few guidelines:

    • As you are writing in an academic style, you will be building an argument, which you should support with evidence. Back up assertions with sources, and make sure you give credit for the ideas of others.
    • Avoid illogicalities and errors in reasoning. These include contradicting something you said in one paragraph in the next (or even the same paragraph), complete jumps of sense between or within paragraphs, so that one statement does not follow on from another, deducing incorrect conclusions from evidence.
    • Make sure that everything is relevant to your case. Don’t go off at tangents, and don’t elaborate on points that are secondary.
    • Don’t over justify – all research has constraints. Be honest about yours. Be critical about the limitations of your research, and look at other ways of doing things. The ability to see things from all sides is one of the features of academic writing.
    • Don’t go overboard on political correctness but avoid terms that may be offensive, for example using ‘man’ to refer to either gender.
    • Assume knowledge on the part of the reader – those examining your dissertation will only need definitions of terms that are peculiar to your subject.
    • Provide the reader with signposts. For example, refer to relevant points dealt with in other sections, and provide summaries and rough précis of your intentions for the forthcoming section. Judicious use of headings (see layout, above) will also provide a roadmap through your report.
    • Use tables and diagrams where these will illustrate your point, but use them wisely and not just because they will look decorative.

    The stages of writing

    It’s helpful to consider writing as a reverse pyramid, in which you start off working on the more conceptual aspects and finish off with the detail of grammar, punctuation and spelling. Here are some stages you might go through:

    1. Make a plan of your dissertation, with your main chapters, and within the chapters, the main sections.
    2. Get your main ideas for your core chapters down on paper, and try and get the argument right.
    3. Read through for logic and structure.
    4. Edit for clarity and readability, making sure that your style is approachable and concise.
    5. Look at grammar, punctuation and spelling, consulting a good dictionary or style guide if you know that you are weak in these areas.

    Writing is also a process of pruning – of bits that are not essential to your main thesis, and above all of excess words so you can meet your word length (remember how you never thought you could write that many words?). You will probably find that you can get rid of ‘nice to have but not essential’ material at stage 3, and that at stage 4 you prune your style so that you get rid of unnecessary verbiage. Writing to word limit is very important and is considered a key management attribute.

    Putting in references is something best not left to the end – if you have kept good notes on your sources you should be able to put these in as you go along. But you will obviously need to check that all your references are correct before finally submitting your report.

    Writing as a group

    Group projects can provide particular interpersonal challenges, as teams cope with difference of views, non-performing team members etc., and particular problems can arise at the writing stage. If you split up the chapters amongst different people, then you will get different writing styles and even ideas about what the report is about. Ways of ensuring consistency included swapping around writing and editing, so that the text gets seen by a different pair of eyes, or having an overall ‘master editor’.

    Getting to the finishing line

    We’ve already mentioned the importance of planning; we can’t over emphasize the importance of allowing yourself enough time at the end for printing and binding – remembering that everyone else will be mobbing the repro department and monopolizing the printers. The other thing to avoid is endlessly tinkering with an otherwise complete report – if you have met your objectives, hand it in.


    • Dick, B. (1993), You want to do an action research thesis? Available online at: http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/art/arthesis.html
    • Maylor, H. and Blackmon, K. (2005), Researching Business and Management, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, UK

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