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Regardless of how well researched and well written a dissertation is, if it lacks structure, the paper is no good, and your research serves no purpose. When putting your research together, you must keep in mind the dissertation structure. A lot of universities have their structure; however, if you do not have a structure from your university, follow the standard structure. A dissertation structure includes an abstract/executive summary, table of contents, introduction, literature review, methodology, analysis and discussion, conclusion, and a list of references. Depending on your dissertation topic and type of study, appendices may or may not be a part of your paper.

Even though you are aware of a typical dissertation structure, a common dilemma that most of the students’ face is to decide whether an abstract should be the first section of the dissertation or table of contents.

The answer is – an abstract. The table of contents is the second section of your dissertation. Why? Let’s find out.

Understanding an Abstract

An abstract summarizes your research in one short paragraph, or sometimes two. However, it should not exceed one page. When writing your abstract, consider yourself as the target audience who will read your research. Think of what you would want to know about the study in this section. An abstract should contain all essential information, such as your research question, your research approach, and the results of your research. All this information should be written in a manner that will help the readers understand what the study is all about.

Although an abstract is the first section of a dissertation, it is written in the last i.e., after you have completed writing your research. As the whole study has to be summarized here, a good and recommended practice is to write your abstract after you’ve completed your research. This will help you summarize your study effectively.

Parts of an Abstract

A lot of students ask how to write an abstract for the dissertation and what should aspects should be a part of it. Once you understand what an abstract should constitute, you will undoubtedly ace it! The word limit for a summary is usually somewhere between 200 and 250 words, but it should depict your whole research. Here’s a short checklist to help you to write a brief and comprehensive abstract:

  • First and foremost, include your research problem. Why do you think your readers should take an interest in your research? What’s the problem that you are trying to solve?
  • Next, talk about your research approach. How did you solve the research problem, the variables you have used, the analytical programs you have looked at, etc.?
  • The third aspect that you should include in your abstract is your research results. What was the outcome of your research approach, did it solve the problem, and what did you learn?
  • Finally, include a line or two about the implications of your research. This should be the conclusion of your abstract.

All these aspects make up an excellent abstract. Since you have to work around a restrictive word limit, make sure that you answer all questions in a line or two. Going beyond the word limit might lead to a complicated abstract, which you should avoid at all costs.

Table of Contents for a Dissertation

Table of contents helps in navigating a study effectively. A dissertation usually ranges from 10,000 words to 15,000; thus, without a table of contents, it will be challenging for all readers to understand your research. Also, a dissertation table of contents gives an idea about the topics you have covered. This gives a deep insight into the research that you have conducted. Glancing at the table of contents will help your prospective readers understand the models/frameworks that are a part of your study and how well versed you are with your chosen research methods.

When creating a table of contents, keep in mind the formatting style that you have to follow. Every referencing style has a different formatting guide, thus make sure that you format your table of contents accordingly. Do not forget to include the reference list and appendices in your table of contents. Once you have your table of contents ready, double-check if the page numbers appearing beside every heading are accurate.

Why an Abstract Comes First?

As explained initially, an abstract is a summary of your dissertation. Thus, it has to be the first section of the study. An abstract helps your prospective readers get an idea of what your thesis is all about and how you have carried out your research. Think of it as a making or breaking point of your research. Once you publish your research, an abstract will be the deciding factor whether the audience is interested in your study or not.

Moving the table of contents above the abstract does not make sense. Without knowing what the research is all about, the readers will not be able to comprehend your table of contents. Thus, you have to make sure that you educate your readers first, and then move ahead step by step. If you introduce your dissertation sub-topics without informing the readers what the research is all about, it will be complicated for them to comprehend your study.

Thus, to make your dissertation useful and exciting, always include a well-written abstract and guide your readers through your abstract. Your next section is a table of contents; thus, this will create a smooth flow of information, and your readers will better understand your research.

Structuring your dissertation not only helps in improving the readability of your study but also enhances your work. Therefore, when working on a thesis, make sure that you follow the exact structure that your university or your professor has provided you. In addition to writing an abstract and table of contents, you should also pay attention to details like including a list of references, appendices, figures, and tables. This will help you organize your research in the required manner and will also assist in transitioning from one section to another smoothly.