University of Hull Dissertation

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University of Hull Dissertation

University of Hull Dissertation

Writing your Dissertation or Thesis

Last updated on 10/13/2016 Print this page


The Skills Team run the following relevant workshop:

Doing a literature review

Please note the above workshop is primarily aimed at final year undergraduates and masters students.

For all our workshops please visit our Skills workshops page.




This page presents an overview of what needs to be considered when writing a postgraduate thesis or dissertation. For simplicity, this page will use “thesis” as a term to describe both a PhD thesis and a Master’s dissertation.

The exact requirements for writing a thesis vary by discipline, so you should refer to any departmental guidelines when starting to write your thesis.

University of Hull’s Graduate School provides detailed information on the regulations and guidelines for writing up a PhD thesis or research masters dissertation: Submission and Examination of the Thesis. This includes information on how to set out and format the actual document: Preparing a Thesis for Submission.

The nature of a thesis

A thesis is an examinable document (possibly with annexes and additional material) that must:

  • Display your knowledge of your chosen subject.
  • Clearly demonstrate your ability to describe what you did and how and why you did it.
  • Acknowledge which parts were done or helped by others.
  • Be honest (no plagiarism!),  factual, critical, and as interesting as it can be!
  • Display your original contribution to knowledge (PhD thesis).

Your thesis should argue and establish the grounds for believing a claim or conclusion; these grounds should be based on:

  • Evidence (i.e. your results).
  • Plus (usually) other evidence or accepted claims warranting you to draw the conclusion from your evidence.

Therefore you must:

  • Make it clear what your central claim/conclusion is.
  • Make it clear how your research supports the claim/conclusion.
  • Keep the background (eg. literature review) relevant to your argument linking data with conclusions.

 The literature review

The literature review is a fundamentally important component of your thesis. Your thesis has to show that you:

  • Understand the body of knowledge.
  • Understand the relevant research techniques – both those you chose to use and those you didn’t.
  • Can conceive, implement and, where appropriate, modify a plan of research.

Therefore your literature review has to show:

  • What the body of knowledge in your area is.
  • What the relevant research techniques are – both those you chose to use and those you didn’t.
  • Why you conceived, implemented and, where appropriate, modified the plan of research that you made – i.e. headed for something achievable that hadn’t been done before.

 Tips on writing a literature review

  • You need to start working on this at the beginning of your work to justify the originality of what you propose to do.
  • You need to keep looking at the literature all the way through your project – otherwise there is a risk of your review becoming outdated.
  • By the time you finish your thesis you will probably have chosen to omit 75% of the references you have looked at!
  • What you leave out is almost more important as what you include – it shows you have judgement as to what is relevant to your argument.

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 Structure and content of a thesis

 Tips about thesis structure

Your thesis should:

  • Have a logical structure, not necessarily written in the chronological order in which you conducted your research.
  • Make it clear why and how your results/design/analysis etc. solves the problem you set out to solve.
  • Provide a concise outline and summary of your research.
  • Be clear about what you’ve discovered and why it’s important, original etc., both at the beginning and at the end.

 Content of thesis

A typical thesis will contain:

  • Title page – Title, name affiliation & date.
  • Table of contents – This should show page numbering of chapters and appendices. It is also sometimes helpful to have lists of tables and figures.
  • Abstract – Usually around 300 words.
  • Acknowledgements – Remember to acknowledge your funding body.
  • Introduction- It is often helpful to have one introductory chapter which outlines the thesis as a whole and indicates relevant sections where key elements of your argument  may be found.  You may then want a separate introduction which contains the background, literature review etc.
  • Substantive Chapters –  This is the main body of the thesis, typically a chapter for each study, but this will vary depending on the type of work you are presenting.
  • Discussion- You may want a separate major discussion chapter which puts the argument  together and relates it back to the introduction.  Your conclusion may be stated here or in a separate chapter. Don’t forget to include some discussion of the wider  implications and future work
  • Conclusions and Suggestions for further work
  • References/bibliography
  • Appendices – Your supervisor will give you guidance on what to include here, but this may contain materials used in studies, code listings etc.

 Structure of substantive chapters

The structure of the substantive chapters will vary with discipline, but typical structures are as follows:

  1. Qualitative/quantitative theses:
  • Introduction
  • Methodology
  • Results and analysis
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
  1. Theme-based theses:
  • Chapter : Theme/Text 1
  • Chapter : Theme/Text 2
  • etc

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 Tips for writing up your thesis

When writing your thesis consider the following:

  • Don’t make the thesis any longer than is necessary to present your argument.  Waffle and padding do not impress
  • Write in plain English and in a readable style.  Aim to make your thesis an enjoyable read!
  • Read other theses to get a better idea of what’s required

If you are finding it difficult to write anything at all, try:

  • Making a rough plan (which you need not necessarily stick to).
  • Planning to spend a set number of hours a week on writing.
  • Finding quiet conditions in which to write and, if possible, always write in the same place.
  • Setting goals and targets for yourself.

Acknowledgements: Roger Linford

Other resources

Working with supervisors – from University of Reading Study Advice