Study guidelines: what the proper MSc dissertation structure is

Course guidelines and supervisors fall short (mostly), and even the handbooks written on the subject go on and on about content without giving much on the form.

Here is an attempt to formulate and list the components of the structure of a dissertation. Of course, this is a general guideline and is not exhaustive. In addition to that, anything that is advised by the department should be heeded. Departmental instructions vary from college to college and even from course to course.


The regulations specify what is to appear in the header and footer of each page along with how the pages are to be numbered (Roman vs. Arabic) and if the introduction should be numbered at all. The title page’s layout may also be specified.

Title Page:

  1. Title of Dissertation: Dissertation presented to […] in fulfillment of […]
  2. Table of Contents
  3. Notices: of originality, ethics, acknowledgements and other technicalities


The abstract is a very short summary of your dissertation. There is a specified word count, do not exceed it. Universities are known to be so strict about this that may turn down you dissertation based on a couple of extra words here.


  1. Aims and Objectives: Clearly defined
  2. Context: Historical, academic or practical
  3. Exegesis: to explain the choice of words and inspiration and limits of the dissertation
  4. Hypothesis/Question(s)
  5. Exclusions: Clearly state what is NOT in the scope of the study
  6. Outline: How chapter-by-chapter the argument unfolds and fits together.
  7. Conventions: How you have changed the conventional way of writing the narrative if you have!)

Literature review:

Discuss previous work on the subject and its affect on your work, your empirical study, and conclusions.

You can start by an historical discussion and/or different schools of thought on the topic.


  • State the method of your research and its paradigm, context and constraints.
  • Your research strategy (surveys, published statistics etc) should be mentioned and justified.
  • Write the design of your study, how you collected data and why.
  • How you processed the data, you collected statistical methods or qualitative tools.


This should be stated concisely and cleanly. There is no set way of how you should go about it. A good way is to use headings and subheadings to avoid a muddle.


THIS is what you did all the work for. Bring together the hypothesis, the question, the data you collected, the arguments, data and methods from previous researches.


A summary where you restate the hypothesis, the question, and a very brief statement of what you can NOW say about the hypothesis/question.




What you mention here depends on what your department has asked for or you have promised, and all that your marker wants to see but could not be included elsewhere.