The first question which occurs to most people is “What should my thesis look like?” Most departments deposit good examples of theses in the Library for students to look at. Some tutors keep copies of previous good work. There are also some MBA examples online on the University of Bolton’s repository

Your dissertation should state the objectives of your investigation, describe your research methods, and present and discuss your results. Generally, this is achieved using the structure below. However, your supervisor will provide direction in terms of the layout, word count and structure of your dissertation. Always check with your supervisor.

Click on the bars below to see a brief description of each part of a dissertation. Some subjects require the submission of a research proposal, which has to be approved before you start data collection. If you have been asked to write a research proposal click on the Research Proposal bar first. Note that not all subjects require this – check with your supervisor if you are unsure. Further details are given as you work through the next sections.


Research Proposal (if required)

Only complete a research proposal if you have been asked to do so by your dissertation supervisor.

A research proposal involves a similar approach to writing a full dissertation except for actually carrying out the research. It is a way of checking that your proposed dissertation is valid, rigorous and achievable in its aims, objective and research design.


A good research proposal should briefly:

  • Describe what you want to do. 
  • Show how you intend to do it. 
  • Outline what you hope to achieve.


Pay close attention to the guidelines that you have been given, and then work through the following sections listed below except Results and Discussion. Once your research proposal has been accepted, you will be ready to begin collecting the data.



You should state:

  • The title of the dissertation: Potassium uptake in potatoes. 
  • Your full name and any academic qualifications you may have: Hannah Turner B.Sc. (Hons). 
  • A statement in this format: A dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Environmental Geotechnology.
  • Institution: The University of Bolton Place: Bolton. 
  • Date submitted: May, 2005. 
  • Name of supervisor (if required): Supervisor: Joe Bloggs. 

Some students choose to illustrate the front page with graphics or pictures etc. Only do this if it is appropriate to the subject, as too much detail may trivialise the academic nature of your work.

The same principle applies throughout the document. Illustrations should only be included to convey information, and not just for artistic effect.



This is a summary of your thesis condensed into a short paragraph. You should include a brief outline of the following:

  • The issues that you have researched and why.
  • Research methods chosen and why.
  • Your results. 
  • Your conclusions. 

It does not matter that your conclusions are obvious from the beginning; it is the rigour that you have applied in reaching them that matters.



If anyone has helped you during your research, you should acknowledge it. You will have got help from someone, whether it was staff in the Library who helped you search for information, your lecturers, your colleagues, or experts who may have sent you material or given you interviews. 



Introduce the subject of your dissertation and describe your aims and objectives. You should explain the significance and relevance of what you are trying to prove, how you are going to prove it and what methods you will use in the process.

You should outline the content of each section: 


 For Example

Chapter 1 will examine the development of Robert Frost’s poetry and the factors that influenced it….Chapter 2 will analyse the poems that concentrate on Nature being unfriendly and expand upon the theme of darkness….Chapter 3 is concerned with the darker side of Frost himself. The Conclusion will show that Frost and his poems are one.

(With grateful thanks to Kenneth Akroyd for permission to adapt his work)


The introduction is your opportunity to demonstrate that you have a grasp of the appropriate language, style and grammar required for writing an academic piece of work. Adherence to these standards will create a positive impression to build on throughout the rest of your thesis.

Click here for more information on Improving your English.


Literature Review

You must critically reviewrelevant past research. Listing summaries of articles in chronological order is not appropriate. You must identify research themes in the literature or analyse papers according to alternative methodologies for comparison. A good literature review is comprehensive, critical, and informative. You should conclude it by identifying your intended contribution to the current literature. In order to carry out an in-depth review of the literature, you should be familiar with the research techniques described in the Advanced Research Skillssections. 

See the Literature Reviewsection for full details.



Development and description of your research framework. This is where you describe the research methods, data collection and data analysis methods that you have chosen and explain why these methods are appropriate for your research. Its content will differ depending on the particular research undertaken.


Results and Discussion

You must describe, display, interpret and evaluate your results. You must also identify and limitations and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your reported research.



This is where you combine all the strands of your argument to give a convincing answer to the question you originally posed. You should be able to justify your conclusion and show how the stages in your reasoning are connected. You should identify any potential future developments for your research topic and if there are any practical implications for management or government policy.


Bibliography and References

Your thesis must contain either a bibliography or a bibliography and a reference list according to the expectations of your supervisor. Failing to cite your sources correctly could result in accusations of plagiarism and the failure of your dissertation. Consult our referencing sectionfor further help.



This section should include examples of items you have used to gather evidence for your research, such as questionnaires, surveys, letters, illustrative material, statistical tables etc. Similar materials should be included in the same appendix and should be numbered accordingly, e.g. two different questionnaires should be in the same appendix numbered 1a and 1b.