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What Do Theses and Dissertations Look Like?

Theses and Dissertations Writing Guide

As you embark upon this important element of your academic career, you should be aware of what a dissertation or thesis looks like. After all, how can you write a dissertation chapter if you've never read one before? Advisers often focus on the content of your dissertation or thesis since this is the culmination of a stage of your academic career and as such should showcase your writing, research, and critical thinking skills-but the form of a dissertation or thesis is also important, and commensurately more difficult to teach.

For every discipline there are differing expectations as to what a dissertation or thesis should include, as well as how it should be formatted. Even though as a writer you have control over how to explain your ideas and how to organize them within the text, scholars in your field have agreed upon how a dissertation/thesis should be organized: what types of chapters you should include, the minimum number of chapters a dissertation or thesis should have, and how those are formatted. This is where seeing and reading what other writers within your discipline and department have done will be helpful. You should do this sooner rather than later.

  • Start by asking your adviser if they have any suggestions of dissertations or theses you should look at. They may point you to things like the writings of an ex-advisee or a certain literature review article in a journal.
  • After speaking to your adviser, you can seek out either a reference librarian or a subject librarian to find other dissertations or theses in your subject area. Find out more about how to access dissertations and theses via KU Libraries.
  • Reading not just for content but also for form will help you understand better how to put together your dissertation or thesis.
  • Think about how the project as a whole is organized as well as how the individual chapters are organized: how do they separate their literature review from their discussion of their results, for example? Do they utilize headings and subheadings or bulleted lists at any point?
  • Moreover, take notes about elements of the project that stand out to you: use of tables, inclusion of photographs, striking introductions, chapter titles.

Revised: 03/2019

 


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