Tackling your dissertation: Chapters

Tackling your dissertation: Chapters

A dissertation is a scary thing, and many of us will have to write one at the end of our third year. Some of us are already there. Here are a few things that I have learned over the course of writing my dissertation that I would like to share with you.

Firstly, the basics – layout. Most dissertations are laid out in the format of introduction (1500 words), 3 chapters (2500 words each) and finally a conclusion (1000 words). In this blog, I will focus on how to write your dissertation chapter(s).

How many chapters should I have and what should they be about?

The number of chapters you have in your dissertation will greatly depend on what you are writing on and what you are going to argue. Sometimes there are two big chapters in a dissertation with a few subheadings; other times there can be five or six. However, people generally go for 3 chapters per dissertation.

Your chapters should try to emphasis the focal points of your dissertation question. Picking on the main themes/ aspects that you are discussing in your dissertation.

What should I say in my chapters?

Tackling your dissertation: Chapters

Writing a dissertation chapter is slightly different from writing a normal essay. There is a lot more to writing a dissertation chapter then making up your own argument based on some primary and secondary reading.


To begin with, the first paragraph will be your introduction. This should be a short paragraph explaining what this specific chapter will be about; the questions that it will try to answer and a sentence explaining your argument for this chapter.

Literature and methodology reviews:

Tackling your dissertation: Chapters

Secondly, you need to have a section of your chapter dedicated to reviewing other previous works based around your dissertation topic. Analyse their arguments, what they have done well and what their limitations/ flaws are.

Next, pick out the methods that other scholars have used in approaching their research? For example, have they looked at written primary sources to help their argument? If they have then say why this is useful or not. If you have approached the same topic using illustrated primary sources, say how this is adding to the field of study, if it is? If you have also chosen written sources, tell the reader why. What are you adding to the field of research? What is your approach to this topic and why is it useful?


Following this, you should dedicate the largest part of your chapter writing your own argument(s). This is the part that you will be most familiar with. For more advice on this, please visit my other blog (here) and look at my tips for writing the ‘body’ of your essay.


Finally, you should add in a conclusion paragraph. This will be a similar paragraph to pervious essay conclusions. Simply summarising your general argument(s) and explaining why this is useful in answering your dissertation questions.

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Tackling your dissertation: Chapters

Lisa Bastow

I am a History student at Keele University.

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