How to write an undergraduate university dissertation

Writing a dissertation is a daunting task, but these tips will help you prepare for all the common challenges students face before deadline day.

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Grace McCabe

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Writing a dissertation is one of the most challenging aspects of university. However, it is the chance for students to demonstrate what they have learned during their degree and to explore a topic in depth.

In this article, we look at 10 top tips for writing a successful dissertation and break down how to write each section of a dissertation in detail.

10 tips for writing an undergraduate dissertation

1. Select an engaging topic Choose a subject that aligns with your interests and allows you to showcase the skills and knowledge you have acquired through your degree.

2. Research your supervisor Undergraduate students will often be assigned a supervisor based on their research specialisms. Do some research on your supervisor and make sure that they align with your dissertation goals.

3. Understand the dissertation structure Familiarise yourself with the structure (introduction, review of existing research, methodology, findings, results and conclusion). This will vary based on your subject.

4. Write a schedule As soon as you have finalised your topic and looked over the deadline, create a rough plan of how much work you have to do and create mini-deadlines along the way to make sure don’t find yourself having to write your entire dissertation in the final few weeks.

5. Determine requirements Ensure that you know which format your dissertation should be presented in. Check the word count and the referencing style.

6. Organise references from the beginning Maintain an alphabetically arranged reference list or bibliography in the designated style as you do your reading. This will make it a lot easier to finalise your references at the end.

7. Create a detailed plan Once you have done your initial research and have an idea of the shape your dissertation will take, write a detailed essay plan outlining your research questions, SMART objectives and dissertation structure.

8. Keep a dissertation journal Track your progress, record your research and your reading, and document challenges. This will be helpful as you discuss your work with your supervisor and organise your notes.

9. Schedule regular check-ins with your supervisor Make sure you stay in touch with your supervisor throughout the process, scheduling regular meetings and keeping good notes so you can update them on your progress.

10. Employ effective proofreading techniques Ask friends and family to help you proofread your work or use different fonts to help make the text look different. This will help you check for missing sections, grammatical mistakes and typos.

What is a dissertation?

A dissertation is a long piece of academic writing or a research project that you have to write as part of your undergraduate university degree.

It’s usually a long essay in which you explore your chosen topic, present your ideas and show that you understand and can apply what you’ve learned during your studies. Informally, the terms “dissertation” and “thesis” are often used interchangeably.

How do I select a dissertation topic?

First, choose a topic that you find interesting. You will be working on your dissertation for several months, so finding a research topic that you are passionate about and that demonstrates your strength in your subject is best. You want your topic to show all the skills you have developed during your degree. It would be a bonus if you can link your work to your chosen career path, but it’s not necessary.

Second, begin by exploring relevant literature in your field, including academic journals, books and articles. This will help you identify gaps in existing knowledge and areas that may need further exploration. You may not be able to think of a truly original piece of research, but it’s always good to know what has already been written about your chosen topic.

Consider the practical aspects of your chosen topic, ensuring that it is possible within the time frame and available resources. Assess the availability of data, research materials and the overall practicality of conducting the research.

When picking a dissertation topic, you also want to try to choose something that adds new ideas or perspectives to what’s already known in your field. As you narrow your focus, remember that a more targeted approach usually leads to a dissertation that’s easier to manage and has a bigger impact. Be ready to change your plans based on feedback and new information you discover during your research.

How to work with your dissertation supervisor?

Your supervisor is there to provide guidance on your chosen topic, direct your research efforts, and offer assistance and suggestions when you have queries. It’s crucial to establish a comfortable and open line of communication with them throughout the process. Their knowledge can greatly benefit your work. Keep them informed about your progress, seek their advice, and don’t hesitate to ask questions.

1. Keep them updated Regularly tell your supervisor how your work is going and if you’re having any problems. You can do this through emails, meetings or progress reports.

2. Plan meetings Schedule regular meetings with your supervisor. These can be in person or online. These are your time to discuss your progress and ask for help.

3. Share your writing Give your supervisor parts of your writing or an outline. This helps them see what you’re thinking so they can advise you on how to develop it.

5. Ask specific questions When you need help, ask specific questions instead of general ones. This makes it easier for your supervisor to help you.

6. Listen to feedback Be open to what your supervisor says. If they suggest changes, try to make them. It makes your dissertation better and shows you can work together.

7. Talk about problems If something is hard or you’re worried, talk to your supervisor about it. They can give you advice or tell you where to find help.

8. Take charge Be responsible for your work. Let your supervisor know if your plans change, and don’t wait if you need help urgently.

Remember, talking openly with your supervisor helps you both understand each other better, improves your dissertation and ensures that you get the support you need.

How to write a successful research piece at university How to choose a topic for your dissertation Tips for writing a convincing thesis

How do I plan my dissertation?

It’s important to start with a detailed plan that will serve as your road map throughout the entire process of writing your dissertation. As Jumana Labib, a master’s student at the University of Manchester  studying digital media, culture and society, suggests: “Pace yourself – definitely don’t leave the entire thing for the last few days or weeks.”

Decide what your research question or questions will be for your chosen topic.

Break that down into smaller SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) objectives.

Speak to your supervisor about any overlooked areas.

Create a breakdown of chapters using the structure listed below (for example, a methodology chapter).

Define objectives, key points and evidence for each chapter.

Define your research approach (qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods).

Outline your research methods and analysis techniques.

Develop a timeline with regular moments for review and feedback.

Allocate time for revision, editing and breaks.

Consider any ethical considerations related to your research.

Stay organised and add to your references and bibliography throughout the process.

Remain flexible to possible reviews or changes as you go along.

A well thought-out plan not only makes the writing process more manageable but also increases the likelihood of producing a high-quality piece of research.

How to structure a dissertation?

The structure can depend on your field of study, but this is a rough outline for science and social science dissertations:

Introduce your topic.

Complete a source or literature review.

Describe your research methodology (including the methods for gathering and filtering information, analysis techniques, materials, tools or resources used, limitations of your method, and any considerations of reliability).

Summarise your findings.

Discuss the results and what they mean.

Conclude your point and explain how your work contributes to your field.

On the other hand, humanities and arts dissertations often take the form of an extended essay. This involves constructing an argument or exploring a particular theory or analysis through the analysis of primary and secondary sources. Your essay will be structured through chapters arranged around themes or case studies.

All dissertations include a title page, an abstract and a reference list. Some may also need a table of contents at the beginning. Always check with your university department for its dissertation guidelines, and check with your supervisor as you begin to plan your structure to ensure that you have the right layout.

How long is an undergraduate dissertation?

The length of an undergraduate dissertation can vary depending on the specific guidelines provided by your university and your subject department. However, in many cases, undergraduate dissertations are typically about 8,000 to 12,000 words in length.

“Eat away at it; try to write for at least 30 minutes every day, even if it feels relatively unproductive to you in the moment,” Jumana advises.

How do I add references to my dissertation?

References are the section of your dissertation where you acknowledge the sources you have quoted or referred to in your writing. It’s a way of supporting your ideas, evidencing what research you have used and avoiding plagiarism (claiming someone else’s work as your own), and giving credit to the original authors.

Referencing typically includes in-text citations and a reference list or bibliography with full source details. Different referencing styles exist, such as Harvard, APA and MLA, each favoured in specific fields. Your university will tell you the preferred style.

Using tools and guides provided by universities can make the referencing process more manageable, but be sure they are approved by your university before using any.

How do I write a bibliography or list my references for my dissertation?

The requirement of a bibliography depends on the style of referencing you need to use. Styles such as OSCOLA or Chicago may not require a separate bibliography. In these styles, full source information is often incorporated into footnotes throughout the piece, doing away with the need for a separate bibliography section.

Typically, reference lists or bibliographies are organised alphabetically based on the author’s last name. They usually include essential details about each source, providing a quick overview for readers who want more information. Some styles ask that you include references that you didn’t use in your final piece as they were still a part of the overall research.

It is important to maintain this list as soon as you start your research. As you complete your research, you can add more sources to your bibliography to ensure that you have a comprehensive list throughout the dissertation process.

How to proofread an undergraduate dissertation?

Throughout your dissertation writing, attention to detail will be your greatest asset. The best way to avoid making mistakes is to continuously proofread and edit your work.

Proofreading is a great way to catch any missing sections, grammatical errors or typos. There are many tips to help you proofread:

Ask someone to read your piece and highlight any mistakes they find.

Change the font so you notice any mistakes.

Format your piece as you go, headings and sections will make it easier to spot any problems.

Separate editing and proofreading. Editing is your chance to rewrite sections, add more detail or change any points. Proofreading should be where you get into the final touches, really polish what you have and make sure it’s ready to be submitted.

Stick to your citation style and make sure every resource listed in your dissertation is cited in the reference list or bibliography.

How to write a conclusion for my dissertation?

Writing a dissertation conclusion is your chance to leave the reader impressed by your work.

Start by summarising your findings, highlighting your key points and the outcome of your research. Refer back to the original research question or hypotheses to provide context to your conclusion.

You can then delve into whether you achieved the goals you set at the beginning and reflect on whether your research addressed the topic as expected. Make sure you link your findings to existing literature or sources you have included throughout your work and how your own research could contribute to your field.

Be honest about any limitations or issues you faced during your research and consider any questions that went unanswered that you would consider in the future. Make sure that your conclusion is clear and concise, and sum up the overall impact and importance of your work.

Remember, keep the tone confident and authoritative, avoiding the introduction of new information. This should simply be a summary of everything you have already said throughout the dissertation.

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how long is an undergraduate dissertation

How Long is a Dissertation

how long is an undergraduate dissertation

How Long is a Dissertation? Concrete Answers

An undergraduate dissertation usually falls within the range of 8,000 to 15,000 words, while a master's dissertation typically spans from 12,000 to 50,000 words. In contrast, a PhD thesis is typically of book length, ranging from 70,000 to 100,000 words.

Let’s unravel the mystery of how long should a dissertation be. If you’ve ever wondered about this, look no further. Our comprehensive guide delves into the nitty-gritty of dissertation lengths across diverse academic realms. Whether you're a budding grad student, an academic advisor, or just curious, we've got you covered.

From Master's to PhD programs, we decode the variations in length requirements and shed light on disciplinary disparities. In general, dissertations are 150 to 300 words. But factors influence the length of these daunting scholarly requirements! But fear not as we break it down for you.

We’ll unveil the secrets behind dissertation writing, from how they reflect the depth and breadth of research to offering invaluable tips for planning and writing. So, if you're ready to demystify the daunting dissertation journey, hop on board! Let's navigate the labyrinth of academia together and empower you to conquer your scholarly aspirations.

Institutional guidelines on dissertation length 

You can think of institutional guidelines as purveyors of academic excellence. Ever wondered why schools impose specific requirements like "Chapter 1: The Introduction must be at least 35 pages long and no more than 50 pages"? 

It's not just about arbitrary rules! However, it's about striking the perfect balance between guidance and practicality. These guidelines serve as guardrails, steering students like you towards scholarly success without overwhelming faculty with endless pages to peruse. 

Moreover, credibility is key here! A mere 8-page literature review won't cut it in the realm of academia. But fear not, for most institutions provide dissertation templates, complete with essential headings to streamline the process. 

And for those seeking a helping hand, a dissertation writing service like ours stands ready to assist, ensuring your masterpiece meets the lofty standards of academic rigor. So, embrace the guidelines, weave your narrative, and let your dissertation shine with scholarly prowess.

Variations in dissertation length across academic disciplines

Dissertation length varies significantly across academic disciplines due to differences in research methods, data presentation, and writing conventions. Here's a general overview of how dissertation length can differ by discipline:

  • Humanities and Social Sciences: Dissertations in these fields tend to be longer because they often involve comprehensive literature reviews, detailed theoretical analyses, and extensive qualitative data. It's not uncommon for dissertations in history, literature, or sociology to exceed 200 pages.
  • Sciences and Engineering: Dissertations in the sciences and engineering might be shorter in terms of page count but are dense with technical details, data, charts, and appendices. They often range between 100 to 200 pages. However, the length can vary significantly depending on the complexity of the work and the requirements of the specific program.
  • Arts and Design: In creative disciplines, the dissertation might include a practical component (like a portfolio, exhibition, or performance) alongside a written thesis. The written component might be shorter, focusing on the conceptual and contextual analysis of the creative work, usually ranging from 40 to 80 pages.
  • Professional Fields (Business, Education, etc.): Dissertations in professional fields such as business or education often focus on case studies, practical applications, and policy analysis. These dissertations can vary widely in length but often fall in the range of 100 to 200 pages.

Dissertations vary in length due to many factors, which shows the diverse nature of academic research. Disciplinary differences are significant, as each field may have distinct expectations regarding the depth and scope of the study. 

The type of analysis conducted, whether qualitative, quantitative, or a combination of both, also impacts the length. 

For instance, qualitative studies may involve extensive textual analysis, resulting in longer manuscripts, while quantitative studies may require detailed statistical analyses. Additionally, the specific area of research within a discipline can also affect the length, as certain topics may necessitate more:

  • extensive literature reviews
  • data collection (e.g., fieldwork, surveys, interviews, lab work)
  • discussion sections

While the average length typically falls within the range of 150-300 pages, it's essential to recognize the nuanced factors contributing to variations in dissertation length. You must remain informed about the variables shaping your document's overall size and structure to deliver exemplary results.

Factors influencing the length of doctoral dissertations

Various factors determine the length of a dissertation, such as the specific guidelines set by universities, the type of research conducted, the extent of analysis required, and the presence of supplementary materials.

Several factors come into play when determining the ideal length of a dissertation. University guidelines set the tone, with institutions offering word count ranges typically between 8,000 to 15,000 words for undergraduates and masters and 75,000 to 100,000 words for PhD. 

Yet, beyond these guidelines, the nature of your research holds sway.

Disciplines vary, with humanities favoring extensive literature reviews and scientific fields emphasizing methodological intricacies. Depth of analysis matters, too; a thorough exploration demands more space. 

Balancing these elements ensures a well-rounded dissertation. So, as you embark on your scholarly journey, consider these factors carefully. By understanding them, you'll craft a dissertation that not only meets academic standards but also showcases your analytical prowess and depth of intelligence.

Length, components, and scholarly dedication

Many aspiring scholars think, "How long is a doctoral dissertation?" However, the answer isn't straightforward. Yes, length varies, but let's not forget to factor in a crucial element: time. And we know because many students have instructed us to “ write my dissertation !”

Remember, a dissertation isn't penned in one sitting. Rather, it often evolves from smaller academic chapters. This gradual process allows students to explore diverse topics before committing to a book-length project they're passionate about.

Beyond the central argument lie various components that contribute to the overall length. Take the literature review, for example—an essential segment that contextualizes the research by analyzing existing scholarship. Then there's the myriad of ancillary elements like the title page, acknowledgments, abstract, and appendix, each adding to the dissertation's page count.

It’s the accumulation of these parts that determines the length. So, while the answer may not be a precise number, it's crucial to acknowledge many elements that make up a doctoral dissertation. And for those embarking on this scholarly journey, we can help you conquer this challenge.

How Long is a Dissertation Chapter? Uncover the Mystery

When it comes to dissertation length, most grad students fret over how long each chapter should be. While there's no one-size-fits-all answer, there is a golden rule–chapters should be long enough to address the research question comprehensively. 

Think quality over quantity! Ask any dissertation adviser, and they’ll say aiming to fill a predetermined number of pages shouldn’t be the goal. Rather, you must thoroughly explore your topic, conduct extensive research, and present your findings effectively. 

Your writing style and the unique nature of your research also play pivotal roles. So, whether your chapter spans 50 pages or 150, ensure it's packed with substantive content that advances your study. Ultimately, it's not about hitting a page count but about delivering a high-quality scholarly contribution.

Writing an Excellent PhD Dissertation: Strategies and Tips

After you’re done pondering on how many pages should a dissertation be, you can move on with production. Wondering how to write a dissertation , here are some tips: 

  • Start with a significant research topic that inspires you and formulate a clear research question. 
  • Thoroughly review existing literature to contextualize your study. 
  • Develop a robust methodology and collect comprehensive data. 
  • Analyze findings meticulously and synthesize them effectively. 
  • Ensure logical flow throughout your writing, striving for clarity and coherence. 
  • Engage with other scholars, both peers and mentors, to refine your work.
  • Maintain consistency in formatting and adhere to academic standards. 

Remember, with meticulous planning and dedication, you'll produce a dissertation that makes you and your mentors proud. 

How long is a PhD dissertation?: The Conundrum

Do you belong to the list of students who feel bewildered about PhD dissertation length? Many wonder because of the length’s variability across disciplines and institutions. The general ballpark figure for a completed doctoral dissertation is typically between 150 to 300 pages. Yet, this can vary widely depending on factors such as: 

  • field of study
  • research methodology used
  • individual institutional requirements
  • guidelines of mentors

Although there's no one-size-fits-all answer, understanding these variables can help you navigate the ambiguity surrounding dissertation length. And with proper planning, you can create an impressive output. 

Frequently asked questions

How to properly plan and prepare for a long dissertation .

Thinking about how long is a dissertation for PhD stops students on their track. It can indeed be overwhelming when you think of the amount of work involved. But with proper planning, you can crush your goals. Here are some helpful tips: 

  • Break down your work into manageable steps. 
  • Define your research question clearly and set realistic milestones. 
  • Create an outline to help you write. `
  • Have a schedule for research, writing, and revisions. 
  • Stay organized with notes, citations, and references. 
  • Seek feedback from advisors and peers throughout the process. 

Remember, embrace the challenges you face as opportunities for growth!

Are supporting materials counted in the dissertation word count? 

Worried about how long is a dissertation paper and if yours will make the cut? Remember, appendices, tables, and figures, while essential, aren't factored into the word count. So, you can incorporate these supplementary elements without concerns about exceeding word limits.

If you’re pressed for time, you can buy dissertation online . Just ensure to give appropriate instructions so the final output adheres to your institution's formatting guidelines. With these supporting materials appropriately included, your dissertation will be comprehensive.

Are there different types of dissertations? 

When asking how long are dissertations, one of the first things to consider is the field of study. Various types of dissertations exist, often shaped by research methodology. It can be quantitative to qualitative studies or triangulation (a blend of both). 

Instead of worrying about the length, determine your research approach—whether it's primary or secondary, qualitative or quantitative. This decision significantly impacts the depth and breadth of your investigation, ultimately influencing the expected length of your dissertation. By aligning your research methods with your academic goals, you'll gain clarity on the scope of your writing project. 

Another aspect of the length of the entire document is the type of thesis - be it an undergraduate thesis, masters thesis, or thesis for an advanced degree, most dissertations for academic programs are lengthy. The more advanced the degree, the longer the thesis usually is.

Are dissertations just for PhDs? 

How many pages in a dissertation is something most students worry about. But is a dissertation just for doctoral candidates? In some countries, dissertations are exclusive to PhDs. However, for other countries, the term “dissertation” is interchangeable with "thesis." Why so?

Because both are research projects completed for undergraduate or postgraduate degrees. Keep in mind that whether you’re pursuing a bachelor's, an MA, or a doctorate, dissertation writing demonstrates your research skills and academic proficiency.

Your doctoral degree, just like your graduate degree from a graduate school, shows you can successfully navigate the research process, theoretical framework, and dissertation defense. Sure, the scope of research was less focused while you were a graduate student with a master's thesis. Nonetheless, it shows consistent work and dedication.

How many chapters in a dissertation? 

Still mulling over how long does a dissertation have to be and how many chapters you must write? Dissertations usually consist of five to seven chapters. These typically cover the following: 

  • introduction
  • literature review
  • methodology

However, the structure can vary depending on your field of study and specific institutional guidelines. Each chapter plays a vital role, leading readers through your research journey, from laying the groundwork to presenting findings and drawing conclusions.

How do I find a reputable dissertation writer to help me? 

Worried about how long are PhD dissertations? No need to worry. You can opt for professional help, and there’s no shame in that! Research for online platforms that specialize in academic writing services like our Studyfy team.

You can take a peek at our positive reviews and testimonials, showing our track record of delivering high-quality work. Choose a writer who possesses expertise in your field of study and can meet your specific requirements. Prioritize the following: 

  • clear communication 
  • appropriate instructions (from word count to deadlines)
  • transparency regarding pricing
  • upfront about revision policies. 

By vetting potential writers and choosing a reputable service, you can secure the assistance of a reliable professional to guide you through the dissertation writing process.

Grad Coach

Dissertation Structure & Layout 101: How to structure your dissertation, thesis or research project.

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) Reviewed By: David Phair (PhD) | July 2019

So, you’ve got a decent understanding of what a dissertation is , you’ve chosen your topic and hopefully you’ve received approval for your research proposal . Awesome! Now its time to start the actual dissertation or thesis writing journey.

To craft a high-quality document, the very first thing you need to understand is dissertation structure . In this post, we’ll walk you through the generic dissertation structure and layout, step by step. We’ll start with the big picture, and then zoom into each chapter to briefly discuss the core contents. If you’re just starting out on your research journey, you should start with this post, which covers the big-picture process of how to write a dissertation or thesis .

Dissertation structure and layout - the basics

*The Caveat *

In this post, we’ll be discussing a traditional dissertation/thesis structure and layout, which is generally used for social science research across universities, whether in the US, UK, Europe or Australia. However, some universities may have small variations on this structure (extra chapters, merged chapters, slightly different ordering, etc).

So, always check with your university if they have a prescribed structure or layout that they expect you to work with. If not, it’s safe to assume the structure we’ll discuss here is suitable. And even if they do have a prescribed structure, you’ll still get value from this post as we’ll explain the core contents of each section.  

Overview: S tructuring a dissertation or thesis

  • Acknowledgements page
  • Abstract (or executive summary)
  • Table of contents , list of figures and tables
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: Literature review
  • Chapter 3: Methodology
  • Chapter 4: Results
  • Chapter 5: Discussion
  • Chapter 6: Conclusion
  • Reference list

As I mentioned, some universities will have slight variations on this structure. For example, they want an additional “personal reflection chapter”, or they might prefer the results and discussion chapter to be merged into one. Regardless, the overarching flow will always be the same, as this flow reflects the research process , which we discussed here – i.e.:

  • The introduction chapter presents the core research question and aims .
  • The literature review chapter assesses what the current research says about this question.
  • The methodology, results and discussion chapters go about undertaking new research about this question.
  • The conclusion chapter (attempts to) answer the core research question .

In other words, the dissertation structure and layout reflect the research process of asking a well-defined question(s), investigating, and then answering the question – see below.

A dissertation's structure reflect the research process

To restate that – the structure and layout of a dissertation reflect the flow of the overall research process . This is essential to understand, as each chapter will make a lot more sense if you “get” this concept. If you’re not familiar with the research process, read this post before going further.

Right. Now that we’ve covered the big picture, let’s dive a little deeper into the details of each section and chapter. Oh and by the way, you can also grab our free dissertation/thesis template here to help speed things up.

The title page of your dissertation is the very first impression the marker will get of your work, so it pays to invest some time thinking about your title. But what makes for a good title? A strong title needs to be 3 things:

  • Succinct (not overly lengthy or verbose)
  • Specific (not vague or ambiguous)
  • Representative of the research you’re undertaking (clearly linked to your research questions)

Typically, a good title includes mention of the following:

  • The broader area of the research (i.e. the overarching topic)
  • The specific focus of your research (i.e. your specific context)
  • Indication of research design (e.g. quantitative , qualitative , or  mixed methods ).

For example:

A quantitative investigation [research design] into the antecedents of organisational trust [broader area] in the UK retail forex trading market [specific context/area of focus].

Again, some universities may have specific requirements regarding the format and structure of the title, so it’s worth double-checking expectations with your institution (if there’s no mention in the brief or study material).

Dissertations stacked up

Acknowledgements

This page provides you with an opportunity to say thank you to those who helped you along your research journey. Generally, it’s optional (and won’t count towards your marks), but it is academic best practice to include this.

So, who do you say thanks to? Well, there’s no prescribed requirements, but it’s common to mention the following people:

  • Your dissertation supervisor or committee.
  • Any professors, lecturers or academics that helped you understand the topic or methodologies.
  • Any tutors, mentors or advisors.
  • Your family and friends, especially spouse (for adult learners studying part-time).

There’s no need for lengthy rambling. Just state who you’re thankful to and for what (e.g. thank you to my supervisor, John Doe, for his endless patience and attentiveness) – be sincere. In terms of length, you should keep this to a page or less.

Abstract or executive summary

The dissertation abstract (or executive summary for some degrees) serves to provide the first-time reader (and marker or moderator) with a big-picture view of your research project. It should give them an understanding of the key insights and findings from the research, without them needing to read the rest of the report – in other words, it should be able to stand alone .

For it to stand alone, your abstract should cover the following key points (at a minimum):

  • Your research questions and aims – what key question(s) did your research aim to answer?
  • Your methodology – how did you go about investigating the topic and finding answers to your research question(s)?
  • Your findings – following your own research, what did do you discover?
  • Your conclusions – based on your findings, what conclusions did you draw? What answers did you find to your research question(s)?

So, in much the same way the dissertation structure mimics the research process, your abstract or executive summary should reflect the research process, from the initial stage of asking the original question to the final stage of answering that question.

In practical terms, it’s a good idea to write this section up last , once all your core chapters are complete. Otherwise, you’ll end up writing and rewriting this section multiple times (just wasting time). For a step by step guide on how to write a strong executive summary, check out this post .

Need a helping hand?

how long is an undergraduate dissertation

Table of contents

This section is straightforward. You’ll typically present your table of contents (TOC) first, followed by the two lists – figures and tables. I recommend that you use Microsoft Word’s automatic table of contents generator to generate your TOC. If you’re not familiar with this functionality, the video below explains it simply:

If you find that your table of contents is overly lengthy, consider removing one level of depth. Oftentimes, this can be done without detracting from the usefulness of the TOC.

Right, now that the “admin” sections are out of the way, its time to move on to your core chapters. These chapters are the heart of your dissertation and are where you’ll earn the marks. The first chapter is the introduction chapter – as you would expect, this is the time to introduce your research…

It’s important to understand that even though you’ve provided an overview of your research in your abstract, your introduction needs to be written as if the reader has not read that (remember, the abstract is essentially a standalone document). So, your introduction chapter needs to start from the very beginning, and should address the following questions:

  • What will you be investigating (in plain-language, big picture-level)?
  • Why is that worth investigating? How is it important to academia or business? How is it sufficiently original?
  • What are your research aims and research question(s)? Note that the research questions can sometimes be presented at the end of the literature review (next chapter).
  • What is the scope of your study? In other words, what will and won’t you cover ?
  • How will you approach your research? In other words, what methodology will you adopt?
  • How will you structure your dissertation? What are the core chapters and what will you do in each of them?

These are just the bare basic requirements for your intro chapter. Some universities will want additional bells and whistles in the intro chapter, so be sure to carefully read your brief or consult your research supervisor.

If done right, your introduction chapter will set a clear direction for the rest of your dissertation. Specifically, it will make it clear to the reader (and marker) exactly what you’ll be investigating, why that’s important, and how you’ll be going about the investigation. Conversely, if your introduction chapter leaves a first-time reader wondering what exactly you’ll be researching, you’ve still got some work to do.

Now that you’ve set a clear direction with your introduction chapter, the next step is the literature review . In this section, you will analyse the existing research (typically academic journal articles and high-quality industry publications), with a view to understanding the following questions:

  • What does the literature currently say about the topic you’re investigating?
  • Is the literature lacking or well established? Is it divided or in disagreement?
  • How does your research fit into the bigger picture?
  • How does your research contribute something original?
  • How does the methodology of previous studies help you develop your own?

Depending on the nature of your study, you may also present a conceptual framework towards the end of your literature review, which you will then test in your actual research.

Again, some universities will want you to focus on some of these areas more than others, some will have additional or fewer requirements, and so on. Therefore, as always, its important to review your brief and/or discuss with your supervisor, so that you know exactly what’s expected of your literature review chapter.

Dissertation writing

Now that you’ve investigated the current state of knowledge in your literature review chapter and are familiar with the existing key theories, models and frameworks, its time to design your own research. Enter the methodology chapter – the most “science-ey” of the chapters…

In this chapter, you need to address two critical questions:

  • Exactly HOW will you carry out your research (i.e. what is your intended research design)?
  • Exactly WHY have you chosen to do things this way (i.e. how do you justify your design)?

Remember, the dissertation part of your degree is first and foremost about developing and demonstrating research skills . Therefore, the markers want to see that you know which methods to use, can clearly articulate why you’ve chosen then, and know how to deploy them effectively.

Importantly, this chapter requires detail – don’t hold back on the specifics. State exactly what you’ll be doing, with who, when, for how long, etc. Moreover, for every design choice you make, make sure you justify it.

In practice, you will likely end up coming back to this chapter once you’ve undertaken all your data collection and analysis, and revise it based on changes you made during the analysis phase. This is perfectly fine. Its natural for you to add an additional analysis technique, scrap an old one, etc based on where your data lead you. Of course, I’m talking about small changes here – not a fundamental switch from qualitative to quantitative, which will likely send your supervisor in a spin!

You’ve now collected your data and undertaken your analysis, whether qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods. In this chapter, you’ll present the raw results of your analysis . For example, in the case of a quant study, you’ll present the demographic data, descriptive statistics, inferential statistics , etc.

Typically, Chapter 4 is simply a presentation and description of the data, not a discussion of the meaning of the data. In other words, it’s descriptive, rather than analytical – the meaning is discussed in Chapter 5. However, some universities will want you to combine chapters 4 and 5, so that you both present and interpret the meaning of the data at the same time. Check with your institution what their preference is.

Now that you’ve presented the data analysis results, its time to interpret and analyse them. In other words, its time to discuss what they mean, especially in relation to your research question(s).

What you discuss here will depend largely on your chosen methodology. For example, if you’ve gone the quantitative route, you might discuss the relationships between variables . If you’ve gone the qualitative route, you might discuss key themes and the meanings thereof. It all depends on what your research design choices were.

Most importantly, you need to discuss your results in relation to your research questions and aims, as well as the existing literature. What do the results tell you about your research questions? Are they aligned with the existing research or at odds? If so, why might this be? Dig deep into your findings and explain what the findings suggest, in plain English.

The final chapter – you’ve made it! Now that you’ve discussed your interpretation of the results, its time to bring it back to the beginning with the conclusion chapter . In other words, its time to (attempt to) answer your original research question s (from way back in chapter 1). Clearly state what your conclusions are in terms of your research questions. This might feel a bit repetitive, as you would have touched on this in the previous chapter, but its important to bring the discussion full circle and explicitly state your answer(s) to the research question(s).

Dissertation and thesis prep

Next, you’ll typically discuss the implications of your findings . In other words, you’ve answered your research questions – but what does this mean for the real world (or even for academia)? What should now be done differently, given the new insight you’ve generated?

Lastly, you should discuss the limitations of your research, as well as what this means for future research in the area. No study is perfect, especially not a Masters-level. Discuss the shortcomings of your research. Perhaps your methodology was limited, perhaps your sample size was small or not representative, etc, etc. Don’t be afraid to critique your work – the markers want to see that you can identify the limitations of your work. This is a strength, not a weakness. Be brutal!

This marks the end of your core chapters – woohoo! From here on out, it’s pretty smooth sailing.

The reference list is straightforward. It should contain a list of all resources cited in your dissertation, in the required format, e.g. APA , Harvard, etc.

It’s essential that you use reference management software for your dissertation. Do NOT try handle your referencing manually – its far too error prone. On a reference list of multiple pages, you’re going to make mistake. To this end, I suggest considering either Mendeley or Zotero. Both are free and provide a very straightforward interface to ensure that your referencing is 100% on point. I’ve included a simple how-to video for the Mendeley software (my personal favourite) below:

Some universities may ask you to include a bibliography, as opposed to a reference list. These two things are not the same . A bibliography is similar to a reference list, except that it also includes resources which informed your thinking but were not directly cited in your dissertation. So, double-check your brief and make sure you use the right one.

The very last piece of the puzzle is the appendix or set of appendices. This is where you’ll include any supporting data and evidence. Importantly, supporting is the keyword here.

Your appendices should provide additional “nice to know”, depth-adding information, which is not critical to the core analysis. Appendices should not be used as a way to cut down word count (see this post which covers how to reduce word count ). In other words, don’t place content that is critical to the core analysis here, just to save word count. You will not earn marks on any content in the appendices, so don’t try to play the system!

Time to recap…

And there you have it – the traditional dissertation structure and layout, from A-Z. To recap, the core structure for a dissertation or thesis is (typically) as follows:

  • Acknowledgments page

Most importantly, the core chapters should reflect the research process (asking, investigating and answering your research question). Moreover, the research question(s) should form the golden thread throughout your dissertation structure. Everything should revolve around the research questions, and as you’ve seen, they should form both the start point (i.e. introduction chapter) and the endpoint (i.e. conclusion chapter).

I hope this post has provided you with clarity about the traditional dissertation/thesis structure and layout. If you have any questions or comments, please leave a comment below, or feel free to get in touch with us. Also, be sure to check out the rest of the  Grad Coach Blog .

how long is an undergraduate dissertation

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This post was based on one of our popular Research Bootcamps . If you're working on a research project, you'll definitely want to check this out ...

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The acknowledgements section of a thesis/dissertation

36 Comments

ARUN kumar SHARMA

many thanks i found it very useful

Derek Jansen

Glad to hear that, Arun. Good luck writing your dissertation.

Sue

Such clear practical logical advice. I very much needed to read this to keep me focused in stead of fretting.. Perfect now ready to start my research!

hayder

what about scientific fields like computer or engineering thesis what is the difference in the structure? thank you very much

Tim

Thanks so much this helped me a lot!

Ade Adeniyi

Very helpful and accessible. What I like most is how practical the advice is along with helpful tools/ links.

Thanks Ade!

Aswathi

Thank you so much sir.. It was really helpful..

You’re welcome!

Jp Raimundo

Hi! How many words maximum should contain the abstract?

Karmelia Renatee

Thank you so much 😊 Find this at the right moment

You’re most welcome. Good luck with your dissertation.

moha

best ever benefit i got on right time thank you

Krishnan iyer

Many times Clarity and vision of destination of dissertation is what makes the difference between good ,average and great researchers the same way a great automobile driver is fast with clarity of address and Clear weather conditions .

I guess Great researcher = great ideas + knowledge + great and fast data collection and modeling + great writing + high clarity on all these

You have given immense clarity from start to end.

Alwyn Malan

Morning. Where will I write the definitions of what I’m referring to in my report?

Rose

Thank you so much Derek, I was almost lost! Thanks a tonnnn! Have a great day!

yemi Amos

Thanks ! so concise and valuable

Kgomotso Siwelane

This was very helpful. Clear and concise. I know exactly what to do now.

dauda sesay

Thank you for allowing me to go through briefly. I hope to find time to continue.

Patrick Mwathi

Really useful to me. Thanks a thousand times

Adao Bundi

Very interesting! It will definitely set me and many more for success. highly recommended.

SAIKUMAR NALUMASU

Thank you soo much sir, for the opportunity to express my skills

mwepu Ilunga

Usefull, thanks a lot. Really clear

Rami

Very nice and easy to understand. Thank you .

Chrisogonas Odhiambo

That was incredibly useful. Thanks Grad Coach Crew!

Luke

My stress level just dropped at least 15 points after watching this. Just starting my thesis for my grad program and I feel a lot more capable now! Thanks for such a clear and helpful video, Emma and the GradCoach team!

Judy

Do we need to mention the number of words the dissertation contains in the main document?

It depends on your university’s requirements, so it would be best to check with them 🙂

Christine

Such a helpful post to help me get started with structuring my masters dissertation, thank you!

Simon Le

Great video; I appreciate that helpful information

Brhane Kidane

It is so necessary or avital course

johnson

This blog is very informative for my research. Thank you

avc

Doctoral students are required to fill out the National Research Council’s Survey of Earned Doctorates

Emmanuel Manjolo

wow this is an amazing gain in my life

Paul I Thoronka

This is so good

Tesfay haftu

How can i arrange my specific objectives in my dissertation?

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Academia Insider

How long is a Thesis or dissertation? [the data]

Writing a thesis for your undergraduate, master’s, or PhD can be a very daunting task. Especially when you consider how long a thesis can get. However, not all theses are the same length and the expected submission length is dependent on the level of study that you are currently enrolled in and the field in which you are studying.

An undergraduate thesis is likely to be about 20 to 50 pages long. A Master’s thesis is likely to be between 30 and 100 pages in length and a PhD dissertation is likely to be between 50 and 450 pages long.

In the table below I highlight the typical length of an undergraduate, master’s, and PhD.

It is important to note that this is highly dependent on the field of study and the expectations of your university, field, and research group.

If you want to know more about how long a Masters’s thesis and PhD dissertation is you can check out my other articles:

  • How Long is a Masters Thesis? [Your writing guide]
  • How long is a PhD dissertation? [Data by field]
  • How to write a masters thesis in 2 months [Easy steps to start writing]

These articles go into a lot more detail and specifics of each level of study.

Let’s take a more detailed look at the length of a thesis or dissertation. We’ll start from the very basics including what a thesis or dissertation really is.

What exactly is a thesis or a dissertation?

A thesis or a dissertation is a research project that is typically required of students in order to gain an advanced degree.

A dissertation is usually much longer and more detailed than a thesis, but they both involve extensive research and provide an in-depth analysis of their given subject.

Many people use the term interchangeably but quite often a Masters level research project results in a thesis. While a PhD research project results in a much longer dissertation.

Thesis work is usually completed over the course of several months and can require multiple drafts and revisions before being accepted. These will be looked over by your supervisor to ensure that you are meeting the expectations and standards of your research field.

PhD Dissertations are typically even more involved, taking years to complete. My PhD took me three years to complete but it is usual for them to take more than five years.

Both a thesis and a dissertation involve researching a particular topic, formulating an argument based on evidence gathered from the research, and presenting the findings in written form for review by peers or faculty members.

My Master’s thesis was reviewed by the chemistry Department whilst my PhD thesis was sent to experts in the field around the world.

Ultimately, these experts provide a commentary on whether or not you have reached the standards required of the University for admittance into the degree and the final decision will be made upon reviewing these comments by your universities graduation committee.

There are several outcomes including:

  • accepted without changes – this is where you must make no changes to your thesis and is accepted as is.
  • accepted with minor changes this is where your thesis will require some minor changes before being admitted to the degree. Usually, it is not sent back to the reviewers.
  • Major changes – this is where the committee has decided that you need to rework a number of major themes in your thesis and will likely want to see it at a later stage.
  • Rejected – this is where the thesis is rejected and the recommendation to downgrade your degree is made.

What is the typical length of a thesis or dissertation?

The length of a thesis or dissertation varies significantly according to the field of study and institution.

Generally, an undergraduate thesis is between 20-50 pages long while a PhD dissertation can range from 90-500 pages in length.

However, longer is not necessarily better as a highly mathematical PhD thesis with proofs may only be 50 pages long.

It also depends on the complexity of the topic being studied and the amount of research required to complete it.

A PhD dissertation should contain as many pages and words as it takes to outline the current state of your field and provide adequate background information, present your results, and provide confidence in your conclusions. A PhD dissertation will also contain figures, graphs, schematics, and other large pictorial items that can easily inflate the page count.

Here is a boxplot summary of many different fields of study and the number of pages of a typical PhD dissertation in the field.  It has been created by Marcus Beck  from all of the dissertations at the University of Minnesota.

how long is an undergraduate dissertation

Typically, the mathematical sciences, economics, and biostatistics theses and dissertations tend to be shorter because they rely on mathematical formulas to provide proof of their results rather than diagrams and long explanations.

On the other end of the scale, English, communication studies, political science, history and anthropology are often the largest theses in terms of pages and word count because of the number of words it takes to provide proof and depth of their results.

At the end of the day, it is important that your thesis gets signed off by your review committee and other experts in the field. Your supervisor will be the main judge of whether or not your dissertation is capable of satisfying the requirements of a master’s or doctoral degree in your field. 

How Many Pages Should a Master or PhD Thesis Have? Length of a thesis?

The length of a master’s thesis can vary greatly depending on the subject and format.

Generally, a masters thesis is expected to be around 100 pages long and should include:

  • a title page,
  • table of contents,
  • introduction,
  • literature review, 
  • main test and body of work, 
  • discussions and citations,
  • conclusion,
  • bibliography
  • and (sometimes) appendix.

Your supervisor should provide you with a specific format that you are expected to follow.

Depending on your field of study and the word count specified by your supervisor, these guidelines may change. The student must ask their advisor for examples of past student thesis and doctoral dissertations. 

For example, if there is a limited number of words allowed in the thesis then it may not be possible to have 100 pages or more for the thesis.

Additionally, if you are including a lot of technical information such as diagrams or tables in the appendix then this could increase the page count as well. For example, my PhD thesis contained a page like the one below. This page only contains images from atomic force microscopy. Because my PhD was very visual many pages like this exist.

how long is an undergraduate dissertation

Ultimately it is important to consult with your supervisor and determine how many pages your master’s thesis or PhD dissertation will be expected to have.

How long does it take to write a graduate thesis? Write your thesis quickly

Writing a graduate thesis can be a daunting task.

It is typically expected to take anywhere from one to three years, depending on the subject and scope of the project.

However, this is not just writing. A typical thesis or dissertation will require you to:

  • formulate a research question
  • do a literature review
  • create research methodology
  • perform original research
  • collect and analyse results
  • write peer-reviewed research papers
  • write a PhD/masters thesis
  • submit thesis and respond to examiners comments.

The actual writing component of a thesis or dissertation can take anywhere from one month to 6 months depending on how focused the graduate student is.

The amount of time it takes to write a thesis or dissertation can vary based on many factors, such as the type of research required, the length of the project, and other commitments that may interfere with progress.

Some students may have difficulty focusing or understanding their topic which can also add to the amount of time it takes to complete the project.

Regardless, writing a thesis is an important part of obtaining a graduate degree and should not be taken lightly.

It requires dedication and determination in order for one to successfully complete a thesis or dissertation within an appropriate timeframe.

In my YouTube video, below, I talk about how to finish your thesis or dissertation quickly:

it is full of a load of secrets including owning your day, managing your supervisor relationship, setting many goals, progress over perfection, and working with your own body clock to maximise productivity.

Wrapping up

This article has been through everything you need to know about the typical length of a thesis.

The answer to this question is highly dependent on your field of study and the expectations of your supervisor and university.

how long is an undergraduate dissertation

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.

Thank you for visiting Academia Insider.

We are here to help you navigate Academia as painlessly as possible. We are supported by our readers and by visiting you are helping us earn a small amount through ads and affiliate revenue - Thank you!

how long is an undergraduate dissertation

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how long is an undergraduate dissertation

University of York Library

  • Subject Guides

Academic writing: a practical guide

Dissertations.

  • Academic writing
  • The writing process
  • Academic writing style
  • Structure & cohesion
  • Criticality in academic writing
  • Working with evidence
  • Referencing
  • Assessment & feedback
  • Reflective writing
  • Examination writing
  • Academic posters
  • Feedback on Structure and Organisation
  • Feedback on Argument, Analysis, and Critical Thinking
  • Feedback on Writing Style and Clarity
  • Feedback on Referencing and Research
  • Feedback on Presentation and Proofreading

Dissertations are a part of many degree programmes, completed in the final year of undergraduate studies or the final months of a taught masters-level degree. 

Introduction to dissertations

What is a dissertation.

A dissertation is usually a long-term project to produce a long-form piece of writing; think of it a little like an extended, structured assignment. In some subjects (typically the sciences), it might be called a project instead.

Work on an undergraduate dissertation is often spread out over the final year. For a masters dissertation, you'll start thinking about it early in your course and work on it throughout the year.

You might carry out your own original research, or base your dissertation on existing research literature or data sources - there are many possibilities.

Female student working on laptop

What's different about a dissertation?

The main thing that sets a dissertation apart from your previous work is that it's an almost entirely independent project. You'll have some support from a supervisor, but you will spend a lot more time working on your own.

You'll also be working on your own topic that's different to your coursemate; you'll all produce a dissertation, but on different topics and, potentially, in very different ways.

Dissertations are also longer than a regular assignment, both in word count and the time that they take to complete. You'll usually have  most of an academic year to work on one, and be required to produce thousands of words; that might seem like a lot, but both time and word count will disappear very quickly once you get started! 

Find out more:

Google Doc

Key dissertation tools

Digital tools.

There are lots of tools, software and apps that can help you get through the dissertation process. Before you start, make sure you collect the key tools ready to:

  • use your time efficiently
  • organise yourself and your materials
  • manage your writing
  • be less stressed

Here's an overview of some useful tools:

Digital tools for your dissertation [Google Slides]

Setting up your document

Formatting and how you set up your document is also very important for a long piece of work like a dissertation, research project or thesis. Find tips and advice on our text processing guide:

Create & communicate

University of York past Undergraduate and Masters dissertations

If you are a University of York student, you can access a selection of digitised undergraduate dissertations for certain subjects:

  • History  
  • History of Art  
  • Social Policy and Social Work  

The Library also has digitised Masters dissertations for the following subjects:

  • Archaeology
  • Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies  
  • Centre for Medieval Studies  
  • Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies  
  • Centre for Women's Studies  
  • English and Related Literature
  • Health Sciences
  • History of Art
  • Hull York Medical School
  • Language and Linguistic Science
  • School for Business and Society
  • School of Social and Political Sciences ​​​​​​​

Dissertation top tips

Many dissertations are structured into four key sections:

  • introduction & literature review

There are many different types of dissertation, which don't all use this structure, so make sure you check your dissertation guidance. However, elements of these sections are common in all dissertation types.

Dissertations that are an extended literature review do not involve data collection, thus do not have a methods or result section. Instead they have chapters that explore concepts/theories and result in a conclusion section. Check your dissertation module handbook and all information given to see what your dissertation involves. 

Introduction & literature review

The Introduction and Literature Review give the context for your dissertation:

  • What topic did you investigate?
  • What do we already know about this topic?
  • What are your research questions and hypotheses?

Sometimes these are two separate sections, and sometimes the Literature Review is integrated into the Introduction. Check your guidelines to find out what you need to do.

Literature Review Top Tips [YouTube]  |  Literature Review Top Tips transcript [Google Doc]

Google Doc

The Method section tells the reader what you did  and why.

  • Include enough detail so that someone else could replicate your study.
  • Visual elements can help present your method clearly. For example, summarise participant demographic data in a table or visualise the procedure in a diagram. 
  • Show critical analysis by justifying your choices. For example, why is your test/questionnaire/equipment appropriate for this study?
  • If your study requires ethical approval, include these details in this section.

Methodology Top Tips [YouTube]  |  Methodology Top Tips transcript [Google Doc]

More resources to help you plan and write the methodology:

how long is an undergraduate dissertation

The Results tells us what you found out . 

It's an objective presentation of your research findings. Don’t explain the results in detail here - you’ll do that in the discussion section.

Results Top Tips [YouTube]  |  Results Top Tips transcript [Google Doc]

Google Docs

The Discussion is where you explain and interpret your results - what do your findings mean?

This section involves a lot of critical analysis. You're not just presenting your findings, but putting them together with findings from other research to build your argument about what the findings mean.

Discussion Top Tips [YouTube]  |  Discussion Top Tips transcript [Google Doc]

Conclusions are a part of many dissertations and/or research projects. Check your module information to see if you are required to write one. Some dissertations/projects have concluding remarks in their discussion section. See the slides below for more information on writing conclusions in dissertations.

Conclusions in dissertations [Google Slides]

The abstract is a short summary of the whole dissertation that goes at the start of the document. It gives an overview of your research and helps readers decide if it’s relevant to their needs.

Even though it appears at the start of the document, write the abstract last. It summarises the whole dissertation, so you need to finish the main body before you can summarise it in the abstract.

Usually the abstract follows a very similar structure to the dissertation, with one or two sentences each to show the aims, methods, key results and conclusions drawn. Some subjects use headings within the abstract. Even if you don’t use these in your final abstract, headings can help you to plan a clear structure.

Abstract Top Tips [YouTube]  |  Abstract Top Tips transcript [Google Doc]

Watch all of our Dissertation Top Tips videos in one handy playlist:

Research reports, that are often found in science subjects, follow the same structure, so the tips in this tutorial also apply to dissertations:

Interactive slides

Other support for dissertation writing

Online resources.

The general writing pages of this site offer guidance that can be applied to all types of writing, including dissertations. Also check your department guidance and VLE sites for tailored resources.

Other useful resources for dissertation writing:

how long is an undergraduate dissertation

Appointments and workshops 

There is a lot of support available in departments for dissertation production, which includes your dissertation supervisor, academic supervisor and, when appropriate, staff teaching in the research methods modules.

You can also access central writing and skills support:

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Library Guides

Dissertations 1: getting started: starting your dissertation.

  • Starting Your Dissertation
  • Choosing A Topic and Researching
  • Devising An Approach/Method
  • Thinking Of A Title
  • Writing A Proposal

What is a Dissertation?

A dissertation is a research project completed as part of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. Typically, a dissertation will enable you to present your findings in response to a question that you propose yourself. It is probably the longest piece of academic work you will produce. At undergraduate level, word count requirements can range anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 words while a Masters level dissertation can be 10,000 to 15,000 words long! 

Why are you required to write a dissertation? 

A dissertation is a core requirement of most university degrees. 

The dissertation will enhance your employability. For instance, you will develop transferable skills in inter-personal communication, data collection and analysis, report writing and effective time-management.  

While it is demanding, writing a dissertation is your chance to explore, in depth, a topic that interests you. Therefore, ensuring you choose a topic you are passionate about will make your experience more rewarding and even enjoyable! 

Supervision Advice

A supervisor will be assigned to you to assist with guidance on how to prepare, produce and improve your dissertation.  

The supervisor’s role is to: 

Assist in the organisation of the project in the early stages of preparation 

Advise you on the feasibility of what you plan to do 

Advise on methods and ethics of your research  

The supervisor is not expected to: 

Proofread your work 

Provide you with a topic or research question 

Direct the research  

Ensure that a dissertation is of sufficient quality to pass: this is your responsibility 

To get the best out of your time with your supervisor, you should: 

Check formal requirements early 

Check arrangements for supervisions and how your supervisor likes to work 

Organise regular supervision meetings and prepare work for each one 

Let your supervisor know how you work best 

Using Dissertation Marking Criteria

Your dissertation, like your previous assessments, will be marked against a set of assessment criteria which is published in your module or course handbook and posted on Blackboard.  

Assessment criteria are intended to: 

Ensure you meet the learning outcomes. 

Help you understand how your work is assessed. 

Allow tutors to focus their feedback. They will let you know what you are doing well and what needs improvement. 

Dissertation assessment criteria usually specifies what the tutor expects in terms of: 

Clarity: have you expressed your ideas clearly? 

Relevance: does your work fit into/fill a gap in existing research/literature on similar topics? 

Originality: does it offer a fresh perspective on a topic? 

Meeting course requirements: does it meet the word count / deadlines, for example? 

Before starting your dissertation, it is essential that you check what is expected of you and how your work will be graded. It is also useful to regularly check what you have written every few weeks and after you have finished to see if you are on track to meet the assessment criteria.  

First Steps

Ready to get started but uncertain how to begin? These are normally the first steps of dissertation writing:  

Choose a topic 

Conduct a literature search 

Devise research question(s) / hypotheses 

Devise your approach (e.g. if undertaking primary research, you will need to devise your methodology, methods, etc.) 

Think of a title 

Plan your time 

Write a proposal (if requested)

These steps are addressed in the tabs of this guide.

  • Next: Choosing A Topic and Researching >>
  • Last Updated: Aug 1, 2023 2:36 PM
  • URL: https://libguides.westminster.ac.uk/starting-your-dissertation

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What is an Undergraduate Dissertation?

While most discussions of ‘dissertations’ focus on postgraduate study, undergraduate students also frequently complete undergraduate dissertations as one part of their overall degree. This article will provide an overview of the undergraduate dissertation and its standard requirements at UK universities.

What is a Bachelor’s or Undergraduate Dissertation?

An undergraduate dissertation (or Bachelors dissertation) is essentially an extended piece of research and writing on a single subject. It is typically completed in the final year of a degree programme and the topic is chosen based on a student’s own area of interest. It allows the student to explore a narrow topic in greater depth than a traditional module. The student works with a single supervisor chosen from their departmental faculty, and this individual provides guidance and support throughout the course of the research.

How does Undergraduate Dissertation differ from Postgraduate Dissertation?

The bachelor’s dissertation varies significantly from postgraduate dissertations. First, it is considerably shorter in length, averaging only 10,000 – 15,000 words. While this is much shorter than a Masters or PhD dissertation, it is much longer than any other piece of writing required in undergraduate programmes.

Secondly, the undergraduate dissertation is not required to contain the same level of originality as postgraduate work. Students are still expected to complete the work independently and cite all sources, but they do not need to present any new ideas. It is sufficient to conduct thorough, sustained research and present a critical discussion of a relatively narrow research topic. It is not necessary to discuss the philosophical context of the research or to design a distinct methodology. However, it is important to note that the best bachelor’s dissertations demonstrate genuine critical thinking skills and an ability to combine information derived from many different sources.

Finally, the undergraduate dissertation also varies in the type of research conducted, which will be more focused on texts and documents rather than active field research. For the most part students will examine secondary sources or easily accessible primary sources, and they will not be required to pursue obscure or costly data sources. In some disciplines a practical element may be incorporated into the dissertation, but this is usually performed with less independence than would be expected at the postgraduate level.

Undergraduate Dissertation Requirements

  • Topic selection : At the end of the penultimate year of study students will be asked to select an area of research for the dissertation. You should be sure to choose a topic that is likely to hold your interest over a long period of time, as it is difficult and dangerous to change your topic once your research period has begun.
  • Finding a supervisor : Depending on the university, there may be a formal process in place for allocating supervisors or students may simply approach a member of faculty that they are interested in working with. It can be helpful to meet with potential supervisors before registering an intended research area, as they can help you to refine your proposed topic and give you suggestions for specific research questions. Once the formal dissertation period begins you will meet with your supervisor regularly to discuss your progress and refine your study.
  • Early research : Most students begin general reading around their chosen subject area in the summer before the final year. This period is truly key in developing a broad awareness of the subject, and it prepares you for more targeted research once your final year commences.
  • Research outline : Once the undergraduate dissertation module begins (usually at the start of year 3) you will be asked to draft a brief dissertation outline of about 2-3 pages in length. This should include a summary of  chapters  and a full bibliography. By now you should have decided upon a narrower aspect of your topic, and this should be formulated into a research title with the help of your supervisor.
  • Refined research and writing : At this stage, your research will be much more targeted, in order to pursue your proposed dissertation agenda. You should also begin writing as soon as possible. Most departments require students to submit a substantial piece of writing (3,000-5,000 words) by the end of the first term. Remember that you should submit at least one draft to your supervisor before this deadline, in order to give you time to make necessary revisions.
  • Final dissertation : When you’ve completed the writing process you should have roughly three or four chapters, as well as an Introduction and Conclusion. It must all be formatted according to university guidelines, and you must be certain to properly cite all if your sources.
  • Binding and submission : Unlike undergraduate essays, the undergraduate dissertation must be professionally bound before being submitted. This is usually done on campus but you need to allow enough time for the process before your submission deadline. The final due date is usually at the end of the second term of the student’s final year.

The marking system for undergraduate dissertations is the same that is used for all other aspects of the undergraduate degree. Students must generally achieve a minimum mark of 40 to pass, but most will aspire to higher marks than this. Marks of 60-69 earn a classification of 2:1 or B; Marks over 70 earn a First classification or A.

The dissertation is marked as a stand-alone module and it is combined with other module marks to determine the overall degree classification. There is no standard rule for UK universities regarding the weight of the dissertation mark when calculating the degree average, so it’s best to check with your university to understand their individual regulations.

For many students, the undergraduate dissertation provides their first taste of prolonged independent research. This can be a daunting experience but it is helpful to remember that your departmental supervisor can be called upon frequently for advice and support. If you work at a consistent and dedicated pace you will have no problem completing the dissertation on time. You will also develop important research skills that can prepare you for postgraduate study.

Bryan Greetham, 2009. How to Write your Undergraduate Dissertation (Palgrave Study Skills). Edition. Palgrave Macmillan.

Manchester Metropolitan University, 2008. Guidance on the Writing of Undergraduate Dissertations. Available: http://www.ioe.mmu.ac.uk/cpd/downloads/UNDERGRAD%20DISSERTATION%20HANDBOOK.pdf. Last accessed 08 Apr 2013.

University of Warwick, 2010. Dissertation Guidelines for Undergraduate Study. Available: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/study/cll/currentstudents/undergraduatemodules/ce302dissertation/dissertation_guidelines_2010.pdf. Last accessed 08 Apr 2013. Nicholas Walliman, 2004. Your Undergraduate Dissertation: The Essential Guide for Success (SAGE Study Skills Series). 1 Edition. SAGE Publications Ltd.

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7 steps to writing a dissertation

While you may be experienced in revising and writing essays, your dissertation requires careful planning, extensive research, and time management to succeed

Your dissertation is a key part of your degree course and a testament to your ability to conduct research, analyse data, and write a clear argument. Dissertations can be challenging, but they are also rewarding experiences that allow you to explore a topic in-depth and make a significant contribution to your field of study.

To achieve your academic goals, it is important to act on feedback, use your supervision time to your advantage, and demonstrate a strong knowledge of your subject. Whether you're writing an undergraduate, Masters , or PhD dissertation, these seven steps can help you stay on track.

1. Choose your topic wisely

Selecting the right topic is the foundation of a successful dissertation. It is important to choose a topic that is:

  • Relevant to your academic discipline and interests. This will ensure that you are passionate about your topic and have the necessary background knowledge to conduct meaningful research.
  • Intriguing and thought-provoking . A well-chosen topic will inspire you to ask interesting questions and develop original insights.
  • Specific enough to allow for in-depth analysis, yet broad enough to provide enough research material. A topic that is too narrow may be difficult to research or produce meaningful findings, while a topic that is too broad may be difficult to cover in the allowed time and word count.

Consider your career goals and what topics are relevant to the field you hope to work in after graduation. It's also important to be open to change, as it's common for students to modify their dissertation topic as they explore the subject more.

Once you have identified a potential topic, seek guidance from your supervisor. They can help you to refine your choice, identify relevant sources, and develop a research plan.

2. Check what's required of you

Read your marking criteria carefully. It is also important to consult the module guidelines and follow the instructions on any additional parts to your main assignment, such as a project plan, literature review or a critical reflection.

Neal Bamford, associate lecturer at London Metropolitan University, reports that his marking process always begins by 'distilling criteria to what students need to provide and how many marks this is worth.'

'Several dissertations I mark don't include a project plan in their submission. This is worth 20% of the overall mark, so students lose out on a significant portion of their grade'.

Before you begin to plan, make sure you understand what's expected of you. Find out:

  • what academic writing looks like in your discipline
  • the word count
  • when and where you must submit your dissertation.

3. Conduct in-depth research

Research at this stage in the process is often referred to as a literature review. This is where you are expected to gather relevant sources, articles, and studies from libraries, and online academic resources to identify the existing research on your topic and to develop your own research questions.

'Form your own opinion and argue for it using research. A history of the topic is always helpful, as it shows that you understand how things got to this point in time,' says Neal.

Be sure to take careful notes on each source and organise them for easy reference. You need to critically evaluate and analyse the sources to ensure their credibility and relevance to your research. This will be helpful when citing your sources in the writing stage.

Don't forget to seek guidance from your advisor throughout the research process. They can provide you with valuable feedback, relevant sources, and support.

4. Develop a strong thesis statement

A well-defined thesis statement is a roadmap for your dissertation. It should concisely state your main argument or research question and provide a clear direction for your paper. Your thesis statement will guide your entire writing process, so take the time to fully understand it before you begin to write.

When writing a thesis statement:

  • Be specific and focused - avoid broad or vague statements.
  • Remember that your thesis needs to be arguable - it should be a statement that can be supported or proved false with evidence.
  • Make sure your thesis is realistic - you need to be able to research and write about it in the allotted time and space.

Once you have a draft of your thesis statement, share it with your supervisor and other trusted peers. They can provide you with feedback and help you to refine your statement.

If your research disproves your original statement, it can be a disappointing experience. However, it is important to remember that this is a normal part of the research process.

'Many of my students believe that if they don't find the answer they're expecting, then their work is worthless,' says Neal.

'This is not the case. You don't have to find the answer to produce valuable research. Documenting your process and conclusions, even if they are inconclusive, can help others to avoid repeating your work and may lead to new approaches.'

5. Proofread and edit

After working on your dissertation for such a long time, it can be tempting to end the process once you have finished writing, but proofreading is an essential step in ensuring that it is polished and error-free.

To help with the proofreading process:

  • Read your dissertation aloud . This can help you to catch errors that you might miss when reading silently.
  • Change your environment to see your work with fresh eyes.
  • Focus on one thing at a time such as grammar, spelling, or punctuation to avoid getting overwhelmed.

To edit your dissertation, begin by reviewing its overall structure and flow. Make sure that your arguments are well-organised and that your ideas are presented in a logical order.

Next, check your grammar, spelling, and punctuation carefully. You can use a grammar checker, but it is important to proofread your work yourself to identify stylistic or subject-specific errors.

'Make sure you understand the reference style your university prefers. Formatting and labelling of images, tables etc. is vitally important and will be marked,' says Neal.

You should also ensure that your dissertation is formatted using the correct font, font size, margins, and line spacing.

6. Seek feedback and finalise

Once you have made your final revisions, seek feedback from your advisor or board members.

To get the most out of your feedback, be specific about what you are looking for. For example, you might ask for feedback on the overall structure and flow of your dissertation, the strength of your arguments, or the clarity of your writing.

Be open to feedback, even if it's negative. Remember that your advisor is there to help you improve your work, so it's important to take the time to understand and implement the feedback you receive.

Once you have addressed all the feedback, you can prepare your final submission. It's important to follow the guidelines carefully before submitting. Be sure to hand in your dissertation on time, as late submissions may be penalised or even rejected.

Online hand in is the most common method of dissertation submission, and you will typically need to upload a PDF file to an online portal. Follow the instructions carefully - you may need to provide additional information, such as your student ID number or the title of your dissertation.

Some institutions still require dissertations to be submitted in hard copy. If this is the case, you will need to submit a bound copy of your dissertation to your department office. You may also need to pay the binding fee.

Be sure to check with your advisor or department office for specific instructions on how to submit your dissertation in hard copy. You may have to submit multiple copies of your dissertation, and you be required to to include a title page, abstract, and table of contents.

Find out more

  • Read our 5 ways to manage student stress .
  • Discover how to write an essay .
  • Consider our 7 time management tips for students .

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How to write a dissertation

  • September 12, 2023

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When you start university, one of the final pieces of work – your dissertation – seems like a long way off. Three years passes more quickly than you think, and before you know it, you’re being told it is time to start work on your dissertation. It can feel incredibly daunting, especially if you aren’t accustomed to writing extended pieces of work. Although it probably won’t feel like an easy task (it is supposed to challenge you!) with the right preparation, you can minimise the amount of stress you encounter, and manage your project with enough time.

We’re not going to focus on how to carry out your research in this post, because there are too many variables between subjects, but rather, looking at how to tackle the writing-up process.

Table of Contents

What is a dissertation.

A dissertation is an independent piece of academic work that reports on research that you have carried out, and is much longer and more in-depth than a regular essay or research project. Word counts for UK dissertations are typically between 8,000 words to 20,000 words, but the length, along with the criteria for the sections that are required depend on the subject of your degree and the university you’re studying with.

In the UK, dissertations are different from theses. Although they are similar in that they are independent works, theses are significantly longer, and tend to refer to research projects for doctoral degrees. Theses are normally made accessible in the university library when the candidate has been awarded their doctorate. Undergraduate dissertations and theses for master’s degrees aren’t routinely available in libraries, but are sometimes made available by faculties. 

Young serious Asian man in checked shirt and glasses reading information on laptop and making notes while sitting at table

How long does a dissertation take to write?

How long your dissertation takes to write will be influenced by the word count, and how long your research takes. However, many professional writers who know their subject (and perhaps don’t require such accuracy) don’t write more than 5,000 words in a day – so don’t assume you can write your dissertation during the week before the deadline! You’ll have a good idea how many words you can write comfortably in a day, so take that figure, divide it and work backwards. If you can do 1000 words (many people work with a much lower number!) and your dissertation is 10,000 words – then you need an absolute minimum of 12 days, since you’ll need time for reading, editing, spotting mistakes, and getting your dissertation bound and handed in. 

Although many people thrive under a certain amount of time pressure, don’t leave getting started to the last minute. Give yourself more time than you think you’ll need for writing each section, and when you have completed a section, move straight on – don’t waste time waiting for the next writing window you have scheduled. You might find that other sections need extra time to complete. 

Don’t forget to leave plenty of time for editing your work – most students need to do a lot of editing – and leave contingency time in case of IT failure, illness, or any other interruptions. 

Why are dissertations so hard?

During dissertation time, university campuses worldwide are full of stressed students. Dissertation projects are massive pieces of work that have to be tackled by yourself, and your degree classification can be dramatically impacted by the mark you receive for your dissertation – which is why many students feel the pressure!

Dissertations present all kinds of problems, here are a few of the best tips we can to prevent you getting too stressed. 

  • Planning ahead is essential – by planning, you’ll be able to manage your time much better, including breaks for eating, relaxing and exercise, which means you can think much more clearly and won’t be as stressed. 
  • Create a plan for your work – knowing what you’re working on and when will keep you on track and ensure you don’t go off on a tangent or get too far behind. 
  • Allow contingency time for emergencies – you don’t know if something will interrupt your writing time. Be sure to leave plenty of time ahead of the deadline to make sure you’re not over-stressed. 
  • Don’t procrastinate – running out of time is one of the biggest problems that students encounter. Pulling a string of all-nighters to meet the deadline won’t result in your best work. 
  • Set up autosave, and back up your work – IT staff aren’t miracle workers – so don’t work for three hours without saving, and be sure to save research in the cloud (in your Google Drive, OneDrive or Dropbox) as well as on your PC. 
  • Do enough research – a dissertation requires much more than finding a few papers and quoting from them. You need to analyse resources in depth, and use the information correctly to support the points you are making.

How do I get started?

Start by attending all the sessions provided by the course team, and read all the information and guidance that are provided by the faculty, since this is where you’ll find out any specific requirements. Before you start writing, make sure you know:

  • The word count (and whether you will be penalised for being too many words over or under) 
  • Any compulsory sections and the structure required
  • The style of writing required
  • What types of sources are permitted
  • The types of methodology you are allowed to use
  • The deadline for submission
  • The requirements for submitting your paper copy for marking, such as formatting and binding 
  • Where, when, and how you submit your dissertation

Once you know these important points, you can start to get into the details and decide on your research topic. 

You can read much more about the different types of roles in these areas here .

By choosing an area that you find interesting and meaningful, you’re more likely to put more effort in, and your enthusiasm will be evident, which is likely to result in a higher mark.

How should i choose my research topic.

Choosing your research topic is possibly the most important part of your dissertation. By choosing an area that you find interesting and meaningful, you’re more likely to put more effort in, and your enthusiasm will be evident, which is likely to result in a higher mark. If you choose an area that is related to your career aims, you’ll be able to mention your work at future job interviews. 

If you don’t feel inspired, check course materials for modules that particularly interested you and head for the library. Academic journals and other publications in the field will contain ideas, and help you to know what is currently of interest in the field. 

You can also work with your dissertation supervisor or personal tutor to narrow the focus of your research topic, discuss the best methods and to ensure your proposal is a realistic study in the time you have to work with.

Do I need to write a dissertation proposal?

Dissertation proposals aren’t mandatory at every university, but where they are, they tend to have a 500 or 1000 word limit. Even if it isn’t a requirement for you, taking the time to put together a dissertation proposal can help you understand how to plan the project. It will help you to define: 

  • The research area that your dissertation will focus on
  • The questions you will examine 
  • Some existing theories that you’ll refer to
  • The research methods you will be using
  • What you expect the outcome will be

woman writing a dissertation

What structure should my dissertation take?

In this next section, we’ll cover the sections that are usually required in a dissertation. Different universities and subjects have different requirements, so check the guidance from your faculty to ensure you have all the sections you need. 

There are usually strict guidelines for formatting your dissertation’s title page, but normally you’ll need to include:  

  • The title of your dissertation
  • The faculty or school you’re studying in 
  • The name of the institution 
  • The degree programme you’re studying
  • Your student number 
  • The name of your supervisor 
  • The university’s logo

If your university requires your dissertation to be printed and bound, your title page is usually your front cover. 

Acknowledgements

This section may not be mandatory, but gives you space to thank people who have supported you through your dissertation. You might mention specific members of the course team, research participants, or simply friends and family.

This is a short summary section that gives readers a brief overview of what is contained in your dissertation. Abstracts are usually less than 300 words, and should include: 

  • The topic and the aim of your research
  • Details of your methods 
  • A short summary of the results 
  • Your conclusions

Since it needs to detail what is contained in your dissertation, abstracts should always be written when you have finished the rest of your dissertation.

Table of contents

Most institutions require dissertations to have page numbers and a list of chapters and subheadings, including any appendices. You can generate this automatically in Word when you have finished writing your dissertation. 

List of assets

If you have included lots of tables, graphs, or images in your dissertation, you may need to include an itemised list. You can generate this automatically using the Insert Caption function in Word.

List of abbreviations/glossary

This optional section may be appropriate if you have included a lot of specialist terms or abbreviations. If you have used both, you may need to include both sections separately.

Introduction

This is where you detail the topic, and explain what the reader can expect. The introduction provides more detail than your abstract, and will help readers to understand:  

  • Your research topic and background information 
  • The focus and extent of the research
  • Current research and discourse around the topic 
  • How the research will contribute to a wider issue or discussion
  • The objectives and research questions
  • Details of how you intend to answer the questions
  • The structure of your dissertation

Keep your introduction succinct, and only include information that is relevant, so the reader can understand what your study is about, why you have chosen the topic, and how you plan to carry out the research. 

Literature review

Your literature review should show a deep understanding of existing academic work. It should be a substantial section, and you’ll need to gather sources, critically evaluate, and analyse the works, and make connections between them. Your literature review may help you to identify: 

  • A gap in the literature 
  • An opportunity to use a new theoretical or methodological approach 
  • A solution for a problem that was previously unsolved
  • That you can contribute to existing theoretical debate 
  • That existing research needs strengthening with your data

You’ll be able to use your literature review to justify why you have chosen to carry out the research in your dissertation, so be sure to complete it in detail.

Methodology

This section will detail what research you carried out, and the methods you used, which is essential to show the validity of your work. This section is an account of what you did, and why you did it. You will need to include: 

  • The approach and type of research (was it qualitative, quantitative, experimental, ethnographic?) 
  • The methods used to collect data (did you carry out interviews, surveys, or use information from archives?) 
  • Where and when your research took place, and information about any participants (you’ll need to anonymise personal information) 
  • How you analysed the data (did you use statistical analysis or discourse analysis, for example) 
  • Which tools or materials you used (computer programs or specialist lab equipment) 
  • Information about any restrictions or hindrances you encountered and how you moved past them
  • An assessment or evaluation of your methods

The results section should clearly illustrate what you found. This could mean you include tables, graphs, and charts to present the findings. Think carefully about the best method to show your results, and only use graphs, tables and charts where they provide extra information – don’t use them to repeat what is in the text. 

Don’t include raw data here – you can add that in your appendices. Depending on the type of research you have carried out (and faculty guidance) results may be combined with the discussion. 

This section reflects on the meaning of the work you have done. You’ll demonstrate understanding of what the results show, and whether they match what you expected. You’ll also examine other ways of interpreting the data, and if your findings are at odds with what you expected, you’ll suggest reasons for why this could have happened.

Whether your results support your hypotheses or not, you’ll contextualise your study with existing research to explain how it contributes to wider discussions about the topic.

Here you’ll go back to your research question, and demonstrate understanding of your research, and the validity of the study. You may make recommendations for future research in this section. 

As you already know, there are different referencing formatting conventions that are used by different subject fields. But since you’ll lose marks if you don’t do them correctly, it is essential to have your references stored accurately, and to format them correctly before you submit your dissertation.

You’ve probably already found the method of keeping references that suits you, such as using reference management software, or using Word referencing, but keep notes as you go, so you can compile your references section easily.

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If there is information that you want to be included but isn’t essential to understanding your research, you may add this as part of an appendices. This could include transcripts, copies of surveys or complete tables of raw data.  

Where can I get help with my dissertation?

Although your dissertation must be an independent piece of work, there are still sources of help if you get stuck. There are thousands of online resources, but here are a few more points of help:

Study skills support is available at most universities, and the team may be able to offer you assistance with your dissertation. Bear in mind there is likely to be a huge demand on this service during dissertation time, so ask early if you need their support.  

Your personal tutor or dissertation supervisor can provide general advice, and you’ll probably have several review meetings during the writing period. However, your supervisor is likely to have a large number of students and their availability may be restricted. 

Subject librarians will be able to advise you where to find relevant resources. 

If your mental health is the issue, support can be found from counselling services that are available both from university and from external agencies, while the multifaith chaplaincy team may be able to support you with spiritual matters during your dissertation.

Final thoughts

Your dissertation project is a major part of your final year, and with exams and the pressure to decide your next steps, life can get a bit stressful. You might be planning to apply for a postgraduate degree such as a master’s degree , another type of qualification or moving into employment, but the results of your dissertation will have a huge impact on your prospects, so performing to the best of your abilities is essential.

One top tip we have is to make sure you’re not getting overworked with stress. Try studying outside of your dorm room, in a coffee shop or library. You can discover the best places to study in London on our blog.

While your dissertation is a large piece of work, with great planning and careful management, you can start to enjoy the process. 

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How to Write a Thesis or Dissertation Introduction

Published on 9 September 2022 by Tegan George and Shona McCombes.

The introduction is the first section of your thesis or dissertation , appearing right after the table of contents . Your introduction draws your reader in, setting the stage for your research with a clear focus, purpose, and direction.

Your introduction should include:

  • Your topic, in context: what does your reader need to know to understand your thesis dissertation?
  • Your focus and scope: what specific aspect of the topic will you address?
  • The relevance of your research: how does your work fit into existing studies on your topic?
  • Your questions and objectives: what does your research aim to find out, and how?
  • An overview of your structure: what does each section contribute to the overall aim?

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Table of contents

How to start your introduction, topic and context, focus and scope, relevance and importance, questions and objectives, overview of the structure, thesis introduction example, introduction checklist, frequently asked questions about introductions.

Although your introduction kicks off your dissertation, it doesn’t have to be the first thing you write – in fact, it’s often one of the very last parts to be completed (just before your abstract ).

It’s a good idea to write a rough draft of your introduction as you begin your research, to help guide you. If you wrote a research proposal , consider using this as a template, as it contains many of the same elements. However, be sure to revise your introduction throughout the writing process, making sure it matches the content of your ensuing sections.

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Begin by introducing your research topic and giving any necessary background information. It’s important to contextualise your research and generate interest. Aim to show why your topic is timely or important. You may want to mention a relevant news item, academic debate, or practical problem.

After a brief introduction to your general area of interest, narrow your focus and define the scope of your research.

You can narrow this down in many ways, such as by:

  • Geographical area
  • Time period
  • Demographics or communities
  • Themes or aspects of the topic

It’s essential to share your motivation for doing this research, as well as how it relates to existing work on your topic. Further, you should also mention what new insights you expect it will contribute.

Start by giving a brief overview of the current state of research. You should definitely cite the most relevant literature, but remember that you will conduct a more in-depth survey of relevant sources in the literature review section, so there’s no need to go too in-depth in the introduction.

Depending on your field, the importance of your research might focus on its practical application (e.g., in policy or management) or on advancing scholarly understanding of the topic (e.g., by developing theories or adding new empirical data). In many cases, it will do both.

Ultimately, your introduction should explain how your thesis or dissertation:

  • Helps solve a practical or theoretical problem
  • Addresses a gap in the literature
  • Builds on existing research
  • Proposes a new understanding of your topic

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Perhaps the most important part of your introduction is your questions and objectives, as it sets up the expectations for the rest of your thesis or dissertation. How you formulate your research questions and research objectives will depend on your discipline, topic, and focus, but you should always clearly state the central aim of your research.

If your research aims to test hypotheses , you can formulate them here. Your introduction is also a good place for a conceptual framework that suggests relationships between variables .

  • Conduct surveys to collect data on students’ levels of knowledge, understanding, and positive/negative perceptions of government policy.
  • Determine whether attitudes to climate policy are associated with variables such as age, gender, region, and social class.
  • Conduct interviews to gain qualitative insights into students’ perspectives and actions in relation to climate policy.

To help guide your reader, end your introduction with an outline  of the structure of the thesis or dissertation to follow. Share a brief summary of each chapter, clearly showing how each contributes to your central aims. However, be careful to keep this overview concise: 1-2 sentences should be enough.

I. Introduction

Human language consists of a set of vowels and consonants which are combined to form words. During the speech production process, thoughts are converted into spoken utterances to convey a message. The appropriate words and their meanings are selected in the mental lexicon (Dell & Burger, 1997). This pre-verbal message is then grammatically coded, during which a syntactic representation of the utterance is built.

Speech, language, and voice disorders affect the vocal cords, nerves, muscles, and brain structures, which result in a distorted language reception or speech production (Sataloff & Hawkshaw, 2014). The symptoms vary from adding superfluous words and taking pauses to hoarseness of the voice, depending on the type of disorder (Dodd, 2005). However, distortions of the speech may also occur as a result of a disease that seems unrelated to speech, such as multiple sclerosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

This study aims to determine which acoustic parameters are suitable for the automatic detection of exacerbations in patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by investigating which aspects of speech differ between COPD patients and healthy speakers and which aspects differ between COPD patients in exacerbation and stable COPD patients.

Checklist: Introduction

I have introduced my research topic in an engaging way.

I have provided necessary context to help the reader understand my topic.

I have clearly specified the focus of my research.

I have shown the relevance and importance of the dissertation topic .

I have clearly stated the problem or question that my research addresses.

I have outlined the specific objectives of the research .

I have provided an overview of the dissertation’s structure .

You've written a strong introduction for your thesis or dissertation. Use the other checklists to continue improving your dissertation.

The introduction of a research paper includes several key elements:

  • A hook to catch the reader’s interest
  • Relevant background on the topic
  • Details of your research problem
  • A thesis statement or research question
  • Sometimes an outline of the paper

Don’t feel that you have to write the introduction first. The introduction is often one of the last parts of the research paper you’ll write, along with the conclusion.

This is because it can be easier to introduce your paper once you’ve already written the body ; you may not have the clearest idea of your arguments until you’ve written them, and things can change during the writing process .

Research objectives describe what you intend your research project to accomplish.

They summarise the approach and purpose of the project and help to focus your research.

Your objectives should appear in the introduction of your research paper , at the end of your problem statement .

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Writing your dissertation - structure and sections

Posted in: dissertations

how long is an undergraduate dissertation

In this post, we look at the structural elements of a typical dissertation. Your department may wish you to include additional sections but the following covers all core elements you will need to work on when designing and developing your final assignment.

The table below illustrates a classic dissertation layout with approximate lengths for each section.

how long is an undergraduate dissertation

Hopkins, D. and Reid, T., 2018.  The Academic Skills Handbook: Your Guid e to Success in Writing, Thinking and Communicating at University . Sage.

Your title should be clear, succinct and tell the reader exactly what your dissertation is about. If it is too vague or confusing, then it is likely your dissertation will be too vague and confusing. It is important therefore to spend time on this to ensure you get it right, and be ready to adapt to fit any changes of direction in your research or focus.

In the following examples, across a variety of subjects, you can see how the students have clearly identified the focus of their dissertation, and in some cases target a problem that they will address:

An econometric analysis of the demand for road transport within the united Kingdom from  1965 to 2000

To what extent does payment card fraud affect UK bank profitability and bank stakeholders?  Does this justify fraud prevention?

A meta-analysis of implant materials for intervertebral disc replacement and regeneration.

The role of ethnic institutions in social development; the case of Mombasa, Kenya.

Why haven’t biomass crops been adopted more widely as a source of renewable energy in the United Kingdom?

Mapping the criminal mind: Profiling and its limitation.

The Relative Effectiveness of Interferon Therapy for Chronic Hepatitis C

Under what conditions did the European Union exhibit leadership in international climate change negotiations from 1992-1997, 1997-2005 and 2005-Copenhagen respectively?

The first thing your reader will read (after the title) is your abstract. However, you need to write this last. Your abstract is a summary of the whole project, and will include aims and objectives, methods, results and conclusions. You cannot write this until you have completed your write-up.

Introduction

Your introduction should include the same elements found in most academic essay or report assignments, with the possible inclusion of research questions. The aim of the introduction is to set the scene, contextualise your research, introduce your focus topic and research questions, and tell the reader what you will be covering.  It should move from the general  and work towards the specific. You should include the following:

  • Attention-grabbing statement (a controversy, a topical issue, a contentious view, a recent problem etc)
  • Background and context
  • Introduce the topic, key theories, concepts, terms of reference, practices, (advocates and critic)
  • Introduce the problem and focus of your research
  • Set out your research question(s) (this could be set out in a separate section)
  • Your approach to answering your research questions.

Literature review

Your literature review is the section of your report where you show what is already known about the area under investigation and demonstrate the need for your particular study. This is a significant section in your dissertation (30%) and you should allow plenty of time to carry out a thorough exploration of your focus topic and use it to help you identify a specific problem and formulate your research questions.

You should approach the literature review with the critical analysis dial turned up to full volume. This is not simply a description, list, or summary  of everything you have read. Instead, it is a synthesis of your reading, and should include analysis and evaluation of readings, evidence, studies and data, cases, real world applications and views/opinions expressed.  Your supervisor is looking for this detailed critical approach in your literature review, where you unpack sources, identify strengths and weaknesses and find gaps in the research.

In other words, your literature review is your opportunity to show the reader why your paper is important and your research is significant, as it addresses the gap or on-going issue you have uncovered.

You need to tell the reader what was done. This means describing the research methods and explaining your choice. This will include information on the following:

  • Are your methods qualitative or quantitative... or both? And if so, why?
  • Who (if any) are the participants?
  • Are you analysing any documents, systems, organisations? If so what are they and why are you analysing them?
  • What did you do first, second, etc?
  • What ethical considerations are there?

It is a common style convention to write what was done rather than what you did, and write it so that someone else would be able to replicate your study.

Here you describe what you have found out. You need to identify the most significant patterns in your data, and use tables and figures to support your description. Your tables and figures are a visual representation of your findings, but remember to describe what they show in your writing. There should be no critical analysis in this part (unless you have combined results and discussion sections).

Here you show the significance of your results or findings. You critically analyse what they mean, and what the implications may be. Talk about any limitations to your study, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of your own research, and make suggestions for further studies to build on your findings. In this section, your supervisor will expect you to dig deep into your findings and critically evaluate what they mean in relation to previous studies, theories, views and opinions.

This is a summary of your project, reminding the reader of the background to your study, your objectives, and showing how you met them. Do not include any new information that you have not discussed before.

This is the list of all the sources you have cited in your dissertation. Ensure you are consistent and follow the conventions for the particular referencing system you are using. (Note: you shouldn't include books you've read but do not appear in your dissertation).

Include any extra information that your reader may like to read. It should not be essential for your reader to read them in order to understand your dissertation. Your appendices should be labelled (e.g. Appendix A, Appendix B, etc). Examples of material for the appendices include detailed data tables (summarised in your results section), the complete version of a document you have used an extract from, etc.

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Think Student

How Long is a Dissertation?

In General , University by Think Student Editor December 7, 2022 2 Comments

Dissertations can definitely seem terrifying! They require immense amounts of focus and research. You will probably need to spend a lot of time working on your dissertation if you want to achieve an impressive degree at university. Therefore, they can be extremely overwhelming when you first begin. Many people wonder how long it actually takes to complete a dissertation.

There is no set length required for a university dissertation. The amount of words you need to write can extremely vary. How long it needs to be depends on a number of factors. For example, an undergraduate dissertation is much shorter than a postgraduate dissertation. Therefore, the amount of words you need to write could range from 8,000 to 25,000 words. However, a PhD level dissertation could vary from 50,000 to 100,000 words.

If you are worrying about how long your dissertation has to be and want to find out more, carry on reading!

Table of Contents

How long are university dissertations?

Dissertations can vary in length depending on what level of education you are currently in at university. Undergraduate dissertations are the shortest.

However, the length of this can vary from 8,000 to 15,000 words. This depends on what subject you are studying and how in depth your research needs to be.

You can find more detail about how many words are needed in a dissertation if you click here , to read an article about this from Think Student.

Postgraduate dissertations are generally longer, they can sometimes be up to 25,000 words. However, you may be shocked to learn how long PhD dissertations are.

As you probably know, receiving a PhD is an amazing accomplishment.  Therefore, the length of the dissertation reflects this.

You could be asked to write 50,000 to 100,000 words. Click here to find out more information about this on the Assignment Desk website.

How long does a dissertation take to write?

The length of time it takes to write a dissertation depends on each individual person. This depends on a number of factors.

One of these factors is how much time you have access to each week in order to write your dissertation. If you don’t have much time each week, then writing your dissertation will clearly take you much longer.

Further to this, your actual research could take a very long time . Without collecting your research, you are unable to actually write your dissertation.

You will also need to receive feedback from your professors. If you take a while to respond to the feedback, or if they take a while to provide you with any, then writing could take longer.

Therefore, some students are able to write their dissertation in six months. However, some students might take twelve to eighteen months!

To find out more about this, click here , to visit the Supreme Dissertations website.

How long is a master’s dissertation?

Master’s dissertations are usually 15,000 to 50,000 words in length. However, this length can depend on the subject and how detailed you are required to be.

Master’s dissertations are shorter than PhD dissertations but longer than undergraduate dissertations. It requires all the same components as other dissertations.

For example, you need an abstract, literature review, methodology, analysis, conclusion and a bibliography. To find out more information specific to a master’s dissertation, click here to visit the Ivory Research website.

Alternatively, if you want to discover what a PhD is and how this differs, check out this article from Think Student.

Why do you have to write a dissertation?

A dissertation is a piece of research you have to write at the end of your undergraduate or postgraduate degree . It will be the largest and most important essay you will ever have to write during your degree.

You will be working on this in the final year of your degree and this will be your main focus during this time.

Writing a dissertation is important because it allows you to test your capacity for independent research. You will be coming up with your own ideas, conducting your own research and writing the whole essay by yourself.

The experience of writing a dissertation will provide you with important preparation for your future. For example, you will need to be able to time manage, work independently and be able to think of your own, original ideas.

As you can see, dissertations require an immense amount of work. However, completing one is a fantastic accomplishment. They can seem impossible to achieve, due to their length.

However, if you break up what you have to do down into smaller chunks, you will definitely be able to do it.

University is hard work, but it will definitely be worth it. Check out this article from Think Student for help deciding whether you should go to university or not.

guest

The length of a dissertation can vary widely depending on factors such as the academic discipline, the specific requirements of the institution or program, and the nature of the research. However, as a general guideline: Undergraduate Dissertation: An undergraduate dissertation is typically shorter than those at higher academic levels. It might range from around 6,000 to 15,000 words. Master’s Dissertation: A master’s dissertation is generally longer than an undergraduate one, often ranging from 15,000 to 25,000 words. However, this can vary significantly based on the field of study and program requirements. Ph.D. Dissertation: A Ph.D. dissertation is the longest and …  Read more »

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  1. How to write an undergraduate university dissertation

    How long is an undergraduate dissertation? The length of an undergraduate dissertation can vary depending on the specific guidelines provided by your university and your subject department. However, in many cases, undergraduate dissertations are typically about 8,000 to 12,000 words in length.

  2. What Is a Dissertation?

    A dissertation is a long-form piece of academic writing based on original research conducted by you. It is usually submitted as the final step in order to finish a PhD program. Your dissertation is probably the longest piece of writing you've ever completed. It requires solid research, writing, and analysis skills, and it can be intimidating ...

  3. How long is a dissertation?

    An undergraduate dissertation is typically 8,000-15,000 words. A master's dissertation is typically 12,000-50,000 words. A PhD thesis is typically book-length: 70,000-100,000 words. However, none of these are strict guidelines - your word count may be lower or higher than the numbers stated here. Always check the guidelines provided ...

  4. How to Write a Dissertation

    A dissertation or thesis is a long piece of academic writing based on original research, submitted as part of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. The structure of a dissertation depends on your field, but it is usually divided into at least four or five chapters (including an introduction and conclusion chapter). ...

  5. What Is a Dissertation?

    Revised on 5 May 2022. A dissertation is a large research project undertaken at the end of a degree. It involves in-depth consideration of a problem or question chosen by the student. It is usually the largest (and final) piece of written work produced during a degree. The length and structure of a dissertation vary widely depending on the ...

  6. How long does it take to write a dissertation?

    How long does it take to write a dissertation? At the bachelor's and master's levels, the dissertation is usually the main focus of your final year. You might work on it (alongside other classes) for the entirety of the final year, or for the last six months. ... An undergraduate dissertation is typically 8,000-15,000 words; A master's ...

  7. How to Write a Dissertation: Step-by-Step Guide

    Most dissertations run a minimum of 100-200 pages, with some hitting 300 pages or more. When editing your dissertation, break it down chapter by chapter. Go beyond grammar and spelling to make sure you communicate clearly and efficiently. Identify repetitive areas and shore up weaknesses in your argument.

  8. How Long is a Dissertation

    An undergraduate dissertation usually falls within the range of 8,000 to 15,000 words, while a master's dissertation typically spans from 12,000 to 50,000 words. In contrast, a PhD thesis is typically of book length, ranging from 70,000 to 100,000 words. Let's unravel the mystery of how long should a dissertation be.

  9. Dissertation Structure & Layout 101 (+ Examples)

    Time to recap…. And there you have it - the traditional dissertation structure and layout, from A-Z. To recap, the core structure for a dissertation or thesis is (typically) as follows: Title page. Acknowledgments page. Abstract (or executive summary) Table of contents, list of figures and tables.

  10. How to Write a Dissertation or Thesis Proposal

    While a thesis proposal is often only 3-7 pages long, a prospectus for your dissertation is usually much longer, with more detailed analysis. Dissertation proposals can be up to 25-30 pages in length. Note Sometimes, a research schedule or detailed budget may be necessary if you are pursuing funding for your work. Dissertation prospectus examples

  11. What is a dissertation?

    How long is a dissertation? The length of a dissertation varies between study level and country, but is generally around 10,000-12,000 words at undergraduate level, 15,000-25,000 words at master's level and up to 50,000 words or more at PhD level. Oral examinations (vivas)

  12. How long is a Thesis or dissertation? [the data]

    An undergraduate thesis is likely to be about 20 to 50 pages long. A Master's thesis is likely to be between 30 and 100 pages in length and a PhD dissertation is likely to be between 50 and 450 pages long. In the table below I highlight the typical length of an undergraduate, master's, and PhD. Level of study. Pages. Words.

  13. Academic writing: a practical guide

    What is a dissertation? A dissertation is usually a long-term project to produce a long-form piece of writing; think of it a little like an extended, structured assignment. In some subjects (typically the sciences), it might be called a project instead. Work on an undergraduate dissertation is often spread out over the final year.

  14. Dissertations 1: Getting Started: Starting Your Dissertation

    A dissertation is a research project completed as part of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. Typically, a dissertation will enable you to present your findings in response to a question that you propose yourself. ... can range anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 words while a Masters level dissertation can be 10,000 to 15,000 words long!

  15. What is an Undergraduate Dissertation?

    An undergraduate dissertation (or Bachelors dissertation) is essentially an extended piece of research and writing on a single subject. It is typically completed in the final year of a degree programme and the topic is chosen based on a student's own area of interest. It allows the student to explore a narrow topic in greater depth than a ...

  16. What Is a Thesis?

    Revised on April 16, 2024. A thesis is a type of research paper based on your original research. It is usually submitted as the final step of a master's program or a capstone to a bachelor's degree. Writing a thesis can be a daunting experience. Other than a dissertation, it is one of the longest pieces of writing students typically complete.

  17. 7 steps to writing a dissertation

    Whether you're writing an undergraduate, Masters, or PhD dissertation, these seven steps can help you stay on track. 1. Choose your topic wisely. Selecting the right topic is the foundation of a successful dissertation. It is important to choose a topic that is: Relevant to your academic discipline and interests.

  18. How to write a dissertation

    A dissertation is an independent piece of academic work that reports on research that you have carried out, and is much longer and more in-depth than a regular essay or research project. Word counts for UK dissertations are typically between 8,000 words to 20,000 words, but the length, along with the criteria for the sections that are required depend on the subject of your degree and the ...

  19. How to Write a Thesis or Dissertation Introduction

    To help guide your reader, end your introduction with an outline of the structure of the thesis or dissertation to follow. Share a brief summary of each chapter, clearly showing how each contributes to your central aims. However, be careful to keep this overview concise: 1-2 sentences should be enough. Note.

  20. Writing your dissertation

    The table below illustrates a classic dissertation layout with approximate lengths for each section. Hopkins, D. and Reid, T., 2018. The Academic Skills Handbook: Your Guide to Success in Writing, Thinking and Communicating at University. Sage. Title. Your title should be clear, succinct and tell the reader exactly what your dissertation is about.

  21. How Long is a Dissertation?

    How long it needs to be depends on a number of factors. For example, an undergraduate dissertation is much shorter than a postgraduate dissertation. Therefore, the amount of words you need to write could range from 8,000 to 25,000 words. However, a PhD level dissertation could vary from 50,000 to 100,000 words.

  22. Prize-Winning Thesis and Dissertation Examples

    Prize-Winning Thesis and Dissertation Examples. Published on September 9, 2022 by Tegan George.Revised on July 18, 2023. It can be difficult to know where to start when writing your thesis or dissertation.One way to come up with some ideas or maybe even combat writer's block is to check out previous work done by other students on a similar thesis or dissertation topic to yours.

  23. How Long Should a Dissertation Be?

    Every university establishes its unique set of guidelines, but as a general rule, undergraduate dissertations commonly span between 8,000 and 10,000 words. On the other hand, for master's level dissertations, the specified word count typically falls within the range of 10,000 to 15,000 words. Various factors, however, contribute to determining ...