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Dissertations: Planning


Planning your dissertation can be a daunting task, but it is a critical step in ensuring your research is focused, thorough, and well-executed. The dissertation is typically the culmination of a student's academic work and represents a significant contribution to the field. A well-planned dissertation helps to ensure that the research project is well-organized and the writing is structured in a logical and coherent manner. Additionally, a well-planned dissertation allows for efficient use of time and resources, reduces stress and anxiety, and increases the likelihood of producing a high-quality and impactful piece of research. In this guide, we will cover key steps to help you plan your dissertation and provide tips and strategies to make the process as smooth and successful as possible.


Planning Steps

Before beginning to write your dissertation, make sure to check the exact requirements:

  • What is the word limit? Is there a minimum word count? Does the word limit include words within tables, the abstract, the reference list, and the appendices?
  • What content is appropriate to place in the appendices rather than in the main text?
  • Which chapters should be included, in which order, and what kind of content is expected in each? 
  • Have you read and understood the guidelines and/or marking scheme?


The structure of theses and dissertations is influenced by various factors such as the academic discipline, the research topic, the research methodology, the type of research (qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods), and the specific requirements of the academic institution or department.

The traditional dissertation structure includes: introduction, review of the literature, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion.

However, there are many other ways of structuring your dissertation. This kind of thesis typically commences with an introductory chapter which is then followed by a series of chapters which have titles based on sub-topics of the topic under investigation. The thesis then ends with a ‘conclusions’ chapter.

[Source: Thesis and Dissertation Writing in a Second Language: A Handbook for Students and their Supervisors]

Look at tables of content from previous dissertations and/or theses from University of Suffolk students or other universities to get inspiration of which structure would be most appropriate for presenting the content of your dissertation. 

Click here to find out how you can access dissertations and theses.

Once you have an idea of what dissertation type would best suit your research, you can plan a rough outline for the entire dissertation by considering the following questions:

  • What is the word count?
  • How many chapters is your dissertation divided into?
  • Approximately how many pages/words would you used in each section?
  • Is a numbering system used for sections and subsections?


The example below offers a suggested structure and approximate word count for a 20,000-words dissertation. However, bear in mind that all dissertations are different, and your supervisor is the best person to talk to about your specific requirements.

Chapter Title Approximate no. of words
Chapter 1: Introduction 10% (2,000 words)
Chapter 2: Literature Review 30% (6,000 words)
Chapter 3: Methodology 15% (1,000-2,000 words)
Chapter 4: Results 5-10% (1,000,2000 words)
Chapter 5: Discussion 30% (6,000 words)
Chapter 6: Conclusion 10% (2,000 words)

After you have planned at dissertation level and you have a rough idea of the structure of your thesis/dissertation, you can use the same strategy to plan at chapter level. For example:

Chapter Sections Approximate no. of words
Chapter 1: Introduction 10% (2,000 words)
1.1. General Background 600 words
1.2 Justification 300 words
1.3 Aims and Objectives 300 words
1.4 Research Questions 200 words
1.5 Research Methodology and Ethical Considerations 200 words
1.6 Scope and Limitations 150 words
1.7 Organisation 250 words


Now it is time to plan your work!

Work from the deadline backwards to create a plan of key dates.

Download the template below to help you with your planning.



Further Reading

Journal of Suffolk Student Research

The Journal of Suffolk Student Research is an online academic journal, dedicated to the publication of high-quality undergraduate and postgraduate student research undertaken by University of Suffolk students. The journal will showcase the most outstanding student research undertaken at the University of Suffolk. It aims to promote and recognise this outstanding student research by offering valuable early experience of academic publishing and the peer review process. 

Find out more here