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Writing up your dissertation or research report

Everyone's dissertation/project is different and the advice given here does not necessarily apply to everyone. Check with your supervisor or department if you are unsure about any aspect of the process of writing up your work.

The completed work

    This hand-out assumes that you will end up with at least five chapters:
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: Literature review
  • Chapter 3: Methodology
  • Chapter 4: Results and discussion
  • Chapter 5: Conclusion

At the end of the whole work there should be a full bibliography or reference list, depending on the requirements of your department. Any appendices should come after the full bibliography/references.

The longest chapters will be the Literature review and Methodology. The Introduction and Conclusion chapters will be short.

Some students find that they need to include additional chapters. For example, a student writing about a specific industry may need to provide a separate chapter on that industry for context setting before discussing the specifics of the research work. You may also be asked to include an Abstract. You will probably want to acknowledge those who helped you or participated in your research. And do not forget to address ethical issues.


Make sure that the readers of your work will be able to find the answers to these questions in Chapter 1:

  • What was the purpose of the research?
  • How was the topic chosen?
  • What were the main aims and objectives of the research?
  • What is the scope of the research project? (If your dissertation/project is focused on one particular group, industry or technology you might include introductory remarks here.)
  • What were the limitations of the work?
  • How is the text arranged in the dissertation/project?
  • Is there anything particular to note that will make it easier for the person reading your dissertation/project to follow the work (e.g. about the format of referencing, layout of charts/tables)?
  • If you wrote a good proposal you should be able to use this as the basis for your introduction. Remember that this is the introduction to your project, and not an introduction to the topic of your project.

Literature review

  • provide an introductory paragraph which explains what is discussed in the chapter and why it is necessary to include this as part of the dissertation/project
  • demonstrate that you conducted a thorough literature search and have read widely
  • demonstrate that you have read up to date material
  • summarise what you have read thematically (and not author by author)
  • highlight trends in the discussion of your topic; for example over time, by geography, by sector
  • comment on the value of what you have read (without discussing the actual topic)
  • organise your findings from the literature review to fit in with the main themes of your research project
  • identify gaps or anomalies in the literature
  • demonstrate that you assimilated and understood what you have read and what you have written


The Methodology chapter is used to justify the choice of methods employed during the research project. You need to demonstrate that you understand that there are various options for conducting research. For this reason you will need to refer back to the notes you took in any research methods classes that you have attended, as well as textbooks and/or articles on research methods. Although much of the methodology chapter focuses on data collection, it is also worth acknowledging the techniques used for the other activities related to the research project: literature searching, sampling or case study selection, data analysis.

Introduction to Chapter 3

  • What does this chapter discuss?
  • Why is it necessary to include this discussion in the dissertation/project?

Discussion of literature search technique

  • Which secondary sources were used to identify material for Chapter 2?

Discussion of data required

  • What was the purpose of collecting and analysing the data?
  • Why was it interesting/useful to look at this topic?
  • Can you summarise the basic questions the research set out to answer in a few straightforward statements?
  • What role did the findings of the literature review have in determining the data collection requirements?
  • Did you need to collect quantitative or qualitative data? Why/why not?

Discussion of alternative methods of data collection

  • Which methods might have been appropriate for data collection (observation, questionnaire, etc.)?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of each of these methods of data collection with reference to your own research project? (This may be best summarised as a table.)


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