A well-structured dissertation should be enjoyable to read. It should be logical and coherent, and your argument or line of reasoning should be convincing and easy to follow. Of course, this is easier said than done, so it is vital you spend time planning your structure to ensure success.
A well-built house
It can be difficult to work out where to start designing the structure of your dissertation, with so many elements, sections and ideas to consider. The starting point for sorting out the tangle of wires is your research question(s). Think of this as the glue that sticks all the various sections and line of reasoning together. Your research question will provide the logic and coherence you need to maintain throughout your dissertation.
Next, break down planning tasks into smaller, achievable parts. So your process could look something like this:
1. Make a list of all the elements and ideas that you need to include. For example:
a. chapter headings
b. notes about analysis
c. ideas for graphical representation
d. ideas for further research
e. alternatively, you could choose to start at stage 2.
2. List the main chapters in the order they will appear.
3. Under each chapter heading, list important sub-headings. For example, your literature review chapter will include several different segments. For each of these you could add a sub-heading based on specific content. Your final sub-heading may be a mini conclusion segment that brings the chapter to a close.
4. Under each sub-heading, list the main content, creating sub-sub-headings if needed. You need to ensure that all the content you want to include has been allocated a place.
5. As you build your structure, you can slot in ideas, references, quotes, clarifications, and conclusions as they occur to you, to make sure they are not lost in the mix.
6. Check that your labelling is consistent and that your structure represents a logical and coherent overview of your research study, and all chapter headings and sub headings link directly to your research question.
7. At this stage, it would be wise to check your structural plan with your supervisor and also take feedback from friends and classmates. It is highly likely they will see something you've missed.
Size matters... but not yet
At this stage, don't worry too much about your word count and the size of each section. It's more important to get started on the process and you can always edit upwards or downwards as you go along.
Write, write, write
It is also really important that you start writing up your dissertation as soon as possible. Don't wait until your research is completed, as the write up may become too intimidating or overwhelming. It may not be pretty at first and it will probably need revisions further down the line, but writing is all about practice and the more you write the better and more expert you will become.
Your supervisor may also wish to see your work in progress, or you may have an interim assessment to complete. She or he may be looking for development and improvement so self-critique is also a critical element in the write up process.
So don't delay... start writing today!