How to Write a Dissertation in the UK

The dissertation should be your own work and not simply a collection of parts of papers from the literature. Plagiarism, whether from journals, books or internet sources, will be severely punished and will result in an automatic failure (see section on plagarism)

You should read as many primary references (i.e. original papers as opposed to reviews and books) as possible and base your dissertation on these sources. When you have assembled the information for your dissertation you should plan its presentation: this is most easily accomplished by dividing your dissertation into sections, each with its own heading. Where appropriate each section is further divided into sub–sections each with its sub–heading.

Writing a dissertation is a multifaceted process that requires meticulous planning, research, and execution. The journey begins with selecting a research topic, a crucial decision that should align with the researcher’s interests, expertise, and academic aspirations. A thorough literature review follows, wherein researchers immerse themselves in existing scholarship to understand the landscape of their chosen field, identify gaps, controversies, and areas for further investigation.

This literature review serves as the foundation upon which the dissertation is built, informing research questions, conceptual frameworks, and methodological approaches. With a clear understanding of the existing literature, researchers develop a dissertation proposal outlining the research objectives, questions, methodology, and expected contributions to the field. This proposal undergoes rigorous review and refinement, often involving feedback from advisors, peers, and experts in the field, to ensure its coherence, feasibility, and scholarly rigor.

Once the proposal is approved, researchers proceed to the data collection phase, employing appropriate research methods and techniques to gather empirical evidence that addresses the research questions. This may involve conducting surveys, interviews, experiments, observations, or analyzing existing datasets, depending on the nature of the research inquiry and the research design. Throughout the data collection process, researchers must adhere to ethical guidelines, obtain informed consent from participants, and ensure the integrity and validity of the data collected.

Following data collection, researchers embark on the data analysis phase, wherein they apply statistical or qualitative methods to interpret the collected data and derive meaningful insights. This analysis may involve descriptive statistics, inferential statistics, regression analysis, content analysis, thematic analysis, or other analytical techniques, depending on the research questions and objectives. The goal of data analysis is to uncover patterns, trends, relationships, and associations within the data, and to draw conclusions that address the research questions and contribute to the broader scholarly discourse.

With the data analyzed, researchers proceed to write the dissertation, organizing their findings, interpretations, and arguments into a coherent and compelling narrative. The structure of the dissertation typically includes an introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion. Each section serves a distinct purpose, with the introduction setting the stage for the study, the literature review providing context and justification, the methodology detailing the research design and procedures, the results presenting the findings of the study, the discussion interpreting the findings and addressing their implications, and the conclusion summarizing the main findings, reflecting on their significance, and suggesting avenues for future research.

Throughout the writing process, researchers must adhere to academic conventions, citing sources accurately, and presenting their arguments with clarity, precision, and coherence. The dissertation should demonstrate the researcher’s mastery of their chosen field, their ability to engage critically with existing literature, their proficiency in research methods and data analysis, and their capacity to make original contributions to knowledge. Additionally, researchers should seek feedback from advisors, peers, and mentors, revising and refining their work based on constructive criticism and scholarly insights.

Finally, once the dissertation is complete, researchers undergo a defense, wherein they present and defend their findings before a committee of faculty members or experts in the field. This defense provides an opportunity for researchers to showcase their expertise, respond to questions and critiques, and demonstrate the scholarly merit and rigor of their work. Upon successful defense, researchers make any final revisions or corrections as required by the committee, and then submit the dissertation for publication, dissemination, and archival.

In summary, writing a dissertation is a rigorous and rewarding endeavor that requires dedication, perseverance, and scholarly rigor. By following a systematic and structured approach, conducting thorough research, analyzing data thoughtfully, and presenting findings convincingly, researchers can produce a dissertation that contributes to knowledge in their field, advances scholarly understanding, and prepares them for future academic and professional endeavors.

How to Write a Dissertation in 7 Steps

Always remember that your dissertation has to be read and understood by other people and that this process is easier the greater the structure given to the dissertation. You should write in good grammatical English using paragraphs, as appropriate. The dissertation should be divided into sections. All dissertations must have

(i) A Title Page giving the title of the project, your name, department; the date; type of project.

In crafting a title page for a dissertation, meticulous attention should be given to essential details that accurately represent the project and its context. The title of the project should be prominently displayed, succinctly encapsulating the essence of the research. Below the title, the author’s name should be listed, along with their affiliated department or academic institution, providing clarity regarding the origin of the research. The date of submission or completion is crucial for establishing the temporal context of the project, indicating its relevance within the academic landscape. Additionally, specifying the type of project, whether it is a doctoral dissertation, master’s thesis, or other scholarly work, helps to contextualize the document within the broader academic framework. By adhering to these conventions and providing clear and concise information, the title page serves as the initial point of reference for readers, setting the tone and expectations for the dissertation ahead.

(ii)This should be followed by a Contents Page listing the headings (and sub-headings) of the sections of the project dissertation and the appropriate page numbers. The dissertation should be paginated in a single sequence from start to finish numbering each page.

Following the title page, a contents page is essential for providing readers with an organized overview of the dissertation’s structure and content. The contents page should list all major headings and sub-headings, along with their corresponding page numbers, allowing readers to navigate the document efficiently. Each heading and sub-heading should be listed hierarchically, reflecting the logical flow and structure of the dissertation. Additionally, clear and concise titles for each section ensure that readers can easily identify the topics covered within the document. By providing a comprehensive contents page, researchers facilitate access to the various sections of the dissertation, enabling readers to locate specific information quickly and effectively.

(iii) Although usually the last part to be drafted, an Abstract (one page maximum) should be included before the main text. The abstract is designed to summarise the work that follows. It should briefly underline the importance of the work and the aims of the project, summarise succinctly but accurately what is contained in the dissertation and dissertation the principal conclusions. It must be self-contained and you should not cross-reference to the main text or to the references. Abbreviations should not be used in the abstract.

Although typically the final section to be drafted, the inclusion of an abstract before the main text is paramount in summarizing the essence of the dissertation. Comprising no more than one page, the abstract encapsulates the key elements and findings of the research that follows. It provides a concise overview of the research objectives, methodology, main results, and conclusions, enabling readers to grasp the significance and contributions of the dissertation at a glance. Through clear and succinct language, the abstract serves as a preview, guiding readers’ understanding and interest in the subsequent sections of the document. By crafting an informative and well-structured abstract, researchers enhance the accessibility and impact of their dissertation, effectively communicating the essence of their scholarly work to a wider audience.

(iv) It is often convenient to have a Glossary or Abbreviation Section on conventions used such as abbreviations, nomenclature — especially the numbering system used — and any other items which are used repeatedly in the dissertation but which a non-expert reader (e.g. another third year student) would not be familiar with.

In many cases, including a Glossary or Abbreviation Section in a dissertation proves to be highly beneficial. Such a section serves as a convenient reference point for readers, especially those who may not be familiar with specialized terminology, abbreviations, or nomenclature used throughout the document. This section typically includes explanations or definitions of commonly used terms, abbreviations, and symbols, as well as clarification on any unique numbering systems employed in the dissertation. By providing this supplemental information, researchers ensure clarity and comprehension for all readers, including non-experts such as fellow students or professionals from related fields.

The Glossary or Abbreviation Section plays a crucial role in enhancing the accessibility and readability of the dissertation, allowing readers to navigate and understand the content more effectively. For instance, it may clarify technical terms, scientific symbols, or discipline-specific abbreviations that may otherwise be unfamiliar to readers. Additionally, by addressing potential points of confusion or ambiguity upfront, researchers foster a more inclusive and informative reading experience for their audience.

In summary, the inclusion of a Glossary or Abbreviation Section in a dissertation serves as a valuable resource for readers, providing essential explanations and clarifications on conventions used throughout the document. By facilitating understanding and comprehension, this section contributes to the overall accessibility and effectiveness of the dissertation, ensuring that its content is accessible and informative to a wide range of readers.

(v)The Introduction should cover the general background to the area of work which is covered by the project. This section may only need references to appropriate reviews and/or books.

The introduction serves as the gateway to the dissertation, providing readers with essential background information and context for the research project. It begins by establishing the broader context of the area of work covered by the project, offering readers a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. This section typically includes references to appropriate reviews, scholarly articles, or books that provide foundational knowledge and insights into the research topic. By drawing on existing literature, the introduction contextualizes the research within the broader scholarly discourse, highlighting key debates, gaps, and areas for further investigation. Through clear and concise exposition, researchers lay the groundwork for their study, setting the stage for the subsequent sections of the dissertation. Ultimately, the introduction aims to orient readers to the research topic, establish its significance, and provide a roadmap for the structure and content of the dissertation ahead.

(vi)In the Main Review the references should be mainly to the original literature. It is usually best to subdivide the review into separate sections each with its own heading. This helps the reader identify the content matter and from the contents page the logic of the dissertation is apparent. If you use scanned material of, for example, structures, graphs or diagrams the origin of the material should be indicated with a reference number, usually in the legend. Chemical formulae should be numbered with Arabic numbers (not Roman). As they are time consuming to draw it is best not to repeat more formulae than necessary and just use the appropriate formula numbers. All chemical structures should be drawn using ChemDraw or other appropriate chemical drawing package. In the text, the reference is indicated by a superscript number which corresponds to the numbered list of references given at the end of the dissertation. References must be presented sequentially through the dissertation, starting with reference 1. If it is necessary to quote a reference more than once the number assigned to it the first time is re-used, ie. the list of references should not contain duplicates. The reference number should be placed after the statement or sentence to which it applies.

In the Main Review section of the dissertation, it is imperative to primarily reference the original literature to ensure the credibility and depth of the research. Subdividing the review into separate sections, each with its own heading, enhances readability and aids readers in navigating the content. This organizational structure not only helps readers identify the subject matter but also makes the logic of the dissertation apparent from the contents page. When incorporating scanned material such as structures, graphs, or diagrams, researchers must indicate the origin of the material with a reference number, typically placed in the legend. Additionally, chemical formulae should be numbered using Arabic numbers, not Roman numerals, to facilitate clarity and consistency. To streamline the presentation, researchers should avoid repeating formulae unnecessarily and instead use appropriate formula numbers. All chemical structures should be drawn using specialized software such as ChemDraw or other appropriate chemical drawing packages to ensure accuracy and professional presentation.

Within the text, references are indicated by superscript numbers, corresponding to the numbered list of references provided at the end of the dissertation. It is essential to present references sequentially throughout the dissertation, starting with reference 1, to maintain coherence and consistency. If a reference needs to be cited multiple times, researchers should reuse the same reference number assigned to it the first time to avoid duplicates in the reference list. The reference number should be placed after the statement or sentence to which it applies, allowing readers to easily locate the corresponding source in the reference list. By adhering to these guidelines, researchers uphold scholarly standards and ensure the integrity and accuracy of their dissertation.

(vii) The Conclusions section is not a summary of the work (this is the role of the Abstract). It should contain the key pieces of knowledge that you are trying to impart and an overall conclusions. It may also contain an indication of future work.

The conclusions section of a dissertation serves as a critical component where researchers draw together the key findings and insights derived from their study. Unlike the abstract, which provides a succinct summary of the entire dissertation, the conclusions section focuses on synthesizing the most significant pieces of knowledge that have emerged from the research process. Here, researchers reflect on the main contributions of their study and articulate the overarching conclusions drawn from their findings. This section may also provide insights into the broader implications of the research, including its relevance to theory, practice, or policy. Additionally, researchers may use the conclusions section to propose avenues for future research, identifying unanswered questions or areas that warrant further investigation. By effectively summarizing the main takeaways and implications of the study, the conclusions section provides closure to the dissertation while also paving the way for future scholarly inquiry and discourse.

(viii) The last section of the project dissertation should be the References numbered in order. This must follow the Royal Society of Chemistry style. Note that the references will be those used in all previous sections — introduction and review. The sources of all information used should be indicated by means of references. Where only a secondary source has been consulted this should be quoted in the reference list together with the appropriate primary source. It is assumed that unless otherwise stated a reference covers all of the material presented until a new reference is cited.  A leaflet on citing references in Chemistry is available below; use it!

In adhering to the Royal Society of Chemistry style, the final section of the project dissertation should be dedicated to the References. These references must be numbered sequentially in order, aligning with the citation style guidelines provided by the Royal Society of Chemistry. It’s crucial to note that the references listed should encompass all sources cited throughout the dissertation, including those referenced in the introduction and review sections. Each piece of information used in the dissertation must be properly attributed to its source through citations within the text and corresponding entries in the reference list.

Moreover, it’s essential to ensure accuracy and completeness in referencing. If information is obtained from a secondary source, it should be cited in the reference list alongside the appropriate primary source. This practice ensures transparency and accountability in scholarly attribution. Additionally, it’s assumed that each reference encompasses all the material presented until a new reference is cited, providing clarity and consistency in citation practices.

Researchers should refer to the Royal Society of Chemistry’s guidelines for citing references in chemistry, ensuring adherence to the specific formatting requirements and conventions outlined by the institution. By following these guidelines diligently, researchers uphold scholarly integrity and contribute to the dissemination of accurate and credible scientific knowledge.

Format & Typing

It is important that your dissertation is easy to read. It should be word-processed with one-and-a-half-spaced typescript, and printed (single-sided) with adequate margins (2.50 cm) to permit binding. The recommended font is Times New Roman Size 12 and the pages must be numbered. It is best not to repeat more structures than necessary and instead to subsequently refer to the appropriate identifying numbers.

Ensuring that a dissertation is easy to read is paramount for effective communication of research findings. To achieve this, the document should be word-processed with one-and-a-half-spaced typescript, which enhances readability by providing adequate spacing between lines. When printing the dissertation, single-sided printing is recommended, with sufficient margins (approximately 2.50 cm) to accommodate binding. The use of Times New Roman font, size 12, is also advised as it is widely accepted and facilitates clear and legible text. Additionally, numbering pages is essential for organization and navigation purposes.

In terms of content, it is advisable to avoid repeating structures, such as chemical formulae or diagrams, more than necessary. Instead, researchers should assign appropriate identifying numbers to structures and subsequently refer to these numbers within the text. This approach minimizes redundancy in the document and streamlines the presentation, enhancing clarity and conciseness. By following these formatting and content guidelines, researchers can ensure that their dissertation is not only visually appealing but also easy to comprehend, thereby maximizing its impact and effectiveness in communicating research findings to the intended audience.


Dissertations are expected to be virtually error-free; a dissertation containing several errors per page is completely unacceptable. You should certainly use the spell-checker built into the word-processing package to catch simple typographical errors, but you also need to carefully read through the report to catch other types of error. You will almost certainly need to carry out this proof-reading several times. You are strongly recommended to print out the final draft of the dissertation as it much easier to spot errors when reading a paper copy than on screen. 

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