Dissertation writing, connect chapters

Dissertation writing: how to logically connect all chapters

Mar 24, 2013
Most dissertations follow a basic template that is pretty universal in nature. But commonly you'll find that many will not fall so easily into it. So if you're like most students, striving to have a well-organized paper, you want to know the best format to use.
And the first step to achieving this is to gain a better understanding of how chapter headings are formed.

So what chapters generally make up the dissertation?

How you decide to label each chapter of your dissertation or organize its contents will ultimately depend on your research approach, the formatting guidelines for your particular discipline, and the most logical means of presenting your research efforts. With the later point really holding the most weight. Often times when comparing 'dissertation outlines' to actual dissertations you'll find the the chapter headings rarely mirror the generic settings provided by librarians or college staff. Because each dissertation has unique objectives and concerns.
Likewise, you can learn a lot about how your chapter headings will look by examining other dissertations in your field. This is especially important when you consider the differences between the sciences and the humanities. Often times scientific or heavy empirical based dissertations will be structured one way while more theory based and literature-rich dissertations will be structured another way.
But nonetheless, a basic guideline for chapter headings is shown below.

The generic chapters for most dissertations

  1. Introduction
  2. Literature Review
  3. Methodology and or Procedures
  4. Findings or Results
    1. Analysis or Interpretation of Data
    2. Summary and Conclusions
    3. Discussions and Recommendations
*You can use this outline as a starting point for your organizational efforts but will definitely want to consider making adjustments and alterations as needed. Also you may want to gain more insight into chapter headings by looking at dissertations that reflect your specific topic as well as conversing with your advisor.

The art of organizing

If you've already starting making your way through your dissertation or are looking to begin your first draft soon, you may be a little concerned about how all of your small pieces will connect to form a whole. Well, getting from point A to point B may not be as easy as it seems. But a solid organizational structure should provide transportation for both the chapters and paragraphs alike.

You can think of your organizational structure as...

(a) the order of the contents of your dissertation (the chapter listing seen above, as well as any subpoints not mentioned) or
(b) the pattern of organization that your thoughts/data will follow
With the first definition, an optimal organizational structure can be achieved by sticking closely to the chapter listings provided as well as the recommended details to be contained in each (such as background information for the Introduction as well as the definition for key terms).
Secondly, your pattern of organization will likely be defined once you are well into your research. You may start to notice a rhyme and rhythm to the information you've collected. At that point you'll be able to identify which organizational pattern would be suit your topic.

Examples of organizational patterns

  • chronological
  • problem-solution
  • sequential
  • spatial
  • topical

Staying focused

Another important aspect of keeping things in order is to stay focused in your writing. Precise guidelines and expectations make it difficult for separation to occur; and therefore, for any chapter or paragraph to be isolated from the rest. But untamed trains of thought, mix match theories and concepts, and a vague objectives will almost inevitably result in poor cohesion; whether its between sentences, paragraphs or chapters.

So how do you ensure that your paper flows smoothly?

*Even though there is no 100% guarantee that you'll have a completely fluid paper; these basic steps should help...
  1. Have a crystal clear research objective and thesis
  2. Create an outline for your work early on; right after the first stab at research
  3. Make changes to the outline as you progress in your research
  4. When drafting constantly refer back to your main thesis and ensure that you are working towards it
  5. Prioritize information and begin by including the most vital data first
  6. Avoid temptations to just 'throw in' information because its interesting or sounds good; all details should be relevant to the thesis
  7. Attempt to cover your topic thoroughly; no holes or gaps; you can't afford to be lazy when it comes to coverage
  8. Be diligent about consistency throughout your paper!
This last point has to be the most relevant one when it comes to coherency. If you want a unified paper rather than chunks of thought and research, you must check and recheck each paragraph for consistency.

Logically connecting all chapters

Your dissertation chapters should already be logically connected if you base your order on the generic outline of chapter headings and/or following a set organizational structure.
*Though, as mentioned earlier, at times you may need to deviate away from the generic outline. An example can be seen below.

A clear example

If working on a Psychology dissertation for instance, and seeking to compare two types of therapy; you may feel that your audience needs more information on each type before moving on to your actual research design or methodology (outside of what was already provided in the introduction). Because of this you may decide to dedicate a chapter to better define therapy type 1 for example, and a chapter to better define therapy type 2.
All of this is done in an attempt to present your chapters in a logical manner; one that will best suit the objective of your paper. So for instance, if you know that the types of therapies you intend to mention have some complexities to them, or special points that need to be addressed, then chapters dedicated solely to this would be considered relevant and warranted. By adding them to your table of contents your aim is to make your dissertation as comprehensible as possible.

*Final note*

To be clear about this dissertation example, the student would still be including a research design chapter as per the generic outline provided. So after the additional chapters the paper would still follow a logical sequence by next detailing the actual experiment, analyzing the data, and relating any discussions or summary regarding it. This would be an acceptable and sequence for any dissertation.
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