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Dissertation structure

Types of dissertation

The content and structure depend on the type of dissertation. Your tutor may give you a structure to follow. If not, you can adapt the guidance here.

Practical dissertation (more)

A practical dissertation focuses on primary research – you gather data yourself. 

Constructed, e.g. computer models, lab experiments

Explored, e.g. case studies, interviews, field observation 

Theoretical dissertation (more)

A theoretical dissertation focuses on secondary research – you use data collected and presented by other researchers to develop an argument.

Conceptual, e.g. on feminism, racism, sustainability

Applied, e.g. applying economic, social or environmental theory to a practical situation, such as sustainability in building design

Source: Trevor Day (2018), Success in Academic Writing, 2nd ed. Palgrave, p.108


Descriptive versus analytical writing

A practical dissertation includes both descriptive and analytical writing. Make sure you are clear about the differences between them.



  • Listing details
  • Giving information
  • Describing an example
  • Explaining how something works
  • Identifying if an idea is defensible
  • Explaining the relationship between things/ideas
  • Weighing up the significance of things/ideas
  • Drawing conclusions

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