Dissertation Chapters: Sequential or Concurrent?

I’ve now written 20 blogs on writing Master’s dissertations. However, recently I’ve noticed that students insist on writing their dissertations chapter by chapter rather than write the chapters concurrently. So, Dissertation Chapters: Sequential or Concurrent?

  • So what are the sections of a dissertation?
  • What makes a good dissertation structure?
  • What is the format for a dissertation?

I have answers to these in previous blogs. Perhaps my blogs are suggesting that chapters can ‘stand alone’ and should be written individually and sequentially. I now feel that I need to redress that view by suggesting a concurrent writing approach.


Students love to approach their dissertation a chapter at a time. Often, due to ‘student syndrome‘ they spend a lot of time on the first few chapters, and then rush the final chapters. This means when the work is marked, a good introduction is supported by an excellent literature review and research methodology chapter. Then the work falls away with rushed case studies, poor discussion, and poor conclusion chapters.

Worse still, students then forget to add the required ‘personal reflection’ chapter that some institutions require.

Whilst it is important to ensure that the introduction chapter contains the correct aims and objectives, and needs to be written first, notes can be added to other chapters even at this point.

In reality, like many projects, the start is well planned, but the end of the process is rushed because no thought has been put into the dissertation format, or dissertation structure.

Dissertation Structures in WORD

The power of WORD means that chapter headings and sub-headings can be easily laid out. An automatic table of contents can then be generated. This can be done in the early days of the dissertation. This allows the student to understand the full scope of work required.

I encourage students to send me a chapter listing – to three levels – as they complete the first chapter.

Word Navigation

Word Navigation

I like to treat the table of contents as a project Work Breakdown Structure. Sections can easily be moved around. As a supervisor I can see that the student understands the full scope of the dissertation work required. This may prevent a disaster in the days before dissertation submission.

More importantly, the student has somewhere to add notes as they move through the dissertation.


Creating such a chapter listing allows notes to be added to the later chapters as the first chapters are written:

  • Notes on ‘Further Research’ as the Literature Review reveals interesting topics outside of the scope of this dissertation
  • Notes on ‘Limitations’ as a particular case study cannot be located
  • Discussion points that have arisen from the Literature Review and Research Methods Chapters.
  • Places to copy paste the research questions from chapter 1 to make sure they are discussed and covered in the conclusion chapter.
  • As above, but for the projects Aims and Objectives.

As work progresses through the early chapters the later chapters will build up a list of notes that need to be covered when the student gets to those chapters.

In this way there will be plenty of content in the later chapters, following a planned structure, and without repetition.


So, Dissertation Chapters: Sequential or Concurrent? I think that a concurrent approach allows for more detail to be added to the dissertation as nothing will be forgotten. Adding a structure in WORD allows the student to understand the full scope of the work, and sections can be dragged around and moved easily.

A further benefit of a concurrent approach is that students will be able to wake up on different days and tackle different areas of their dissertation.

Posted On: 16th March 2020

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