Tips for writing an overview of your dissertation

During your writing, you will sometimes encounter passages where you end up repeating yourself quite frequently. Presenting a lot of information in the same way is often the result of not being armed with synonyms or alternative ways to phrase things.

This frequently happens in the introduction section, where you are expected to present the structure (or outline) of your dissertation. Indeed, there are not that many different ways to state what is included in Chapter 2, or are there?

Phrasing options

Most writers end up using the same words and sentence constructions over and over again when they are presenting the contents of their dissertation or outlining its structure. However, this repetition will make these parts of your document very monotonous for your readers. The options presented below will help you add variety and keep your writing interesting.

Example 1: The ‘I’ construction

In chapter 1, I discuss the cause of the problem. In chapter 2, I then discuss the literature. In chapter 3, I discuss the methods.

As shown in Example 1 above, one option is to use the “I” construction. However, this form is not always necessary or desirable .

In addition, you can also use the passive voice:

Example 2: The passive construction

An introduction to the problem is presented in chapter 1 and the relevant literature is discussed in chapter 2.

The passive voice is commonly used in overviews, where the context makes it clear who is actually doing the action. However, using it in other parts of your dissertation may make the text too vague. This article on active vs. passive construction explains more.

Another option is to consider using the so-called “IS-AV” (or inanimate subject with an active verb) construction to present your information:

Example 3: The IS-AV construction

Chapter 1 presents an introduction to the problem and Chapter 2 discusses the relevant literature.

As a chapter is an inanimate object, it is not itself capable of taking an action (such as presenting or discussing). Nonetheless, the meaning of the sentence would still be easily understood. Using this IS-AV construction is therefore a common way to add some variety to a text. It can be particularly helpful when you are presenting the contents of your dissertation, discussing your objectives, and providing your conclusions.

The following constructions are also helpful options to keep in mind:

Example 4

Chapter 1 is intended to answer sub-question 1. (within your objectives)

Example 5

The results chapter showed that … (within your conclusions)

Finally, the below example shows what mixing different constructions together might look like.

Example 6

Chapter 2 contains a review of the relevant literature. The methods used in the study are then described in Chapter 3, after which the results are presented and discussed in Chapter 4. Finally, Chapter 5 outlines the main conclusions and identifies both limitations to the study and recommendations for further research.

Useful verbs

You can certainly discuss, present, prove, and show things – but what else can you “do” in the overview of your dissertation?

Keeping your text rich and varied with the use of these verbs

Address Imply
Argue Indicate
Claim Mention
Clarify Point out
Compare Posit
Concern Present
Counter Propose
Define Provide insight into
Demonstrate Recommend
Describe Refute
Determine Reveal
Emphasizes Report
Examine Speculate
Explain Summarize
Focus on Target
Formulate Treat
Give Underpin
Highlight Use

Note: Be sure to carefully check the definition of a verb before including it in your text. Besides verifying that you are using it in the right way in terms of meaning, it’s also important to check that it is compatible with the sentence’s construction. For instance, the following options are fine in the passive voice but would not work well with other constructions:

  • Is based on
  • Is central to
  • Is dedicated to

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Should you refer to chapters one, two, and three or to chapters 1, 2, and 3?

When you mention different chapters within your text, it’s best to use numerals.
However, the most important thing is that you are consistent in your choice. We have also prepared a general guide to using numbers in your dissertation.

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Sarah Vinz

Sarah's academic background includes a Master of Arts in English, a Master of International Affairs degree, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. She loves the challenge of finding the perfect formulation or wording and derives much satisfaction from helping students take their academic writing up a notch.

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