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Dissertations & projects: Literature-based projects

On these pages:

“As a general rule, the introduction is usually around 5 to 10 per cent of the word limit; each chapter around 15 to 25 per cent; and the conclusion around 5 per cent.”

Bryan Greetham, How to Write Your Undergraduate Dissertation


This page gives guidance on the structure of a literature-based project. That is, a project where the data is found in existing literature rather than found through primary research. They may also include information from primary sources such as original documents or other sources.

How to structure a literature-based project

The structure of a literature-based dissertation is usually thematic, but make sure to check with your supervisor to make sure you are abiding by your department’s project specifications. A typical literature-based dissertation will be broken up into the following sections:

  • Title
  • Abstract or summary
  • Acknowledgments
  • Contents page
  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Themed Chapters
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix
  • Bibliography

Use this basic structure as your document plan. Remember that you do not need to write it in the order it will finally be written in. 


For more advice on managing the order of your project, see our section on Project Management.  

Title Page

If you use the template provided on our Formatting page, you will see that it already has a title page included. You just need to fill in the appropriate boxes by typing or choosing from the drop-down-lists. The information you need to provide is: 

  • Title pageProject Title
  • Type of assignment (thesis, dissertation or independent project)
  • Partial or full fulfilment information
  • Degree
  • Subject area
  • Your name (and previous qualifications if applicable)
  • Month and year of submission


Abstract or summary

This may not always be required - check with your tutor.

Abstract - single page, one paragraphPurpose: To summarise the entire report for quick reading.  It should include your reasons for doing the work, your methods, your findings, and your conclusions. It needs to be both interesting and easy to read.

  • It is independent of the rest of the report - it is a mini-report, which needs to make sense completely on its own.
  • References should not be included.
  • Nothing should appear in the abstract that is not in the rest of the report.
  • Usually between 200-300 words.
  • Write as a single paragraph.

It is recommended that you write your abstract after your report.

Contents page

Contents page with list of headings and page numbersIf you use the templates found on our Formatting page, and ensure you format your headings using the styles provided, then this will already be in place and can be populated automatically.

If you choose not to use the template, then you will need to go through the document after it is written and create list showing which heading is on which page of your document.



Purpose: To thank those who were directly involved in your work.

  • Do not confuse the acknowledgements section with a dedication - this is not where you thank your friends and relatives unless they have helped you with your manuscript.
  • Acknowledgments are about courtesy, where you thank those who were directly involved in your work, or were involved in supporting your work (technicians, tutors, other students, financial support etc).
  • This section tends to be very brief, a few lines at the most. Identify those who provided you with the most support, and thank them appropriately.
  • At the very least, make sure you acknowledge your supervisor!!


Purpose: To state the research problem, provide justification for your research questions and explain your methodology and main findings.

  • Introduce your dissertation topic and how it fits into its wider context (you may be asked to include your background literature review at this point rather than having a separate chapter for this).
  • Explain what the problem you will be addressing is, what your research questions are, and why they will help address the issue.
  • Explain your basic methodology
  • Define the scope of the dissertation, explaining any limitations.
  • Layout the structure of the dissertation, taking the reader through each section and providing any key definitions.
  • Very briefly describe what your main findings are - but leave the detail for the sections below.

It is good practice to come back to the introduction after you have finished writing up the rest of the document to ensure it sets the appropriately scene for subsequent sections.

Background Literature Review

This may be part of your introduction - check what your supervisor advises.

Purpose: Positions your project within the wider literature. Justifies your research questions

As you are undertaking a literature-based project, it can seem odd to include a separate literature review - and indeed some supervisors may suggest it is not necessary. However, most will have a section, either as a separate chapter, or as part of the introduction, that:

  • Provides a background to your study
  • Shows where your study fits within the existing literature
  • Justifies your research questions and methods (your search strategy etc).  

For more advice on writing a literature review see the Literature Review pages on this guide.

Theme chapters, 1,2 & 3Themed Chapters

Purpose: To present the themes you have identified in your research and explain how they contribute to answering your research questions

You will typically have 3-5 themed chapters. Each one should contain:

  • An introduction to the theme - what things it means and what it incorporates.
  • How the theme was addressed within the literature - this should be analytical not just descriptive.
  • A conclusion which shows how the theme relates to the research question(s).

Ensuring your themed chapters flow

Choosing the order of your theme chapters is an important part of the structure to your project. For example, if you study History and your project covers a topic that develops over a large time period, it may be best to order each chapter chronologically. Other subjects may have a natural narrative running through the themes. Think about how your reader will be able to follow along with your overall argument.

Although each chapter must be dedicated to a particular theme, it must link back to previous chapters and flow into the following chapter. You need to ensure they do not seem like they are unrelated to each other. There will be overlaps, mention these.

Some literature-based projects will focus on primary sources. If yours does, make sure primary sources are at the core of your paragraphs and chapters, and use secondary sources to expand and explore the theme further. 


Purpose: To present the conclusion that you have reached as a result of both the literature review and the analysis in your thematic chapters

Conclusion in separate chapterThe conclusion is, to some extent, the most important chapter of your project. It is where you present to your reader the answers to your main research questions. It must show how the analysis in your themed chapters has been combined to lead you to your overall conclusion. A strong conclusion will also bring in information from your literature review to show how your research adds to the overall research picture.

A conclusion summarises all the points you have previously made and it should not include any evidence or topics you have not included in your introduction or main body. There should be no surprises.

It should be about 5-10% of your word limit so make sure you leave enough words to do it justice. There will be marks in the marking scheme specifically allocated to the strength of your conclusion which cannot be made up elsewhere.

Some conclusions will also include recommendations for practice or ideas for further research. Check with your supervisor to see if they are expecting either or both of these.


Appendices showing appendix 1, 2 etcYour appendices should include any secondary information that is not integral to the main text of your dissertation but can help to clarify your research. Most common information included in an appendix are: 

  • Questionnaires
  • Surveys
  • Interviews
  • Transcriptions
  • Correspondence
  • Tables
  • Raw data

If you have information that you would like to include but are finding it disrupts the main body of text as its too cumbersome, or would distract from the main arguments of your dissertation, the information can be included in the appendix section. Each appendix should be focused on one item. 

Appendices should not include any information that is key to your topic or overall argument. 

Reference list

The reference list in a literature based project is similar to the ones you will have created for previous assignment and should included all items referenced throughout your dissertation. Our Referencing your Work SkillsGuide has pages on the referencing styles used at the University of Hull; Harvard, Footnotes, APA, OSCOLA these include information on how to lay out your list.

It is good practice to develop a reference list whilst writing the project, rather than leaving it until the end. This prevents a lot of searching around trying to remember where you accessed a particular source. If using primary sources, it also allows you to monitor the balance between primary and secondary sources included in the project. There is software available to help manage your references and the university officially supports RefWorks and EndNote. 

For more advice on reference management, see our Skills Guide: Referencing Software