The following cut out and keep checklist will help you structure your PhD thesis (and tick off sections before turning it in).

Checklist Outlining Chapters of a PhD Thesis

Your PhD thesis is going to be one of the most important aspects of your academic career. The goal of your thesis is not to tell what you did to come to your conclusion, but to explain your process and defend your research.

The following is a checklist you can use as a structure to follow when writing a PhD thesis (and to tick off sections before turning it in):

Most universities will require a PhD dissertation to have the following chapters:

  • Abstract
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures and Tables
  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Appendices

Be sure to check the requirements for your programme and ask your PhD supervisor for clarification if in doubt.

Completing the Abstract

The abstract is typically the last part of the project that you will complete. The abstract must clearly state the problem you worked on and the method you used to solve it. It should identify the importance of your findings and suggest possible applications, summarising the most important parts of your thesis. It is not meant to be an introduction to the project, but rather a précis.


The acknowledgements can be completed at any point in the process of writing a PhD thesis, but it should be thoroughly checked before submission to ensure everyone is properly recognised. Many PhD students choose to write this portion of their thesis after the bulk of the body has been completed. Start by thanking the thesis committee, including your PhD supervisor. Include the names of other faculty members who were instrumental in your project too, as well as team members and students who you worked with. You can also thank friends, family, and spouse if applicable.

The Introduction and Conclusion

These sections should be written after finishing the chapters that detail your research. State the problem and your work in solving it. The introduction should provide an overview of the contents of the PhD thesis and a brief outline of each chapter. The conclusion summarises your findings and discusses the implications.

Literature Review

This portion of the thesis explains the key contributions and disagreements between the research findings of others in your field. You should clearly indicate why the reader should relate your research to that of others. This is an argued chapter and should form the basis for understanding why your work is important.

The Body of the Thesis

The body of the thesis is the crux of the project. It should indicate what you did, why you did it, how you did it, the results of your research, and why the reader should find your work important. It should lead the reader through the purpose of your reasoning and your actions. Be sure to identify your personal contributions and your research results.

These are the primary sections that should be included in your PhD thesis. As always, be sure to also add a comprehensive bibliography that accurately states your sources per the format that is acceptable for your programme. Also check all of your sentences for proper structure and sequential logic. Finally, follow all the steps outlined by your university in setting up and publicising your defence, in preparation for your PhD viva.