I am writing a PhD dissertation that contains two main themes/topics. These topics are fairly different from each other, but they do have (some!) common threads.

Within each theme, I have two rather related sub-themes. Each sub-theme is substantial enough to form a chapter.

How should I structure the dissertation. I was thinking about having two parts, as follows:

Ch.1 - Introduction (discussing general structure & motivation)

Part I - Theme 1

    - Ch.2  - theme 1 - topic 1
    - Ch.3  - theme 1 - topic 2 

Part II - Theme 2

    - Ch.4  - theme 2 - topic 1
    - Ch.5  - theme 2 - topic 2

Ch.6 - Conclusion

Appendices and References

The above structure seems a little odd to me, though. Are the purpose of parts to partition the paper completely? That is, should each chapter belong to a part? In the above structure, Ch.1 and Ch. 6 are not in any part.

In addition, would including an introduction and conclusion for each part be appropriate?

  • 2
    Looks good to me - I think you are free to do what you find appropriate - ask your advisor. I had three different chapters in my thesis, with different themes... May 15, 2016 at 0:35
  • What is the area of study? For Computer Science, at least, this would likely not be a good structure. In this case it seems like you would need to cover prior works for both themes. Do you also have two thesis statements? Why can theme 1 and 2 not just be individual chapters? Is "topic 2" an experiment? I think you could make the structure work for you, but I am not sure how you plan on fitting in prior works and experiments/results without ending up writing two dissertations. May 15, 2016 at 4:18
  • Are these chapters also published as papers?
    – Bernhard
    May 15, 2016 at 5:53
  • 1
    @JoshuaI.James It is similar to CS, I'm in electrical engineering. I agree, it seems like each part would be rather self-contained, requiring an individual introduction, lit. review, and conclusion. I'm not sure if this is avoidable.
    – Erik M
    May 15, 2016 at 21:02
  • 1
    @Bernhard Yes, chapters 2 through 5 are each a paper.
    – Erik M
    May 15, 2016 at 21:02

2 Answers 2


My recommendation is to consider "parts" as an auxiliary notion. The thesis should make sense to the reader even if he ignores the division into parts.

That's fairly doable with your proposed solution, it just needs clever organization of introductory and preliminary texts.

Actually, I don't think you can do much better if your 4 chapters are too long to become 2 chapters.

The only alternative I can think of is the following:

Ch.1 - Introduction (discussing general structure & motivation)

Part I - Theme 1

Ch.2 - theme 1 - deeper introduction & preliminaries
Ch.3 - theme 1 - topic 1
Ch.4 - theme 1 - topic 2 

Part II - Theme 2
Ch.5 - theme 2 - deeper introduction & preliminaries
Ch.6 - theme 2 - topic 1
Ch.7 - theme 2 - topic 2

Ch.8 - Conclusion

Appendices and References

Also, as a last remark, if you realize there's nothing to put into the conclusions, I'm quite sure you can create the thesis without them, but better ask your supervisor.

Actually, have you discussed this with your supervisor?


Normally, it is not mentioned explicitly in thesis write-up guidelines. Therefore, it depends on the situation and the nature of your work.

In my PhD thesis, which I am currently writing, I first decided to arrange it into four parts:

Part-I: Two chapters
Part-II: Three chapters regarding literature review
Part-III: Two chapters on development and evaluation
Part-IV: Two chapters on conclusions

This way, the thesis resulted into more than 350 pages, with several things still missing. Then I realized to organize it into two parts:

Chapter 01: Introduction
Part-I: Literature Review, three chapters
Part-II: Methodology (including results), two chapters
Chapter 07: conclusions and future directions

And, now it looks much better now with reduced number of pages as well. Also, it seems more concise. Therefore, I suggest, do experiment with multiple options and see what suits you the most.

Hope this helps and answers the problems


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