What are the Fundamental Components of a Doctoral Dissertation in History?

All dissertations follow a basic format. The first important thing you’ll have to do is to obtain your dissertation guidelines from your graduate school or, sometimes, they have dissertation guidelines available to you on your university’s website on the graduate school pages or in your graduate history webpages.

First things first, though: The most important thing I learned about writing a history dissertation—GET A MODEL first.

Now, throughout your graduate career, you’ve been exposed to students who are ahead of you in the program, and, who have already started working on or have finished their dissertations—and they will may have a copy that is formatted according to the guidelines that you can use.

Or, even easier, libraries house, typically, both a print and digital copy of all students’ dissertations. Pick one in your area—you may find one even close to your topic and – most importantly, try to get one from the previous year or close to it—why? Works cited systems are changing as the web evolves.

All history (and other disciplines in the humanities) follow a specific structure:

All dissertations have some highly important and secondary parts you may want to work on when you are stuck, such as the acknowledgements and dedication.

History Dissertation Structure (but see your guidelines first):

  1. Title Page—this will have your title, year of completion, and places for everyone to sign—your dissertation director, your committee members, and yours after you defend your dissertation orally.
  2. Dedication: Here’s where you dedicate the work to someone special. See examples on the internet.
  3. Acknowledgements: Here’s where you acknowledge persons who especially helped you in writing your dissertation.
  4. Introduction: I advise you to write this near the end. In fact, I would work on the chapter you know the most about first. Completing this chapter will fill you with confidence that you can do this -- and super-infuse you with energy to keep going.
    1. Chapters – probably four to five plus the close.

      Chapters are a way to break this down into do-able parts. Another way to make this manageable is to use HEADERS. With a topic like history, for example, you could use headers within chapters to address different sub-parts within this particular chapter topic.

      Closing Chapter

      This does not have to be as long as other chapters. You’ll want to say something ultimate here – in the light of all you’ve learned.

      Works Cited

      Arranged alphabetically and with every single thing right. A good dissertation director will be able to scan this and find errors.