Structuring Your Project


There are many ways to structure your research project. You may be given an exact structure to follow from your supervisor or you may have to decide on the structure that most suits your project. You should always consult your module handbook and your supervisor when deciding on the structure of your project.

In this section you will find some general advice about creating a coherent structure, some examples of common structures and some guidance to the type of content that is usually included in the different sections of a research project. You will not need to include all of the sections covered below; instead choose the parts relevant for your specific project.

Click below to see some example structures for different types of project:

If you are using a literature-based structure, you might look at:

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Themed Chapters
  • Conclusion
  • Reference List/Bibliography
  • Appendix

If you are writing a research report, you might look at:

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Methodology/Methods
  • Findings/Results and Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • Reference List/Bibliography
  • Appendix

If you are writing a business report, you might look at:

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Findings/Results and Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • Reference List/Bibliography
  • Appendix

If you are writing a technical report, you might look at:

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Findings/Results and Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • Reference List/Bibliography
  • Appendix

There are different chapter combinations depending on your type of project – consult your supervisor if you are unsure. There are more example structures within the advice about creating a coherent structure directly below.


Creating a coherent structure

You will need to consider both the overall structure of your project and the structure within each chapter/section. It will be easier to understand and identify your key points if your work is organised in a logical and coherent manner. This means thinking about your reader; what do they need to know and in what order? You should have a clear idea of the questions you are answering and the argument(s) that will build throughout your project. Each chapter/section should link together with a common theme that underpins the whole of your work, and should lead towards a logical conclusion.

It can be useful to outline the overall structure as part of your introduction particularly if you are not using a prescriptive structure (i.e. intro, literature review, methodology, findings, discussion, conclusion). Explain briefly to the reader what will be in each chapter and why. Outline your key arguments and the order in which they will be presented. It can also be useful to include a short introduction and conclusion within each chapter.

Use meaningful headings and sub-headings to guide your reader through your written work. The examples below show tables of contents for different types of research project. You will notice that each project uses very specific headings to inform their reader of what to expect in that section. This will help the reader, but also helps you to plan your content and ensure it is in a logical order and directly relevant to your topic.

Video - What does a coherent structure look like? View video using Microsoft Stream (link opens in a new window, available for University members only).


Abstract or executive summary

Presented at the start of your research project after the title page, the abstract provides a brief summary of your whole project and should be written at the end of the process. It should include:

  • The purpose of the research project and the question you are attempting to answer

  • The methods you used to conduct your research

  • The main findings and conclusions

If you are writing a business report you may be expected to include an executive summary instead of an abstract. Written last, it will be presented after the title page and will provide a summary of the report. It will usually be longer than a research abstract (approx. 2 paragraphs), and will:

  • Outline the key problem

  • Identify the scope and objectives

  • Emphasise the main findings and conclusions

  • Highlight the crucial recommendations


The Introduction

This is where you will set the scene for the rest of your project. There is not one way to write it, but asking yourself these questions can help you to present a clear and well-structured introduction:

  • What are you doing?
    What do you understand about the topic, and how do you unpack and interpret your research question? This will usually require you to include background information that your reader needs to know to be able to understand your research. Are there any key concepts or terminology that you need to define?

  • Why are you doing?
    Tell your reader why it’s an important problem, indicate any previous scholarship you are building on, identify any debates, show the ‘gap’ that your research is addressing, how significant a problem it is and why it needs solving.

  • How are you going to do it?
    How are you going to do it? What will your structure be? What will you include in each section or chapter of your project? If relevant, what theoretical framework, methods or data sources/ materials will you use? Do you need to set and refine your scope i.e. a case study or particular context?

If you are not incorporating a separate literature review or background chapter you might include a review of relevant current literature in your introduction.


Themed Chapters

The use of themed chapters is common in arts and humanities, or if you are undertaking a literature-based project. These chapters are where you will present and build your arguments. Each chapter should deal with a major aspect of your subject but link together. Remember you are constructing an argument, not just reporting your research or the research of others. You should analyse and evaluate the primary evidence, arguments ideas and conclusions presented.

Give your chapter clear titles, not just chapter 1, chapter 2 etc. Your title should accurately reflect the content and should be consistent in terms of tone and writing style.


Literature review

You will probably find that you have a lot of material to read through for your research project, and that can feel overwhelming. There are different strategies that you can use to help make your reading more efficient and to decide which sources are relevant to your project.

Video - What is a literature review and why is it an important part of a research project? View video using Microsoft Stream (link opens in a new window, available for University members only).

A literature review IS NOT:

  • A descriptive list or summary of sources, such as books and journals

  • An exhaustive bibliography on everything ever written on the topic - you need to make decision about what to include

  • A descriptive list or summary of sources, such as books and journals

A literature review SHOULD:

  • Demonstrate an in-depth understanding of your topic area, including key concepts, controversies or debates, significant authors, terminology, theories and definitions

  • Identify what research has been conducted and identify any gaps or limitations in the research to help you formulate your own research question

  • Identify the main research methodologies in your subject area

  • Provide a context and justification for your own work

Video - What did you find most difficult about doing your literature review? View video using Microsoft Stream (link opens in a new window, available for University members only).

Structure of a literature review

Every literature review is different; how you structure your review will depend on the type of final year project you are writing and what subject you are studying. It is a good idea to seek guidance from your supervisor.

Below are some common structures that could be considered, and it may be appropriate to combine these approaches. You may want to check with your supervisor about which structure(s) would be most appropriate for you.

  • Thematically
    This is probably the most common approach. Here you group together research into key themes or debates. Your discussion will be organised around these themes or debates

  • Chronologically
    You may want to group together and discuss sources according to when they were published. This can be useful if you want to highlight changes and developments in a research field over time. Remember, you still need to write critically if you are using this structure

  • Methodologically/Theoretically
    You may want to focus on the different methods used to study the topic, or different theoretical viewpoints

Once you have decided on the structure of your review, you can develop headings and subheadings.

When deciding on the structure of your literature review, you may want to think about the degree of depth that you need to go into when discussing previous research. You could structure your review by starting off with general references to the literature in the topic area, then move closer to the literature that is directly relevant to your study. This is sometimes referred to as a funnel structure.

  • Long Shots
    References are quite general and aren’t discussed in detail. This is usually background material that provides a context to your research

  • Medium Shots
    References are summarised. Enough information is given to show how they impact on your research. This is usually material that has more of a bearing on your research

  • Close Ups
    References are critically examined and discussed. This is usually material that has direct relevance to your research question

Funnel model adapted from Succeeding with your doctorate by Wellington et al., 2005.

Longs shots and close ups adapted from Surviving your dissertation by Rudestam, 2007.

Introduction to a literature review

The introduction to your literature review may include:

  • Why the topic you are looking at is important - is it an area of current interest?

  • Has the topic been widely researched or not?

  • Any significant gaps in the research

  • Any debates of controversy about the topic, or whether there is a consensus?

  • The scope of the review - what aspects of the topic are you going to cover in your review?

  • How is the review organised, e.g. chronologically, thematically or methodologically?

Checklist adapted from Writing a Literature Review session, delivered by Dr Hazel Kent and Jane Sharp, Bishop Grosseteste University College, Lincoln, 2011.

Writing critically in the literature review

When you start to write your literature review, you need to draw on the critiques you have developed during the critical reading stage. You should be writing critically about the literature which can include:

  • Comparing and contrasting different theories, concepts etc., and indicating the position you are taking for your own work

  • Showing how limitations in others’ work creates a research gap for you

  • Strategic and selective referencing to support the underpinning arguments which form the basis of your research

  • Synthesising and reformulating arguments from various sources to create a new/more developed point of view

  • Agreeing with/defending a point of view or finding

  • Accepting that current viewpoints have some strengths, but qualifying your position by highlighting weaknesses

  • Rejecting a point of view with reasons (e.g. lack of evidence)

  • Making connections between sources

List adapted from Ridley, D. 2008. The literature review: A step-by-step guide for students. London: SAGE.

The Conclusion of a literature review

Conclude your literature review with a statement that summarises your review and links this to your own research/current issues.

Reviewing your literature review

This checklist will help you assess your literature review. Writing a literature review is an iterative process, so be prepared to re-visit it if you feel you haven’t addressed all of these questions:

  • Does your review show a clear understanding of the topic?

  • Have all key landmark studies been cited and most of them discussed?

  • Is there a suitable structure and logical development to the review?

  • Does the review state clear conclusions about previous research, using appropriate evidence?

  • Does the review show the variety of definitions and approaches to the topic?

  • Does the review reach sound recommendations, using a coherent argument that is based on evidence?

  • Is the text written in a clear style, free of spelling and grammatical errors and with complete references?

  • Does the review show a gap in existing knowledge?

Anticipate readers’ questions, do not leave your work open to questions such as:

  • “What is your point here?”

  • “What makes you think so?”

  • “What is your evidence?”

  • “So what?”


Methodology / Methods

The methods section would usually appear after your literature review. For more information about what goes into this section, please see Researching Your Topic.


Findings / results and discussion

You might combine your findings and discussion into one chapter, or you might present them in two separate chapters.


You should provide an objective description of the key findings that help you to answer your research question(s). Even if your findings/results section is separate from your discussion, it is usually appropriate to highlight any significant results, indicating whether they confirm, partially support, are inconclusive, or contradict your hypothesis or previous research.

You need to consider the best way to organise your results, such as under the headings that reflect your research questions or by importance; consult your supervisor if you are unsure.

You should consider using headings and sub-headings to help your reader navigate your results.

Where appropriate, use tables, graphs or other visual aids to help your reader understand your results. Make sure they are clearly labelled and that you explain them in your text. You don’t need to present all of your data/results in this section, just highlight the key trends and use your appendix to provide the rest of the data.


You need to interpret and critically analyse your results and explain to what extent and in what way they answer your research questions. You need to set your findings within the context of existing research that you will have discussed earlier in your project, usually in the literature review. It might be helpful to consider the following questions:

  • Do your findings reflect, contradict or build on existing knowledge?

  • Do they confirm, partially support, are inconclusive or contradict your hypothesis?

  • Are there any anomalies?

  • Were your findings unexpected and why that might be?

  • What are the implications of your findings?



Here you can return your writing to the context of the wider academic debates. This should draw everything together and reiterate your main argument(s). Don’t bring in any new ideas/theories into your conclusion; anything you write about here should already have been discussed in the main body.

  • What have you found? Remind the reader of your research problem, including your aims and objectives and research questions

  • Synthesise your main findings. This will involve highlighting the main themes and showing how they fit together (rather than repeating all of your points). What is your overall conclusion?

  • How does your work correspond with, or differ from, other studies or theories?

  • What has your research added to the academic debate in this area? Do you have any recommendations for future research, or implications for the real world?


Reference list / bibliography

You need to include a list of all the material you have cited throughout your project. Check with your school which referencing style you should use. For more information on referencing see Writing Up Your Project.



This is supplementary material that the reader may want to see, but does not fit into the main body of your project e.g. example questionnaire, consent forms, complete raw data. Clearly label your appendices (e.g Appendix A, Appendix B etc.) and use these labels when referring to your appendices in your project, e.g. "Appendix A shows…". Appendices are usually not included in your word count but make sure you check this with your supervisor.