Thesis structure

How is your thesis structured?

Please note: check your study program’s requirements

The thesis structure that we describe is a general structure. Sometimes, programs have different requirements in terms of structure. Therefore, it is important that you always check carefully which requirements apply to your study program before you start writing. The structure that your study program uses takes priority.

Tip: Outline the structure of your thesis in Word before you start

A good tip for writing your thesis is the following: write down the chapters for your thesis in Word beforehand. Indicate what you will be discussing in each. This will help you determine which information should be where. 

This is what your thesis structure should look like

Although the structure requirements may differ slightly for each study program, many programs maintain similar basic thesis structures. The standard structure for a research report or thesis is as follows: 

1. Title page 

2. Preface 

3. Summary 

4. Table of contents 

5. Optional: list of figures and tables, list of terms, list of abbreviations 

6. Introduction 

7. Theoretical framework 

8. Methodology

9. Results 

10. Conclusion 

11. Discussion

12. Optional: advisory report/recommendations 

13. Afterword/reflection 

14. Bibliography 

15. Appendices

Not every thesis will contain all these parts. If you do not have any figures or tables in your thesis, you do not need to make a list of figures and tables. An advisory report or afterword is not necessary for every study programme. Different programs have different compulsory chapters.

Title page

This is the front page of your thesis. In all cases, this page will contain your title and any subtitle. In addition, you write down your name, study program, submission date, student number and sometimes additional information, such as who your thesis supervisor is and what the date is. Your degree often has specific rules regarding what should and should not be on the title page. 

Sometimes after a title page comes an information page. Here you repeat the title and any subtitle, your details, and those of your supervisors. You can also provide additional information here, for example about your study programme. 


Preface (optional)

The foreword is a personal note you include before your reader dives into the subject matter of the thesis. In this chapter, you share something about your personal experiences while writing, your background, or your relationship to the thesis topic. The preface is often also intended to thank the people who have helped you create your thesis. 

You write the preface in the I or we form. A preface usually has a maximum of four to five paragraphs. 

Not every study program requires a preface. Ask your thesis supervisor how this works for your study program.


This chapter is also known as the 'abstract' and is often about 150 to 300 words long (sometimes a bit longer, depending on the requirements of your study program). In the summary, you summarize your research as concisely as possible. You briefly discuss the background, the methods used, the results, and the conclusions. Because of limited space, you must quickly get to the core of the matter and only discuss the most important information in the summary. 

Your summary should always  include the following information: 

  • What is the subject of your thesis?

  • What is your main question or problem statement? 

  • What methods did you use for your research? 

  • What are the results you have found? 

  • What is your conclusion (the answer to the main question)? 

  • What recommendations or suggestions for further research do you make?

Table of contents

Naturally, the reader wants to know which chapter can be found on which page. This is reflected in the table of contents. The table of contents will contain all the chapters of your thesis, including the appendices.

Various lists (optional)

If you have included various figures and/or tables in your thesis, a list of figures and tables can be useful, or even mandatory. In this list, you list all the figures and tables that you have used in your thesis.

If you regularly use abbreviations in your thesis, a list of abbreviations is sometimes useful too. This way, the reader can quickly find out what an abbreviation stands for. Put the abbreviations in this list in alphabetical order. 

In addition, you sometimes see a glossary. In it, you include all specialized terms you use, including a short definition. This list is also in alphabetical order. 



Next is the introduction, in which you convince your reader to read the rest of your thesis. You do this by emphasizing what makes your research relevant to catch their attention. View an example introduction in another thesis to see what this chapter could look like. 

Your introduction should  always  cover the following: 

  • introduction of your subject;

  • description of your potential client; 

  • the reason for your research; 

  • problem statement; 

  • objective; 

  • the (social, practical and/or scientific) implications of your research; 

  • research question and any sub-questions; 

  • brief description of your research design; 

  • bookmark. 

Theoretical framework

In the theoretical framework, you discuss existing literature on your subject. You do this to answer the theoretical sub-questions or to arrive at hypotheses that you will either confirm or undermine with your research. 

Please note: the structure of a hbo thesis is sometimes different from that of a university thesis. As an hbo student, you may first have to discuss the methodology and only then outline the theoretical framework. It is also possible that your introduction and theoretical framework form one chapter. So, you should check carefully how this applies to your study program. 



In your thesis, you have to justify the way in which you set up your research and why you approached it that way. You do that in the methodology chapter. Here you describe, among other things: 

  • the design of your research; 

  • the chosen research method (experiment, surveys, etc.); 

  • characteristics of the data; 

  • where relevant, a description of the population studied; 

  • what you have done to increase reliability and validity; 

  • the type of data analysis.


The idea is that you describe your research method in such detail that the reader could hypothetically redo your research to check the results. 


Results will emerge from your research. You will discuss this in the results chapter. You do this by processing and presenting data according to specific formulation requirements. For example, for statistical data, you often give the mean and standard deviation and you have to show whether the differences found between groups are significant. 


The answer to your main question and any sub-questions can be found in the conclusion. By answering the sub-questions one by one, you arrive at an answer to the main question. No new information should be included in your conclusion. 



While you stay close to the facts in the conclusion, you interpret your results in the discussion. In this chapter, you provide possible interpretations based on your results. In addition, you indicate to what extent your results align with the theory discussed, or whether they can be explained by the theory. Finally, you discuss possible obstacles you encountered during the research and make suggestions for further studies. 

Advice report (optional)

You often see an advice report or recommendations included in theses written for a client or internship company. In the advisory report, you then make concrete recommendations to the client based on your research findings. Those recommendations are, of course, about the problem you've been investigating for them. 


Afterword/reflection (optional)

Some courses ask you to write an afterword or reflection. This afterword has two possible functions. The first function is to thank people for their help (which is unnecessary if you have already included a thank you in the preface). The second function is to reflect on working on your thesis. How did the process go? What are your thoughts on the collaboration for the thesis? What have you learned while working on your thesis? 

Some study programs ask you to evaluate the process in a separate reflection report. That report is then not part of your thesis. Check in advance with your thesis supervisor how you should approach this. 


You have probably drawn information from many different types of literature sources  in your thesis,from books to scientific articles and websites. You need to make sure you cite them properly. For citing the source, you follow the reference style that your study program adheres to. This is often the APA style or - in law studies - the Guidelines for Legal Authors. 

The appendices

Some documents are an important part of your research, but are a bit too detailed to include in their entirety in the body of your thesis. Think, for example, of interview transcripts or surveys. You should therefore include these kinds of important documents as appendices to your thesis. Thanks to the appendices, the reader can check the execution of your research and the results if they wish to. 


What does a thesis look like?

The described thesis structure is a useful guideline for how many theses are structured. But as mentioned, this structure is not always the same since study programs may prefer different thesis structures. 
For inspiration, take a look at thesis examples to see how other students structure their thesis. Look especially at theses that have previously been written in your academic field.

Need help? Have your thesis structure checked!

Are you unsure whether your thesis contains everything that should be in it? Do you want to know whether you have discussed all parts in the right chapter? AthenaCheck's editors can do a check for you, so you can be sure you haven't missed anything. Let us check your thesis for structure, language and/or a common thread. You choose!