Table of Contents, List of Abbreviations, Glossary, and Appendices
Whether or not you need to include any or all of these elements will depend upon the nature of your subject matter and the conventions that your university applies. It is important therefore that you first check your course handbook.
Table of Contents
This component of your dissertation is most easily written with the tool available within Microsoft Word (or in similar software packages). If you have not used the tool previously, take five minutes to do an online tutorial on the Microsoft website so that you save time in the long run by avoiding common mistakes.
If you do not decide to use such a tool, remember that you will need to format the table in a clear and consistent manner and that page numbers may need to be updated frequently as you edit, proofread, and polish the dissertation.
Try to avoid excessively long tables of contents; a 15,000- word dissertation does not need a four-page table of contents. Do not create a plethora of sub-sections that may contain as little as one sentence. Most dissertations will not need sub-sections of more than two degrees (for example, sections 3, 3.1, and 3.1.2) and use of more than one degree should be very carefully considered.
List of Abbreviations
There is a fine line between too many abbreviations within a dissertation and too few. Abbreviations or acronyms should be used only for terms which will be repeatedly used within your dissertation. So, if you only mention an organisation once there is no need to abbreviate it. Conversely, if you mention it several times on every page an abbreviation is useful (as it aids flow and also assists your word count).
Be aware, however, of the following points.
- First, within the main body of your text, you need to define the acronym in full upon its first use, thus introducing it. For example, you may write: The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) announced that some programming would be undertaken from their Manchester studios (BBC, 2009). Thereafter within the text, you will merely write BBC (you do not need to put it in brackets).
- The reader may forget what an acronym stands for and therefore if you have not mentioned it for some time they may need a reminder. Good practice suggests therefore that you should ‘reintroduce’ the acronym when you first use it within each chapter or every several thousand words.
- ‘Acronym overload’ within sentences exhausts and frustrates the reader (and marker). The following is a fictitious sentence but illustrates the point: “The BBC and CNN announced that the USA, UK and NATO, along with the UN, had found WMDs in OPEC countries”. So alternatively, you could write: “The BBC and CNN announced that the United States, United Kingdom and NATO, in conjunction with United Nations inspectors, had found ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in countries within OPEC”.
Lists of abbreviations are more commonly found in scientific dissertations (for example, biology or engineering), and rarely within subject areas such as history, English, or politics. Check with your supervisor if you are unsure.
A glossary is usually unnecessary in an undergraduate or Master’s dissertation but would include brief definitions of technical words or phrases.
There are three important things to note about appendices:
- They are generally not marked.
- They should not be used as a way to ‘get around’ the word count (if something is important put it in the main body of your text).
- Appendices should only be used to include data that is important to your study but is not absolutely vital to it.
Thus, for example, if you have included a questionnaire as part of your methodology and primary data collection, you should analyse the results from the questionnaire within the main body of your work but could include a blank copy of the questionnaire within an appendix. Similarly, if your work has been on the US Constitution and the extent to which ‘free speech’ is absolute, you will discuss the issues in the main body of your text but could include a copy of the Constitution in an appendix.
‘Appendix’ is the singular form, and ‘appendices’ the plural. Accordingly, you should title different documents within the appendices as Appendix One, Appendix Two, and so on, and the collection thereof as the section titled Appendices. However, if you have only one document, then simply entitle it Appendix.
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