The Table of Contents of your Ph.D. Research Report


I need to emphasize that the initial table of contents will be more a structure for a table of contents than a final one. You will probably have all the chapters that you must have, but you will have few lower level headings. Also, you might need to add a small number of chapters as you progress with your research.

The table of contents should follow directly after the authentication of your work.

Once you’ve written your research report, you will probably delete the provisional structure for a table of content and replace it with the chapters, headings and sub-headings of your final research report. Keep in mind that your table of contents may not differ from the chapters, headings and sub-headings in your research report.

At the end of your table of contents you should also have the references that you consulted, a list of figures and a list of tables.

Here is a list of the most basic headings that most universities will expect you to discuss in your research report:

  1. Title page.
  2. Confirmation of authenticity.
  3. Acknowledgements.
  4. Abstract.
  5. Chapter 1: Contextualising the Study.
  6. Chapter 2: Research Methodology.
  7. Chapter 3: Theoretical Background.
  8. Chapter 4: Data Collection and Analysis.
  9. Chapter 5: Synthesis and Evaluation of the Study.
  10. References.
  11. List of Figures.
  12. List of Tables.

The title page. Take note that the title page is not mentioned in the table of contents and that it is the cover page of your research report.

Confirmation of authenticity. You will be required by the university to confirm that the contents of your research report are your own. Most universities, if not all, use a standard format for such confirmation.

Here is an example:

“I, (your full names and surname) declare that (the title of your research report) is my own work and that all the sources that I have used or quoted have been indicated and acknowledged by means of complete references.

(Your signature)


Acknowledgements. Acknowledgements are a matter of choice.

However, it is only good manners to thank people who helped you with your research.

The acknowledgement has real value for your research, though, for example:

  1. It will show the readers of your report that you conducted your research in a systematic, ethical and disciplined manner.
  2. It shows that you understand that research should not be done by one person only.

Abstract. The abstract is a mandatory summary of your research report. It must be short – you will be required to summarise your research report in three or four pages.

Some readers, for example your sponsors, might read only the abstract. Therefore, you will need to ensure that you cover all the questions that they might have.

Chapter 1: Contextualising the Study. Researchers making use of technicist research methods often claim that their findings and the principles and concepts that they develop are timeless and that it applies independent of context.

Even they, however, need to define the range and scope of their research – they will not be able to include the entire world, let alone entire universe, in their research projects.

Chapter 2: Research Methodology. In this chapter you will probably discuss:

  1. The research approach that you will use.
  2. The research methods that you will use.
  3. The paradigmatic approach that you will follow.
  4. The data collection methods that you will use.
  5. How you will analyse the data that you collect.

Chapter 3: Theoretical Background. You will probably need to do literature study as a foundation for your research. It would be rather difficult to jump into data collection and the analysis of data if you do not know what you should be looking for.

Just for interest’s sake – this is a rationalist stance.

Chapter 4: Data Collection and Analysis. You already discussed the data collection and analysis methods that you will use in Chapter 2. Here you will need to discuss the actual processes of data collection and analysis. This is a critically important chapter and might even be broken down into two or three separate chapters. It is from the contents of this chapter that you will come to findings and conclusions from which your solution to the problem that you investigated will come.

Chapter 5: Synthesis and Evaluation of the Study. Chapter 5 will normally be your final chapter. This is where you will describe your solution. Depending on the purpose of your research and the research approach and methods that you used, you might develop a model, new knowledge, new methods to combat oil pollution at sea, new medication, and many more.

References. All sources that you consulted must be acknowledged in your research report.

Universities invariably have prescriptions in this regard, and you should abide by them.

List of Figures and List of Tables. The lists of figures and tables follow directly after the table of contents.

One can regard it as part of the table of contents.

The figure and table numbers in the lists must be the same as in the content of the research report.

Different universities have different requirements for the layout and format of the lists of figures and tables, although most are rather flexible in this respect.


Your provisional table of contents will probably be just a structure, consisting of chapters with no lower lever content.

Your actual and final table of contents must align exactly with the contents of your report.

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