The Acknowledgements Section
How to write the acknowledgements for your thesis or dissertation
By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Reviewers: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | January 2024
Writing the acknowledgements section of your thesis might seem straightforward, but it’s more than just a list of names. In this post, we’ll unpack everything you need to know to write up a rock-solid acknowledgements section for your dissertation or thesis.
What is the acknowledgements section?
The acknowledgements section of your thesis or dissertation is where you give thanks to the people who contributed to your project’s success. Generally speaking, this is a relatively brief, less formal section.
With the acknowledgements section, you have the opportunity to show appreciation for the guidance, support, and resources provided by others during your research journey. We’ll unpack the exact contents, order and structure of this section in this post.
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Who should you acknowledge?
Although this is a less “academic” section, acknowledging the right people in the correct order is still important. Typically, you’ll start with the most formal (academic) support received, before moving on to other types of support.
Here’s a suggested order that you can follow when writing up your acknowledgements:
Level 1: Supervisors and academic staff
Start with those who have provided you with academic guidance, including your supervisor, advisors, and other faculty members.
Level 2: Funding bodies or sponsors
If your research was funded, acknowledging these organisations is essential. You don’t need to get into the specifics of the funding, but you should recognise the important role that this made in bringing your project to life.
Level 3: Colleagues and peers
Next you’ll want to mention those who contributed intellectually to your work, including your fellow cohort members and researchers.
Level 4: Family, friends and pets
Last but certainly not least, you should acknowledge your personal (non-academic) support system – those who have provided emotional and moral support. If Fido kept you company during those long nights hunched over the keyboard, you can also thank him here 🙂
As you can see, the order of the acknowledgements goes from the most academic to the least. Importantly, your thesis or dissertation supervisor (sometimes also called an advisor) generally comes first. This is because they are typically the person most involved in shaping your project (or at least, they should be). Plus, they’re oftentimes involved in marking your final work and so a kind word never hurts…
All that said, remember that your acknowledgements section is personal. So, feel free to adjust this order, but do pay close attention to any guidelines or rules provided by your university. If they specify a certain order or set of contents, follow their instructions to the letter.
How to write the acknowledgements section
In terms of style, try to strike a balance between conveying a formal tone and a personal touch. In practical terms, this means that you should use plain, straightforward language (this isn’t the time for heavy academic jargon), but avoid using any slang, nicknames, etc.
As a guide, you’ll typically use some of the following phrases in the acknowledgements section:
I would like to express my appreciation to… for their help with…
I’m particularly grateful to… as they provided…
I could not have completed this project without… as this allowed me to…
Special thanks to… who did…
I had the pleasure of working with… who helped me…
I’d also like to recognise… who assisted me with…
In terms of positioning, the acknowledgements section is typically in the preliminary matter, most commonly after the abstract and before the table of contents. In terms of length, this section usually spans one to three paragraphs, but there’s no strict word limit (unless your university’s brief states otherwise, of course).
If you’re unsure where to place your acknowledgements or what length to make this section, it’s a good idea to have a look at past dissertations and theses from your university and/or department to get a clearer view of what the norms are.
Alright, let’s look at an example to give you a better idea of what this section looks like in practice.
I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Professor Smith, whose expertise and knowledge were invaluable during this research. My sincere thanks also go to the University Research Fund for their financial support.
I am deeply thankful to my colleagues, John and Jane, for their insightful discussions and moral support. Lastly, I must acknowledge my family for their unwavering love and encouragement. Without your support, this project would not have been possible.
As you can see in this example, the section is short and to the point, working from formal support through to personal support.
To simplify the process, we’ve created a free template for the acknowledgements section. If you’re interested, you can download a copy here.
Can I include some humour in my acknowledgements?
A touch of light humour is okay, but keep it appropriate and professional. Remember that this is still part of an academic document.
Can I acknowledge someone who provided informal or emotional support?
Yes, you can thank anyone who offered emotional support, motivation, or even informal advice that helped you during your studies. This can include friends, family members, or a mentor/coach who provided guidance outside of an academic setting.
Should I mention any challenges or difficulties I faced during my research?
While the acknowledgements section is primarily for expressing gratitude, briefly mentioning significant challenges you overcame can highlight the importance of the support you received. That said, you’ll want to keep the focus on the gratitude aspect and avoid delving too deeply into the challenges themselves.
Can I acknowledge the contribution of participants in my research?
Absolutely. If your research involved participants, especially in fields like social sciences or human studies, acknowledging their contribution is not only courteous but also an ethical practice. It shows respect for their participation and contribution to your research.
How do I acknowledge posthumous gratitude, for someone who passed away during my study period?
Acknowledging a deceased individual who played a significant role in your academic journey can be done respectfully. Mention them in the same way you would a living contributor, perhaps adding a note of remembrance.
For example, “I would like to posthumously acknowledge John McAnders for their invaluable advice and support in the early stages of this research.”.
Is there a limit to the number of people I can acknowledge?
How do I acknowledge a group or organisation?
When thanking a group or organization, mention the entity by name and, if applicable, include specific individuals within the organization who were particularly helpful.
For example, “I extend my thanks to The Speakers Foundation for their support, particularly Mr Joe Wilkins, for their guidance.”
Recap: Key Takeaways
Writing the acknowledgements section of your thesis or dissertation is an opportunity to express gratitude to everyone who helped you along the way.
- Acknowledge those people who significantly contributed to your research journey
- Order your thanks from formal support to personal support
- Maintain a balance between formal and personal tones
- Keep it concise
In a nutshell, use this section to reflect your appreciation in a genuinely and professionally way.
Psst… there’s more (for free)
This post is part of our dissertation mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project.