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Thesis Writing

Workshop

SandraEgege

StudentLearningCentre
FlindersUniversity

2004

ThesisWriting
Introduction:
Athesisisprobablythelongest,mostextendedpieceofworkyouwilleverhavetowrite.1Inthe
earlystages,andactuallyrightuptocompletion,theprospectcanbedaunting.Thetaskseems
massiveandseeminglyendless.WheredoIbegin?Whatneedstobeincluded?HowdoIknowwhen
itiscompleteorwhenIhavesaidenough?Thesethoughtsareoftenaccompaniedbyother,more
debilitatingquestions.Ismyresearchquestiongoodenough?AmIgoodenough?WillIhaveenough
tosay?WhatonearthamItryingtosay?
Theaimofthisworkshopistoprovidesomeanswerstothefirstsetofquestions.Thesecondsetof
questionsisnotpartofthefocusofthissession,eventhoughtheyrepresentpartofthethesiswriting
process.Selfdoubtsarecommon.Thisispartlybecausetheenterprisetakessolongandweinvestso
muchtimeandenergyinit.Thethesisbecomespartofusanditbecomesdifficulttodetachourselves
fromitandlookatitobjectively.Secondly,theprocessofwritingathesisinvolvesclarifyingour
ideasandrefiningourproject.Consequently,doubtingthedirectionandcontentofthethesisispart
ofitsevolution.Ultimately,yoursupervisoristheonetohelpyouhere.Discussyourideaswith
him/her.Discussyourdoubtsandyourneedfordirection.Thisistheroleofthesupervisor.Other
thanthat,yourconfirmationwillcomewhenyourthesisisexaminedandyoureceiveyourgrading.
WhatisaThesis?
Anythesis,nomatterwhatthediscipline,attemptstomakeanewclaim.Itspurposeistoshednew
lightonsomethingortolookatsomethinginanovelway.Thisistruewhetherthethesisiswrittenin
thesciences,thesocialsciencesorthehumanities.TheroleofthethesisinAcademiaisto
contributetoknowledge.Thismeansthatyou,theresearcher,arecontributingtotheknowledge
basewecurrentlyhaveabouttheworldwelivein.Youhavethepotentialtoinstigatenewresearch,
changecurrentpracticesandevenchangepeople'sbeliefs.Becauseofthis,yourthesisisjudged
againststrictcriteria.Itmustreflecttheexpectedstandardsofuniversityscholarship.
Inwritingathesis,theresearcherexploreswhatisalreadyknowninagivenareaand,through
analysisandevaluationofthatresearch,formsanhypothesisthatbecomesthebasisoftheirown
researchtheresearchquestion.Theresearchermayrecognisegapsincurrentresearch,discover
possibleanomaliesinaccepteddata,putforwardwaystoimprovethevalidityofresearchfindings,
makenovelconnectionsbetweendifferentconcepts,recognisesharedconceptualframeworksin
seeminglydiversefieldsand/orapplyneworoldframeworksinnovelandinterestingways.
Ofcoursethediscoveryofaresearchareaorresearchquestionisonlythebeginning.Asmentioned
above,theroleofthethesisistocontributetothepoolofknowledgeinaparticulararea.Thethesisis
makingwhatiscalleda'knowledgeclaim.'Itpurportstoofferanewapproachorideainthefield.
Thus,itmustbecleartothereaderwhatthenewclaimisthatisbeingputforwardandwhyitisnew.
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Tobeaccurate,thisdependsonyourcurrentlevelandwhetheryouintendtocontinue.AnHonoursorMAcoursework
thesiscanvaryinlengthfrom10,00025,000words,aMastersResearchthesisvariesbetween30,000and60,000words,
aPhDfrombetween55,000and120,000words.

Mostimportantly,itmustconvincethereaderthattheclaimislikelytobetrue,basedonthe
evidence.Athesisis,inessence,anargument.Theknowledgeclaim,(morecommonlyreferredto
asthethesisstatement),istheconclusion.
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BasicRequirements:
Firstandforemost,athesisisapieceofwriting.Agreatdealofemphasisisplacedonyourwriting
abilityandyourgradewilldependonhoweffectivelyyoucommunicateyourideas.Thisisnecessary
whetheryouareintheHumanities,theSocialSciencesortheSciences.Itisimportanttodevelopa
good,clear,concisewritingstyle.

aimforsimplicityratherthancomplexsentencestructure
beclearaboutthepointyouaretryingtomake
beconciseanddirect,ratherthanexcessivelywordy
makeimportantpointsstrongly

Second,yourthesisshouldcontainaclearpositionorargument.Yourwritingneedstousethe
appropriatelanguageandwritingconventionsthatreflectthis.

useappropriateheadingsandsubheadings
eachparagraphshouldhaveaclearpoint(topicsentence)
eachpointshouldbeconcludedbeforemovingontothenext
useappropriatediscoursemarkers
ideasshouldbelinkedappropriately

ThesisContent
Athesisisadocumentedprocessofinquirywhichattemptstoansweraquestionorsolveaproblem
thatyouhaveidentifiedinyourfield.Itdoesthisthroughextensiveresearchandtheapplicationof
evidenceandreasoning.Theresearchprocessdevelopsandusesmultipleskills;writtenlanguage,
research,criticalthinkingandcognitiveprocessing.Theseskillsaregeneric.Althoughsome
Facultiesanddisciplinesrequireaslightlydifferentstructureorusedifferentmethodology,the
expectedoutcomesarethesame.Theworkisexpectedtoreflectthestudent'scapacitytothinkand
reasoneffectivelyinagivenfield.Studentsareexpectedto:

researchtheirareathoroughly
makeexplicithiddenassumptions,biasesandcontextuallimitations
becognisantoftheimportantissuesanddebates
showadepthofanalysisnotpossibleinasmallerpieceofwork
demonstratecriticalthinkingskills
selectandsynthesiseinformationintoacoherentbodyofwork
contributetothefieldofresearch

Ultimately,itshouldbeverycleartothereaderwhatyourthesisisabout,yourpositioninregardsto
thetopiccontentandyourreasonsforholdingthatposition.Thisisoftensummarisedbythe
followingquestions:

whatistheissue?(thearea)
whydoesitneedtobeaddressed(theresearchgap)
howwillitbeanswered?(themethodorevidence)
whatwillitachieve?(outcomes)

Howyouanswerthesequestionswillbemirroredinthetypeofthesisstructureyouadoptandthe
typeofargumentstructureyouuse.
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BroadThesisStructure
SomeFacultiesdifferintermsofthesisstructure.Broadly,theywillallcontainthefollowing
sections.Differenceslieinwhetherornotyouareusingprimaryorsecondaryresearchfindings.For
instance,withprimaryresearch,youmustincludedetaileddescriptionsofyourmethodology,
researchmethod,sampleselection,processofanalysis,statisticaltoolsandmethodofinterpretation
(sometimesresourcesandtimelinesarerequested).Somedisciplinesrequireaseparatesectionon
theliterature.

Titlepage

Abstract

ContentsPage

Introduction
problemtobeaddressed
backgroundcontext
researchgap
researchquestions

Body(MainArgument)
addressingtheliterature
methodology/researchfindings
evidence
discussion

Conclusion

Appendices/Bibliography

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ThesisStatement
Itisimportanttobeclearwhatyourresearchquestionis.Theanswertothatquestionbecomesthe
thesisstatement.Thethesisasawholeisatransparentrecordoftheprocessusedtoreachananswer
tothequestion.
1. Thethesisstatementisthecontrollingideaofthepaper.Thisthreadshouldbeapparent
throughoutthethesisasthebackbonewhichmakesthesectionsofthethesishangtogether
aroundthecommontheme.Itinformsallsectionsofthethesis.
2. Thethesisstatementislimitedbytheextentoftheresearchundertaken.Yourfinalclaimwillbe
constrainedbythebreadthanddepthofthestudyundertaken,timelimitationsandaccessibilityor
reliabilityofthedataorevidence.
3. Thefinalstatementshouldreflectallthemajorpointscoveredinthethesis.Itshouldsummarise
whatyouattemptedtoanswer,yourreasonsandyourmethodofinquiry.Itshouldalsoindicate
outcomesorconclusionsbasedonyourresearchfindings.
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Organisingmaterialinthethesis
Howyouorganisethematerialinyourthesiswilldependonwhatyouaretryingtodo,yourpurpose,
andhowyouchoosetoaddresstheissuesraised.
Chronological
Ifyouaredescribingtheevolutionofeventsorthedevelopmentalprocessesleadingtoaspecific
outcome,thenmaterialwillbepresentedsequentiallyfrombeginningtoend.
Comparisonorcontrast
Youmaybecomparingsimilartheories,perspectives,approachesoreventsorcontrastingalternative
theories,perspectives,paradigmsorapproachestoproblems.Materialwillbeorganisedby
categorisingsimilaritiesfirst,followedbydifferencesorviceversa.Howitisorganiseddependson
whatyouintendtoshow.
CauseandEffect
Ifyouwanttoestablishacausalrelationshipbetweenoneeventandanother,oroneideaandanother,
thenmaterialwouldbepresentedbyhypothesising,citingevidenceofeffectanddrawing
conclusions.Thisprincipleworksforidentifyingandexplainingwhycertain
Trendsoreventsarelikelytooccur.
Analysis

Itmaybethatyouarelookingatsomeevent,action,role,etc.thatcanbestbeunderstoodbylooking
atitscomponentparts.Materialmaybeorganisedaroundeachsection.
SpatialPatterns
Sometopicsdealwithdistribution,occurrencesofeventsinplaces,placementofpeopleorindustry.

ThesisOutline
Anoutlinerepresentsthedevelopmentofyourideasandhowtheyareinterrelated.Itisgenerally
sortedintomainideas,themesortopics.Undereachheading,theremaybesubheadingsof
relatedbutminorpointsorareasofinterest.Anoutlineprovidestheskeletonofyourthesis.It
helpstoorganiseyourideasintoalogicalformatandtoseeconnectionsbetweenthepartsof
yourthesis.
Theoutlinewillchangeandbecomemorerefinedanddetailedasthethesisprogresses.Agood
outlinewillhelpyoutoconstructthethesisandwillbecomeagoodguidetotherelevant
sectionsandheadingsofyourcontentspage.
MainIdea1
Supportingidea1.1
Evidence
Evidence

Supportingidea1.2
Evidence
Evidence

MainIdea2
Supportingidea2.1
Evidence
Evidence

Supportingidea2.2
Evidence
Evidence

Abstract
Theabstractsummarisesyourmainclaimsandhowyoudealwiththem.Findingsdonotgointhe
abstract.Itoutlinestheproblem,thepurposeofthethesis,themainareasaddressedandthegeneral
conclusionorsolutionyouwillbedefending.
Itshouldbe:
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Conciseandspecific
Accurate
Clear
Nonevaluative

ThesisStructure
Alltheseshaveasimilarstructure,regardlessofdiscipline.However,thereissomevariationinterms
ofcontentwhendoingprimaryorsecondaryresearch.Ifyourthesisinvolvesprimaryresearch,
youwillsometimesneedtoincludeaseparatesectionorchaptercalledliteraturereview.You
willalsohavethebodyofthethesisseparatedintosectionswhichsetoutyourmethodology,
method,resultsanddiscussion.

Introduction
Althoughshort,theintroductionisveryimportant.Itstatesyourthesis,thebackgroundcontextofthe
research,theproblemarisingfromthatbackgroundandhowyouwilladdresstheproblem.Itis
anargumenttojustifyyourresearchproject.Itsetsout,clearlyandlogically,thestepsyou
followtoreachyourmainconclusion.
Body
Thisincorporatesallthechaptersthatdealwiththeissuesraisedintheintroductionandisastepby
stepaccountoftheprocessusedtoreachyourconclusion.Itprovidestheevidenceforyour
claims.
Ifusingprimaryresearchitwillinclude:

Method

Results

Discussion
Conclusion
Thisfinalisesyourresearchprojectbylinkingtogetherallthevariouscomponentsofyourthesisand
thekeypoints,findingsorideasgeneratedinthebodyofthethesis.Itwillreiterateyourmain
argument,discusstheimplicationsofyourfindings,andallowyoutointerpretthefindingsmore
broadly.Itwillalsoindicatefutureresearchandthelimitationsofyourstudy.Itmaysummarise
themainproblemsfacedinconductingtheresearchandhowtheycouldbeaddressedinthe
future.
References/Appendices
Allreferencesmustbeaccuratelyrecordedandfollowtheformatrequiredbyyourdiscipline.
Appendicesareanyadditionalinformationrelevanttosupportingyourclaims.Theseactasdetailed
oradditionalevidence.Theymaybetables,maps,samplequestionnaires,poems,stories,copies
ofcorrespondenceordietcharts.Ifincluded,youwillneedtorefertotheminthetableof
contentsandinthetext,whererelevant.

WritingtheThesis
Herearejustafewtipswhichmayhelpwiththeprocess.
1. Beclearaboutyourresearchquestion,howyouintendtoansweritandwhatpositionyouare
taking.Oftenwritingblocksoccurbecausewearenolongerclearaboutwhatwearetryingto
say.Atthesametime,clarityofpurposewillavoidunnecessarydigressionsortheinclusion
ofirrelevantmaterial.
2. Assoonaspossiblesketchanoutlineofyourthesis.Includepossiblechapterheadingsand
areasyouthinkyoumightcover.Thiswillevolveovertimebutithelpstokeepyourresearch
focusedonwhereyouintendtogo.Asyougathermoreinformation,yourdirectionor
positionmaychange.Makesureyoureviseyouroutlineregularlytokeepyouontrack.
3. Writeasmuchaspossibleassoonaspossible.Don'tworryaboutgettingitrightfirsttime.If
aparagraphisnotworking,leaveitandmoveon.Writewhatyoucanintheorderyoucan.
Sometimesthismeanswritingthemiddlesectionfirst.Don'texpecttowritefrombeginning
toend.Theintroductionisoftenrevisedinlightofthefinalresearchoutcomes.
4. Alwaystakenoteswhenreading.Alwaysmakedetailednoteswhenconductingresearch,
makingsuretorecordeverything.Don'trelyonmemory.
5. Carryanotebookandjotdownanyideasyouhave.Evenkeepitnexttothebed;oftenthe
bestideasorinspirationscomejustbeforeyougotosleep.
6. Whenconductinglibrarysearchesalwayswriteoutthefullreferencedetailsatthetimeyou
readormakenotesorjotdownaquote.Alwaysphotocopythetitlepageofjournalsorbooks
aswellasthearticleorchapteryouareinterestedin.Thiswillsaveendlessamountsof
frustratingworklateron.
7. Makesureyouhaveagoodfilingsystem.Keepphotocopiesonspecificareastogether.On
thecomputer,makesureyounumbertheversionsofdraftssoyouknowwhichisthemost
recent.Usetheautomaticdatesysteminthefooter.
8. Don'tdeleteoldversionsorsectionsyounolongerthinkarerelevant.Youdon'tknowwhen
theymightbeneeded.Keeptheminaseparate'scrap'file.
9. Writeadraftfirst,thenleaveitforafewdays.Goback,rereadandedit.Thehardestthingis
knowingwhentostop,letgoandhandup.
RememberSeekhelpasmuchaspossible.

Useyoursupervisor
Talktocolleaguesandotherstaff
Usestudentsupportservices
ContactthePGSA
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