Writing the thesis chapters
A thesis is built up of a series of chapters that construct a substantiated and convincing response to the research question(s). Typically, a thesis contains the following chapters: an introduction; a literature review; a description of methodology; a report and discussion of results; and a conclusion. A thesis may have five to eight chapters depending on the nature of the study, the required word count and the requirements of the degree.
An introduction is crucial to setting the tone of your thesis – it is the first impression you’ll make on your readers (assessors). Briefly, it presents the purpose, context and scope of your research. Likewise, a conclusion is just as crucial – it is the lasting impression you’ll make on your readers (assessors). Not only does it give a summary of your thesis, but should provide a clear, convincing answer to your research question(s).
In the methods chapter, you describe and justify in detail how you undertook the research and why you chose such methods and/or theoretical position(s).
In the reporting and discussion chapter(s), you outline the important findings and how they answer your research question(s). You might also make comparisons with previous studies and discuss the relevance of your findings to the field of study as a whole.
These chapters fit and flow together to create a complete thesis document.
The introduction chapter tells the reader your research topic and why it needs to be researched. Importantly, this chapter sets out your research question(s) and/or hypothesis. Additionally, this chapter provides definitions of key terms and background information.
The conclusion chapter provides a clear answer to your research question(s) and summarises the key findings. In this chapter, you evaluate the limitations of your research, make recommendations for future research and link back to other research.
In the methods chapter, you inform your reader how you will undertake the research and why you’ll do the research in this way. This chapter provides specific details about the stages of your research – the processes, the sample framework, the theoretical basis, and how outcomes will be measured to address your research question(s) and/or hypothesis.
The reporting and discussion chapters are where you tell your unique research story. These chapters form the bulk of your thesis where you describe, analyse and interpret your data and answer your research question(s). There are many modes of presenting your findings depending on the conventions of your discipline and methodology. While text is common, clearly labelled visuals may be appropriate. The discussion often incorporates links back to your research question(s), connections with previous research and the implications of your research.
The structure of the thesis will be determined by the conventions and expectations of your discipline. However, the following questions form the basis of a sound structure:
- What was done?
- Why was it done?
- How was it done?
- What were the results?
- What do they mean?
- Why are they important?
An important aspect of thesis structure is signposting. Not only does this help you organise your content but it also helps the reader to follow your thesis. Some common forms of signposting include: headings and subheadings, reader direction, forecasting, recapitulating and giving a brief overview.