1.2 The Main Body of the Thesis
As the first chapter or sometimes the first section in a thesis, the introduction presents and explains the study to readers, so all theses require some sort of introduction. Depending on university or department requirements and the nature of the thesis, this part of the thesis might be entitled ‘Introduction,’ ‘Background’ or something more specific to the particular study, and in some cases the introduction may not bear a main title at all, but contain a number of sections with topic headings.
The content of the introduction will vary widely from thesis to thesis and may contain any number of subsections that organise the introductory material (into sections such as ‘Background of the Problem,’ ‘Research Objectives’ and the like), but, generally speaking, the introduction will define the topic or problem on which the research focuses, explain the significance of the topic and research, indicate the context of the research both physically (as in location) and intellectually (in terms of scholarship on the topic) and outline the research aims and/or objectives. It may also discuss the background of the researcher and any assumptions that he or she brings to the thesis, include any research questions and/or hypotheses used in the study and briefly introduce the methodology adopted or devised for the thesis. Sometimes a literature review forms part of the introductory chapter instead of constituting a chapter on its own, and the same is the case with a description of the methodology used in the research, though this is less common. An introduction usually ends with a brief description of the rest of the thesis that specifies what each chapter contains. For more information on the introduction, see Sections 3.1 and 4.3 below.
1.2.2 Literature Review
Although not all theses feature a separate chapter dedicated to a review of the literature on the candidate’s topic, many do, and all theses require some engagement with previous scholarship in the area, even if this is only a short section in the introduction or methodology chapter that briefly outlines what has already been done in an area and situates the student’s work as interesting and necessary within that context. A complete literature review (which might also be called ‘Previous Research’ or something similar) should describe in more detail what has been done on a topic or in an area of study, discuss the methodologies and theoretical perspectives used in the past, indicate what is lacking or has been explored from a limited perspective and, in most cases, explain how the research conducted for the thesis will address the problem, fill the gap or provide new ways of thinking.
It may be helpful to divide the review into sections with headings such as ‘Controversies’ and ‘Current Perspectives,’ and in some cases such a structured approach may be required, so do check university and department guidelines. The literature review need not include every piece of scholarship written on your topic, but if there is very little relevant scholarship or reviewing the literature is a central focus of your thesis, it could and probably should. In many cases, however, the review can be somewhat selective, providing summaries only of those works that exemplify important trends and theories, are particularly problematic or helpful and/or present arguments that specifically support or contradict your own theories and line of argumentation. A summary of the review (particularly a long review) often closes the chapter. For more information on the literature review, see Sections 2.1.3, 3.2 and 4.3 below; Chapter 7 on references may also prove helpful.
1.2.3 Methodology Chapter(s)
Like the literature review, the discussion of the methodology used in a thesis usually fills a chapter, although it can also appear as a shorter section within, say, the introduction or be blended with the literature review if reviewing the scholarship is a major part of the methodology. If, on the other hand, the methodology is particularly complicated or perhaps two different methods are being compared or combined, it could even be presented in two separate chapters. The chapter might be entitled ‘Methodology,’ ‘Methods’ or something more specific to the particular thesis, but its purpose remains the same: a description of the approaches and techniques used to conduct the research for the thesis.
Its content will therefore differ markedly from thesis to thesis, but, as a general rule, it will address the overall research design (qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods, for instance); describe how information (data) will be collected and analysed; explain how the approach adopted is different or innovative and why it is valid for the study (including its strengths and weaknesses); provide details of the research setting, instruments, participants, trials, surveys, controls and the like (often with figures to enhance the descriptions); and report information on reliability, validity (as well as threats to it), ethical issues and perhaps limitations, although the last is usually included in the final chapter of the thesis instead. The chapter might be divided into sections and subsections (e.g., ‘Instruments,’ ‘Participants’ and ‘Reliability’), and as with the literature review, a summary often appears at the end of the chapter, especially if the description of the methodology is particularly long and/or complicated. For more information on describing methodology, see Sections 3.3 and 4.3 below, and for advice on designing figures, see Section 4.4.1 below.
1.2.4 Results Chapter(s)
A factual report of the analysed results (or findings) of the research is essential to any thesis, though the data themselves and the means used to analyse them will be unique to each thesis. The results may appear in a single chapter or, if they are long and complicated, in more than one chapter. They might be subdivided into chapters and/or sections focussing on the findings of different tests, trials, surveys, reviews, case studies and so on, or on specific themes or patterns that emerge from the data or on the research questions and/or hypotheses formulated in the thesis.
The presentation of your findings might or might not use tables and figures to present information clearly or to enable the comparison of data on the part of readers. Since the methods of gathering and analysing data should already have been outlined in the methodology chapter, these need only be touched upon when necessary to clarify and lend structure to the description of data. Reporting results generally involves an objective and factual approach, and while you will no doubt want to emphasise the most important trends or findings, further discussion of the meaning and implications of those findings is usually found in a separate discussion chapter. However, in some theses the factual presentation and interpretive discussion of results are blended in a single chapter, but this is usually only appropriate if it is suitable for the material, in keeping with university or department guidelines and approved by your supervisor and thesis committee. For more information on presenting results (in tables and figures as well as in text), see Section 4.4 below.
1.2.5 Discussion and Conclusion Chapter(s)
Discussing the results of your research is also necessary in a thesis, as is concluding your study as a whole. This material is sometimes presented in two chapters, usually with the discussion coming first and the conclusion following as a separate chapter (if the discussion has been blended with the report of the results instead of presented separately, the conclusion will certainly be separate), and occasionally simply because there is so much ground to cover that two chapters are required to present the material. Concluding thoughts are often included in the same chapter as the discussion, however, normally as a final section.
The discussion and conclusion chapter of a thesis generally provides a brief summary of the analysed results that highlights the most important trends and aspects of those findings, and it should ideally return to the aims and/or objectives of the thesis, as well as its research questions and/or hypotheses, with descriptions and explanations of what has been achieved and resolved. This final part of the thesis weaves together the threads of the overall argument while focussing on the meaning and implications of the study’s results, so it is the place to emphasise the original contribution to knowledge (a requirement of most doctoral theses) made by the thesis and to engage in a little carefully worded interpretation and speculation. It is also the place for describing aspects of the methodology that may have affected the results, discussing the limitations of the research and presenting recommendations for future studies. For more information on the discussion and conclusion, see Section 4.5 below.
Why PhD Success?
To Graduate Successfully
This article is part of a book called "PhD Success" which focuses on the writing process of a phd thesis, with its aim being to provide sound practices and principles for reporting and formatting in text the methods, results and discussion of even the most innovative and unique research in ways that are clear, correct, professional and persuasive.
The assumption of the book is that the doctoral candidate reading it is both eager to write and more than capable of doing so, but nonetheless requires information and guidance on exactly what he or she should be writing and how best to approach the task. The basic components of a doctoral thesis are outlined and described, as are the elements of complete and accurate scholarly references, and detailed descriptions of writing practices are clarified through the use of numerous examples.
The basic components of a doctoral thesis are outlined and described, as are the elements of complete and accurate scholarly references, and detailed descriptions of writing practices are clarified through the use of numerous examples. PhD Success provides guidance for students familiar with English and the procedures of English universities, but it also acknowledges that many theses in the English language are now written by candidates whose first language is not English, so it carefully explains the scholarly styles, conventions and standards expected of a successful doctoral thesis in the English language.
Individual chapters of this book address reflective and critical writing early in the thesis process; working successfully with thesis supervisors and benefiting from commentary and criticism; drafting and revising effective thesis chapters and developing an academic or scientific argument; writing and formatting a thesis in clear and correct scholarly English; citing, quoting and documenting sources thoroughly and accurately; and preparing for and excelling in thesis meetings and examinations.
Completing a doctoral thesis successfully requires long and penetrating thought, intellectual rigour and creativity, original research and sound methods (whether established or innovative), precision in recording detail and a wide-ranging thoroughness, as much perseverance and mental toughness as insight and brilliance, and, no matter how many helpful writing guides are consulted, a great deal of hard work over a significant period of time. Writing a thesis can be an enjoyable as well as a challenging experience, however, and even if it is not always so, the personal and professional rewards of achieving such an enormous goal are considerable, as all doctoral candidates no doubt realise, and will last a great deal longer than any problems that may be encountered during the process.
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