This unit deals with the structure of an extended piece of academic writing such as a dissertation, a thesis or an academic paper. The tutorial section looks at the typical organisation and content of different sections of writing. The questions provide you with a selection of the typical phrases which are used in these sections. The task is to decide in which section the phrases would be used.
In this unit the word ‘thesis’ will subsume ‘dissertation’ and ‘academic paper’, unless otherwise stated.
Information on how to present your thesis can be found here.
Alternatively, log onto the student intranet and look at the section on ‘policies’. You need to view either ‘Guidance for the Presentation of Theses’ or ‘Guidance for the Presentation of Taught Masters Dissertations’.
This unit is divided into the following sections:
- Thesis structures
- Literature review
- Conclusions and recommendations
This unit is also available in printable format. To access please select one of the links below.
1. Thesis structures
Although there is no one standard thesis structure in use across the Faculty of Humanities. Some typical structures are given below. Structures A and B are more likely to be used in Schools where theses are based on empirical or quantitative research, e.g. Social Sciences. Structure C is more flexible and is more likely to be used elsewhere, e.g. Arts, Histories and Cultures.
The same is true of the structure of a typical academic article in the Humanities. Models D and E, below, are likely to be found in subject areas that follow thesis structures A/B and C, respectively.
Model F shows the structure of a sample PhD thesis (in Planning and Landcsape) and may be considered typical in some disciplines.
Percentages in parentheses give an approximate indication of the respective volume of each section.
It should be noted, however, that many variants of these structures are possible and the structure of most theses is relatively flexible, so you must check with your supervisor to see exactly which structure is required or deemed acceptable by your School/Department. You also need to be aware that individual journals may require a structure different from the ones suggested in D and E.
1. Introduction (10% of words or space)
2. Literature review (20%)
3. Methodology (20%)
4. Results (20%)
5. Discussion (20%)
6. Conclusions and Recommendations (10%)
8. Appendices (if any)
1. Introduction (10%)
2. Review of background literature (20%)
3. Design of the questionnaire and/or Methodology of the research (10%)
4. Testing of the questionnaire or Implementation of the research (15%)
5. Presentation and analysis of the data (15%)
6. Evaluation or Comment and critique of the outcomes/findings (20%)
7. Summary and Conclusion and Recommendations (10%)
9. Appendices (if any)
1. Introduction (10%)
2. Chapter 1 (20%)
3. Chapter 2 (20%)
4. Chapter 3 (20%)
5. Chapter 4 (20%)
6. Conclusion (10%)
7. Appendices (if any)
Note: The number of chapters will depend on the length of the thesis. Chapters will normally be of a similar length and will be given a title. Literature review sections may well be included in each chapter, rather than be given in a single separate section.
D) An Article
Introduction and Literature Review
Discussion and Conclusion
E) An Article
Introduction and Literature Review
Section 3 etc.
Note: The number of Sections will depend on the length of the article: shorter articles may not be divided into sections at all. Section divisions may be indicated in a variety of ways, e.g. by Roman numerals (I, II, III etc), Headings/Sub-headings, extra space. Introductions and Conclusions might not be explicitly indicated.
Front matter (Lists of figures/tables/case studies, Abstract, Preface etc.)
Chapter 1 Introduction
Chapter 2 Literature Review, an Overview of Integrated Catchment Management
Chapter 3 Methodology
Chapter 4 Challenges of the Water Framework Directive for Participatory Planning
Chapter 5 Participatory Planning Methodologies and Ecologically Informed Design
Chapter 6 Results of the Process, Irk Valley and Moston Vale
Chapter 7 Analysis of Participants’ Experience
Chapter 8 Meeting the Challenges of the Water Framework Directive
Chapter 9 Discussion and Recommendations
Chapter 10 Conclusion
Note: Each chapter is further divided into sub-sections, which are numbered and given headings.
- For example:
- 2.2 Catchment Management
- 2.2.1 Historical Overview
One important factor to keep in mind when writing your thesis is that your writing needs to be as explicit as possible because your reader is unable to ask you questions about it (except of course in your viva).
Although the information below refers directly to the structures given under A, B, and D, much of it is still relevant and useful for writers using other structures. Please remember that your School/supervisor might require a different organisation from that which is listed. Ask your supervisor to lend you a few examples of well-written theses and use them as guidance for organisation and language. Also, note that for a journal article the Literature Review is usually included in the Introduction, the Results may include the Discussion, or the Discussion may be separate and include the Conclusion.
In this section, you should explain what the topic is and why it is important. You should explain the aims and expected outcomes (criteria for success) of your research project. It should include the nature of the problem being tackled, often presented as a ‘gap’ in the knowledge of the discipline, and put forward any hypotheses you have. This is the section where you should introduce any collaborating or sponsoring organisation.
The Literature Review considers the previously published research which is relevant to your study. This will include, among other things, books, journal articles, reports and theses. It gives an overview of what has already been said or done in your specific area of study; what the prevailing theories, opinions and hypotheses are; and what methods or research sources may be appropriate. It is likely to consider previous work undertaken in your department. In general, you are showing how your work fits into the broader area of your discipline.
The Literature Review is also a critical review of other works. Being critical will enable you to indicate any gaps, weaknesses or areas requiring extension in your specific topic area. By doing this, you are justifying the need for your research. Your Literature Review may end with a section stating the aims and objectives of your own study if you have not already covered this in the Introduction.
It is important to note that in your Literature Review you must only include information which is relevant to your research question(s). Published work which is relevant only to your results and/or their interpretation should be reserved for the Discussion section.
In this section, you should describe the practical methods specific to your research and you should also mention any limitations of the methods used. You should refer to previous work which used the same methods, and give a clear indication of any modifications or improvements in technique. Generally, this section will be written in greater detail in a thesis than that which is usually written in published papers.
Also, if you design a new system or questionnaire or method you must remember to describe it in such detail that another person could replicate your research if they wanted to. This is because it is possible that another researcher may want to repeat your research or use similar methods in the future.
If your research produces items such as tables, charts, and computer programs, it is likely that much of this information will be presented in appendices rather than in this section. It is always useful to speak to your supervisor about what should be in the main body of your thesis and what should be in the appendices.
In this section, it is essential that you are clear and precise. Significant results should be presented, including illustrative items such as tables and figures. However, you do not have to include everything you did if it did not produce significant results. Nevertheless, you should not automatically omit such findings, because they may allow you to discuss why things went wrong and how, in hindsight, you might have done things differently; but this would be included in the Discussion.
You need to decide the order in which you are going to present your findings. Illustrative items such as charts, graphs and tables should have a self-explanatory heading and be clearly numbered. Again, you should check with your supervisor as to how such things are usually presented in your discipline, and what will be contained in the main body of the thesis and what in the appendices. For example, complete tables of data are best included in an appendix.
Hypotheses and research questions are addressed to see whether the findings fit with these or not. However, interpretation of the findings is reserved for the Discussion section.
The aim of the Discussion is to draw out the implications of your work and argue the significance of your findings. In this section you analyse your findings to work out what they really mean and how they support (or do not support) your hypotheses. In this way, the Discussion links back to the Introduction and reconsiders your aims and objectives.
The Discussion should contain short summaries of the main points of your findings, but should not repeat any of the details of your results or findings. You should also attempt to determine the significance of your results and compare them with the findings of previous researchers. Any surprising or unexpected findings need to be explained. You could also consider any limitations of your study.
7. Conclusions and Recommendations
Here you should have a summary of all of the conclusions drawn from your work. It might be possible to write them as a list. Here you should also consider what the theoretical and practical implications of your work are, and recommend ways in which your work could be improved or extended by future researchers.