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Data Gathering Sample In Thesis Statements

Contents

This section describes the main elements of a written thesis at the bachelor’s and master’s levels. Although the specific structure described here is most relevant for empirical theses, much of the advice is also relevant for theoretical work. Please note that the formal requirements vary between different disciplines, and make sure to confer the guidelines that apply in your field.

For the contents in the various sections you may also confer Organising your writing.

Abstract and foreword

Most readers will turn first to the abstract. Use it as an opportunity to spur the reader’s interest. The abstract should summarise the main contents of your thesis, especially the thesis statement,  but does not need to cover every aspect of the main text. The main objective is to give the reader a good idea of what the thesis is about.

In general the abstract should be the last thing that you write, when you know what you have actually written. It is nevertheless a good idea to work on a draft continuously. Writing a good abstract is difficult, since it should only include the most important points of your work. But this is also why working on your abstract can be useful – it forces you to identify exactly what it is you are writing about.

There are usually no formal requirements for forewords, but it is common practice to thank your supervisors, informants, and others who have helped and supported you. If you have received any grants or research residencies, you should also acknowledge these.

Note: Shorter assignments do not require abstracts and forewords.

1. Introduction

Your introduction has two main purposes: 1) to give an overview of the main points of your thesis; and 2) awaken the reader’s interest. It’s not a bad idea to go through the introduction one last time when the writing is done, to ensure that it connects well with your conclusion.

Tip: For a nice, stylistic twist you can reuse a theme from the introduction in your conclusion. For example, you might present a particular scenario in one way in your introduction, and then return to it in your conclusion from a different – richer or contrasting – perspective.

Your introduction should include:

  • The background for your choice of theme 
  • A discussion of your research question or thesis statement 
  • A schematic outline of the remainder of your thesis 

The sections below discuss each of these elements in turn.

1.1 Background

The background sets the general tone for your thesis. It should make a good impression and convince the reader why the theme is important and your approach relevant. Even so, it should be no longer than necessary.

What is considered a relevant background depends on your field and its traditions. Background information might be historical in nature, or it might refer to previous research or practical considerations. You can also focus on a specific text, thinker or problem.

Academic writing often means having a discussion with yourself (or some imagined opponent). To open your discussion, there are several options available. You may, for example:

  • refer to a contemporary event  
  • outline a specific problem; a case study or an example
  • review the relevant research/literature to demonstrate the need for this particular type of research 

If it is common in your discipline to reflect upon your experiences as a practitioner, this is the place to present them. In the remainder of your thesis, this kind of information should be avoided, particularly if it has not been collected systematically.

Tip: Do not spend too much time on your background and opening remarks before you have gotten started with the main text.

Exercise

Write three different opening paragraphs for your thesis using different literary devices 

For example:
a) “set the scene” with a (short) narrative 
b) adopt a historical approach to the phenomenon you intend to discuss
c) take an example from the media to give your topic current relevance.

Observe to what extent these different openings inspire you, and choose the approach most appropriate to your topic. For example, do you want to spur emotions, or remain as neutral as possible? How important is the historical background? The exercise can be done in small groups or pairs. Discuss what makes an opening paragraph successful (or not). How does your opening paragraph shed light on what is to follow? What will the reader’s expectations be?

1.2 Defining the scope of your thesis

One of the first tasks of a researcher is defining the scope of a study, i.e., its area (theme, field) and the amount of information to be included. Narrowing the scope of your thesis can be time-consuming. Paradoxically, the more you limit the scope, the more interesting it becomes. This is because a narrower scope lets you clarify the problem and study it at greater depth, whereas very broad research questions only allow a superficial treatment.

The research question can be formulated as one main question with (a few) more specific sub-questions or in the form of a hypothesis that will be tested.

Your research question will be your guide as your writing proceeds. If you are working independently, you are also free to modify it as you go along. 

How do you know that you have drafted a research question? Most importantly, a research question is something that can be answered. If not, you have probably come up with a theme or field, not a question.

Some tips:

  • Use interrogative words: how, why, which (factors/situations) etc.
  • Some questions are closed and only invoke concrete/limited answers. Others will open up for discussions and different interpretations.
    Asking “What …?” is a more closed question than asking “How?” or “In what way?”
    Asking “Why” means you are investigating what causes of a phenomenon. Studying causality is methodologically demanding.
  • Feel free to pose partially open questions that allow discussions of the overall theme, e.g., “In what way …?”; “How can we understand [a particular phenomenon]?”
  • Try to condense your research question into one general question – and perhaps a few more specific sub-questions (two or three will usually suffice).

1.3 Outline

The outline gives an overview of the main points of your thesis. It clarifies the structure of your thesis and helps you find the correct focus for your work. The outline can also be used in supervision sessions, especially in the beginning. You might find that you need to restructure your thesis. Working on your outline can then be a good way of making sense of the necessary changes. A good outline shows how the different parts relate to each other, and is a useful guide for the reader.

It often makes sense to put the outline at the end of the introduction, but this rule is not set in stone. Use discretion: What is most helpful for the reader? The information should come at the right point – not too early and not too late.

2. Theory section 

The theory used in an empirical study is meant to shed light on the data in a scholarly or scientific manner. It should give insights not achievable by ordinary, everyday reflections. The main purpose of using theory is to analyse and interpret your data. Therefore, you should not present theoretical perspectives that are not being put to use. Doing so will create false expectations, and suggests that your work is incomplete.

Not all theses have a separate theory section. In the IMRaD format the theory section is included in the introduction, and the second chapter covers the methods used.

What kind of theory should you choose? Since the theory is the foundation for your data analysis it can be useful to select a theory that lets you distinguish between, and categorise different phenomena. Other theories let you develop the various nuances of a phenomenon. In other words, you have a choice of either reducing the complexity of your data or expanding upon something that initially looks simple.

How much time and space should you devote to the theory chapter? This is a difficult question. Some theses dwell too long on theory and never get to the main point: the analysis and discussion. But it is also important to have read enough theory to know what to look for when collecting data. The nature of your research should decide: Some studies do not require much theory, but put more emphasis on the method, while other studies need a rich theory section to enable an interesting discussion.

3. Method section  

In a scholarly research article, the section dealing with method is very important. The same applies to an empirical thesis. For students, this can be a difficult section to write, especially since its purpose may not always be clear.

The method chapter should not iterate the contents of methodology handbooks. For example, if you have carried out interviews, you do not need to list all the different types of research interview. You also do not need to describe the differences between quantitative and qualitative methods, or list all different kinds of validity and reliability.

What you must do is to show how your choice of design and research method is suited to answering your research question(s). Demonstrate that you have given due consideration to the validity and reliability of your chosen method. By “showing” instead of “telling”, you demonstrate that you have understood the practical meaning of these concepts. This way, the method section is not only able to tie the different parts of your thesis together, it also becomes interesting to read!  

  • Show the reader what you have done in your study, and explain why. How did you collect the data? Which options became available through your chosen approach?
  • What were your working conditions? What considerations did you have to balance? 
  • Tell the reader what you did to increase the validity of your research. E.g., what can you say about the reliability in data collection? How do you know that you have actually investigated what you intended to investigate? What conclusions can be drawn on this basis? Which conclusions are certain and which are more tentative? Can your results be applied in other areas? Can you generalise? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • You should aim to describe weaknesses as well as strengths. An excellent thesis distinguishes itself by defending – and at the same time criticising – the choices made. 

4. Analysis

Your analysis, along with your discussion, will form the high light of your thesis. In the IMRaD format, this section is titled “Results”. This is where you report your findings and present them in a systematic manner. The expectations of the reader have been built up through the other chapters, make sure you fulfill these expectations.

To analyse means to distinguish between different types of phenomena – similar from different. Importantly, by distinguishing between different phenomena, your theory is put to work. Precisely how your analysis should appear, however, is a methodological question. Finding out how best to organise and present your findings may take some time. A good place to look for examples and inspiration is repositories for master’s theses. 

If you are analysing human actions, you may want to engage the reader’s emotions. In this case it will be important to choose analytical categories that correlate to your chosen theory. Engaging emotions is not the main point, but a way to elucidate the phenomenon so that the reader understands it in a new and better way.

Note: Not all theses include a separate chapter for analysis. 

5. Discussion

In many thesis the discussion is the most important section. Make sure that you allocate enough time and space for a good discussion. This is your opportunity to show that you have understood the significance of your findings and that you are capable of applying theory in an independent manner. 

The discussion will consist of argumentation. In other words, you investigate a phenomenon from several different perspectives. To discuss means to question your findings, and to consider different interpretations. Here are a few examples of formulations that signal argumentation:

  • On the one hand … and on the other
  • But is it really true that…
  • … on can it also be supposed…?
  • … another possible explanation may be …

6. Conclusion – or summing up?

The final section of your thesis may take one of several different forms. Some theses need a conclusion, while for others a summing up will be appropriate. The decisive factor will be the nature of your thesis statement and research question.

Open research questions cannot always be answered, but if a definite answer is possible, you must provide a conclusion. The conclusion should answer your research question(s). Remember that a negative conclusion is also valid.

A summing up should repeat the most important issues raised in your thesis (particularly in the discussion), although preferably stated in a (slightly) different way. For example, you could frame the issues within a wider context.

Placing your thesis in perspective

In the final section you should place your work in a wider, academic perspective and determine any unresolved questions. During the work, you may have encountered new research questions and interesting literature which could have been followed up. At this point, you may point out these possible developments, while making it clear for the reader that they were beyond the framework of your current project. 

  • Briefly discuss your results through a different perspective. This will allow you to see aspects that were not apparent to you at the project preparation stage
  • Highlight alternative research questions that you have found in the source materials used in the project
  • Show how others have placed the subject area in a wider context
  • If others have drawn different conclusions from yours, this will provide you with ideas of new ways to view the research question
  • Describe any unanswered aspects of your project
  • Specify potential follow up and new projects

A thesis should “bite itself in the tail”

There should be a strong connection between your conclusion and your introduction. All the themes and issues that you raised in your introduction must be referred to again in one way or another. If you find out at this stage that your thesis has not tackled an issue that you raised in the introduction, you should go back to the introduction and delete the reference to that issue. An elegant way to structure the text is to use the same textual figure or case in the beginning as well as in the end. When the figure returns in the final section, it will have taken on a new and richer meaning through the insights you have encountered, created in the process of writing.  

Recommended reading:

J. Schimel, 2012 Writing Science. How to write papers that get cited and proposals that get funded. New York: Oxford University Press

 

 

Last updated: December 16, 2013

Note that the following provides general guidelines and suggestions only, as there is considerable variation in the ways theses are organised. Some of the suggestions may need to be adapted to meet the needs of your particular thesis.

The Abstract

The abstract is a short version of the entire thesis which should answer the following five questions (not necessarily in this order or separately):

  • What was done?
  • Why was it done?
  • How was it done?
  • What were the key findings or results?
  • What is the significance or implications of the results?
    This differs from the rationale - that there is a problem which needs to be solved for example - by discussing why your solution, for example, is one that others should pay attention to (is it more energy efficient, more effective, less expensive, etc than other solutions?).

Example abstract

The most common mistake with abstracts is to write them as though they are just another form of introduction, or perhaps as "advanced advertising" where the writer doesn't want to give too much away.

e.g. "To address the question of ..., such and such data was collected and analysed using the such and such methodological framework. Implications for practice are discussed."

But think about why you read abstracts and what you hope to get out of them, and ask if you're happy just getting "promotional material" or whether you'd rather get the whole story, including key results, in a nutshell.

Note also that abstracts play a critical role in determining whether someone reads on, and so deserve to be well written. In fact, some journals try to "force" authors to write them well by requiring that they put responses against a series of prompts, typically something like:

  • Background/motivation:
  • Aims/Problem statement:
  • Methods/Approach:
  • Results:
  • Conclusions/Significance:

It has to be acknowledged, though, that the word limit that some journals put on abstracts means that it is not possible to answer all five of the above questions in your abstract, but in such cases key findings should not be something that gets sacrificed.

Finally, as a summary of the entire thesis, the abstract is the often the last thing to get finalised, but it shouldn't necessarily be the last thing to get written. If you're drowning in data or literature and feel you're not sure where you're going anymore, writing a "working abstract" might help you to get a "big-picture" view of what you're trying to do and, therefore, help you to get focussed again.

The Introduction and Literature Review

All theses require introductions and literature reviews, but the structure and location of these vary considerably. Options that are used include:

  • A brief introductory chapter with a lengthy separate literature review chapter.
  • A lengthy introductory chapter which includes a brief "Introduction" section followed by literature review sections.
  • A lengthy introduction which includes a literature review.
  • A brief introductory chapter with detailed literature reviews relevant to the topic of each chapter provided separately in each chapter (this is typical when each chapter is basically or literally a paper for publication).
  • More than one literature review chapter. For example, one chapter might review what's known in an area and identify gaps or problems to address, while another might review the methodological approaches taken to investigating questions in this area and identify the strengths and weaknesses of each of these, thus providing a justification for the approach taken in this thesis (this may also occur in the first sections of a Methodology chapter).

Regardless of the approach taken, the Introduction to a thesis answers the three questions:

What was done?

May be stated in terms of both general aims (e.g. that you intend to contribute to the understanding of some phenomenon), and in terms of specific objectives (e.g. what aspects in particular of the phenomenon will you be investigating?).

Why was it done?

If the introduction is brief, then provide only the broad motivation (e.g. Why is there interest in this area? Why is it important? Why is this an interesting topic?), with more detailed motivation for precise goals coming out of a literature review (Why look at the particular aspects you do? Why pursue the specific line of investigation you do?).

One way of thinking about a brief introduction, is to think about providing the level of motivation or justification that would satisfy a well-educated friend of yours curious about what you are doing and why, with the literature review providing the level of motivation and justification that would satisfy an expert in the field.

Longer introductions might occur when a significant amount of background material needs to be reviewed in order for the reader to appreciate the context and significance of your research question. But if this is the case, then it is important to make it clear to the reader what the point of a long review is! (e.g. "In order to appreciate the significance of ..., it is first important to consider ...").

How do the pieces of the thesis fit together? (This is the "outline" or "overview".)

Provides the rationale for proceeding in the way you did and perhaps for why you have organised things the way you have (e.g. explaining why the literature review is scattered throughout the "papers for publication" chapters rather than being in a separate chapter as is common. The Introduction in Lewis Wolpert's book, The Unnatural Nature of Science (Biol Sc and Ipswich: Q175 .W737), gives a good example of what a useful outline looks like.)

These three questions can be used to broadly analyse the structure of other people's writing so that you can get an overview of what they have done and how they have organised things. Another way of analysing your writing and the writing of others is to consider which of the following three "moves" are being made in each paragraph or section of a paragraph (see Paltridge and Starfield, 2007, Ch. 6 for more):

  • "Establishing a research territory" (i.e. that you're interested in the development of commerce in mediaeval Europe as opposed to the life cycle of flat worms for example). This involves showing or explaining why the area is of interest or important.
  • "Establishing a niche"
    By identifying gaps, problems or deficiencies in previous literature.
  • "Occupying the niche"
    By stating your particular aims or goals. Some writers also state their main findings at this point (sort of like stating your thesis in the opening paragraph of an essay).

A common structure is to start with the broadest possible motivation and then gradually narrow the scope until the particular focus of the thesis or article is reached (e.g. Example 4). However, some writers prefer to start with a statement of the aim of the research, then proceed to give the arguments for pursuing that aim. (Because of these reasons or observations, I'm going to do this, as opposed to: I am going to do this because of these reasons.)

In many instances, researchers don't know exactly where they will end up until they get there, so introductions and abstracts are often the last sections of a paper or thesis which are written. However, writing "working" abstracts and introductions as you go along can be useful to force you to think about the overview of, and motivation for, what you are doing. And while they will have to be revised and fine-tuned, having a general sense of where you are going and why is very useful when making the journey.

Common problems 

Providing unnecessary or uncontextualised background

Background is necessary to orientate the reader to what you are doing, but it is possible to give too much detail so that the reader starts to wonder why they need to know all of what they are being told.

Not explaining things enough

To simply say that your research will look at ways to deal with power grid instabilities indicates to the reader that you're working on solving a problem, but not why that problem is significant enough to work on. To indicate the significance of the problem, it would be necessary to briefly explain:

What are power grid instabilities?

What causes them?

How often do they occur?

What are the economic consequences of power grid instabilities? (Some indicative statistics would be enough to make your point, you wouldn't need masses of statistics.)

Working out what should go in the Introduction and what in the Literature Review

It might help here to think of your Introduction as being what you would tell an educated friend who wanted to know what your research is all about and why you are doing it, while the Literature Review is for other researchers in the field. It needs to be noted, however, that in some disciplines or areas the Introduction includes the Literature Review, and so can be quite lengthy.

Writing an outline that reads like the table of contents in paragraph form

(See Example 6 and Dr Leslie Sage's comments on this at the end of her article.

See the literature review section for more detailed information.

Methods

The methods section should explain:

  • How you went about collecting and analysing your data
    Only in enough detail that another expert in the field could repeat what you have done. For example, since the Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) is a standard technique for determining the frequency spectrum of digital signals, in an electrical engineering thesis it would be enough to simply say, "The spectrum of the signal output from ... was analysed using an FFT and the results are shown in Figure 1." That is, in this case there would be no need to explain in detail what a FFT is and how it calculates spectra.
  • why you collected the data that you did (e.g. why bother collecting demographic data in a questionnaire?)
    This is done by explaining how certain types of data will help you to answer your research questions. (The thesis assessors want to be assured that you didn't simply collect as much data as you possibly could that might have been useful and then hoped for the best. Doing this also maintains a "connected story" for your thesis).
  • why you thought the approach you chose was the best of all the approaches that were available to you (e.g. why conduct semi-structured interviews rather than surveys? Why use Inventory X rather than Inventory Y?)

Indicative Examples

  • In order to account for any learning or fatigue effects amongst participants, a counter-balanced design was used.
  • Semi-structured interviews rather than surveys were used to ... because it was believed that participants might have important unique as well as common experiences regarding ... which wouldn't be picked up in a standardised survey.
  • In order to determine the effectiveness of speed cameras in reducing the road toll in ..., a longitudinal rather than a before-and-after design was used to take into account the significant fluctuations in an area's annual road toll, making it difficult to determine whether a single variation is due to an intervention or just a random fluctuation.

One possible structure is an introductory section that provides a justification and explanation of the methodological approach(es) chosen, followed by relevant elements of the classical sub-sections:

  • Design
  • Participants
  • Materials
  • Procedure

However, there is a lot of disciplinary variation in the way these things are done, so use the ideas from here to analyse what you see in your discipline.

Common problems include (see Paltridge and Starfield (2002), Ch. 8 for more):

  • Insufficient justification of the proposed approach as being the best way to achieve the research objectives.
  • Insufficient appreciation of the limitations of particular methods for achieving the desired research objectives.
  • Inadequate statistical treatments.

Results

If you present your results separately from your discussion, then the Results section for quantitative research is where you:

  • Specify what the data were and how they were prepared for analysis.
  • Present a summary and descriptive statistics in a suitable graphical or tabular form.
  • Provide a verbal summary of the most important features of the above.
  • Describe the data analysis (e.g., what sort of statistical test was applied to the data) and the outcome of the analysis.

DON'T

  • Interpret or offer any explanations for the results although you can say whether the data support or contradict any of your hypotheses.
  • Include calculations.

For guidance on how to effectively incorporate quantitative data in the forms of tables and figures in your writing, see this Info Sheet(PDF, 38 KB).

Discussion

Typically in a Discussion section, one would:

  • Summarise, appraise, interpret and explain the results, relating them to your aims!
  • Consider the significance or implications of the results.
  • Compare, contrast and integrate your results with the findings of other studies.
  • Point out and offer solutions for any methodological weaknesses or limitations.
    • This is to help both you and your readers decide on the strength of your findings and to determine where any gaps or deficiencies might lie.
    • It also indicates to thesis assessors a capacity to learn from experience.
  • Make suggestions for future research (these often come out of identified methodological weaknesses, but it could be that your research has revealed yet more complexity and unanswered questions that need investigating).
  • End with a concluding paragraph summarising the main findings and the lessons to be drawn from the study. 

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