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About this book

Written in a lively and engaging style, this concise text helps students of all disciplines to structure their thesis in a clear, coherent and persuasive manner. It focuses on three core aspects of thesis structure and gives readers helpful guidance on ordering their ideas, making effective use of emphasis and achieving coherence in their writing. Enriched with insights from students and examiners, it shows students how to structure their thesis in a way that foregrounds the significance of their research.

Packed with ideas for structuring theses effectively, this practical guide will be invaluable to thesis writers of all disciplines.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Framework

Abstract
All writing is validated in terms of how well it addresses its audience. We have written this book following our work with doctoral students and our recognition of the challenge of publication. Similar doctoral candidates of the future make up our audience. Like others’ theses, yours must speak to its audience, addressing their needs, anxieties and expectations. As you start working and writing your thesis proposal, initial ideas will develop further and these present a set of challenges, or at least decisions that need to be made. The proposal stage has been likened to a ‘trial run’ (Sternberg, 1981, p. 73) for structuring the doctoral thesis. How many chapters should you have in your thesis? Must all the chapters be of a similar size? Will you provide the literature review as a separate chapter, or embed it throughout the thesis? How much explaining and framing will be done generally in the introduction, and how much will be done at chapter level? How many levels of subtitling will work best to convey your ideas? Should the thesis have internal divisions within it rather than conventional chapter ones? These are questions of structure: the overall shape of the thesis, its organization, its internal dimensions and parts, its plan and duration, and its proportions.
Susan Carter, Frances Kelly, Ian Brailsford

1. Ordering the Thesis

Abstract
Deciding on the order in which you will present the entire research project is perhaps the foremost decision you will make about the written thesis. Often at the proposal stage and before much writing or research has been done, a contingent contents page will be drawn up as a way of making the project more concrete and tangible. Thomas and Brubaker (2000) suggest that you consider what you would ask if you ‘knew nothing about this topic and … wanted to know about this research’ and then think about the order in which you would like to have your questions answered (p. 245). At the early stages, the structure of the written thesis may blurrily overlap with the expected progression of the research project. To some extent this is entirely appropriate because the end goal of the research project is, for most candidates, the finished thesis. Research design necessarily responds to the requirements of the thesis genre, discipline epistemology (which affects methods) and the candidate’s deepening understanding of their material.
Susan Carter, Frances Kelly, Ian Brailsford

2. Emphasis and Proportion

Abstract
Structuring also results in emphasis. It is common for thesis writers to grow less sure of their structuring choices as they understand their data better because they understand the topic’s complexity more deeply. They may also feel increasingly committed to the possibly-unexpected significance of what they are finding. Ideas are likely to be entangled like rhizomes, and the implications of their tangle may be meaningful. Carter and Blumenstein (2011), who established a startling negative co-relationship between confidence about structure and time spent on doctorate, conclude that perhaps this is a symptom of increased expertise. The study of 92 students found that about half of the students who gave reasons for changing structure did so because of a shift of focus or emphasis (Carter and Blumenstein, 2011). So you also find yourself feeling less secure about structure the nearer you are to completion; accept that this may be a sign of increased expertise.
Susan Carter, Frances Kelly, Ian Brailsford

3. Cohesion

Abstract
A thesis is usually written as a series of separate documents. The writer seldom begins at the beginning and works solidly in sequence through to the end over the writing process. It is not surprising, then, that when the chapter documents are assembled into one, additional work is needed to ensure cohesion across the whole entity. In this chapter, we outline some techniques for contributing to cohesion in a thesis text. The first suggestion we make is that you suspend disbelief and think of your thesis as a story.
Susan Carter, Frances Kelly, Ian Brailsford

Conclusion

Abstract
A thesis is a curious, multi-tasking act of communication. Firstly, it is a tough old nut with a rich kernel: new knowledge or understanding. For survival, that kernel must be accessible; clarity is crucial. Secondly, the thesis is an entry-point to a research profession. It must demonstrate its author’s command of the practices and languages of the field of research: the thesis represents a ritualistic demonstration of maturity within a specific community. Thirdly, the thesis is an act of self-fashioning. Its theoretical positioning and textual voice creates the academic persona that its author is likely to inhabit for some time. To some extent, you create yourself in writing a thesis, and, as a live author creating the textual presence of a thesis, must write into existence a self that you will be comfortable inhabiting. The structure of the thesis affects each of the tasks that the thesis performs.
Susan Carter, Frances Kelly, Ian Brailsford
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