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Using Appendices in Your Thesis

First of all, it should be established precisely what the function of an appendix is. As is often the case, the best definition of what something is, is to state what it is not. Thus, primarily it is important to note that appendices are not simply a repository for any odds and ends that found no logical place within your thesis!

Indeed, every time you set something aside to include in an appendix you should ask yourself the following question:

  • What is the precise function of this document?
  • How does this document relate to the thesis as a whole?
  • Would the thesis be harmed by the exclusion of this document?
  • Is the thesis enhanced by the inclusion of this document?
  • Why does this document not fit into the thesis itself?

As the function of appendices is generally ill-defined and less familiar than most other academic formats, yet very commonly used in theses, it might be useful to go through these questions one by one to clarify the effective use of the appendix in your thesis.

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What is the precise function of this document?

This is a very important question and your response to it will help you to decide not only the importance of the document but how it should be referred to within the thesis.
Remember that the documents in your appendices are those to which you refer in your thesis; they are, in fact further substantiating evidence. Therefore, you need to decide exactly what the function of every document included in the thesis might be.

This is much easier if your thesis is concerned with a subject that relies upon statistics, graphs, maps, art work or charts, for example. This is because the function of the document in each of these cases is clearly defined and much of the work carried out within the thesis relates to such documents.

However, if you are referring to, say, a letter or manuscript placed within an appendix, it may be slightly more difficult to decide precisely what the function of the document might be.

How does this document relate to the thesis as a whole?

Again, a very important question because the documents in an appendix should be part of the thesis as a whole, appendices should not be separate from the thesis but embedded within it as an integral part, albeit by referral.

You should decide how any document that you are considering including in your appendices will relate to a specific point. As before, this is easier if you are writing a thesis which relates to documentation assembled during the course of your research. For example, if your thesis is based upon case studies, as might be the case in Education, Psychology or the social sciences, for example, identifying the relationship between the documentary evidence included in an appendix and the argument and analysis produced in the thesis is easier. However, if you are deciding upon whether or not to include documents referred to in other texts, such as letters, the direct connective is less easy to determine.

Would the thesis be harmed by the exclusion of this document?

Once more, it is much easier to answer positively to this if the documents you are considering including in appendices form the basis of your main thesis. Certainly, then, in this case, you need to include the documents to which you have been referring throughout your thesis. In this case, you have to include the documents as the thesis would be harmed irrevocably without the examiner being able to check the documents for themselves. Again, however, this is not the case with evidence which might be located from other sources to which you have referred in your thesis.

Is the thesis enhanced by the inclusion of this document?

This is slightly different and much less easy to answer. This is because as has been established, the documents which form the basis of your thesis have to be included in your appendices but documents which can be said to enhance a thesis are less readily defined.

Clearly, if you have examined and analysed manuscripts, letters etc. in your thesis, then including facsimiles of these within the appendices will definitely enhance the thesis as it will give the examiners direct access to the source of your comments.

Also, if you have made what you believe to be an original discovery in your thesis in the analysis of the documents you are considering including in your appendices then including them will certainly be an enhancement.

Why does this document not fit into the thesis itself?

This should be an easy question for you to answer because if it could fit easily into your thesis, you would have included it there, wouldn’t you? However, it can be a little more difficult to decide on this if you ask yourself whether you have in fact already incorporated the document into the thesis in substance, or in part, even if not in its entirety.

As you can see, deciding whether to include documents within an appendix is not as easy as it sounds.

Furthermore, you need to ensure that when you refer in the main thesis to documents housed in your appendices, you must be very precise otherwise you will cause confusion in the evidentiary support of your argument.

You will, of course, refer to the documents quite simply, for example ‘see Appendix 3’, placed in parenthesis after the comment in your argument which needs the evidentiary connective.
However, this identifies the need for precision in placing documents within appendices as you need to decide on the most effective grouping of your documents. There is little point in simply placing documents within appendices in a haphazard manner without some kind of organisational directive.

You need, then, to decide on precisely how to group the documents in your appendices in the most effective manner to supplement your thesis as a whole. Clearly, this can be done in many ways with the organisational principal being decided by you.

The following are some ways in which you could organise your appendices:

  • Chronologically – this would work if your thesis is also chronological, however in any other cases it might present cross-referencing complications.
  • According to subject – this will be suitable if you have a lot of different threads to your thesis with one central link, as the appendices being logically grouped can be a unifier which will help both you and the examiner to see where they complement and supplement each other.
  • According to document type – in other words, you would put all letters in one appendix, all graphs in an appendix, all maps in an appendix etc. this will work if you don’t have a great number of each but if, for instance, you are compiling a Geography thesis you might have a multiplicity of graphs and maps so putting them all together will be confusing.
  • According to chapter heading – this will work if you are dealing with a different topic in each chapter but you might still need to do a certain amount of cross-referencing.

Appendices can be a very useful tool within a thesis but ensure that when you use them they add to the clarity not confusion of your evidentiary support.

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