Structuring Your Thesis Chapters
Putting ‘pen to paper’ (or fingers to keyboard) is very difficult, especially after all that reading and note-taking: finally beginning to write your thesis can feel like being poised on the water’s edge unsure as to whether you will ‘sink or swim’ once you ‘plunge in’! As discussed earlier, it is not necessary to write your chapters in a particular order in many ways it is better to write the chapter about which you feel most enthusiastic first and this can help. However, for the purpose of this brief guide to writing a PhD. it might be best to consider the structure in chronological order.
This is the first that you reader will see and consequently no matter what order you write your thesis in it will have the same weight of importance. The introduction must start very strongly in order to engage the reader with the topic from the first. Ironically, this need not mean that you plunge straight into discussion of the thesis topic. It might be far more effective for your introduction to set the thesis proposal in context, suggesting how your research will add to the existing body of knowledge on the subject.
If you are writing an Arts thesis, then this will essentially be involved with perspective, the alteration of the point d’apuis. This is because, as has been stated earlier, for most Arts subjects the truly ‘original thought’ would be practically impossible to find. Therefore, setting your idea in historical and/or critical context will be most effective.
If, however, you are writing a scientific thesis, you may well have made a ‘groundbreaking discovery’ for which your PhD. thesis is simply the showcase! Don’t worry, however, if you haven’t quite managed that level of originality – few of us do – indeed, if you were a genius of that calibre you probably wouldn’t need to submit a research proposal or follow advice such as this at all, your academic institution would be chasing you not the other way around!
Whatever your subject, you need to make the introduction to your thesis powerfully engaging and informative. You should begin by establishing the setting of your thesis contextually. It is a good idea to do this by making reference to how the thesis topic will be addressed. You can do this in several ways, for example:
- Open with a general comment on the topic and then focus in upon your precise angle of vision (this is particularly suitable for an Arts thesis).
- State the problem that you believe your research addresses and then follow up with how this will be solved (this is particularly suitable for a science thesis).
- Address the thesis topic in the obverse i.e. state what you have identified has not been done in this area of research then say how you will be hoping to bridge this gap with your current thesis (suitable for either an Arts or a Science thesis).
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After you have established your thesis statement, your introduction should concentrate on the methodology that you intend to apply in the thesis in order to explore it further.
The various different methodologies and their degree of applicability for the different disciplines have been discussed above, so you will have a strong sense of precisely the way that you intend to explore your thesis. You must now make this clear to your reader by showing it in action.
For example, you could state an idea that will play a major part in your thesis. Then, you should supplement this with evidentiary support used in the way you intend to apply it throughout the thesis. Thus, if you are intending to base your thesis upon critical analysis, you should comment upon specific words and structure which reflect and develop your ideas.
In this way, rather than simply stating your methodology, which would be very unlikely to impress, you would be simultaneously familiarising your reader with your approach and applying it. This is an extremely effective method of writing a PhD. thesis, and especially useful in your introduction where you are establishing your ideas and your way of working.
Your introduction should also establish the major texts you will be using. This does not mean that you should simply list your bibliography, of course! Indeed, you should not ‘list’ at all. Rather, you need to use or reference several of your key texts briefly, applying them to ideas you are establishing in your thesis wherever possible. Used creatively like this, texts become, from the first, an integral part of your PhD. thesis and ensure that your introduction truly reflects the way the final thesis will appear.
Finish your introduction with a link to the opening chapter of the main body of your thesis to establish cohesiveness and fluidity.