Failing to produce a well-organized structure of a thesis paper leads to fiasco and a waste of your precious time. The structure is your supporting pillar and guidance. It helps you achieve the goals of the research and not to lose the track of things and time.
College can teach you a lot but there is no class dedicated to structuring the papers. The student is expected to figure out his own strategy of categorizing the information and learn to deliver it in a clear and meaningful way. Hence, your thesis structure is one of the tests you are going to face. If you get it right, writing this paper will be a piece of chalk.
Time spent thinking about and planning how you will structure your thesis is time well spent. Start to organise the material that you have already written into folders relating to each chapter. The following techniques may help you to decide upon a structure.
- Discuss the structure with a colleague, explaining it as a continuous story you're trying to write
- Use visual techniques like mind-mapping
- Create a storyboard for your thesis. This tells the ‘story' of the thesis in a small number of panels that mix text and pictures
- Sort index cards with key ideas into a coherent structure
- Use post-it notes with key ideas on a whiteboard to make connections with lines and colours.
Analysing existing theses is a good starting point to get an idea of typical structures in your field. Theses will usually contain most or all of the following sections:
How to structure a thesis
Academic requirements for thesis writing are constantly improving and make students work harder and harder on formatting and content arrangement. Depending on the educational establishment, field, and type of research, the elements of your thesis might vary. However, there is a set of sections you need to know by heart if you are writing any academic paper, not only a thesis or dissertation.
You know that your abstract is good if it has not more than two hundred words, no numbers, references, and abbreviations. It is a piece of text that sells your paper to the audience, catches the eye, and at the same time does not leave the reader with too many unanswered questions.
If your paper covers a lot, divide the abstract into two paragraphs, it should not contain more though. Make sure your abstract does not turn into the thesis introduction.
The golden rule of writing an effective introduction is to do it in the end. Only after you finish all sections and know all the content, you can start working on the introduction. It is one of the opening sections of the paper, in case it contradicts the content or represents some wrong information about it, your work is compromised. So, be attentive to details when you deal with the introduction. Carefully select the sentence for every paragraph, make it easily readable, and informative.
Since research is not an artistic work, you cannot pose a rhetorical question in your introduction and keep the suspense until the conclusion section.
Every piece of text, idea, quote, should be cited properly in your paper. Depending on the style of formatting you are given (MLA, APA, etc.), the citations will look differently. So, the sources you refer to in the text, as well as the arguments you used to back up personal statements need to be displayed in the literature review and cited in the text. It is probably one of the most daunting tasks when it comes to thesis writing. However, if you treat this carelessly, the paper can be jeopardized by plagiarism.
Have you used any special tools? Were there any obstacles on your way to collect the data? Everything related to gathering the ground for your research, all tools and equipment are presented in this section. From reading it the audience should understand that you did your best to apply as many resources to study the topic in depth.
This section contains your observations, results of survey analysis, and any other explanations you can provide. It is a section that presents results but it is not a conclusion. So, mind the difference between the two. It does not sum up the whole paper.
In the discussion section, you are supposed to prioritize all the observations and interpretations you made and match them with the research questions. Show the logical connection between the interpretation you provide and its relevance to the research questions. Your ultimate goal is to persuade the reader that your findings satisfy the hypothesis.
At the stage of conclusions, write down the essential discoveries you paper made, avoid retelling the whole process again. You want to show the reader how your overall aim was achieved with small steps. Emphasize the importance of your paper for future studies.
People have different preferences in terms of writing. Think about the approach that will work best for you. For example here are two examples of writing preferences.
Planning writers tend to have a highly structured approach to writing and if this is your approach you may find the following tips helpful.
- Under each chapter heading define a series of sections
- Break these into subsections and keep breaking these down until you are almost at the paragraph level
- You can now work methodically through this set of short sections
- Check completed sections or chapters agree with your plan
Generative writers prefer to get ideas down on paper and then organise them afterwards. If this approach suits you try the following approach.
- Choose a chapter and just start typing
- Then you need to do some work to impose a structure
- Summarise each paragraph as a bullet point
- Use this summary to gain an overview of the structure
- Re-order the writing and strengthen the structure by adding subheadings and revising what you have written to make the argument clearer
Reviewing your structure
As your research and writing develop you will want to revise and rework your structure. Try to review this on a regular basis and amend plans for future chapters as you become more aware of what the thesis must contain.
To sum up
It seems that academic requirements provide strict requirements for the structure of the thesis and it is obvious that the introduction goes in the beginning and conclusion in the end. By thesis structure one means the content and arrangement of the ideas in every section. Moreover, get ready not to get it right from the first time, since it is hard to foresee how the research will turn out to be. If you are struggling with structuring your ideas, try to consult an expert thesis writer regarding your topic. You will be surprised how much time and effort it can save you.