Writing a masters or PhD dissertation/thesis is a massive undertaking – and one that is not to be taken lightly. By comparison, writing a PhD thesis can feels like running a marathon, working on the same topic for 3-4 years is laborious and can be quite exhausting! But in many ways the approach to both of these tasks is quite similar. Here we look at a number of different aspects of thesis/dissertation writing to assist you in the process of running your race – be it a sprint or a marathon! How should I structure my thesis/dissertation? Writing a thesis is a unique experience and there is no general consensus on what the best way to structure it is. As a postgraduate student, you’ll probably decide what kind of structure suits your research project best after consultation with your supervisor as well as by reading other theses of previous postgraduate students in your university library. To some extent all postgraduate dissertations are unique, however there are two basic structures that a postgraduate dissertation can follow.
For PhD students, one possibility is to structure the thesis as a series of journal articles that can be submitted for publication to professional journals in the field. This kind of structure would spare you the effort of having to write the thesis and articles for publication separately, however it is relatively unconventional and you should discuss it first with your supervisor before opting for this method. A more conventional way of structuring a postgraduate thesis is to write it in the form of a book consisting of chapters. TITLE PAGE – The opening page including all the relevant information about the thesis. ABSTRACT – A brief project summary including background, methodology and findings. CONTENTS – A list of the chapters and figures contained in your thesis. CHAPTER 1 – BACKGROUND – A description of the rationale behind your project. CHAPTER 2 – LITERATURE REVIEW – A summaray of the literature supporting your project. CHAPTER 3 – METHODOLOGY – A description of methodology used in your research.
CHAPTER 4-6 – DATA ANALYSIS – A descsription of technique used in analysing your research data. CHAPTER 7 – DISCUSSION – Main conclusions based on the data analysis. BIBLIOGRAPHY – A list of the references cited in your thesis. APPENDICES – Additional materials used in your research. When is the right time to start writing my thesis/dissertation? When you should start writing your thesis/dissertation depends on the scope of the research project you are describing and on the duration of your course. In some cases, your research project may be relatively short and you may not be able to write much of your thesis before completing the project. However in other instances your project may be relatively long, especially if you are doing a PhD, and you will need to keep writing the thesis while conducting your research. How do I improve my writing skills? 1. The best way of improving your writing skills is to finish the first draft of your thesis as early as possible and send it to your supervisor for revision.
Your supervisor will correct your draft and point out any writing errors. This process will be repeated a few times which will help you recognise and correct writing mistakes yourself as time progresses. 2. If you are not a native English speaker, it may be useful to ask your English friends to read a part of your thesis and warn you about any recurring writing mistakes. Read our section on English language support for more advice. 3. Most universities have writing centres that offer writing courses and other kinds of support for postgraduate students. Attending these courses may help you improve your writing and meet other postgraduate students with whom you will be able to discuss what constitutes a well-written thesis. 4. Reading academic articles and searching for various writing resources on the internet will enable you to slowly adopt the academic style of writing and eventually you should be able to use it effortlessly.