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Genres in academic writing: Research dissertations & theses

Many students will, towards the end of their academic lives, be expected to carry out some kind of research and write a dissertation or thesis.

Your dissertation or thesis will probably include many of the following elements in some way or other. However, different subject areas do have different preferences for exactly how these components are organised. You will also probably organise your writing, using headings and sub-headings in a simlar way.

1. Preliminaries

Title page
Abstract
Acknowledgments
List of Contents
List of Tables/Figures

2. Main text

Introduction
Literature Review
Theory
Aims
Methodology/Research Design
Materials, Participants & Methods
Findings/Results
Discussion/Interpretation
Limitations
Conclusions/Implications
Future Work
Recommendations

3. End matter

References
Appendices

And a minimum (see, for example, Perry, 1998, 2011, 2013) is probably:

1. Preliminaries

Title page
Contents Page

2. Main text

Introduction
Literature Review
Research Design
Findings
Conclusions

3. End matter

References

Or, as Evans (1995) describes the main section:

1. Introduction

Problem statement
Aim
Research approach

2. Background

History, geography
Current theory
Current practice

3. Own work

Design of work
Results

4. Synthesis Discussion
Conclusions

Different subject areas have different preferences for exactly how these components are organised. See here for more information.

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1. Preliminaries

Before you start the main part of your dissertation, there should be a title page. The Title Page should contain information to enable your supervisor and departmental office to identify exactly what the piece of work is. It should include the title of your dissertation, your name or anonymity number, the degree for which the dissertation is being submitted, the name of the department, the name of the university, the year of submission and the name of your supervisor. Check with your department for specific information.

A dissertation should also normally include an Abstract and a Contents page and, if you are using them, a List of Tables, Figures, Charts etc. The Abstract should give some background information, clearly state the principal purpose of the research, give some information about the methodology used, state the most important results and - importantly - the conclusion. It will usually be no longer than 300 words. See: Writing an abstract.

The Contents page will give page numbers for the main sections and will show the structure of the dissertation, including headings and sub-headings.

The Acknowledgments section is your opportunity to thank individuals who have been particularly helpful.

2. The main text

The main body consists of several chapters of background, ideas, methods, data, argument, conclusions and implications. Each chapter develops a subdivision of the purpose of the thesis or dissertation.

The Introduction gives background knowledge that supports the reason for undertaking the research and an organisation statement. It should clearly state the problem to be solved in the form of a research question or hypothesis and be clear about the need for the research and its significance. The Literature Review/Theory will set your research against a background of what is already known about the topic in question, and be clear about the gap to be filled and the significance of this. The Methodology section gives detailed information of how the information in the dissertation was obtained. It should persuade your readers that the research was done well so the results can be believed. Findings and Results give the data that has been collected, while the Discussion argues that the results lead to the clearly expressed conclusion, with any Limitations taken into account.

The chapters are linked in order to connect the ideas. The purpose of the dissertation or thesis report must be made clear and the reader must be able to follow its development.

  1. Introduction
  2. Literature Review
  3. Methodology
  4. Findings/Results
  5. Discussion/Interpretation
  6. Conclusion

    I. The introduction.

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PRELIMINARIES

I. INTRODUCTION

 

Context
Identification of Gap
Organisation Statement

 

II. LITERATURE REVIEW

 

Introductory Sentences - Overview
More Details of Background
Detailed Identification of Gap
Problem to be Solved
Overview of Structure of Dissertation
...
Concluding Sentences

 

III. METHODOLOGY

 

Introductory Sentences - Overview
Approach
Procedures
Materials
...
Concluding Sentences

 

IV. FINDINGS/RESULTS

 

Introductory Sentences
Locating Results
Findings
Comment
...
Concluding Sentences

 

V. DISCUSSION

 

Introductory Sentences - Overview
Review of Findings
Possible Explanations
Limitations
...
Concluding Sentences

 

VI. CONCLUSION

 

Recall Issues in Introduction - Report Purpose;
Draw Together Main Points;
Final Comment - Clear Conclusion.
Implications/Future Work

 
END MATTER

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3. End Matter

At the end of the report, there should be a list of references. This should give full information about the materials that you have used in the report. See Writing a list of references for more information on the reference list. As always, put here all and only all the works you have cited in the text.

Appendices: Put here any data that was too extensive to incorporate earlier. In the text, for example, you might have included the tables/graphs that give the results of your analyses. In the Appendices, you can give the raw data to enable the reader to make her/his own analysis. You may also include full transcripts of interviews or texts, questionnaires, and so on.

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For more information, see also: Bitchener (2010); Brown (2006, ch. 9); Carter, Kelly & Brailsford (2012, ch. 1); Cooley & Lewkowicz (2003, ch. 5); Creswell (2003); Day (1989); Deane & Borg (2011, chap. 7); Dunleavy (2003, ch. 3); Feak & Swales (2009); Feak & Swales (2011); Lewin (2010); Kamler & Thomson, 2006, ch. 6); Madsen (1992); Menasche (1997); Murphy & Beglar (2009, ch. 5); Paltridge & Starfield (2007, ch. 5); Phillips & Pugh (1987); Ridley (2008); Swales & Feak (2009); Williams, Bethell, Lawton, Parfitt-Brown, Richardson & Rowe (2010); Williams, Bethell, Lawton, Parfitt-Brown, Richardson & Rowe (2011), Wallace & Wray (2006, ch. 13).

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