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Look at sample theses

A careful look at some completed theses in your discipline is a good starting point. It will help you to develop an appreciation of how theses are constructed and written in the discipline, and will give you a sense of an appropriate standard. It will also give you an understanding of the scope available for innovation and creativity.

A thesis is writing in a particular genre, different from other kinds of writing. (The section on building writing skills offers some guidance in writing academic text.)

How can I find a suitable thesis to look at?

The Library Guide on theses provides information on locating and accessing theses produced by Monash University as well as other institutions. Have a look for recently completed theses in your discipline, or you may ask your supervisor to suggest some successful, well written theses for you to look at.

As you browse through a thesis, there are particular features that are worth taking note of. On the next page is a Guide to analysing sample theses. Use this guide to help you identify salient features.

The questions that make up the guide are designed to take you systematically through the sample thesis and to draw your attention to those features that we and others (eg. Swales, 1990; Hopkins and Dudley-Evans, 1988) think can be generalised about the genre.

One important caveat: Genre analysis is concerned with identifying the conventional, the predictable, the generalisable. Of course all theses, including your own, will have their own distinctive character, and this will be fashioned by such variables as the discipline you are working in, the research design you have employed, as well as your own personal style. For this reason, it is important not to treat your sample thesis as a model which is simply to be imitated. Rather, it is better to regard it as a resource from which you might generate ideas about the construction of your own work. We urge you, then, to conduct your own 'genre analysis' within a critical framework and to keep the following overarching questions uppermost in mind:

  • How is each relevant aspect done in the sample thesis? (eg. the literature review)
  • Is it done well?
  • How is this section likely to differ in my thesis?
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