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Structure your thesis

Your thesis must be logically and carefully structured so that the reader can follow your "story" in an organised sequential manner. And whether or not it has a traditional structure, it is important to explain HOW you have structured and organised your work.

Your thesis is a long and complex piece of writing, and in order to do justice to your research findings and their significance, it is important to communicate clearly and effectively. You must provide as much helpful structure as possible to guide the the examiner and readers by linking sections of your writing and indicating the structure of the chapters and sections wherever appropriate.

You will need to plan how to structure the thesis as a whole and also how you can strucure each part of the thesis and each chapter. It is important to give the reader directions to keep focussed and gain an appreciation of where the text is leading, and be able to make the connections between one section and another. One effective way to provide directions is to signpost with headings and subheadings.

You can also give directions through the text itself - in the introductory chapter, for example. Additionally, in the introductory paragraph to each chapter you can state the aims of the chapter, highlighting for the reader what can be expected in the chapter. Here you can outline the structure of the chapter and provide any necessary background information to guide the reader's focus.

A paragraph at the conclusion of a chapter can provide a summary of the main information of the chapter, draw any conclusions from the work or research presented, and link the content of the chapter to the next or later chapters. In this way you help the reader to appreciate what you have written by providing a summary of the major points. When you give an indication of where the work leads, you help the reader to follow each stage of your research and your thinking; thus each chapter has a logical flow. In structuring your writing in this way, explaining what you have done and what you are about to do, you facilitate recall of what has been discussed, and allow the reader to follow your thinking into the next set of ideas.

The introductory chapter of the thesis should provide a clear outline of the project and the findings; the concluding chapter will summarise the research and its findings, its implications, its importance and the unique contribution it makes within the discipline and the current literature. Like two bookends these two chapters hold the thesis firmly together.

It is a good idea to start thinking about the structure of your work as early as possible in your candidature.

Take a sheet of paper.

At the top, write:


At the bottom, write:


The space in between is where you can 'play around' with possible structures for your work. Within possible chapter headings, try also to add subsection headings.

Return to this sheet on a regular basis. Try to articulate how one chapter follows on from another - or how one subsection follows from the preceding one. Explain all this to a friend.

When you start thinking about HOW you are going to structure your thesis you may like to think about the different elements of the thesis, and clarify what you are trying to accomplish.

Take a thesis that has been written and passed in your discipline, and look at the Table of Contents. See if you can you recognise a 'logic' in its chapter structure, and in the subsections of each chapter.

Now, think about your thesis.

Try inserting a table of contents with its headings and subheadings to give you an idea of the thesis outline. In fact, a table of contents is like a map of the thesis. It is a good idea to actually write a preliminary table of contents at the beginning of the thesis process. It will give you an idea of how your work will look and how you will need to develop the project.

Your word-processing program can help you to generate the table of contents, and can also provide a means for rapidly changing the order of chapters or parts of a chapter.

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