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Know How to Structure Your PhD Thesis
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In your academic career, few projects are more important than your PhD thesis. Unfortunately, many university professors and advisors assume that their students know how to structure a PhD. Books have literally been written on the subject, but there’s no need to read a book in order to know about PhD thesis paper format and structure. With that said, however, it’s important to understand that your PhD thesis format requirement may not be the same as another student’s. The bottom line is that how to structure a PhD thesis often depends on your university and department guidelines.
But, let’s take a look at a general PhD thesis format. We’ll look at the main sections, and how to connect them to each other. We’ll also examine different hints and tips for each of the sections. As you read through this toolkit, compare it to published PhD theses in your area of study to see how a real-life example looks.
Main Sections of a PhD Thesis
In almost every PhD thesis or dissertation, there are standard sections. Of course, some of these may differ, depending on your university or department requirements, as well as your topic of study, but this will give you a good idea of the basic components of a PhD thesis format.
- Abstract : The abstract is a brief summary that quickly outlines your research, touches on each of the main sections of your thesis, and clearly outlines your contribution to the field by way of your PhD thesis. Even though the abstract is very short, similar to what you’ve seen in published research articles, its impact shouldn’t be underestimated. The abstract is there to answer the most important question to the reviewer. “Why is this important?”
- Introduction : In this section, you help the reviewer understand your entire dissertation, including what your paper is about, why it’s important to the field, a brief description of your methodology, and how your research and the thesis are laid out. Think of your introduction as an expansion of your abstract.
- Literature Review : Within the literature review, you are making a case for your new research by telling the story of the work that’s already been done. You’ll cover a bit about the history of the topic at hand, and how your study fits into the present and future.
- Theory Framework : Here, you explain assumptions related to your study. Here you’re explaining to the review what theoretical concepts you might have used in your research, how it relates to existing knowledge and ideas.
- Methods : This section of a PhD thesis is typically the most detailed and descriptive, depending of course on your research design. Here you’ll discuss the specific techniques you used to get the information you were looking for, in addition to how those methods are relevant and appropriate, as well as how you specifically used each method described.
- Results : Here you present your empirical findings. This section is sometimes also called the “empiracles” chapter. This section is usually pretty straightforward and technical, and full of details. Don’t shortcut this chapter.
- Discussion : This can be a tricky chapter, because it’s where you want to show the reviewer that you know what you’re talking about. You need to speak as a PhD versus a student. The discussion chapter is similar to the empirical/results chapter, but you’re building on those results to push the new information that you learned, prior to making your conclusion.
- Conclusion : Here, you take a step back and reflect on what your original goals and intentions for the research were. You’ll outline them in context of your new findings and expertise.
Tips for your PhD Thesis Format
As you put together your PhD thesis, it’s easy to get a little overwhelmed. Here are some tips that might keep you on track.
- Don’t try to write your PhD as a first-draft. Every great masterwork has typically been edited, and edited, and…edited.
- Work with your thesis supervisor to plan the structure and format of your PhD thesis. Be prepared to rewrite each section, as you work out rough drafts. Don’t get discouraged by this process. It’s typical.
- Make your writing interesting. Academic writing has a reputation of being very dry.
- You don’t have to necessarily work on the chapters and sections outlined above in chronological order. Work on each section as things come up, and while your work on that section is relevant to what you’re doing.
- Don’t rush things. Write a first draft, and leave it for a few days, so you can come back to it with a more critical take. Look at it objectively and carefully grammatical errors, clarity, logic and flow.
- Know what style your references need to be in, and utilize tools out there to organize them in the required format.
- It’s easier to accidentally plagiarize than you think. Make sure you’re referencing appropriately, and check your document for inadvertent plagiarism throughout your writing process.
PhD Thesis Editing Plus
Want some support during your PhD writing process? Our PhD Thesis Editing Plus service includes extensive and detailed editing of your thesis to improve the flow and quality of your writing. Unlimited editing support for guaranteed results. Learn more here , and get started today!
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Table of Contents – PhD Success
Posted by Rene Tetzner | Oct 2, 2021 | PhD Success | 0 |
Chapter 1: The Essential Components and Requirements of a Doctoral Thesis
1.1. Preliminary Matter
1.1.1 Title 1.1.2 Abstract 1.1.3 Keywords 1.1.4 Dedication 1.1.5 Table of Contents 1.1.6 Acknowledgements 1.1.7 List of Abbreviations 1.1.8 List of Figures or Illustrations 1.1.9 List of Tables
1.2 The Main Body of the Thesis
1.2.1 Introduction 1.2.2 Literature Review 1.2.3 Methodology Chapter(s) 1.2.4 Results Chapter(s) 1.2.5 Discussion and Conclusion Chapter(s)
1.2.6 In-Text References, Footnotes and/or Endnotes
1.3 Tables and Figures
1.4 Final and Supplementary Matter
1.4.3 List of References, List of Works Cited or Bibliography
Chapter 2: Progressive Writing from the Start
2.1 Writing to Record, Remember, Think and Reuse
2.1.1 Jotting Down and Developing Ideas
2.1.2 Taking Accurate, Critical and Reflective Notes while Reading Sources
2.1.3 Reviewing the Relevant Literature in a Preliminary Way
2.1.4 Recording the Results of Trials, Experiments, Surveys and Interviews
2.2 Writing and Revising for Your Supervisor: The First Piece(s) of Formal Text
Chapter 3: Writing and Revising the Proposal Chapters
3.1 Writing the Introduction for the Proposal
3.2 Writing the Literature Review for the Proposal
3.3 Writing the Methodology Chapter(s) for the Proposal
3.4 Using Footnotes or Endnotes for Supplementary Material
3.5 Constructing the Title, Table of Contents, Timeline and List of References
3.5.1 The Title
3.5.2 The Table of Contents
3.5.3 The Timeline
3.5.4 The List of References
3.6 Revising the Proposal Draft
3.7 Writing the Proposal Presentation and Anticipating Questions
3.8 Taking Notes and Resolving Problems before Moving On
Chapter 4: Drafting and Completing the Thesis
4.1 Preparing an Outline or Thesis Plan: The Working Table of Contents
4.2 Title, Abstract and Keywords: Setting the Stage
4.3 Revising the Introduction, Literature Review and Methodology Chapter(s)
4.4 Writing the Data Analysis Chapter(s): Results and Evidence
4.4.1 Designing Tables and Figures: The Visual Presentation of Information
4.5 The Final Chapter(s): Discussion, Conclusion, Limitations and Implications
4.6 Appendices, References, Acknowledgements and Other Final Things
4.6.2 Other Final Things
4.7 Revising, Proofreading and Polishing the Thesis Draft: How Many Times?
4.8 Writing and Revising before and after the Thesis Examination
4.8.1 Preparing for and Surviving the Examination
4.8.2 Final Corrections and Revisions: Minor or Major?
Chapter 5: Finding Your Scholarly Voice in Correct and Consistent Written English
5.1 British versus American Spelling
5.2 The Perils of Hyphenation
5.3 Specialised Terminology and Jargon
5.4 Word Use, Syntax and Sentence Structure
5.4.1 Using Words in a Scholarly Fashion without Bias
5.4.2 The Precise and Appropriate Use of Pronouns
5.4.3 Nouns and Agreement
5.4.4 Both, Either, Neither, Nor and Only
5.4.5 Beginning Sentences Correctly and Avoiding Dangling Participles
5.4.6 Adjectives, Adverbs and Split Infinitives
5.4.7 Verbs: Tense, Voice and Contractions
5.4.8 Consistency and Variation in Word Use
5.5 Paragraphs and Lists: Effective Separation and Transition
5.5.1 Structured and Fully Developed Paragraphs
5.5.2 Using Lists Effectively
5.6 Punctuating Correctly and Consistently: Errors and Preferences
5.6.1 Semicolons and Colons
5.6.2 Stops, Question Marks and Exclamation Marks
5.6.3 Apostrophes and Quotation Marks
5.6.4 En Rules and Em Rules
5.6.5 Brackets and Slashes
Chapter 6: Formatting Matters: Presenting Your Writing Effectively and Consistently
6.1 Titles, Headings and Subheadings: Not Just Fancy Words
6.1.1 Using Word’s Heading Styles and Constructing an Active Table of Contents
6.2 Capitalisation and Special Fonts: Order or Chaos?
6.2.1 Capitalisation for Names, Titles and Other Elements
6.2.2 Special Fonts for Emphasis: Italic and Bold
6.3 Understanding Abbreviations
6.3.1 Lowercase or Uppercase Letters in Abbreviations
6.3.2 Full Stops with Abbreviations
6.3.3 Punctuation after Abbreviations
6.3.4 Using ‘a’ or ‘an’ before Abbreviations
6.3.5 Spacing Associated with Abbreviations
6.3.6 Plurals and Possessives of Abbreviations
6.3.7 Adding Italic Font to Abbreviations
6.3.8 Abbreviations at the Beginning of a Sentence
6.3.9 The Ampersand
6.3.10 Common English Abbreviations Used in References
6.3.11 Latin Abbreviations
6.4 Using and Formatting Numbers Appropriately
6.4.1 Words or Numerals?
6.4.2 Arabic Numerals
6.4.3 Roman Numerals
6.4.4 Dates, Decades, Centuries and Eras
6.4.7 Number Ranges
Chapter 7: References: Using and Documenting Sources Effectively and Accurately
7.1 Why, When and Where References Should Be Provided
7.2 The Three Main Systems of In-Text Citation
7.2.1 Author–Date and Other References Based on Author Surnames
7.2.2 Numerical References
7.2.3 Footnote and Endnote References
7.3 The Basic Components of Complete Bibliographical References
7.3.1 Author’s Name
7.3.2 Editor’s Name
7.3.3 Translator’s Name
7.3.4 Title of the Source
7.3.6 Volume Number
7.3.7 Book in Which the Source is Contained
7.3.8 Journal in Which the Source is Contained
7.3.9 Page Numbers
7.3.10 Date of Publication
7.3.11 Publisher and Place of Publication
7.3.12 Type of Source
7.3.13 Conference Paper
7.3.14 Thesis or Dissertation
7.3.15 Audiovisual Sources
7.3.16 Web Site, Web Page or Online Document
Chapter 8: Direct Quotations: Presentation, Integration and Accuracyctively and Accurately
8.1 Formatting and Acknowledging Quotations
8.2 Integrating Quotations: Punctuation, Sentence Structure and Argument
8.3 Accuracy and Alterations in Quoted Material
8.4 Quoting and Translating Languages Other than English
Why PhD Success?
To Graduate Successfully
This article is part of a book called "PhD Success" which focuses on the writing process of a phd thesis, with its aim being to provide sound practices and principles for reporting and formatting in text the methods, results and discussion of even the most innovative and unique research in ways that are clear, correct, professional and persuasive.
The assumption of the book is that the doctoral candidate reading it is both eager to write and more than capable of doing so, but nonetheless requires information and guidance on exactly what he or she should be writing and how best to approach the task. The basic components of a doctoral thesis are outlined and described, as are the elements of complete and accurate scholarly references, and detailed descriptions of writing practices are clarified through the use of numerous examples.
The basic components of a doctoral thesis are outlined and described, as are the elements of complete and accurate scholarly references, and detailed descriptions of writing practices are clarified through the use of numerous examples. PhD Success provides guidance for students familiar with English and the procedures of English universities, but it also acknowledges that many theses in the English language are now written by candidates whose first language is not English, so it carefully explains the scholarly styles, conventions and standards expected of a successful doctoral thesis in the English language.
Individual chapters of this book address reflective and critical writing early in the thesis process; working successfully with thesis supervisors and benefiting from commentary and criticism; drafting and revising effective thesis chapters and developing an academic or scientific argument; writing and formatting a thesis in clear and correct scholarly English; citing, quoting and documenting sources thoroughly and accurately; and preparing for and excelling in thesis meetings and examinations.
Completing a doctoral thesis successfully requires long and penetrating thought, intellectual rigour and creativity, original research and sound methods (whether established or innovative), precision in recording detail and a wide-ranging thoroughness, as much perseverance and mental toughness as insight and brilliance, and, no matter how many helpful writing guides are consulted, a great deal of hard work over a significant period of time. Writing a thesis can be an enjoyable as well as a challenging experience, however, and even if it is not always so, the personal and professional rewards of achieving such an enormous goal are considerable, as all doctoral candidates no doubt realise, and will last a great deal longer than any problems that may be encountered during the process.
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Medical editing services, psychology proofreading, table of contents for phd success - how to write a doctoral thesis, about the author.
Rene Tetzner's blog posts dedicated to academic writing. Although the focus is on How To Write a Doctoral Thesis, many other important aspects of research-based writing, editing and publishing are addressed in helpful detail.
PhD Success – How To Write a Doctoral Thesis
October 1, 2021
The Essential – Preliminary Matter
October 3, 2021
The Main Body of the Thesis
October 4, 2021
In-Text References, Footnotes, Endnotes, Tables & Figures in PhD Theses
October 5, 2021
Thesis and Dissertation Guide
- « Thesis & Dissertation Resources
- The Graduate School Home
Dedication, acknowledgements, preface (optional), table of contents.
- List of Tables, Figures, and Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
List of symbols.
- Non-Traditional Formats
- Font Type and Size
- Spacing and Indentation
- Tables, Figures, and Illustrations
- Formatting Previously Published Work
- Internet Distribution
- Open Access
- Registering Copyright
- Using Copyrighted Materials
- Use of Your Own Previously Published Materials
- Submission Steps
- Submission Checklist
- Sample Pages
I. Order and Components
Please see the sample thesis or dissertation pages throughout and at the end of this document for illustrations. The following order is required for components of your thesis or dissertation:
- Dedication, Acknowledgements, and Preface (each optional)
- Table of Contents, with page numbers
- List of Tables, List of Figures, or List of Illustrations, with titles and page numbers (if applicable)
- List of Abbreviations (if applicable)
- List of Symbols (if applicable)
- Introduction, if any
- Main body, with consistent subheadings as appropriate
- Appendices (if applicable)
- Endnotes (if applicable)
- References (see section on References for options)
Many of the components following the title and copyright pages have required headings and formatting guidelines, which are described in the following sections.
Please consult the Sample Pages to compare your document to the requirements. A Checklist is provided to assist you in ensuring your thesis or dissertation meets all formatting guidelines.
The title page of a thesis or dissertation must include the following information:
- The title of the thesis or dissertation in all capital letters and centered 2″ below the top of the page.
- Your name, centered 1″ below the title. Do not include titles, degrees, or identifiers. The name you use here does not need to exactly match the name on your university records, but we recommend considering how you will want your name to appear in professional publications in the future.
Notes on this statement:
- When indicating your degree in the second bracketed space, use the full degree name (i.e., Doctor of Philosophy, not Ph.D. or PHD; Master of Public Health, not M.P.H. or MPH; Master of Social Work, not M.S.W. or MSW).
- List your department, school, or curriculum rather than your subject area or specialty discipline in the third bracketed space. You may include your subject area or specialty discipline in parentheses (i.e., Department of Romance Languages (French); School of Pharmacy (Molecular Pharmaceutics); School of Education (School Psychology); or similar official area).
- If you wish to include both your department and school names, list the school at the end of the statement (i.e., Department of Pharmacology in the School of Medicine).
- A dissertation submitted to the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Public Policy.
- A thesis submitted to the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in the School of Dentistry (Endodontics).
- A thesis submitted to the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in the Department of Nutrition in the Gillings School of Global Public Health.
- A dissertation submitted to the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the School of Education (Cultural Studies and Literacies).
- The words “Chapel Hill” must be centered 1″ below the statement.
- One single-spaced line below that, center the year in which your committee approves the completed thesis or dissertation. This need not be the year you graduate.
- Approximately 2/3 of the way across the page on the right-hand side of the page, 1″ below the year, include the phrase “Approved by:” (with colon) followed by each faculty member's name on subsequent double-spaced lines. Do not include titles such as Professor, Doctor, Dr., PhD, or any identifiers such as “chair” or “advisor” before or after any names. Line up the first letter of each name on the left under the “A” in the “Approved by:” line. If a name is too long to fit on one line, move this entire section of text slightly to the left so that formatting can be maintained.
- No signatures, signature lines, or page numbers should be included on the title page.
Include a copyright page with the following information single-spaced and centered 2″ above the bottom of the page:
© Year Author's Full Name (as it appears on the title page) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
This page immediately follows the title page. It should be numbered with the lower case Roman numeral ii centered with a 1/2″ margin from the bottom edge.
Inclusion of this page offers you, as the author, additional protection against copyright infringement as it eliminates any question of authorship and copyright ownership. You do not need to file for copyright in order to include this statement in your thesis or dissertation. However, filing for copyright can offer other protections.
See Section IV for more information on copyrighting your thesis or dissertation.
Include an abstract page following these guidelines:
- Include the heading “ABSTRACT” in all capital letters, and center it 2″ below the top of the page.
- One double-spaced line below “ABSTRACT”, center your name, followed by a colon and the title of the thesis or dissertation. Use as many lines as necessary. Be sure that your name and the title exactly match the name and title used on the Title page.
- One single-spaced line below the title, center the phrase “(Under the direction of [advisor's name])”. Include the phrase in parentheses. Include the first and last name(s) of your advisor or formal co-advisors. Do not include the name of other committee members. Use the advisor's name only; do not include any professional titles such as PhD, Professor, or Dr. or any identifiers such as “chair” or “advisor”.
- Skip one double-spaced line and begin the abstract. The text of your abstract must be double-spaced and aligned with the document's left margin with the exception of indenting new paragraphs. Do not center or right-justify the abstract.
- Abstracts cannot exceed 150 words for a thesis or 350 words for a dissertation.
- Number the abstract page with the lower case Roman numeral iii (and iv, if more than one page) centered with a 1/2″ margin from the bottom edge.
Please write and proofread your abstract carefully. When possible, avoid including symbols or foreign words in your abstract, as they cannot be indexed or searched. Avoid mathematical formulas, diagrams, and other illustrative materials in the abstract. Offer a brief description of your thesis or dissertation and a concise summary of its conclusions. Be sure to describe the subject and focus of your work with clear details and avoid including lengthy explanations or opinions.
Your title and abstract will be used by search engines to help potential audiences locate your work, so clarity will help to draw the attention of your targeted readers.
You have an option to include a dedication, acknowledgements, or preface. If you choose to include any or all of these elements, give each its own page(s).
A dedication is a message from the author prefixed to a work in tribute to a person, group, or cause. Most dedications are short statements of tribute beginning with “To…” such as “To my family”.
Acknowledgements are the author's statement of gratitude to and recognition of the people and institutions that helped the author's research and writing.
A preface is a statement of the author's reasons for undertaking the work and other personal comments that are not directly germane to the materials presented in other sections of the thesis or dissertation. These reasons tend to be of a personal nature.
Any of the pages must be prepared following these guidelines:
- Do not place a heading on the dedication page.
- The text of short dedications must be centered and begin 2″ from the top of the page.
- Headings are required for the “ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS” and “PREFACE” pages. Headings must be in all capital letters and centered 2″ below the top of the page.
- The text of the acknowledgements and preface pages must begin one double-spaced line below the heading, be double-spaced, and be aligned with the document's left margin with the exception of indenting new paragraphs.
- Subsequent pages of text return to the 1″ top margin.
- The page(s) must be numbered with consecutive lower case Roman numerals (starting with the page number after the abstract) centered with a 1/2″ margin from the bottom edge.
Include a table of contents following these guidelines:
- Include the heading “TABLE OF CONTENTS” in all capital letters, and center it 2″ below the top of the page.
- Include one double-spaced line between the heading and the first entry.
- The table of contents should not contain listings for the pages that precede it, but it must list all parts of the thesis or dissertation that follow it.
- If relevant, be sure to list all appendices and a references section in your table of contents. Include page numbers for these items but do not assign separate chapter numbers.
- Entries must align with the document's left margin or be indented to the right of the left page margin using consistent tabs.
- Major subheadings within chapters must be included in the table of contents. The subheading(s) should be indented to the right of the left page margin using consistent tabs.
- If an entry takes up more than one line, break up the entry about three-fourths of the way across the page and place the rest of the text on a second line, single-spacing the two lines.
- Include one double-spaced line between each entry.
- Page numbers listed in the table of contents must be located just inside the right page margin with leaders (lines of periods) filling out the space between the end of the entry and the page number. The last digit of each number must line up on the right margin.
- Information included in the table of contents must match the headings, major subheadings, and numbering used in the body of the thesis or dissertation.
- The Table of Contents page(s) must be numbered with consecutive lower case Roman numerals centered with a 1/2″ margin from the bottom edge.
Lists of Tables, Figures, and Illustrations
If applicable, include a list of tables, list of figures, and/or list of illustrations following these guidelines:
- Include the heading(s) in all capital letters, centered 1″ below the top of the page.
- Each entry must include a number, title, and page number.
- Assign each table, figure, or illustration in your thesis or dissertation an Arabic numeral. You may number consecutively throughout the entire work (e.g., Figure 1, Figure 2, etc.), or you may assign a two-part Arabic numeral with the first number designating the chapter in which it appears, separated by a period, followed by a second number to indicate its consecutive placement in the chapter (e.g., Table 3.2 is the second table in Chapter Three).
- Numerals and titles must align with the document's left margin or be indented to the right of the left page margin using consistent tabs.
- Page numbers must be located just inside the right page margin with leaders (lines of periods) filling out the space between the end of the entry and the page number. The last digit of each number must line up on the right margin.
- Numbers, titles, and page numbers must each match the corresponding numbers, titles, and page numbers appearing in the thesis or dissertation.
- All Lists of Tables, Figures, and Illustrations page(s) must be numbered with consecutive lower case Roman numerals centered with a 1/2″ margin from the bottom edge.
If you use abbreviations extensively in your thesis or dissertation, you must include a list of abbreviations and their corresponding definitions following these guidelines:
- Include the heading “LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS” in all capital letters, and center it 1″ below the top of the page.
- Arrange your abbreviations alphabetically.
- Abbreviations must align with the document's left margin or be indented to the right of the left page margin using consistent tabs.
- If an entry takes up more than one line, single-space between the two lines.
- The List of Abbreviations page(s) must be numbered with consecutive lower case Roman numerals centered with a 1/2″ margin from the bottom edge.
If you use symbols in your thesis or dissertation, you may combine them with your abbreviations, titling the section “LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS AND SYMBOLS”, or you may set up a separate list of symbols and their definitions by following the formatting instructions above for abbreviations. The heading you choose must be in all capital letters and centered 1″ below the top of the page.
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- Knowledge Base
- What Is a Thesis? | Ultimate Guide & Examples
What Is a Thesis? | Ultimate Guide & Examples
Published on September 14, 2022 by Tegan George . Revised on July 18, 2023.
A thesis is a type of research paper based on your original research. It is usually submitted as the final step of a master’s program or a capstone to a bachelor’s degree.
Writing a thesis can be a daunting experience. Other than a dissertation , it is one of the longest pieces of writing students typically complete. It relies on your ability to conduct research from start to finish: choosing a relevant topic , crafting a proposal , designing your research , collecting data , developing a robust analysis, drawing strong conclusions , and writing concisely .
You can also download our full thesis template in the format of your choice below. Our template includes a ready-made table of contents , as well as guidance for what each chapter should include. It’s easy to make it your own, and can help you get started.
Download Word template Download Google Docs template
Table of contents
Thesis vs. thesis statement, how to structure a thesis, acknowledgements or preface, list of figures and tables, list of abbreviations, introduction, literature review, methodology, reference list, proofreading and editing, defending your thesis, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about theses.
You may have heard the word thesis as a standalone term or as a component of academic writing called a thesis statement . Keep in mind that these are two very different things.
- A thesis statement is a very common component of an essay, particularly in the humanities. It usually comprises 1 or 2 sentences in the introduction of your essay , and should clearly and concisely summarize the central points of your academic essay .
- A thesis is a long-form piece of academic writing, often taking more than a full semester to complete. It is generally a degree requirement for Master’s programs, and is also sometimes required to complete a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts colleges.
- In the US, a dissertation is generally written as a final step toward obtaining a PhD.
- In other countries (particularly the UK), a dissertation is generally written at the bachelor’s or master’s level.
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The final structure of your thesis depends on a variety of components, such as:
- Your discipline
- Your theoretical approach
Humanities theses are often structured more like a longer-form essay . Just like in an essay, you build an argument to support a central thesis.
In both hard and social sciences, theses typically include an introduction , literature review , methodology section , results section , discussion section , and conclusion section . These are each presented in their own dedicated section or chapter. In some cases, you might want to add an appendix .
We’ve compiled a list of thesis examples to help you get started.
- Example thesis #1: “Abolition, Africans, and Abstraction: the Influence of the ‘Noble Savage’ on British and French Antislavery Thought, 1787-1807” by Suchait Kahlon.
- Example thesis #2: “’A Starving Man Helping Another Starving Man’: UNRRA, India, and the Genesis of Global Relief, 1943-1947″ by Julian Saint Reiman.
- Example thesis #3: “An Introduction to Higher-Order Frames in Communication: How Controversial Organizations Maintain Legitimacy Over Time” by Kees Smeets
The very first page of your thesis contains all necessary identifying information, including:
- Your full title
- Your full name
- Your department
- Your institution and degree program
- Your submission date.
Sometimes the title page also includes your student ID, the name of your supervisor, or the university’s logo. Check out your university’s guidelines if you’re not sure.
Read more about title pages
The acknowledgements section is usually optional. Its main point is to allow you to thank everyone who helped you in your thesis journey, such as supervisors, friends, or family. You can also choose to write a preface , but it’s typically one or the other, not both.
Read more about acknowledgements Read more about prefaces
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An abstract is a short summary of your thesis. Usually a maximum of 300 words long, it’s should include brief descriptions of your research objectives , methods, results, and conclusions. Though it may seem short, it introduces your work to your audience, serving as a first impression of your thesis.
Read more about abstracts
A table of contents lists all of your sections, plus their corresponding page numbers and subheadings if you have them. This helps your reader seamlessly navigate your document.
Your table of contents should include all the major parts of your thesis. In particular, don’t forget the the appendices. If you used heading styles, it’s easy to generate an automatic table Microsoft Word.
Read more about tables of contents
While not mandatory, if you used a lot of tables and/or figures, it’s nice to include a list of them to help guide your reader. It’s also easy to generate one of these in Word: just use the “Insert Caption” feature.
Read more about lists of figures and tables
If you have used a lot of industry- or field-specific abbreviations in your thesis, you should include them in an alphabetized list of abbreviations . This way, your readers can easily look up any meanings they aren’t familiar with.
Read more about lists of abbreviations
Relatedly, if you find yourself using a lot of very specialized or field-specific terms that may not be familiar to your reader, consider including a glossary . Alphabetize the terms you want to include with a brief definition.
Read more about glossaries
An introduction sets up the topic, purpose, and relevance of your thesis, as well as expectations for your reader. This should:
- Ground your research topic , sharing any background information your reader may need
- Define the scope of your work
- Introduce any existing research on your topic, situating your work within a broader problem or debate
- State your research question(s)
- Outline (briefly) how the remainder of your work will proceed
In other words, your introduction should clearly and concisely show your reader the “what, why, and how” of your research.
Read more about introductions
A literature review helps you gain a robust understanding of any extant academic work on your topic, encompassing:
- Selecting relevant sources
- Determining the credibility of your sources
- Critically evaluating each of your sources
- Drawing connections between sources, including any themes, patterns, conflicts, or gaps
A literature review is not merely a summary of existing work. Rather, your literature review should ultimately lead to a clear justification for your own research, perhaps via:
- Addressing a gap in the literature
- Building on existing knowledge to draw new conclusions
- Exploring a new theoretical or methodological approach
- Introducing a new solution to an unresolved problem
- Definitively advocating for one side of a theoretical debate
Read more about literature reviews
Your literature review can often form the basis for your theoretical framework, but these are not the same thing. A theoretical framework defines and analyzes the concepts and theories that your research hinges on.
Read more about theoretical frameworks
Your methodology chapter shows your reader how you conducted your research. It should be written clearly and methodically, easily allowing your reader to critically assess the credibility of your argument. Furthermore, your methods section should convince your reader that your method was the best way to answer your research question.
A methodology section should generally include:
- Your overall approach ( quantitative vs. qualitative )
- Your research methods (e.g., a longitudinal study )
- Your data collection methods (e.g., interviews or a controlled experiment
- Any tools or materials you used (e.g., computer software)
- The data analysis methods you chose (e.g., statistical analysis , discourse analysis )
- A strong, but not defensive justification of your methods
Read more about methodology sections
Your results section should highlight what your methodology discovered. These two sections work in tandem, but shouldn’t repeat each other. While your results section can include hypotheses or themes, don’t include any speculation or new arguments here.
Your results section should:
- State each (relevant) result with any (relevant) descriptive statistics (e.g., mean , standard deviation ) and inferential statistics (e.g., test statistics , p values )
- Explain how each result relates to the research question
- Determine whether the hypothesis was supported
Additional data (like raw numbers or interview transcripts ) can be included as an appendix . You can include tables and figures, but only if they help the reader better understand your results.
Read more about results sections
Your discussion section is where you can interpret your results in detail. Did they meet your expectations? How well do they fit within the framework that you built? You can refer back to any relevant source material to situate your results within your field, but leave most of that analysis in your literature review.
For any unexpected results, offer explanations or alternative interpretations of your data.
Read more about discussion sections
Your thesis conclusion should concisely answer your main research question. It should leave your reader with an ultra-clear understanding of your central argument, and emphasize what your research specifically has contributed to your field.
Why does your research matter? What recommendations for future research do you have? Lastly, wrap up your work with any concluding remarks.
Read more about conclusions
In order to avoid plagiarism , don’t forget to include a full reference list at the end of your thesis, citing the sources that you used. Choose one citation style and follow it consistently throughout your thesis, taking note of the formatting requirements of each style.
Which style you choose is often set by your department or your field, but common styles include MLA , Chicago , and APA.
Create APA citations Create MLA citations
In order to stay clear and concise, your thesis should include the most essential information needed to answer your research question. However, chances are you have many contributing documents, like interview transcripts or survey questions . These can be added as appendices , to save space in the main body.
Read more about appendices
Once you’re done writing, the next part of your editing process begins. Leave plenty of time for proofreading and editing prior to submission. Nothing looks worse than grammar mistakes or sloppy spelling errors!
Consider using a professional thesis editing service or grammar checker to make sure your final project is perfect.
Once you’ve submitted your final product, it’s common practice to have a thesis defense, an oral component of your finished work. This is scheduled by your advisor or committee, and usually entails a presentation and Q&A session.
After your defense , your committee will meet to determine if you deserve any departmental honors or accolades. However, keep in mind that defenses are usually just a formality. If there are any serious issues with your work, these should be resolved with your advisor way before a defense.
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The conclusion of your thesis or dissertation shouldn’t take up more than 5–7% of your overall word count.
If you only used a few abbreviations in your thesis or dissertation , you don’t necessarily need to include a list of abbreviations .
If your abbreviations are numerous, or if you think they won’t be known to your audience, it’s never a bad idea to add one. They can also improve readability, minimizing confusion about abbreviations unfamiliar to your reader.
When you mention different chapters within your text, it’s considered best to use Roman numerals for most citation styles. However, the most important thing here is to remain consistent whenever using numbers in your dissertation .
A thesis or dissertation outline is one of the most critical first steps in your writing process. It helps you to lay out and organize your ideas and can provide you with a roadmap for deciding what kind of research you’d like to undertake.
Generally, an outline contains information on the different sections included in your thesis or dissertation , such as:
- Your anticipated title
- Your abstract
- Your chapters (sometimes subdivided into further topics like literature review , research methods , avenues for future research, etc.)
A thesis is typically written by students finishing up a bachelor’s or Master’s degree. Some educational institutions, particularly in the liberal arts, have mandatory theses, but they are often not mandatory to graduate from bachelor’s degrees. It is more common for a thesis to be a graduation requirement from a Master’s degree.
Even if not mandatory, you may want to consider writing a thesis if you:
- Plan to attend graduate school soon
- Have a particular topic you’d like to study more in-depth
- Are considering a career in research
- Would like a capstone experience to tie up your academic experience
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Your thesis is the central claim in your essay—your main insight or idea about your source or topic. Your thesis should appear early in an academic essay, followed by a logically constructed argument that supports this central claim. A strong thesis is arguable, which means a thoughtful reader could disagree with it and therefore needs your careful analysis of the evidence to understand how you arrived at this claim. You arrive at your thesis by examining and analyzing the evidence available to you, which might be text or other types of source material.
A thesis will generally respond to an analytical question or pose a solution to a problem that you have framed for your readers (and for yourself). When you frame that question or problem for your readers, you are telling them what is at stake in your argument—why your question matters and why they should care about the answer . If you can explain to your readers why a question or problem is worth addressing, then they will understand why it’s worth reading an essay that develops your thesis—and you will understand why it’s worth writing that essay.
A strong thesis will be arguable rather than descriptive , and it will be the right scope for the essay you are writing. If your thesis is descriptive, then you will not need to convince your readers of anything—you will be naming or summarizing something your readers can already see for themselves. If your thesis is too narrow, you won’t be able to explore your topic in enough depth to say something interesting about it. If your thesis is too broad, you may not be able to support it with evidence from the available sources.
When you are writing an essay for a course assignment, you should make sure you understand what type of claim you are being asked to make. Many of your assignments will be asking you to make analytical claims , which are based on interpretation of facts, data, or sources.
Some of your assignments may ask you to make normative claims. Normative claims are claims of value or evaluation rather than fact—claims about how things should be rather than how they are. A normative claim makes the case for the importance of something, the action that should be taken, or the way the world should be. When you are asked to write a policy memo, a proposal, or an essay based on your own opinion, you will be making normative claims.
Here are some examples of possible thesis statements for a student's analysis of the article “The Case Against Perfection” by Professor Michael Sandel.
Descriptive thesis (not arguable)
While Sandel argues that pursuing perfection through genetic engineering would decrease our sense of humility, he claims that the sense of solidarity we would lose is also important.
This thesis summarizes several points in Sandel’s argument, but it does not make a claim about how we should understand his argument. A reader who read Sandel’s argument would not also need to read an essay based on this descriptive thesis.
Broad thesis (arguable, but difficult to support with evidence)
Michael Sandel’s arguments about genetic engineering do not take into consideration all the relevant issues.
This is an arguable claim because it would be possible to argue against it by saying that Michael Sandel’s arguments do take all of the relevant issues into consideration. But the claim is too broad. Because the thesis does not specify which “issues” it is focused on—or why it matters if they are considered—readers won’t know what the rest of the essay will argue, and the writer won’t know what to focus on. If there is a particular issue that Sandel does not address, then a more specific version of the thesis would include that issue—hand an explanation of why it is important.
Arguable thesis with analytical claim
While Sandel argues persuasively that our instinct to “remake” (54) ourselves into something ever more perfect is a problem, his belief that we can always draw a line between what is medically necessary and what makes us simply “better than well” (51) is less convincing.
This is an arguable analytical claim. To argue for this claim, the essay writer will need to show how evidence from the article itself points to this interpretation. It’s also a reasonable scope for a thesis because it can be supported with evidence available in the text and is neither too broad nor too narrow.
Arguable thesis with normative claim
Given Sandel’s argument against genetic enhancement, we should not allow parents to decide on using Human Growth Hormone for their children.
This thesis tells us what we should do about a particular issue discussed in Sandel’s article, but it does not tell us how we should understand Sandel’s argument.
Questions to ask about your thesis
- Is the thesis truly arguable? Does it speak to a genuine dilemma in the source, or would most readers automatically agree with it?
- Is the thesis too obvious? Again, would most or all readers agree with it without needing to see your argument?
- Is the thesis complex enough to require a whole essay's worth of argument?
- Is the thesis supportable with evidence from the text rather than with generalizations or outside research?
- Would anyone want to read a paper in which this thesis was developed? That is, can you explain what this paper is adding to our understanding of a problem, question, or topic?
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