Guide to Thesis Writing
A GUIDE TO THESIS AND DISSERTATION WRITING
Part 1: How to Write a Research Proposal What is a Research Proposal?
A Research Proposal is a document written by a student in the beginning stages of their postgraduate degree. For example, a PhD student will usually write their Research Proposal in the first six months of their degree. The length of the Research Proposal will vary from degree to degree, and discipline to discipline. An Honours student might write a Research Proposal of 2,000 words, whereas a PhD student might write a Research Proposal of 10,000 words. Parts of the Research Proposal are most often later incorporated into the thesis. Shorter Research Proposals are sometimes written by students during the application process (i.e. before they begin their degree). This article focuses on the detailed Research Proposals written by students during their degrees, but it contains information that will be relevant to students who are writing proposals as part of their applications.
Why write a Research Proposal?
Research Proposals are often a compulsory part of a postgraduate degree, and a requirement that students have to meet in order to continue in their studies. The supervisor, faculty or department’s acceptance of the Research Proposal is required before students can go on to complete their research and write their thesis. Writing a Research Proposal performs an important function, which is why they are required by universities. A Research Proposal allows students to focus, define and narrow their research plans in preparation for writing their thesis. Your Research Proposal will:
- Demonstrate that you will undertake significant and worthwhile research in a particular field
- Provide a context and background for the research you will undertake
- Allow you to develop the depth and breadth of your understanding of your topic or field
- Allow you to establish your theoretical framework
- Allow you to decide which methodological approach is the most appropriate for your research
What should my Research Proposal contain?
Each Research Proposal will be different, depending on the topic you are studying, your discipline, the university you are studying at, and your supervisor’s preferences. It is important that you check with your supervisor about what components your Research Proposal must contain. Below is a guide to the components that are normally included in a Research Proposal. In some ways it can be viewed as a ‘mini-thesis’ since it uses a similar structure.
- Cover page
- Table of contents
- Lists of figures, tables and abbreviations (if necessary)
- Chapters that include the following information:
- Background and need for the study
- Purpose and aims of the study
- Review of the literature
- Research design
- Timetable or plan for the research
- Proposed thesis structure
- The significance or expected outcomes of the study
Common mistakes students make when writing Research Proposals
Make sure you work hard to avoid these common mistakes:
- Failing to provide the correct context for the research question
- Failing to provide the scope and limitations of the research
- Failing to refer to the most important studies
- Failing to present the contributions of other researchers accurately
- Failing to remain focussed on the research question
- Failing to develop and maintain a convincing and coherent argument
- Providing an inappropriate amount of attention to certain aspects (i.e. too much detail on unimportant things and too little detail on important things)
- Writing a Research Proposal that is not well structured and organised, and that consequently does not flow well
- Lack of or incorrect referencing
- Failing to follow the correct formatting and style guidelines
- Failing to stick to the word limit (i.e. the proposal is too long or too short)
- Submitting a Research Proposal that contains grammatical and other errors that could have been corrected by a professional thesis editor!
The final stage: Professional editing
Once you have completed writing your Research Proposal, it is strongly recommended that you have it professionally edited prior to submitting it to your university. It is vital that your Research Proposal is presented in the best possible way, since it must be accepted if you are to go on to complete your degree. If you choose to have your Research Proposal edited by one of our thesis editors, and then go on to include sections of it in your final thesis, simply let us know which sections have already been edited and we will not charge you again for these when you submit your entire thesis to us for editing. We will simply ensure that these sections are formatted correctly and are consistent with the remainder of the thesis. Our qualified and experienced thesis editors have assisted thousands of students with their Research Proposals, ensuring that they are accepted and that students go on to undertake their research and write their thesis. Contact us today to find out how we can help.
Part 2: How to Write a Literature Review
What is a Literature Review?
A Literature Review is a study of the original and primary scholarship on a particular topic (i.e. the existing literature or sources). It does not study the topic itself, just the research that has been conducted on that topic. The aim of a Literature Review (when it is conducted as part of a thesis or dissertation) is to review, summarise, analyse and evaluate these sources in order to identify their strengths and weaknesses, and to identify a gap in the current literature that the thesis aims to fill. A Literature Review is normally included in a thesis as a separate chapter after the Introduction, or as a section within the Introduction. The Literature Review provides the background to and justification for the research that the researcher has undertaken and is now reporting in the thesis. A Literature Review can also be conducted as a self-contained piece of research (i.e. as an assignment on its own and not part of a thesis). This article has been written about Literature Reviews written as part of a thesis or dissertation, but the information is also relevant for students completing a Literature Review for an assignment.
Why conduct a Literature Review?
A review of the relevant literature on a particular topic is a vital component of all research degrees. It is normally carried out by the researcher at the beginning of the degree or initial stage of the research. There are many reasons why a review of the current literature should be conducted before beginning a research project or conducting original research. These include:
- To identify any gaps in the current literature (i.e. to see what other researchers have not yet done in this field)
- To avoid unnecessarily repeating work that has been carried out by other researchers
- To begin your research by building on the knowledge and achievements of others (i.e. to begin where others have left off or identified areas for future research)
- To identify important research, sources, views and theories in your field
- To identify other researchers working in the same field and to create a network of colleagues
- To increase the breadth and depth of your knowledge in your field
- To allow you to understand and explain the context into which your thesis will fit
- To develop ideas on how best you could undertake your own research project
How do I conduct my review of the literature?
There are four stages involved in conducting a Literature Review. The first stage is to define your project. To do this you will need to know the topic or field you wish to write your thesis on. You need to be able to define the topic or field to be examined. The second stage is to search for the literature. This involves searching through libraries, journal databases, the internet and other places to find all the relevant sources (i.e. all the current literature on your topic). You will be looking for books, monographs, journal articles, conference papers, theses (published and unpublished), reports, papers, and studies on your topic. The third stage is to evaluate and analyse the literature you have found. You will evaluate the sources to identify their strengths and weaknesses, and to discover which sources make the most significant contribution to the field. You will analyse and interpret the literature in order to discover what information is relevant to your thesis. At this point, you will begin dividing the literature into categories. How you divide the literature will depend on your topic, and on the literature itself. The fourth stage is to write the Literature Review itself.
What should my Literature Review contain?
The introduction should contain:
- A definition of the topic or field under consideration and the objectives of the Literature Review, thus providing the appropriate context for the review
- An introduction to the overall trends, conflicts, conclusions or themes in the literature that will be discussed in the Literature Review
- An indication of how the sources have been divided for discussion in the Literature Review
- An indication of the gap found in the literature that the thesis aims to fill
The body should contain:
- A division of the literature into categories for review. One way to divide the literature is by sources supporting a particular position, sources against that position, and sources that provide a different position. Another way to divide the literature might be by the type of research method used in the study, for example qualitative or quantitative
- A summary and analysis of each of the sources, a discussion of their strengths and weaknesses, an explanation of what they contribute to the field, and a description of how the sources differ from each other. How much detail you provide on each source will depend on its importance
- A discussion of the gap identified in the current literature and how your thesis will attempt to fill it
- Remember to structure the body of the Literature Review as you would an academic essay, making sure it is well organised and structured, and has topic sentences and ‘sign posts’ that ensure the argument flows well
The conclusion should contain:
- Conclusions regarding which sources make the most valuable contribution to the understanding and development of the area of research, maintaining the focus established in the introduction
- A summary of the gap identified in the current literature and how your thesis will attempt to fill it
The final stage: Professional editing
Once you have written your Literature Review, the final step to completion is to have it professionally edited by an academic editor at Elite Editing. This will ensure that your work is presented in the best possible way, in polished, formal academic language, and free from grammatical and other errors. Our qualified and experienced thesis editors will also be able to check that you have followed all the conventions for a Literature Review, and point out if you have failed to complete any of the components correctly. You might choose to have your Literature Review edited as soon as you have written it, or you may prefer to wait until you have completed writing your entire thesis and have the whole thesis edited at once. Either way, Elite Editing is here to help. You can read more about our thesis editing services for information on how we can assist you to complete your postgraduate degree.
Part 3: How to Publish Your First Journal Article
The phrase ‘publish or perish’ is widely known and accepted in the academic community. It refers to the pressure on academics to publish their work frequently and constantly in order to obtain employment or to further their careers. This situation has come about largely due to intense competition for employment in the field. Indeed, the pressure to begin publishing work starts even before students have completed their postgraduate degrees. Today, many postgraduate students seek to publish their work while completing their degrees in order to enhance their chances of success in finding employment after graduation. This article is intended to serve as a guide to postgraduate students, especially those completing a Masters or PhD, who need to know what steps to follow in order to publish their first journal article. The advice contained in this article refers to publishing in peer-reviewed academic journals. Students should also seek advice from their supervisors, who will have detailed knowledge of publishing in their specific field of research.
What to publish
The first decision a postgraduate student will need to make is whether to transform a chapter from his or her thesis into a journal article or to write a stand-alone journal article from a separate piece of research. There are advantages and disadvantages to both options. When using a chapter (or several chapters) from a thesis as the basis for a journal article, it is important to make the correct selection and ensure that the material is appropriate. A journal article must be a complete piece of research on its own; that is to say, it cannot refer to information contained in other sections of the thesis not included in the journal article. The journal article must introduce a narrowly defined topic, provide an original piece of scholarly research on that topic and be self-contained. One advantage of converting a thesis chapter into a journal article instead of undertaking another research project, of course, is that the postgraduate student will not be creating more work for him or herself during an already busy time. Another advantage is that if a student is able to publish a section of the thesis successfully in a peer-reviewed journal during his or her degree, this is an encouraging sign that the thesis itself will be accepted by examiners (although it is no guarantee). The second option, conducting a separate and smaller research project in order to write a journal article, has the advantage of ensuring that the resulting journal article is self-contained and stands alone as a separate piece of work. It also has the advantage of extending your knowledge and expertise, and demonstrating capabilities that many employers are looking for in staff (for example, dedication, determination and the ability to multi-task). However, the disadvantage is that it will require further research to be completed before an article can be written, which can be time consuming.
Where to publish
It is advisable to consider which journal you would like your article to be published in prior to writing the article itself. This is because every journal has its own formatting, style and referencing guidelines. To save time, it is suggested that you first write your journal article following the guidelines of the journal in which you aim to be published. There are many factors to consider when choosing the journal or journals in which you would like to be published. It is recommended that you write a list of suitable journals, in order of preference. First, you should search the internet or your university’s library website for a list of all the journals in your field of research. You can then narrow this list according to relevance and quality of the journals. Search through issues of journals to see if they have published articles on your specific topic in the past. You can also check your bibliography or reference list as you might find that the majority of your sources have come from one or more journals. If this is the case, these journals might be a good place to start. While the quality and reputation of journals is important, you might not wish to aim for the highest quality or top-ranked journal in your field for your first publication, since this could increase the chances that your article might be rejected. You should compile a list of between five and ten journals in which you would like to be published, in order or priority, and approach them one at a time.
How to write the journal article
Once you have decided on the journal you plan to submit your journal article to, visit the journal’s website to find information on the format, style and language guidelines. It is very important that you follow the specific and individual guidelines of the journal correctly. These guidelines will also let you know approximately how long your article should be, and will normally provide minimum and maximum lengths. Check whether your article should be written in British/Australian or American English, which referencing style you should use and how to format your article (including font, spacing, margins, headings etc). If you have converted a chapter of your thesis into a journal article and your thesis follows different guidelines, you can simply submit your journal article to one of our experienced academic editors for editing and we can alter the article so it conforms to the journal’s guidelines for you. We will alter the article for you so that it conforms to the journal’s guidelines. Our editing conforms to the Australian Standards for Editing Practice, so while we are unable to change the content of your article (i.e. the information, research or ideas it contains), we are able to make changes to the style, language, format and referencing of your article.
How to approach publishers
When submitting journal articles to journals for consideration, it is vital that you only submit each journal article to one journal at a time. Almost all journals will refuse to consider an article for publication if it is being considered for publishing elsewhere. Most journals, as part of their official submission process, will require you to declare that your work is not under consideration elsewhere. First, ensure that you follow all the publisher’s guidelines correctly when writing your article (or submit your article to us for academic editing to ensure it follows these guidelines). Second, visit the journal’s website to find information about their submission process. Again, it is very important that you follow the specific and individual guidelines of the journal correctly. Some journals only accept electronic submissions, some journals only accept hard copy submissions through the post, and other journals will accept submissions in either format or require both. Submit your journal article to your first journal following their submission guidelines. The peer-review process can be time consuming. It can take between six weeks and six months before you will receive the journal’s formal decision. Some journals have a two-stage review process. First, one of the journal’s editors will review the article to decide if it is worthy of peer review. If your article passes this first review, it will then be sent to one or more anonymous peer-reviewers (academics who are experts in the field upon which you have written). After what can be a lengthy period, you will then receive either an email or a letter from the journal relating their decision. Often the decision will be accompanied by the reviewers’ reports or comments. If your article has been rejected for publication, it is vital that you request the reviewers’ reports or comments (if you have not already received them) because they will contain valuable information that you can use to improve your article prior to sending it to another journal for consideration. It is rare that a first-time author will have his or her first journal article accepted for publication by the first journal to which it has been submitted. If this happens to you, congratulations! If it does not, do not be discouraged. Rejection is a normal part of the publishing process and all authors have been rejected at one point or another. If your article is rejected, use the comments provided by the reviewers to improve the article if you can. Then, you will need to prepare your article for submission to the next journal on your list. You may need to change the style, format and referencing of your article each time you submit your article to a different journal, in order to ensure that it adheres to the journal’s guidelines. You can either do this yourself or submit your article, along with the journal’s guidelines, to one of our professional academic editors, who will then do it for you. If you follow this process diligently and are open to advice and criticism from your peers, which you may need to take on board to improve your article, you will be successful in obtaining your first publication. You can read more about how our professional academic editors can help academics to publish their journal articles, conference papers, chapters, monographs, books and manuscripts through our professional editing service for academics.
Part 4: How to Write a Thesis or Dissertation
1. Choose a Topic
The first step is to choose a broad topic for your thesis. For example, if you are undertaking a PhD in History, the topic might be as broad as women’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War. You will refine and narrow this topic at a later stage. Choosing the topic for your thesis is an important step that requires a great deal of thoughtful consideration. Many factors need to be considered. Ask yourself these questions:
What topic in my field interests me the most?
If you are writing an Honours thesis, you will need to maintain your interest in the topic you choose for at least one year. If you are completing a PhD, you will be researching this topic for three or more years! For this reason, it is important that you choose a topic that will hold your enthusiasm, interest and passion for an extended period. There is nothing worse than being locked in to studying a thesis topic that no longer interests you.
Will I be able to find an appropriate supervisor for that topic?
Finding a supervisor is an important step in your postgraduate journey and it is something you need to consider when choosing your topic. There needs to be a balance between your interest in a topic and the ability of a specific supervisor to work in this area. It is not useful to choose a topic that is of immense interest to you if no one at your university has sufficient knowledge in the area to act as your supervisor. However, it is also not advisable to choose a supervisor first and then choose a topic based solely on their research interests, as you may end up studying something that is not of interest to you.
Will I have access to the appropriate sources to research this topic?
Similarly, it is not useful to choose a topic that is immensely interesting to you if there is very little information on the subject. When choosing your topic, consider what types of sources you would need to be able to research it well, and find out if you will have access to these sources. If, as in the example above, you will be studying the Spanish Civil War, can you speak Spanish? Will you be able to travel to Spain to access sources? Does a wealth of material on your chosen subject exist?
2. Conduct the Literature Review
Once you have chosen a topic to study for your thesis, you need to begin your background research to discover what has already been written on the topic by other researchers. There are several reasons why it is important to conduct a thorough Literature Review:
- Most thesis structures require you to include a well-written Literature Review in your thesis, so that you can demonstrate you have conducted in-depth research in the field and possess a sound knowledge of it
- You need to study what has been written on a topic so you can identify a gap in the current literature that can be filled by your thesis, since a thesis needs to make an original contribution to a field of knowledge
3. Narrow your Topic and Define your Research Questions
Once you have conducted your Literature Review and identified a gap in the current field of knowledge in your topic, you will be able to narrow your topic further. This is an important step because it is the point at which you will decide what questions your thesis will answer. In the example of the PhD student who knew she wanted to study women’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War, after a careful review of the literature she might have found that one unexamined area in the field was the role of Republican women in combat during the war. This is a much narrower topic than ‘women’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War’, and thus it is a suitable subject for a thesis. The student would then need to define her research questions. Her main research question might be ‘Why was the military participation of Republican women in the Spanish Civil War significant?’ In order to answer this main research question, she would first have to answer a set of sub-questions, like these:
- How many women fought in the Spanish Civil War?
- What motivated these women to volunteer for combat?
- Why were these women removed from their combat positions only eight months after the beginning of the war?
Thus, the third step in writing a thesis is narrowing your topic, deciding on a main research question and deciding on sub-questions.
4. Research Proposal
If you are writing a Masters or a PhD thesis, you will normally be required to write a detailed Research Proposal in the first few months of your candidature. If you are undertaking a PhD, for example, you might have six months to write a 10,000 word proposal. This Research Proposal will include information you have discovered in your Literature Review, and will outline what your thesis aims to achieve. For many students, this Research Proposal later becomes the basis for the Introduction and Literature Review in their final thesis. The successful completion of this proposal and its acceptance by your university is a necessary step in order to continue your candidature. Once you have written your Research Proposal, it is important that you have it professionally edited prior to submitting it, to ensure you have the best chance of its acceptance. See ‘The Final Stage: Professional Editing’ below.
5. Conduct the Research
The aim in conducting your research is to answer your research questions and develop a thesis statement. The thesis statement is your answer to your main research question. It defines the argument that you will be putting forward throughout your thesis. In fact, the word ‘thesis’ means ‘argument’ or ‘position’. Conducting the research is the most important and time-consuming stage of writing a thesis. How you do this will depend on your field of study and the research project you have created. It is important to consult with your supervisor throughout this stage and to use time management skills to ensure that you stay on track.
6. Follow the Guidelines
Your university department or school will have guidelines that you must follow when writing your thesis and it is important to be familiar with these before you begin writing your first draft. These guidelines will vary from university to university. They even vary within universities, as different disciplines follow different guidelines. It is important that you check with your supervisor about where to find the correct guidelines to follow. Often these guidelines will be very detailed and will specify the following things: the length of your final thesis; the structure of the thesis and what elements it should contain; the referencing style to be used; and the formatting and presentation of the thesis. If you have trouble following some of the guidelines, for example the formatting and presentation or the correct referencing of your thesis, your professional editor will be able to assist you in these matters (please see ‘The Final Stage: Professional Editing’).
7. Write the First Draft of the Thesis
Once you have completed your research, you will arrive at what can be the most nerve-racking stage, writing up your results in the form of your first draft. Before you begin writing, it is important that you finalise a detailed plan for your thesis (one that you no doubt will have begun developing during the research stage). With a detailed plan and organised research, you will not feel like you are starting from scratch when you begin writing your first draft. Your professional editor at Elite Editing can help you during this stage, as some students find it helpful to submit individual chapters for editing as soon as they have written them. This is especially helpful for students who have English as a second language. This way you are able to submit drafts to your supervisor that have already been edited to improve the level of English and your supervisor can concentrate on advising you regarding the ideas and arguments contained in your thesis, rather than being distracted by the language use.
8. Thesis Structure
The structure of a thesis varies widely. It will depend on what level you are studying at, what field you are studying in, the guidelines you are following, your supervisor’s suggestions, and how best to present the type of research you have done. Below is an example of a common thesis structure. This is a guide only and you will need to adjust it to suit your needs and adhere to your department’s guidelines.
- Title Page
- Declaration of Original Work
- List of Figures and Tables
- Literature Review
- Thesis Chapters
9. The Final Stage: Professional Editing
Once you have completed writing your thesis, it is vital that you have it professionally edited by an academic editor. You have just spent between a year (for Honours students) and over three years (for PhD students) doing your research and writing up your results. After all this effort, it is critical that your work is presented in the best possible way. Using a professional academic editor will ensure that your work is polished, well written, and presented correctly. If English is your second language, having your thesis professionally edited is even more important. You do not want mistakes in your writing to confuse your examiners or distract them from the important arguments you are making. Our academic editors all hold a PhDs or postgraduate qualifications in an appropriate language-rich subject and have had years of experience editing essays, assignments and theses. We have helped thousands of students to submit the best thesis possible to their examiners and assist them in gaining their degrees. For more information on our professional thesis editing service, please click here. Please note that some universities require postgraduate students to obtain the permission of their supervisor prior to having their thesis professionally edited. We recommend that students follow the policies of their universities. Elite Editing adheres to all university guidelines and policies. Our editing complies with the Australian Standards of Editing Practice and the ‘Guidelines for Editing Research Theses’, adopted by most Australian universities.