When writing up any extended essay or research project it can be easy to feel slightly overwhelmed or as though you don’t know where to start. This is especially true for research projects like theses, which are done at an incredibly high academic level. Due to this, it can help to have a little guidance to help you get started.
Continue reading to learn more about the 9 steps you need to take in order to write up your thesis. This article will include information about writing each main section of the thesis and a brief description of what each of these means.
Table of Contents
Step 1: Start with a plan of your thesis
As you most likely know, a thesis is an extended research project based on a student’s original findings. In the UK, a thesis is done at doctorate level.
A thesis includes an abstract, introduction, literature review, research methodology and a description of procedures, and the word count will typically range from 70,000 to 100,000 words. For more information about theses, check out this Think Student article.
Due to this, it is essential that you start with a plan for your thesis to help you know what you’re doing. A plan can also help to give you something to compare your written work to as well as give you more structure.
There is no set method of making a plan and this couldn’t be truer when it comes to theses. This is because there are many different types of research that you may be carrying out with your thesis and as a result different ways you will need to approach it.
However, the method of planning I would use is to make an outline of each section and then to list what you need to research or do in order to be able to complete that section. If you put time stamps and deadlines for each of these elements, then it can help you to manage your time better for working on your thesis.
If you’ve already done the research or at least some of it, your plan can instead directly make note of what should go in each section. In this, you can arrange the important information, sources, and research to be included in your thesis so all you have to do afterwards is write it up in an academic style.
For more tips on writing up your thesis and planning it, check out this article by Times Higher Education.
Step 2: Write up the abstract of your thesis
An abstract of a research project is a small section that comes after the title page but before the table of contents. In this section, the research project is summarised, making particular note of the aims and outcomes of the research project. This is done to tell readers what the thesis is about.
An abstract is only about 100-300 words depending on the word count you have been given. As this really isn’t much, it is essential that students make their points very concise.
To write up the abstract, a good structure to use is the IMRaD structure. This stands for introduction, methods, results and discussion.
You will then need to dedicate about 1 to 3 sentences for each one, summarising their sections. To learn more about this, check out this article by Scribbr.
Also, you will likely want to wait until after you have written up the other sections. However, similarly to an introduction, you may want to draft an abstract and then tweak it based on updates to your actual thesis.
Step 3: Write up the introduction of your thesis
The introduction is the first main chapter of your thesis and so it is where you will need to introduce what your research project is and how and why it is relevant within your wider topic area.
The introduction will typically be about 10% of your overall word count, although it may be as low as 5% or as high as 15%, it will really depend on your and what guidelines your university has given you as well. To learn more about this, check out this article by Proof-Reading-Service.com.
When it comes down to writing your introduction, you will need to first start by more broadly talking about your topic area. You can use this as a way of setting the scene and grabbing your readers’ attention.
Then you will need to zone in on your specific topic area and explain how your research will contribute to what already exists. Also, you will need to state and explain your research aims and objectives as well as any research questions or hypotheses that you intend to answer with your research.
Finally, you will need to give an overview of the rest of the chapters within the thesis. This allows the readers to know what to expect and can help to give your thesis a better flow.
To learn more about how to write an introduction for your thesis, check out this guide by the University of Leeds.
Step 4: Write up your thesis literature review
A literature review is the next section that you will likely need to do for your thesis. At times, it may also be done as a part of the introduction.
The best way to describe a literature review is that it is the chapter where you write about the key points and main themes that you came across within your research on your project area. In this same section, you will need to analyse and evaluate these sources or ‘literature’.
A literature review can vary in length depending on the type of research you’re doing and what your university has set as your overall word count. However, in a thesis for a PhD, your literature review will make up one chapter and so should generally be around 8000 to 10000 words.
In order to be able to write up your literature review, you will need to have conducted research into your subject area and find reliable sources. The next bit is to summarise the key points that you find in this material and then link these key concepts and theories together in order to create an overview of the pre-existing research in your field.
After this, you will need to go into greater depth and start picking apart the sources you have looked at to analyse and evaluate the main concepts, theories and areas of debate. Finally, you will need to link this pre-existing research back to your own thesis by identifying any gaps and outlining how your own research will fill this.
To learn more about literature review and show to write them, check out this Think Student article.
Step 5: Write up your thesis research methodology
The methodology section of your thesis is where you are supposed to describe and explain the methods and processes that you carried out for your research. The methodology includes both a detailed description about how you gathered your data and an evaluation and justification for why you used these methods rather than an alternative.
To write your methodology, you will first need to re-establish your thesis and what it’s all about. This allows you to stay fully focused on your thesis. Then you need to explain your research approach so whether this was a quantitative, qualitative, or blended approach to data collection.
You will then need to explain how you collected your data and what methods you used to analyse this data. In this, you can particularly make note of any interesting ways you have carried out your research and explain why you have done this. Then you will need to explain and justify all of the choices you made when carrying out research and analysing it.
You will also need to describe any problems that occurred during your research and how you were able to resolve them. Arguably most importantly, you will need to make sure you reference every source that you used to help you decide on your methods. This is all done to ensure the validity and creditability of your entire research.
To learn more about writing the methodology, check out this article by Indeed.
Step 6: Write up the results section of your thesis
The results section is exactly as it suggests. This is the section where you present the main results that you found when carrying out your research as well as the findings of analysing this data. To learn more about this, check out this article by Scribbr.
In order to write up your results section, you will need to present your results in great detail in a systematic way. When the research is qualitative, you will need to identify and comment on any themes that you have come across when analysing the data. This will often be done by done alongside extracts of the data, which may include primary sources.
Quantitative research is more likely to be presented with graphs, charts and tables and then an explanation as to why these are significant. For either type, the commentary and interpretation of data is limited to some extent in order to for it to be explored in greater depth in the discussion section.
To learn more about writing up the results section and for some useful sentence starters for doing so, check out this guide by the University of Manchester.
Step 7: Write up a discussion of your thesis data
After having presented your findings, you will need to analyse and explore what they mean in greater depth. This is what the discussion section of your thesis is all about as you will have to analyse and evaluate the importance and relevance of your results to your thesis and wider research area.
To write your discussion, you will first need to give a brief summary of your results and explain what this means. To do this you need to identify any patterns or anomalies in your data and contextualise it into a wider debate in your research area that you will have identified in your literature review. You will also need to explain if your results were in line with your hypothesis and why this was or wasn’t the case.
Having placed your research within your debate, you will then need to explain what impact your own research has in your field. For example, does your findings support or challenge the pre-existing work?
Essentially, the most important part of this section is to explain the significance of your work and why it is important to your entire research area. However, you will also need to acknowledge the limitations or weaknesses of the research you carried out. This will generally be concerned with your methodology and may be to do with uncontrollable variables or even the size of your sample.
You will also need to consider what your research didn’t address and so what the still existing gaps in the research area and where more research is needed to be done. To learn more about writing up the discussion of your thesis, check out this article by Scribbr.
Step 8: Write a conclusion to your thesis
The last main bulk of writing for your thesis is the conclusion. In this section, you will need to sum up your main findings and answer your thesis question.
While it is still an incredibly important part of your thesis, the conclusion is often much shorter than other sections and will only typically be about 5%- 7% of your word count. To learn more about this, check out this article by Scribbr.
There are several different ways you can set out your conclusion. Trzeciak and Mackay outlined 7 different essential elements, whereas Pallant only outlined 5. When forming your own thesis conclusion, you may want to use a combination of these.
The several points that they both cover would seem to be the most crucial elements for you to try and include in your own conclusion. These are as follows.
- A summary of your main points.
- Concluding statements or deductions about your research.
- Comments about future work, including recommendations for new research and predictions.
- The implications of your work for future work and the solutions it has created as well as its limitations and solutions to fix these.
To learn more about writing up your thesis conclusion, check out this guide by the University of Warwick.
Step 9: Format, proofread and edit your thesis correctly
After you finish writing the main bulk of your thesis, you will need to shift your focus to the smaller details. This includes the formatting of your paper, especially at the start with your title page being before your abstract and then the acknowledgements section and the contents page being in between the abstract and the introduction.
Then at the end of your paper after the conclusion, you will need bibliography and appendices sections. Moreover, depending on how you do references, you may need to have references as footnotes the entire way through your paper in order to cite your sources.
You will also need to make sure that everything you have written is in tiptop shape. The best way to ensure the quality of your own work is to read it over again and fix any mistakes or other things that could be improved.
To make the most out of your editing and proofreading process, you may want to leave what you have written for some time before getting back to it so that you can look it over with fresh eyes. The main things you should try to look out for are spelling and grammar mistakes, typos, and formatting mistakes.
Alternatively, you may want to hire a thesis proofreading professional. To learn more about this, check out this article by Enago.
* Please note that the structure of writing up a thesis as outlined in these 9 steps and all information relating to the structure of a thesis included in this article have been based on this guide by the University of Edinburgh and this article by Vitae. In many ways, a dissertation is quite similar to a thesis, so you can also check out this Think Student article about writing up dissertations for more tips.