Thesis Thoughts for Postgraduate Students in Humanities and Social Sciences

Full text


Thesis Thoughts for Postgraduate Students

in Humanities and Social Sciences

By Kate Chanock, Director, Humanities Academic Skills Unit, La Trobe University

Please send me feedback on this resource at This is the transcript of a resource created for the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at La Trobe University. On the web, this resource is accompanied by powerpoint slides which I have combined, here, with the narration in order to remove redundancies from the text. I have also removed white space between the pages, in order to save paper if you choose to print this transcript for future reference. The list of sections is below; if you are looking for particular information or links to websites, just skim down to the section of interest.


1. Thesis Thoughts Online: Introduction 2. Managing Your Thesis

3. Choosing and Discussing your Methods 4. Your Research Proposal

5. The Thesis as a Genre 6. Thesis Structure

7. Introductions and Audiences 8. Strategies and Starting Points 9. Your Literature Review 10. Challenges of the Midsection

11. Getting Useful Feedback from your Supervisor 12. Revising Your Thesis

13. Language of the Thesis 14. When Things Go Wrong 15. Concluding Your Thesis 16. Examination


Thesis Thoughts Online: Introduction

Purposes and Sources

Hello, people, and welcome to this new resource for research students in humanities and social sciences, which we’re calling Thesis Thoughts Online. The purpose of this resource is to help you think about some of the considerations involved in writing a thesis; to suggest strategies that other people have found useful; and to point you at other really useful resources elsewhere. Many of these have been created by my colleagues at other, mostly Australian universities – people who do the same sort of work that I do, namely, talking to students about how they want to approach their academic work, and how they might solve some of the problems they encounter. In particular, I’d like to alert you to resources that you may not have thought of consulting if English is your first language, because these resources have been designed primarily for students with English as an Additional Language. But this is why they’re so useful, whatever your background, because the people who write them have expertise in linguistics, so they can describe the language of a research thesis in quite specific terms, rather than just saying vaguely that your writing should be clear. And they’re used to thinking about the differences between traditions of learning and writing in different academic cultures, so they’ll focus on particular features of the writing that might seem so natural to your supervisors that they’d just “go without saying”. So as you look through this resource you’ll find a lot of places where I suggest that you go and read material on a website at Monash, or The University of Queensland, or the University of South Australia, or someplace else; and I’d really urge you to go there and have a look. For copyright reasons, I can’t reproduce everybody else’s stuff here, but on their websites you’ll find good, extended explanations and examples of many things that can help you at every stage of the writing process. The homepages of those websites are listed all together in the section called “References”.

The other sources I’ve drawn on here include books that I’ll refer to as we go along, and more than anything, my own experience of talking with students over more than twenty years as an adviser. What I’ve learned from them, I pass on to you, and I thank them for it.

Structure and Modes of Delivery

A word about the structure of this resource. As you’ll see, it’s divided into sections, and they’re arranged in an order that roughly follows the structure of a thesis. However, there’s quite a lot of overlap, because the process of writing a thesis is not a straight line from your proposal to your conclusion, but more like a spiral – you keep circling back to earlier bits -- so where some topic is relevant to more than one section, I’ve either referred you to that other section, or occasionally I’ve put the same material in both.

The information is presented in several different modes, depending on how you prefer to get it. There’s powerpoint with voiceover, where I talk about each topic and just put the main points on the slides that you see on the screen. I also put examples and quotations there, and when I do that, I will read those aloud, because I’m interested in making the resource as inclusive as possible, so that students with a vision impairment can access it as well as others, and some of you may be using just the audio to access this, either because sight is a problem, or maybe just because you’re on the bus with your ipod. If you’re looking at the screen and it maddens you to hear me read what’s right in front of you, that’s probably a good time to cut your toenails or vegemite your toast. We’ve produced this material in a variety of formats, in the hope that everyone can find one that suits them. But I’m sure it wouldn’t suit anybody to be trying to copy web addresses off the slides as they go past, so I don’t read those URLs aloud. But if you want those slides to print or to download and use to navigate around the


outside resources online, you can find them as a Microsoft Word document in the section called “Powerpoints for Thesis Thoughts Online”. And finally there’s the transcript, which is most useful if you have a hearing impairment, or just if you want to read the stuff faster than I can tell you about it. Also, you can change the font, size, and spacing of the transcript if it makes it more comfortable to read. People with a reading difficulty may prefer a plain font like arial or verdana, 14 point, with one and a half line spacing. Whatever way you choose to access the material, you will probably want to download the list of “References”, where I’ve collected all the web addresses under each topic, plus the print resources that I’ve

recommended, throughout the resource.

You may wonder why I chose to make a powerpoint version with voiceover? It’s because I really like to talk to people face to face, and I do that once a year when the postgraduate association invites me to present some of these ideas in a seminar for research students. But a lot of students can’t come to that, or they need the advice at a different time of the year, and that’s why I’ve decided to put it online. I’ve used a software program called Camtasia that allows me still to speak to you, at the same time as being able to show you examples of writing, and I like that feeling of being there. But everybody likes to learn in different ways, and I want to know whether this works for you. This is a learning experience for me also, as I’m trying to learn whether there’s any point in offering this sort of information in these sorts of formats. So, overall, I’d like to know whether you find this resource useful, and any ways you can think of to make it better. And in particular, I’d like to have your feedback on the combination of spoken explanation and written notes that I’ve chosen to use in the

powerpoint. So PLEASE, take a moment to send me an email at, just headed “Thesis Thoughts” to let me know that you’re looking at the stuff, and jot down anything you think I should know.

I hope you enjoy it – hope you find it useful – there are lots of ways in, depending on what you feel is urgent or interesting – and best wishes for your thesis!

Managing Your Thesis

A research thesis is a long and complex project, and obviously you need some ways of managing the time, the task, and yourself. Equally obviously, if you’ve got this far in your academic career, you have ways of managing, which have served you well. Even so, you may feel a bit daunted by the scale of what you are about to undertake, and there are online resources to help you deal with this.

Monash University’s website “Learning Support for Higher Degree Research Students” offers a useful overview, titled “Understand the process of graduate research” at This is followed by a section called “Manage your time”, at, and one called “Manage your information” at

In “Manage your time”, this site presents a Gantt Chart. This is a management tool for planning a long project, which has, across the top, the months that your project is expected to take, and down the side the various subtasks that you’ve broken it down into. You then put each subtask into the month or months when you plan to do it, and you have a calendar showing when you plan to do each thing and how many things you are going to be doing at once, for how long.


Unfortunately, the chart on the Monash site is so reduced in size as to be almost invisible, but that’s ok because the Centre for Academic Development at the University of Auckland has put a bigger one on their website. Go there and click on “Yearly Planner (Gantt Chart)”.

In their section on “Manage your information”, the Monash site suggests that you get a copy of the software Endnote, which is a system for looking after your notes and references. Like Monash, La Trobe has a site license for this and students can get a copy and training in how to use it, at the library. To learn more about this, go to the library site at Another source of advice online is The University of Queensland’s Student Services site,

“PhD -- FirstThoughts to Finished Writing”. In its “Frequently Asked Questions” at, there is a section called “How is the best way to organise myself to get the whole thing done?”

What Not to Do

My own experience of planning as a research student is of the cautionary tale variety, and the only advice I can pull out of it is “Don’t do what I did”. I didn’t plan at all, but just plunged happily in, and it took me nine years while I got married, moved continents three times and moved house more times than I can remember; I retrained as an ESL teacher so I could actually earn a living; I did various jobs, both voluntary and paid, to keep my hand in professionally; and I had a couple of babies – and at the end of the nine years, when I’d finally gone through, my uni brought in a five-year completion rule to make sure that nothing like me could ever happen again. That was in the seventies and time is much tighter now, because unis get funded for students who complete their degrees and not for students who don’t, so you need to do some serious planning. Intellectually, nine years was quite a good gestation period for a thesis, and it did get published; but practically, you can’t afford to mess about.

What to Do – Write Early and Often

There is one important point I’d like to stress to you – you’ll find it in all the books of advice, and it’s borne out by my own experience and that of so many students who’ve worked with me: this is that you’re wise to write early and often, and particularly when you don’t much feel like it. It’s tempting, but a bad idea, to think of writing as a sub-task that you get to at the end of your project, when you’ve done all the research, and as people say, you “just have to write it up”. There is no “just” about this – the written thesis is all that your examiners, and your colleagues in the discipline, will know about your research, and the final phase is when you polish it, not when you draft it.

Writing is a tool for recording what you’ve learned, but it’s also the way you learn it and sort out what you’re learning. So you need to do small, low-stakes bits of writing right from the start, just for yourself, that will help you to interpret and remember what you’ve found out, and will shape the direction of your thinking as you go on to the next thing. You’re going to revisit and rewrite a lot of this stuff often as you go, so don’t worry about how good your writing is at this stage, just do it, so you’ll have something to work on further. You’ll also discard a lot of it as you refine your thinking and realise what’s really relevant to your thesis – but I’d urge you, don’t throw that stuff away, just store it in a file called “maybe later” or “maybe elsewhere”, because even if it doesn’t fit in the thesis, it could form the basis for a nice little article sometime down the track.

So it’s important to write a bit each day, even if you hate writing – especially if you hate writing. If you start writing long before you “have to”, it’ll get you in training and it’ll keep you from developing


a fear of writing, which can develop, if you don’t write until you’ve accumulated too much knowledge to think about at once.

Build as you Go, and Don’t Lose your Work!

I’ll just finish with a couple of practical ideas for managing the writing that you do.

First, when you’ve written a few pages, print them and put them into a binder, with chapter dividers. That way, if your machine breaks down, you haven’t lost your work; and also, you’ve always got a thesis-in-progress. (Evans, D. (1995). How to Write a Better Thesis or Report. Melbourne University Press, pp. 16-17)

Second, when you’ve written a draft on your computer, and you decide to tinker with it in some major way, like you’re going to cut and paste to move the paragraphs around, make a new copy before you start, by going to “save as” and saving it under a different name (like Chapter1(2)). Then you can do anything you like to it, and if in the end you don’t like what you’ve done, you’ve still got the original version to fall back on.

Choosing and Discussing your Methods

Although methodology is not the first thing you discuss in your thesis, your choice of method will permeate the whole. Your method will be the one best suited to the kind of question, data, and analysis you have in mind, and your choice will be guided by your supervisor’s advice. However, you may be uncertain, at this stage, about the options you might choose from. To get an overview of the kinds of method used in social science theses, have a look at the following sites.

The “Companion for Undergraduate Dissertations” website developed at Birmingham by the Higher Education Academy’s Centre for Sociology, Anthropology and Politics, the Centre for Social Work and Policy and Sheffield Hallam University. Although this page is addressed to undergraduates, the descriptions here are relevant to research for higher degrees as well: “Approaching the Dissertation: Appropriate Methodologies”

Then there’s the website of the Learning Connection, University of South Australia, dealing with “Methodology and research design in the social sciences, humanities and business”. p

Also helpful is another page at the same site, which looks at methods in the context of the theories that engender them: Interpretivism – constructionism, phenomenology, symbolic interactionism, and grounded theory. nomenology

Finally, at The University of Queensland’s Student Services site, “PhD -- First Thoughts to Finished Writing” go to “Frequently Asked Questions” at;and click on “Apparently, I have to write a research proposal. What do I need to do?”, and then on “Designing and planning research”.


Discussing Your Methods

When you get to the stage of writing about the method you have used, it is important to make clear why you used it and how you went about it. For advice on how to discuss your

method(s), go to the websites below.

Monash University’s website “Learning Support for Higher Degree Research Students”: “Discuss your methodology”

The University of South Australia’s website “Learning Connection”: “Qualitative and Quantitative Research Design:

The University of Manchester’s “Academic Phrasebank” offers useful phrasing for discussing methods:

Your Research Proposal

One of the routine hurdles in studying for a higher degree is that you have to write a research proposal in order to get your department to approve your project. The job of the research proposal is to show your supervisor or your panel

• What your project is

• Why you think it’s worth doing

• How it relates to other work in your field • How you plan to do it

• Why you think that’s feasible For good advice on this, go to:

• Monash University’s website, “Learning Support for Higher Degree Research Students”: “Write a Research Proposal”:

• University of Queensland’s site, “PhD: First Thoughts to Finished Writing”. Click on “Writing a proposal”, then the two links:

o “Apparently, I have to write a research proposal. What do I need to do?” o “Writing a proposal”

Boiling it Down

This is very good for you, because it forces you to boil your great swirling mass of ideas down into a brief statement that somebody who doesn’t live inside your brain can see the point of. It also forces you to focus on the practical aspects of how you’re actually going to do what you want to do, and what problems there might be with that. But, like so many things that are good for you, it’s not easy to do, and particularly it’s not easy to formulate that first sentence that puts your whole project succinctly in a nutshell. There’s a method I’d like to recommend, from The craft of research, which is a terrific book for a whole lot of purposes,


and this method requires you to imagine yourself explaining your research to somebody in just one sentence! If you think it can’t be done, try it with another student, or your neighbour, or your mother, anybody who will listen. Make a sentence that says, “I am studying blah blah blah because I want to find out blah blah blah in order to understand blah blah blah.” For your proposal you may need to break that up again into three sentences for clarity, but to get a sense of the coherence of your project try to put it in one sentence now.

“1. Name your topic:

I am studying _________________________________________ 2. Imply your question:

Because I want to find out (who/how/why/whether)____________ 3. State the rationale for the question and the project:

In order to understand (how/why/what) ______________________”

Booth, W., Colomb, G., & Williams, J. (1995). The craft of research. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, pp. 44 & 162.

What Constitutes a PhD-Worthy Project?

This next slide confronts your darkest fear, if you’re anything like the rest of us, which is how do you know whether the project you’ve got in mind really is a PhD? In other words, you know you’ve got a project that interests you, but is it also one that can earn you a ticket into that professional community that decides whether you get to do it for a higher degree? Now, if you’re confident of producing information that is new and of interest to your discipline, and you probably will, then you don’t need to worry. But there are other possibilities for a thesis, and in fact I didn’t even look at new information in my PhD thesis, I just looked at old information in a new way. I think David Madsen puts this very well in this quotation:

“You will have to come to grips with the question of what qualifies as ‘an original contribution to knowledge.’ The answer is not easy, for scholarly opinion … differs….Basically, however, a topic must have the potential to do at least one of the following: uncover new facts or principles, suggest relationships that were previously unrecognised, challenge existing truths or assumptions, afford new insights into little-understood phenomena, or suggest new interpretations of known facts that can alter man’s perception of the world around him.” (Madsen, D. (1983). Successful dissertations and theses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p. 25)

As you can tell from the stuff about “man” and “him”, Madsen wrote this in 1983 before female scholars were invented, but the advice is still good.

The Thesis as a Genre

What Makes a Genre?

In this section, we think about the question, what does a thesis do? A thesis is a genre, that is, a kind of writing. We can recognize a genre, such as an essay, a report, or a journal article, by


what it has in common with others of its kind. This doesn’t mean that every thesis is the same, just as we wouldn’t expect every restaurant meal to be the same, or every barbeque – but we certainly know whether we’re having a restaurant meal or a barbeque, by the typical structure of the meal, the level of formality, and the different responsibilities of the people involved, as well as by the setting. Oddly enough, these are also the elements by which we recognize a thesis – structure, formality, and the responsibilities of writer and reader. These

responsibilities are on of the main differences, in fact, between academic writing and fictional genres – in academic writing in English, it’s the writer’s responsibility to do the work of interpreting information for the reader, whereas in a novel, readers are expected to interpret what they find there.There are expectations that everyone has of a thesis, and you need to know what those are so that you don’t fail to satisfy them. At the same time, you’d probably like to know how different your thesis could be without getting too risky. In this section, we’ll look at how you can get an idea about what’s conventional, and also what is possible, for theses in your field.

The Job of a Genre

The point about a genre is that its form has evolved to do a particular kind of job, within a particular community of readers who use it. So depending how varied that job can be, there’s some degree of freedom to do it differently. For example, humanities theses tend to vary more than theses in science, because the research methods of the humanities are more variable than the scientific method of experiment. Also, as the community changes over time the form may also change. For example, it’s now possible to submit a collection of articles that you’ve written as a thesis, if you add text that integrates them together. However, the job of a thesis in every field is to show the members of a discipline community that you understand the nature of enquiry in that discipline; that you can tell what is and isn’t worthwhile enquiring into; that you know what methods are considered sound and why; and that you know how to behave around more established members of the field. Your thesis communicates both your intellectual fitness to join the community, by displaying your knowledge of the subject matter, and your social fitness to join it, by conforming to the values that community shares.

Requirements for a Research Degree

There is pleasure in writing for a place in a community whose work interests and excites you. But there’s also some anxiety, because it’s not just a learning experience, it’s also an audition. I think that’s shown very clearly by the official criteria for passing a research thesis at La Trobe, as they’re expressed in theHandbook for Candidates and Supervisors for Masters Degrees by Research and Doctoral Degrees, which is available at the Research and Graduate Studies Office website ( An MA is given for a thesis that demonstrates the qualities shown below.

“The requirements for the degree of Masters by research are the completion of all coursework components (should any be specified for the degree) at a satisfactory level and submission of a thesis which demonstrates:

(i) competence in the design and conduct of a research project that incorporates methodological skills appropriate to the discipline and makes a contribution to knowledge;

(ii) the candidate’s ability to provide a critical appraisal of relevant literature and available research, to appreciate and understand the relationship of the investigations undertaken by the candidate to the wider field of knowledge in


which these investigations are located, and to draw out the contribution to knowledge made by these investigations;

(iii) the candidate’s knowledge and understanding of the methodological techniques used in the research and any shortcomings associated with these techniques;

(iv) a satisfactory level of literary presentation reflecting an ability to communicate in a clear, concise and authoritative manner appropriate to the discipline and to the professional arena to which it is addressed.

[And the criteria for a PhD thesis are the same, except for the first one, that requires the thesis to be:]

(i) a substantial and original contribution to knowledge”

As you read these criteria, you can see that they place great emphasis on the students’ performance of the procedures that members of the discipline carry out, in ways that communicate with members of the discipline and that recognize what other members of the discipline have done. The only mention of content is the “contribution to knowledge”; everything else is about knowing how to do what people in that discipline do.

Your thesis is your ticket into this community -- So it’s important for you to know what job each part of the thesis does and how you can make yours work for you.

Presentation of the Thesis

Let’s look at these jobs in the broadest terms, and then we’ll think about how to home in on the way that theses in your field do what they do. La Trobe doesn’t have any general rules about format, beyond the margin sizes, and cover page that you’ll find on the RGSO website at the URL on this slide. Click on “forms for current students” and get the form called NOTICE OF INTENTION TO SUBMIT A HIGHER DEGREE THESIS FOR

EXAMINATION. Apart from those details, however, the uni doesn’t prescribe any standard format because, as it says in the Handbook for Candidates and Supervisors for Masters Degrees by Research and Doctoral Degrees (, the practices of the disciplines vary.

“It is not possible to lay down general rules on the preparation, form and content which apply to all disciplines. Candidates should acquaint themselves with the appropriate scholarly conventions in their discipline for the presentation of references, accuracy of quotation and construction of bibliographies. Candidates should also consult School or Department

handbooks for higher degree candidates where guidance should be offered about appropriate format and presentation for the discipline.

Candidates may find it of value to read recent examples of successfully completed theses in their discipline area as a guide to format. Supervisors should be able to guide candidates to read quality theses.”

Looking at other people’s theses is exactly what we’ll be doing in this resource, and we’ll go into a fair amount of detail. But first, to learn how a thesis does what it does, we’ll look at its structure.


General Thesis Structure

Very broadly, there is a standard pattern that many theses follow. It’s so common that it has a nickname, “IMRD”, and this stands for “Introduction, Method, Results and Discussion”. By following this pattern, writers answer the big questions that examiners bring to their reading of a thesis, pretty much in the order that examiners are likely to ask them, as shown below.

[“IMRD”: ANSWERS READER’S QUESTION:] The Introduction answers the question WHAT is this about and what question are you


(+Literature review) “ (WHY? How does this question relate to other work in this field?)

Method “ HOW did you go about getting the information or insights to answer it?

Results “ WHAT did you learn?

Discussion “ SO WHAT? What do you think this information means?

Conclusion & implication “ (NOW WHAT?)

Why is this structure so common? Well, in any thesis, you’re reporting what you learned by investigating a particular question. That involved deciding on the question, and not just by thinking about what interested you, but also by figuring out how that related to the interests of other people in your field – again, a thesis is a social act, not just an individual one. So early in the thesis you explain your question, and you locate it in the conversation of your discipline – you’re saying, here’s what I wanted to know, and here’s why I think it’s of interest not only to me. This is the job of the literature review, if your thesis has one, and if it doesn’t have a formal section of literature review, it’s still going to have passages that do this job of relating your project to the literature in your field. Then, you worked out how you were going to find out what you wanted to know, and there must have been a reason why you chose that way of finding out, so you explain what you did and why you did it that way. Next, you tell the reader what you found out, and what you think it means for the question you started out with. Here also is where you go into any problems with deciding what it means, including limitations in your own research design or method. And then you summarise your project and say what implications you think it has either for building theory in your field, including further research arising out of what you’ve done, or implications for practice in your profession.

IMRD – Reflects the Value of Objectivity

Now, I’ve said this is the broad shape of most theses, but they don’t all have the same format. Many theses, especially in scientific fields, have chapters with these actual headings,

Introduction, Method, Results, Discussion, and it’s common in the sciences to separate the results from the discussion. This separation foregrounds the idea of objectivity in research, because you produce the information you’ve gathered, in your Results chapter, and at that point you’re not directing the reader about how they should interpret what it means. You give them a space to digest that before you go on to interpret it in your Discussion chapter. In fact, you were probably interpreting all along, as you did the work, because how could you not be? But if what you found out goes against what you expected, you’ve got to go with what you found out, however disappointing that is, and interpret why your expectations and your data don’t match. This is why it’s conventional for the structure of a science thesis to separate the gathering of data from the process of making sense of it, because it’s important in the


scientific method that the data determines the answer, not the other way around, and that’s what this structure embodies.

So, IMRD may not reflect the process of researching and thinking, but it reflects the values of the scientific method. As such, this structure may be found in humanities and social sciences in theses reporting quantitative research projects, for example in linguistics or archaeology or sometimes sociology; but the separation of data from interpretation would seem odd in a lot of qualitative studies where the writer is felt as a thinking presence throughout the research. It would be impossible, moreover, in the kind of thesis that picks apart works of art, literature, cinema or media, what we could broadly call textual analysis. So you’d want to think about how suitable this structure, or some adaptation of it, might or might not be for the project you’re undertaking.

Monash website, “Learning Support for Higher Degree Research Students”: “Typical thesis structures”: compares the structures of theses indifferent broad fields:

University of Lancaster’s Student Learning Development Centre webpage, “Writing: Structuring a Dissertation”:

What the Parts of a Thesis Tell the Reader

Still, however “soft” your project seems to be, it’s worth bearing in mind that the softer thesis structures, where there are no rigid boundaries between the literature, the method, the results and the interpretation, still answer the same questions as the IMRD structure. There’s a very useful page in Murray’s book, How to write a thesis, that sets this out neatly for us:

Murray, R. (2002). How to write a thesis. Maidenhead:Open University Press, p. 14. Humanities & Social Sciences Science & Engineering

The subject of my research is …. Introduction It merits study because…….

My work relates to others in that ….. Literature review The research question is ……….

I approached it from a perspective of … Methods When I did that I found ………. Results What I think that means is ……… Discussion There are implications for ……….. Conclusion

Choosing a Structure

OK, so how do you decide on a structure for your own thesis? It’s got to suit the nature of your particular enquiry, and your data, but it should also be a structure that won’t strike your readers as bizarre – so it’s worth having a look at other theses in your field to get an idea of how they’re structured, what they have in common and how much variation there seems to be. When you were an undergraduate you probably had moments when you wished you could see


some other essays, not to get the answer to your essay question but just to see what an essay on such a question might look like – it’s very frustrating when you’re being asked to produce an example of a genre, without ever being able to see other examples of it. Well, with essays, you normally don’t get a look at anybody’s essay but your own, but with theses, you can look at others, and it’s very easy to get hold of examples of theses in your discipline, at your own university or more widely. All the theses that have succeeded at La Trobe are kept in the library, and to find them, you just go to the catalogue and type in “La Trobe University” and then the name of your discipline, and then “theses”. Now, some of the theses written by La Trobe students are available online – any of you can make your thesis available to other people in this way, if you’re willing to have them put up online – and to find information about this, you go to the library website, and click on “services for students” at the right-hand side; when you get there, look under the heading “research” and click on “La Trobe Theses Online”

This page is linked to the small number of La Trobe theses online, listed alphabetically by name of author. There may or may not be any in your field, but if not, you know how to find hard copy theses that are. It’s also linked to the Australasian Digital Theses website, and here, you can find every other Australasian university’s file of theses available online Most people who go there are probably hoping to find something on their particular research topic, but you could also go just to see some examples of successful theses in your field.

Specifics of Thesis Structure

When you’ve collected one or more theses to look at, you could have a look at their overall structure to see what they have in common and where they differ, and you could also have a close look at the details of their structure. In a later section, on “Strategies and Starting Points”, I’ll be showing you a few examples where we look at the writer’s overall structure and the strategies that they use to move through their material, but before we do that, I want to point you at a really useful resource written by colleagues of mine working at Monash

University, where they show you a very systematic way of going through a thesis to see what sections it has; how much of the thesis is taken up by each section? What’s in each section? How is it organized? And how is it presented? Monash University Learning Support for Higher Degree Research Students:

Introductions and Audiences

Do I have to Write the Introduction First?

Although your thesis proceeds in a straight line from introduction to conclusion, it’s important to realize that the process of writing it is not exactly linear. The introduction is the first chapter your reader sees, but it’s usually the last chapter you write. I don’t mean you haven’t written some kind of introduction first up – you need a rough idea of where you’re going, and your supervisor probably wants to see an introduction early on – so you may draft it first, but you’ve got to know that you’re going to go back and redraft it when you’ve written the rest of the thesis. This is what professional writers do, because it’s only when you’ve said everything that you know what you’ve said, and you’re in a position to introduce it properly. In fact, it’s very liberating to know this, because otherwise it’s possible to get stuck, thinking that you can’t go on until you’ve got your introduction perfect. That’s


so counterproductive – it’s by going on that you do the thinking you need to do before your

introduction can be perfect. So, write a draft, and then you have it, but know that you’re coming back to it eventually.

• See “Introduce your thesis” on the Monash website at

Creating a Research Space

As you will see in the section on “Strategies and Starting Points”, introductions vary widely with the kind of discipline, the kind of project, and the personality of the writer. At the same time, there are commonalities, in that every introduction must do what Swales has called “Creating a Research Space” (Swales, 1990; Swales & Feak, 2004). This involves

establishing that your area of enquiry is interesting, and not only to you but to others in your discipline; suggesting that there is some gap in knowledge or understanding about this area; and saying how your project is going to fill that gap. This pattern of “moves” that scholars use to create a research space is one of the most important things that academic writing specialists have identified about the typical structures of academic writing. You can learn more about it on the Monash website, “Learning Support for Higher Degree Research Students”, in the section titled “Guide to analyzing sample theses”, at the address on your screen.

These moves provide you with a way of beginning your own thesis that is conventional, and therefore is what your readers are likely to expect. They’re a good set of moves for your abstract, and they’re a good set of moves, more elaborately set out, for your introduction. The Monash site suggests that you look for these moves in the theses you are looking at. It also suggests that you consider including a thesis “overview” in your introduction, a bit of

signposting so that your reader knows what each part of the thesis is going to do. -- “Guide to analyzing sample theses”, at

When you look at other people’s thesis introductions, you may like to notice what

kind of consideration they seem to be giving to the reader; what they do to engage that reader in the project and make it easy to follow; and what they do to make the reader trust their competence. You’ll find more about this in the section on “Strategies and Starting Points”; and I also recommend a look at The Craft of Research, which has a whole chapter on writing introductions.


Booth, W., Colomb, G., & Williams, J. (1995). The craft of research. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press: Chapter 15

Swales, J. (1990). Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Swales, J.M. & Feak, C.B. (2004). Academic Writing for Graduate Students (2nd ed.). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press


An important thing to consider, as you write your thesis, is what kind of audience you are imagining. There’s your supervisor – your examiners – and then there’s the rest of the field (and your immediate readers are reading from the point of view of the field anyway, asking themselves whether members of the discipline are going to think this project was worth doing. Are they going to think it was approached in an informed way, and carried out sensibly, thoroughly, and carefully? It’s as if you bring a plate to this particular party, but the guests are going to decide, on the basis of it, whether you


know how to cook. You need to anticipate the questions that these people are going to ask, and make sure that you answer them in your writing. It’s an exercise partly in display – you need to show that you understand the project of your discipline well enough to frame a worthwhile question within it, and you need to show that you can use the current concepts to inform your study. But it’s crucially an exercise in communication – remember, although your supervisor is familiar with what you’re doing, your examiners aren’t. They don’t know what question you’re asking, or why you’re asking it, and they don’t know the answer, either. They’ll know what kind of answer they would entertain, and they know what ways of arriving at it they would approve of, but they don’t know what it is. So you’ve got to teach them about your project, and if you have to choose between being clear and being impressive, be clear. I’ll come back to the question of clarity when we look at language choices. But here, the main point is that you’ve got to answer questions like these in the minds of your readers:

What is this person asking? Why does it matter?

What does s/he think about it? What does that mean?

Why does s/he think so?

How does s/he know that? (& where did s/he learn it?) Where does that lead us?

Context Plus Explicit Statement of Argument

The authors of The craft of research advise you to start with the context out of which your question arises, because, they say, you shouldn’t write an introduction that only your teacher can understand – you’ve got to show where your problem sits in the context of discussions in your field, so that any reader in your field can see why it’s worthwhile tackling. But don’t linger too long on this before you introduce your answer. If you have been educated in the Australian academic tradition, you will be familiar with the convention of starting a piece of writing by stating your conclusion – but if not, it may seem strange, and you may have to make an effort to give such prominence to your own ideas right from the start. If that’s the case, you may like to read the page on “Cultural Considerations” elsewhere in this resource, at the end of the section “Getting Useful Feedback from your Supervisor”.

Learning from Other Students’ Examples

I’ve suggested that you get some theses at your level, in your discipline, and you see what’s consistent between them, and also what variations you find. What you discover will be different from discipline to discipline, so it’s important that you check this out, as well as taking general advice from books or from people like me. In the next section, I’ll show you how you can check this out, with some actual cases, which focus most closely on the introductory sections of theses. However, I’m only going to be looking at 3 theses in 3 different disciplines, so you need to do the same sort of thing with theses in your own discipline.

Go now to the section titled “Strategies and Starting Points”.


This is the longest section of this La Trobe postgraduate resource, even though it covers the least ground in terms of the thesis as a whole. It’s long because it goes into a particular challenge in more depth, with examples drawn from La Trobe theses across a range of disciplines. The challenge is deciding on a strategy for the presentation of your particular project, your ideas, and your self as a writer – no small challenge! As elsewhere, I’m suggesting that you’ll get a handle on this by looking at how other people have done it before you.

What I want to do here is show you some of the very different strategies that exist within the broad regularities of the genre. You need to know: What structures /strategies are expected? But you also want to know: What ones are possible?

The theses I’ve selected are two MAs, from Politics and English, and a PhD, from Anthropology. They have very different strategies of organization and argument, different styles, and different authorial voices, and they give us a chance to look at what is safe and adequate to do, and what is more risky but still, in these cases, very successful.

Examples come from:

MA thesis in Politics (2000): The impact and significance of the unregulated flow of people in East Asia on the security environment of the countries of East Asia, the United States and Australia, by Christopher Feeney.

MA thesis in English (1994): Anarchic angel: the disruption of “Identity, system, and order” in the fictions of Angela Carter, by Diane Turner.

PhD thesis in Anthropology (1999) (subsequently published): Civilizing Islam, Islamist civilizing? Islamist solutions to the Kurdish problem, by Christopher Houston.

Strategies of Organisation

These three theses have quite different strategies of organization, by which I mean the logic of how the writers move through their material.

The first thesis follows a geographical trajectory, tracing the security threat posed by the unregulated movement of people within East Asia, then to the United States, and finally Australia; the second follows a chronological trajectory, looking at the development of Angela Carter’s fiction from her earliest works to her latest, and paralleling that development with the development of feminism over the period when she was writing; and the last one uses literary and ethnographic strategies of mapping patterns theorized in the literature of anthropology onto places where the writer did his fieldwork, which he makes real for us by describing them in concrete detail. We’ll look at these strategies and also at the way these different people write. Feeney’s approach to his thesis, as well as his writing style, is unadventurous, and in saying this, I don’t at all mean to belittle it. On the contrary, what I want to point out is that the job of a thesis can be done by a straightforward application of effort and clear presentation, without knocking yourself out to be theoretically or stylistically innovative. I think that’s worth knowing, because I most often get consulted by students whose supervisors want them to write more simply rather than by students who need to be more sophisticated. I’ll come back to this in another section where we look at writing style. On the other hand, it’s also worth knowing that if you want to push the envelope, to take some risks in your writing, you can do that too. And we’ll look at how the other two writers do some creative things at the same time as they take care to do the standard things as well.

You may like to read the next slide in the light of helpful resources at the Monash website: – Structure your thesis: – Signposting:


Table of Contents

So first, we’re looking at Christopher Feeney’s MA thesis on “The impact and significance of the unregulated flow of people in East Asia on the security environment of the countries of East Asia, the United States and Australia.”

We can see his geographical strategy of organization very clearly in his table of contents, as he moves from Mass movements in East Asia to the impact of unregulated population flows in East Asia on the security environment of East Asian countries and then to their impact on the United States and then on Australia, and finally to the challenges that unregulated movement of people pose to law

enforcement, foreign policy defence establishments, state controlled immigration and state

sovereignty. So, it’s worth thinking about how your table of contents can make the logic of your thesis clear to your examiners right from the beginning, and the same goes for your use of headings

throughout the thesis. There’s more on this on the Monash website, on the previous slide. “Structure your thesis” gives good advice on making your thesis coherent and easy for your reader to follow, and then you can go to “Signposting”, which shows you how to get the best mileage out of the way you word your headings.

TABLE OF CONTENTS (Condensed by omitting subheadings in chapters)




AIM ………..3








Function of the Summary

And here is Feeney’s summary, with a standard structure of introducing the context, identifying the problem, and presenting the author’s thesis. The trajectory of the argument is very clear, and the voice here is plain, unadorned.

Just here, I’d like to draw your attention to a very useful method for figuring out what a writer is doing in a particular section of the thesis, which is this labeling of what’s going on at various places in the writing. I’ve inserted my labels into the text here, inside square brackets, but when you print out your work the most helpful place to put your labels is in the margin, where they’ll stand out. If you do this to a few theses, using sticky notes, you’ll find patterns and also variations, and if you do it to your own thesis, you’ll be able to see more clearly what you’re doing where – the labels can be about the function of the paragraph, as they are here, or they can be about the content – just a few words as to what point the paragraph is making. This is incredibly useful also when you come to revise your thesis, because you can see what you’ve dealt with in each paragraph just by looking down your margins, without getting bogged down in worrying about your expression until it’s time to worry about that. We’ll come back to this in another section where we look at “How to Revise”, but I just wanted to flag it for you now.

As you can see, the first sentence here introduces the context for Feeney’s study, and next six

sentences explain the reasons for concern about his topic. In other words, he tells us what his problem is and why it’s a problem. Then he states his thesis, homing in on the aspect that he’s focusing on – security concerns – and the argument he’s going to present about that aspect. And he flags, very explicitly, where this is,

by writing “it is the contention of this thesis that….”

[Context] Throughout East Asia, there is growing concern about the unregulated movement of people. The level of refugees and illegal migrant workers has increased significantly since the 1970s. There are some 500,000 refugees and three to four million illegal migrant workers in the region. [Problem] Nearly all countries in the region are experiencing difficulties dealing with unregulated population movements and this is a cause for deep anxiety for their governments. In addition, throughout East Asia, there is widespread concern about the rising tide of illegal migration from China. At present some 100,000 Chinese leave China illegally every year and this number is on the increase. There is real concern about the potential for truly massive illegal migration from China. [Thesis] It is the contention of this thesis that illegal migration and refugee movements in East Asia affect not only the security concerns of regional countries, but also the security environments of countries further afield such as the United States and Australia.

Summaries and Abstracts

The websites below give advice on writing summaries and abstracts, which may help when you get to that late stage of writing, when the end is in sight. And although you will be seriously tired by then, it’ll be important to stay focused until you’ve written the abstract, because although it’s the last thing you write, it’s the first thing your examiner will read, and it’s got to make a good impression! For further advice on writing summaries, go to the Monash website, “Learning Support for Higher Degree Research Students” and read the section “Write the summary/abstract” at

“Abstracts: Purpose, conventions and types” at the website of the Learning Connection, University of South Australia, at on


“Writing an abstract” at the website of the University of Queensland, “PhD… First Thoughts to Finished Writing”

Quotation Used as a Keynote

OK, let’s move on to the English thesis, titled Anarchic angel: the disruption of “Identity, system, and order” in the fictions of Angela Carter (a lot of which we could describe as gothic fairy tales). Where the structure of the first thesis was geographical, moving around the globe, this one is chronological. This writer thinks that Carter’s fiction and feminist theory have gone through similar stages over time, and she draws parallels between these two developments as she goes. Now, unlike Feeney’s approach, which we’ve just looked at, Turner’s approach is not at all plain or straightforward, in fact it’s a bit gimmicky, but in ways that work. She begins with this keynote quotation from Nietsche, which wasn’t written about Angela Carter, or course, but it gives Turner a dazzling way of introducing what she thinks Carter was up to.

Turner has highlighted “philosophical parodist” here to suggest that Carter, the subject of her thesis, is one of these. (Turner, 1994, p. i)

“The madly thoughtless shattering and dismantling of all foundations, their dissolution into a continual evolving that flows ceaselessly away, the tireless unspinning and historicizing of all there has ever been by modern man, the great cross-spider at the node of the cosmic web – all this may concern and dismay moralists, artists, the pious, even statesmen; we shall for once let it cheer us by looking at it in the glittering magic mirror of a philosophical parodist in whose head the age has come to an ironical awareness of itself.”

“Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted by Marjorie Garber, Shakespeare’s Ghost Writers”

A Keynote Photograph

Then she hits us with a photograph of Angela Carter, which she’s going to comment on at length in her introduction. Carter’s face is mostly in darkness, and even what you can see is hidden behind reflecting glasses. The suggestion is of somebody almost unknowable, and this is an important strategy for this thesis, because the writer wants to argue that meaning in Carter’s fiction is indeterminate – like its author. Let’s see what Turner says about this photo in her introduction:

“Representational systems: music, dance, cinema, painting, sculpture, photography, drama, literature are multilayered media. Because of this they remain open to a wide variety of interpretations. The photograph of the British writer, Angela Carter, taken by Gil Chambers in 1967, effectively illustrates the point.The face of the writer, as it appears in the photograph, partially emerges from a black background. The observer receives a view of a half profile with an enigmatic half smile. Light from a source outside the frame which encloses the photograph illuminates a portion of the face the remainder dissolves into darkness.

Completely covering the eyes is a large pair of spectacles. Like trick mirrors they can be seen out of but not seen through. The reflections which appear in the spectacles are distorted, wavering, indeterminate”.

“The face is angled towards a point that is up and beyond the vantage-point of the observer. What the partially obscured face in the photograph ‘sees’, why it smiles so enigmatically, is of course impossible to ascertain with any certainty. The photograph of Angela Carter, obscured by the spectacles, reveals only indeterminacy. Its colouring and very nature, as it appears in the Virago publication, illustrates the varying shades of grey, the potential levels of


meaning, both explicit and implicit, that lie within all representations of ‘reality’, regardless of the medium used.” (Turner, 1994, pp. 1-2)

Enlisting the Author

We’ve just seen how Turner has enlisted this photograph into her campaign to convince us that Carter’s meanings are indeterminate, and in the next paragraph, she enlists Angela Carter herself, by quoting from her own account of her writing:

“The photograph of Angela Carter illustrates the indeterminacy of meaning that is an inherent feature of much of her work. Carter herself in ‘Notes from the Front Line’, an essay in which she discusses her role as a woman writer, accepts the opacity of linguistic meaning and arbitrariness of individual interpretation.

“I try, when I write fiction, to think on my feet – to present a number of propositions in a variety of different ways, and to leave the reader to construct her own fiction for herself from the elements of my fictions. Reading is just as creative an activity as writing”.

Enlisting the Critics

At this point, Turner goes to the critics for a wider endorsement of her strategy, and by this move she places herself in the community of scholars who take an interest in studying literature:

“In Critical Practice, Catherine Belsey discusses Emile Benveniste’s three functions of discourse: declarative, imperative and interrogative (5). Carter’s texts, by her own admission it would seem, are of the interrogative kind, in that ‘the position of the “author” inscribed in the text, if it can be located at all, is seen as questioning or as literally contradictory’ (6). Carter’s texts, in accordance with Belsey’s definition of an interrogative text, ‘seek to obtain some information from the reader’, they ‘literally invite the reader to produce answers to the questions [they] implicitly or explicitly [raise].’(7)”

Analytical Approach

And then Turner appropriates the critic’s questions to give authority to the analytical approach that she’s decided to take to Carter’s fiction:

“If we accept the conclusion that literary texts are by nature ambiguous, and that Carter consciously leaves her reader at the mercy of this ambiguity, we are faced, when confronted by Carter’s fictions, with obvious problems of interpretation. What questions do they raise implicitly or explicitly, and how should a reader answer these questions? Given leave by Carter to make my own meanings in regard to her work, I turn once again to ‘Notes From the Front Line’, believing that what Carter herself has written in retard to her work is the most fertile place to begin an analysis.”


When I read that introduction, I was really impressed with these creative ways of sneaking up on the standard move by which a thesis writer justifies her project: that is, to show that other people are interested in the kinds of questions the student is interested in, and that the topic she’s chosen is a good vehicle for exploring these kinds of questions. I wouldn’t say that she’s complied with the “Handbook’s” prescription that a thesis should be written “as concisely as possible”, but she’s

beckoned us into her thesis with a quote from Nietzche and a visual introduction to her subject, before getting down to business. I think it’s important, though, that immediately after the quote and the photo, and before the introduction, we encounter her summary, which is more conventional, and this assures us that the writer isn’t just messing with us, she does know what a thesis should do. I’m going to show you the whole summary, because it’s a compact example of a writer laying out her topic, her thesis, the methods she’s used, and the context within which she’s working, and we can also see her signposting for the reader how the thesis is going to proceed. I’ve labeled the function of each sentence or cluster of sentences, as it begins, in square brackets.

[TOPIC] This thesis examines the fictions of the British writer Angela Carter. [THESIS] Its overall argument is that Carter is a self-conscious critic of the dominant ideology.

[METHOD] It employs both psychoanalytical and feminist critical theory to support this notion that Carter’s work, [SIGNPOSTING] as it emerged from the mid 1960s to her death in February 1992, [THESIS] challenges modern patriarchal society on the grounds that many of its ostensibly stable manifestations are inherently fragile and ambivalent ‘constructs’.

“[METHOD] The thesis explores the critical strategies that Carter uses throughout her work to reveal distortions, contradictions and repressions – what she refers to as ‘The social fictions that regulate our lives’. These strategies involve a process of ‘demythologising’, in which folklore, classical mythology, literary sources, Biblical sources and modern mythologies are transformed and appropriated to explore social issues, re-define gender and subjectivity and precipitate changes in the way the world is perceived. The implication of an alternative social order is to be found in this process. The subversive nature of Carter’s fictions, with the tension within them between that which is revealed and that which is repressed, makes psychoanalytical interpretations particularly appropriate. Freud’s concept of the ‘uncanny’, together with Julia Kristeva’s theorizing of both ‘abjection’, and the relationship between the ‘semiotic’ and the ‘symbolic’, have been employed for this reason.”

“[SIGNPOSTING] The thesis plots the changes in focus that Carter’s creative imagination has undergone during the time in which she wrote. It sets out to demonstrate the means by which images of repression in the earlier works are supplanted, in the later novels, by a more optimistic and women-centred perspective. It draws some broad analogies between this development and the trajectory of contemporary feminist thought. [CONTEXT] The radical indeterminacy of meaning in Carter’s work, her tendency towards the violent and the pornographic, together with the obvious influence on her work of the transgressive fantasies of the Marquis de Sade, have made her a controversial writer. The thesis enters the critical debate between those critics who have condemned her on these grounds and those who defend her as an inscriber of feminist ideals. [CONCLUSION] It reaches the conclusion that

regardless of the often problematic nature of Carter’s fictions, her work remains positive for women and feminism.


Houston’s PhD Summary

Next we look at the PhD thesis, by Christopher Houston, which has since been published. This thesis is about the Islamist movement in Turkey. This writer’s strategy is both literary and theoretical – he takes a body of theory about how movements try to create a particular subjectivity in their members, and he shows this in very concrete terms by examining the activities and symbols he observed in various neighbourhoods in Istanbul. So he’s mapping patterns theorized in the literature onto places realized in considerable detail. He has a very strong, personal voice, almost cheeky at times, talking about people he knew and things he did – because his research was fieldwork -- but he pre-empts any possible outrage from his examiners about his narrative style by starting with a summary that is very formal, abstract, and conventional, which you can read below, again with my functional labels in brackets.


[TOPIC] This thesis examines the Islamist political movement in Turkey, with special reference to its activities in Istanbul where I did my fieldwork from October 1994 to December 1996. The thesis identifies the particular characteristics of political Islam in the Turkish context. The movement’s situating of itself in opposition to the enforced civilizing project of the Turkish Republic is argued to be the key to understanding its politics.” [FOCUS OF INTEREST] Islamist discourse deconstructs the modernization of the rump of the Ottoman Empire undertaken in the name of the universality of Western civilization: it gleefully converges with other post-modern critiques in proclaiming the exhaustion of (Western?) modernity as a project of emancipation. Islamist politics in sum celebrates the return of the Muslim actor and identity.

[PROBLEM/ COMPLICATION] And yet the constituting of Islamist subjects is threatened by the mobilization of other political identities similarly repressed by the Turkish state’s modernizing project. This includes in particular Kurdish subjectivity, long a target of assimilation in the name of the universality of the Greater Turkish nation. The thesis

examines then the fragmenting of the Islamist movement in Turkey, as well as its attempts to head off Kurdish nationalism. For the Islamist critique of the Republic’s enlightened

absolutism minimizes the state’s sponsorship of a severe Turkish nationalism. Islamist interpretation of the history of modernity in Turkey minimizes also the particular suffering of Kurdish Muslims, doubly disenfranchised by the ethnic republicanism of the regime. In their everyday lives Kurdish Muslims are forced to distinguish between their oppression as Kurds and their rejection as Muslims.

[MY QUESTION] The thesis asks whether Islamism can truly unite Muslim Turks and Kurds in a discourse that supersedes ethnicity. [MY ANSWER] It concludes finally that such a unification under the green banner of Islam depends fundamentally upon the pluralization of the raison d’etre of the Islamist movement’s struggle.”

A Creative “Prologue”

And then Houston gives full rein to his creative side, with this very unconventional “Prologue.

“Flags filing into Taksim Square. Flags teeming on the flagpoles outside the 5-star hotels. Flags draped over the balconies of offices, flags promenading down the boulevards. Shaking the hands of children sitting on fathers’ shoulders, swishing over heads like snappy red butterflies. Abseiling down the face of the Ataturk Cultural Centre. Crawling out along the arm of the giant crane, swinging fearless as acrobats high over the unfinished hole of the Istanbul Metro. Flags pinning up the sky.


Slogans pasted up around the square.

‘What happiness to be living in Ataturk’s Turkey.’ ‘Today think of Mustafa Kemal and the Republic.’

‘Without ceasing we will protect Turkish independence and the Turkish Republic.’ ‘The Republic is the future.’

Music, popstars, celebrities, personalities! Pledges jazzing on the stage. “We love Ataturk and the Republic.” Banks of howling speakers, spotlights, cameras, cheers. Clapping hands, tapping toes….Fireworks, oohs, aahs, whistles, roars. Silence. The national anthem…. Green laser light shoots across the dark of the Metro hole to play on the glass backdrop of the Marmara Hotel, “Independence or Death!”, and Ataturk’s famous silhouette trudging up the building, forever establishing the Republic. … More fireworks!

And acrid smoke drifting over the nation, to be taken home with the children and thrown over the chair with the clothes to be worn all of the 30th of October.”

Creativity and Risk

Creative style in academic writing is often discouraged, as in this comment that a student of James and McInnes (2002) received: “Writing is not a rapturous activity…. When it comes to thesis writing you must resist being carried on a poetic swirl”. But where creative writing is used not just to showcase the writer’s creativity but to give insight to the subject matter, it may be very successful. The “poetic swirl” that we’ve just read works, first, because it’s faithful to the project the writer has undertaken, which is to trace the competition between republican modernists, Islamists, and Kurdish nationalists to produce a sense of cultural and political identification in the people of an urban neighbourhood. The prose of this prologue picks out the ways this effort is played out, literally, on the ground. The flags in Houston’s description of Republic Day adorn not just any buildings, but sites of modernisation – 5-star hotels, offices, boulevards, the Ataturk Cultural Centre, a giant crane, the Metro – which is described as a work in progress, unfinished, (implicitly) like the nation-building project. The third paragraph foreshadows one of Houston’s chapters, which looks at the role of ‘carnival’ in mobilizing identification. And the last brief paragraph suggests reservations about the effort of nation-building, which is consistent with Houston’s analysis in the thesis. While we feel the pleasure Houston must have taken in this piece of writing, we also appreciate the work it is doing in the thesis.

So, as well as asking yourself what you have to conform to, you can also ask yourself what you like? And how do you choose? And this will depend on the nature of your material; on your personality; and on the cultural milieu of your discipline and your academic context.

You may want to think about these constraints and possibilities before you do any formal planning; or you may want to wait until you’re familiar with your own material and see what sort of strategies it suggests – most likely it’s going to be a spiraling process where you try things out, have another idea, make a few false starts. You may even want to offer your supervisor a couple of alternative plans, to get their advice.

Reference: James, B. & McInnes, D. (2002). Interdependent academic identities. Proceedings of the Language and Academic Skills Conference Held at the University of Wollongong 29-30 Nov. 2001 {CD-ROM]. University of Wollongong. Available: University of Wollongong Student Services.