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Guide to analysing sample theses

  1. Table of Contents
    • How many sections is the sample thesis divided into? Is a numbering system used for sections and subsections? How many levels? (eg. 1.5.2 = three levels)
    • Which sections are included before the introduction? (eg. abstract, acknowledgments etc.) How are these set apart from the main sections of the thesis? (eg. with Roman numerals)
    • How many sections is the 'body of the thesis' made up of? On what basis does the 'body' appear to be organised? (Method-Results-Discussion format? Topic areas?).
  2. Abstract (Synopsis/Summary)
    • How long is the abstract? Do you get a clear sense of what the research is about from the abstract? Does the abstract motivate you to read (some of) the rest of thesis?
    • Can you readily identify these in your sample abstract? Are any other elements or 'moves' included? Do they strengthen the abstract?
  3. Introduction
    • Look at the opening paragraph. How well does it set the scene?
      • Some of the 'moves' in thesis introductions are elaborated versions of the first 'moves' in the abstract. In your introduction you should also seek to situate your research within previous research already conducted in the field. The following is a sequence of 'moves' used in many thesis Introductions:
        • Introduction to the general area of the study
        • (Brief) review of the current state of knowledge in the area
        • Indication of gaps, shortcomings, problems in research to date
        • Statement of the aim of your research, especially how it will fill the gap, solve the problem etc
    • Can you identify these moves in the sample introduction? Are the aims of the study transparently clear?
      • Another common 'move' attached to the introduction is the 'thesis overview' (or 'advance labelling') as in the following:
      • The first chapter outlines the background to the study including its theoretical framework. Chapter Two reviews... etc.
        • Is there a thesis overview in the Introduction of your sample thesis? Where is it located?
  4. Literature Review
    • Does the thesis contain a separate review of the literature? How long is it? Which citation system is used? (eg. Harvard, Oxford, other?)
    • How does the literature review (or sections that refer extensively to the literature) appear to be structured? Are different themes covered in different subsections (eg. theoretical issues? methodological issues? results of previous studies?) Is 'advance labelling' used to indicate how the literature review will unfold?
    • How does the literature review conclude? Does it manage to show how the present study fits in with work discussed in the review?
  5. The 'body' of the thesis
    • In the middle sections (or body) of a thesis, the focus is very much on the study itself. In very general terms, these sections will give an account of:
      • what was done in the study (methods, procedures, approaches etc.)
      • what was found (results, findings etc.)
    • In some theses, especially those based on experimental models of research, these two elements may be incorporated in separate Method and Results sections. In theses which have a more thematic organisation of chapters, these elements might be signalled less explicitly.
      • How do these two elements (I and II) appear to be organised in the sample?
      • What level of detail is given for I? (eg. subjects, equipment, procedures for data collection, methods of analysis etc.)
      • How are the findings (II) organised? In a series of separate sections? In what form(s) are the findings presented? (eg. as tables, calculations, examples, extended description etc.)
  6. Conclusion/Discussion
    • Conclusion sections tend to include at least some of the following 'moves':
      • Summary of the main findings
      • Comparison with findings from other research
      • Explanations for findings
      • Implications of the findings
      • Limitations of the research
      • Suggestions for future research
    • Note that these 'moves' do not necessarily appear in the order shown above. Some 'moves' may also be repeated, especially those that deal with the discussion of findings (moves I -IV).
    • Which of the 'moves' I-VI can you identify in your sample thesis? In which order do they appear? Are any 'moves' repeated?
    • Move Iis concerned with making claims about your subject. These often need to be expressed in a qualified way, using expressions like the following:
    • On the basis of this study, it would appear that X is...
      The findings of this study suggest that X is...
    • Can you identify the claims made in your sample thesis? How are these expressed?
  7. References/Appendices
    • How many pages of references are there? How are individual references set out? (Pay particular attention to difficult sources eg. non-written or non-published sources.)
    • Are appendices used? What sort of material is contained in these?
  8. Other Language Matters
    • How does the student refer to him/herself in the thesis? Explicitly, using first person pronouns? (eg. I, my etc) In third person? (eg. the researcher, this writer etc?) Implicitly eg. using passive forms (eg. it is thought that?) Do these patterns vary in different parts of the thesis?
    • How is the thesis referred to - eg. "the present study"? Is a distinction made between the 'thesis' (the written product) and the 'study' (the research process)?
    • How does the writer deal with the problem of sexist language? eg. by using 'slashes' (his/her), as we have done in 8.1?
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