ARTICLE 14: How to Write the Second Plus Chapters of your Thesis or Dissertation.

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel


I will discuss chapters 2, 3 and 4 as one unit in this article because they belong together.

The literature review can be more than one chapter, depending on the topic of your research and the amount of theory that is needed.

You can, for example, have a chapter on the literature study that you did in preparation for the oral presentation of your research proposal and a second chapter on the literature study that you did when you did additional literature study after your proposal was accepted and you embarked on the real research.

You could also have explained the research approach for your study proposal in your first chapter already.

Remember that you will not prepare or present a research proposal on the master’s degree level.

Also, the layout of your thesis can be less structured than the layout for a dissertation.

However, it would be a good idea to follow the layout for a dissertation when you write a thesis for two reasons:

  1. Firstly, it is a structure that has been proven to facilitate scientific research.
  2. Secondly, it is a good opportunity for you to practice doing structured research. After all, you will embark on doctoral studies after having obtained a master’s degree, not so?

You can also explain the research methods that you used for the initial literature study as part of Chapter 2 and have a separate chapter dealing with the literature study and practical data collection processes as a third chapter.

Chapter 1 can deal with the context for your study and some of the contents of your oral presentation, or it can deal with the context for your study only.

You can explain your research approach for the literature study and field research in the second chapter. Alternatively, chapter 2 can deal with just the literature study for your oral presentation. You can also explain your research approach for the literature study in preparation for your oral presentation as well as the literature study after your research proposal has been accepted in chapter 2.

You can discuss the fieldwork that you did in Chapter 3 as a first or third option. As a second option, you can discuss your literature study as well as fieldwork in chapter 3 if you did not discuss your literature study in chapter 2 already.

In essence, you will need to describe your research approach for the literature study prior to presenting your research proposal, the theoretical content that you will research after your research proposal has been approved and the fieldwork that you will do.

You should identify as much as possible theoretical information on similar research that was previously done, knowledge captured in books and other sources of information and related knowledge that might be of value for your research.

Reasons why you will need to study literature:

  1. To prepare for an oral presentation of your research proposal.
  2. To familiarize yourself with the knowledge and to determine if it relates to your research.
  3. To dispel myths about the field of study.
  4. To explain competing conceptual frameworks.
  5. To clarify the focus of your research.
  6. To justify your assumptions.

You should satisfy the following questions in your literature review:

  1. Are there sources relevant to the topic of your research?
  2. If there are sources, what do they say about the nature and the development of the topic? (Ontology and epistemology.)
  3. How are the issues researched in the existing literature?
  4. How detail and complete are the literature on the topic?

(Are the points made in the literature elicited and synthesized, or just paraphrased?)

  • How does the literature interpret the concepts and issues on the topic?
  • Does the review clearly indicate when sources are being quoted? (Is it the work of the writers or did they borrow it from somebody else?)
  • Are sources adequately referenced?
  • Do you agree with the existing literature on the topic?

You will need to summarise the existing theory about the topic as a last section of the chapter or chapters.

If your study is just a literature study – you will move on to conclusions and recommendations at the end of this chapter.

That would mean that you will not need to do any fieldwork or experiments.


It is essential to do as much literature study as you possibly can for two main reasons:

  1. To prepare for your oral study proposal. This, of course, applies to the doctoral level.
  2. To serve as the foundation of the research that you will embark on.

Preparing this chapter or chapters might require many hours of hard work.

This will enable you to plan your research properly.


Logically I should discuss doing fieldwork as a next chapter, followed by a recommended solution, and then the synthesis and evaluation of the study.

However, there are so many possible research methods, data collection methods and methods to analyse data that I will have to discuss all of them one by one.

In addition, there are a host of other issues, for example, the paradigms, ontology, epistemology, etc. that you should be able to use in the last two or three chapters of your thesis or dissertation.

In a way, this is a kind of literature study of the concepts that you need to be familiar with before you will be able to conduct practical research.

Therefore, I will discuss creating a draft thesis or dissertation in my next post.

Let me know if you have any issues that you need clarity on urgently. From this point onwards it is not critically important that we stick to a set sequence in which to discuss further issues.

I can easily interrupt my planned articles to discuss urgent questions first.

Good luck with your studies.

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