ARTICLE 15: Creating a Draft for a Ph.D. Dissertation or a Masters Degree Thesis

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

Introduction

In my previous article, I discussed writing a second chapter for your Ph. D. dissertation or master’s degree thesis.

It might sometimes be necessary to break the second chapter down into two or three chapters.

You will write many different versions for a draft thesis or dissertation, and you will continue reviewing what was probably just a structure in the beginning until you reach the point where you will have a final product.

But you need to start with the first draft.

The following seven steps will enable you to write a first draft.

Step 1: Make an outline of your headings

The outline should be an abbreviated picture of the parts of your dissertation or thesis.

You can use the outline as the scope of your dissertation, or perhaps your thesis if and when you need to defend your final submission.

The Table of Contents of your dissertation or thesis can serve as the outline.

Initially, you will start with just a framework. As you progress with your research, the framework will grow into your actual thesis or dissertation as well as the final table of contents for your dissertation or thesis.

The outline can help you prevent and identify flaws in the structure of the dissertation or thesis.

Step 2: Check your research statement, question or hypothesis

You will have written your research statement, question or hypothesis when you prepared your research proposal.

You can refocus the research statement, question or hypothesis at any point while writing your thesis or dissertation, if necessary.

You can also refocus it as often as you wish, although you should not do this indiscriminately.

Refocusing your research problem, question or hypothesis would be necessary if you were too ambitious when you decided on the scope for your research.

You will need to refocus your research problem, question or hypothesis if you run out of time.

However, your study leader will not take kindly to you running out of time if you dragged your feet.

Step 3: Write the body of your dissertation or thesis from your notes

This is where you will ensure that what you write flows logically.

You should check if all your ideas, arguments, evidence, figures and tables flow logically, much like the narrative for a novel.

In the old days, we used notecards for this.

Now we have computers that make the work much easier.

Step 4: Check that you cite all the information that you quoted from other sources with parenthetical citations

Parenthetical citations are where you recognize the authors of the text, statistics, etc. that you use in your dissertation or thesis.

You must cite your sources when using the following kinds of material, in whole or in part:

  1. Direct quotations.
  2. Paraphrased and reconstructed quotations. (Quotations of which you changed the original wording somewhat.)
  3. Statistical data.
  4. Images made by someone else.
  5. Song lyrics.
  6. Original ideas that belong to someone else.

I will discuss referencing methods in a future article.

Step 5: Write your introduction

The introduction normally has two parts:

  1. A general introduction to the topic of your research.
  2. Your research statement.

Step 6: Write your conclusions

You will write your conclusions after you have done the literature study and fieldwork.

Through the conclusions you should show:

  1. The reader that the work is complete and well done.
  2. That the research project has been brought to a logical and realistic end.
  3. That you have made a positive contribution to the field of your study.

You can restate your research problem, question or hypothesis here.

You can also summarize your main points of evidence here.

Step 7: Create a title page

You can prepare the title page at any stage while doing your research and writing your report.

Here you must prepare the title page according to the format and requirements of the university or faculty where you study.

Reviewing your draft dissertation or thesis

You can and probably will submit chapters or perhaps just sections that your study leader would like to see from time to time.

However, do not submit what you might regard as a final product unless you feel proud of the work that you did.

You should feel confident that your study leader will be satisfied with your work, so much so that you are looking forward to his or her feedback.

And even though you might expect to be showered with praise, you need to realize that the opposite might still happen. Be prepared for what you might regard as cruel, unfair and unnecessary criticism.

This is when you will need to show character. Now is the time when you will need to show that you can persevere.

Do not blame your study leader for not being as impressed with your work as you are. Listen, or read, the feedback carefully and give yourself time to think about it, to absorb it and to decide how you can benefit from the disappointment.

You can and should pre-empt negative feedback by evaluating and correcting your work even before your study leader tells you to do so.

Here are nine questions that you can ask of your work to find opportunities for improvement:

  1. Is it necessary to introduce new material, data, ideas and thinking? If yes, then find the additional content and include it.
  2. Did you include arguments or information in your dissertation or thesis that adds no value because it is not relevant to the purpose of your research? If so, remove such padding from your report.
  3. Is there data or arguments that you included early in your report that later proved to be outdated or irrelevant?
  4. Is there more recent and relevant data or arguments in a later chapter or chapters? Remove obsolete data and arguments.
  5. Can you find any cognitive mistakes in any of your arguments, conclusions, assumptions or recommendations? If so, remove the errors or correct them.
  6. Is the structure of your chapters or sections in chapters erratic? Good software, such as ATLAS.Ti can often solve the problem. Sometimes logical thinking can also do wonders for the flow of your report.
  7. Did you respond negatively, aggressively or immaturely to feedback from your study leader, assistant study leader or perhaps even one or more external examiners? Apologize and thank them for their assistance. Correct your errors and inform them how you used their feedback to improve your work.
  8. Did you repeat theoretical data, arguments, etc. in your dissertation or thesis? Even simple office software, like Microsoft Word, can find the repetition of sentences if you suspect that you repeated a statement and “ask” the software to find it.
  9. Did you, at any stage while writing your dissertation or thesis, use a research method or paradigm incorrectly? It can happen that you “drifted” from one research method or paradigm to different, more suitable ones. This is not always wrong, but if the research methods or paradigmatic approaches contradict one another you will need to correct the error.  

Probably all research topics on the doctoral level are of such a nature that the perfectionist will never be satisfied with the report. There will always be something that needs improvement.

You must draw the line somewhere, even if the temptation to just do this and that more might be strong.

Summary

The structure that you will prepare when you start with your research is already a first draft.

You can use the seven steps that I discussed to prepare your first draft.

You will end up writing and saving many versions of your dissertation or thesis until you reach the point where you are satisfied that you have achieved the purpose of your research project.

You can and should review and improve your draft report intuitively by correcting flaws when you identify them.

You can improve your product further by asking and answering the nine questions that I discussed.

Do not become trapped in a never-ending process of review and further research.

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ARTICLE 11: The Table of Contents of your Thesis or dissertation

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

Introduction

I discuss the layout of a table of contents for a thesis or dissertation in this article. In the beginning, the table of contents will be more a structure for a table of contents than a final one.

You will probably have decided which chapters to include in your report, but you will have only one or two lower-level headings. Also, you might need to add a small number of chapters as you progress with your research.

The table of contents should follow directly after the authentication of your work.

Once you have written your thesis or dissertation, you will probably delete the provisional structure for a table of content and replace it with the chapters, headings and sub-headings of your final thesis or dissertation. Keep in mind that your table of contents must not differ from the chapters, headings and sub-headings in your thesis or dissertation.

At the end of your table of contents, you should also have the references that you consulted, a list of figures and a list of tables.

Universities are mostly flexible about the structure of a table of contents for a thesis on the master’s degree level. There are certain chapters and topics that you must cover in the dissertation for a Ph. D.

Also, keep in mind that the thesis for a master’s degree is a good opportunity to practice for when you will write the dissertation for a Ph. D. It will not be wrong to follow the structure of a dissertation when writing the report on the master’s degree level.

Here is a list of the most basic headings that most universities will expect you to discuss in your dissertation:

  1. Title page.
  2. Confirmation of authenticity.
  3. Acknowledgments.
  4. Abstract.
  5. Chapter 1: Contextualising the Study.
  6. Chapter 2: Research Methodology.
  7. Chapter 3: Theoretical Background.
  8. Chapter 4: Data Collection and Analysis.
  9. Chapter 5: Synthesis and Evaluation of the Study.
  10. References.
  11. List of Figures.
  12. List of Tables.

The title page. I already discussed the title page, sometimes also called the cover page, in a previous article (article 5). Just take note that this is where it will fit into your thesis or dissertation.

Confirmation of authenticity. You will be required by the university to confirm that the contents of your thesis or dissertation are your own. Most universities, if not all, use a standard format for such confirmation.

Here is an example:

“I, (your full names and surname) declare that (the title of your thesis or dissertation) is my own work and that all the sources that I have used or quoted have been indicated and acknowledged by means of complete references.

(Your signature)

…………………………………”

Acknowledgments. Acknowledgments are a matter of choice.

However, it is only good manners to thank people who helped you with your research.

The acknowledgment has real value for your research, though.

  1. It shows the readers of your report that you conducted your research in a systematic, ethical and disciplined manner.
  2. It shows that you understand that research should not be done by one person only.

Abstract. The abstract is a mandatory summary of your thesis or dissertation. Not all universities will require you to write an abstract for a thesis. The abstract must be short – you will be required to summarise your thesis or dissertation in three or four pages.

Some readers, for example, your sponsors, might read only the abstract. Therefore, you will need to ensure that you cover all the questions that they might have.

Chapter 1: Contextualising the Study. Researchers making use of technicist research methods often claim that their findings and the principles and concepts that they develop are timeless and that it applies independently of context.

Even they, however, need to define the range and scope of their research – they will not be able to include the entire world, let alone the entire universe, in their research projects.

Chapter 2: Research Methodology. In this chapter you will discuss:

  1. The research approach that you will use.
  2. The research methods that you will use.
  3. The paradigmatic approaches that you will follow.
  4. The data collection methods that you will use.
  5. How you will analyse the data that you collect.

Chapter 3: Theoretical Background. You will probably need to do a literature study as a foundation for your research. It would be rather difficult to jump into data collection and the analysis of data if you do not know what you should be looking for.

Chapter 4: Data Collection and Analysis. You already discussed the data collection and analysis methods that you will use in Chapter 2 of your dissertation. Here you will need to discuss the actual processes of data collection and analysis. This is a critically important chapter and might even be broken down into two or three separate chapters. It is from the contents of this chapter that you will come to conclusions and findings from which to develop a solution to the problem that you investigated.

Chapter 5: Synthesis and Evaluation of the Study. Chapter 5 will normally be your final chapter. This is where you will describe your solution. Depending on the purpose of your research and the research approach and methods that you used, you might develop a model, new knowledge, new methods to combat oil pollution at sea, new medication, and many more.

References. All sources that you consulted must be acknowledged in your thesis or dissertation.

Universities invariably have prescriptions in this regard, and you should abide by them.

I will discuss referencing formats in a future article.

List of Figures and List of Tables. The lists of figures and tables follow directly after the table of contents.

One can regard it as part of the table of contents.

The figure and table numbers in the lists must be the same as in the content of the thesis or dissertation.

Different universities have different requirements for the layout and format of the lists of figures and tables, although most are flexible in this respect.

Summary

Your provisional table of contents will probably be just a structure, consisting of chapters with no lower-level headings.

Your actual and final table of contents must align exactly with the contents of your thesis or dissertation.

I will discuss the abstract, chapters, references, lists of figures and tables in more detail in separate articles following on this one.

Good luck with your studies and stay healthy and safe.

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ARTICLE 5: How to Structure a Title Page for a Master’s Degree or a Ph. D. Research Report

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel, D. Com, D. Phil

Introduction

In this post, I will share with you several hints on the title page for a Ph. D. or masters degree research report.  

Just before we discuss the format of the title page – It is not possible to use terminology with which all universities will agree.

Some call the report submitted for a Ph. D. a dissertation, others call it a thesis. It is also called a doctorate.

The same applies to a research report for a master’s degree.

I will refer to the research report as a thesis on the master’s degree level and a dissertation on Ph. D. level.

I will use “research report” when referring to both the thesis and the dissertation.

Some universities call the person who applies for doctoral or masters studies a student or prospective student, others call him or her a candidate. In a relativist spirit, I will just use what feels right.

The study leader is sometimes also called the promoter or the supervisor. In a more structuralist spirit, I will stick to ‘study leader’.

A title page for your research report

I deliberately decided to discuss the title page for a research report and not just the title, because the title page includes the title.

There are several other issues of the title page that I would also like to bring to your attention.

The layout and wording of the title page for a research report might differ slightly from the title page for the research proposal. This is also something about which universities do not always agree, although the differences in the layout are mostly subtle.

As I said in my previous post, members of the Postgraduate Committee might suggest a different title from the one that you suggest.

If you chose a study leader before applying for post-graduate studies, she or he will probably help you with the formulation of the title.

The title of your research proposal, once refined, can be the same as the one that you will use for your final research report.

Here is an example of a title page for a research proposal.

An Epistemological Explanation of the Migration of the Ontology of Functionalism that can be Attributed to the Erosion of the Epistemological Development of Society from a Foucauldian Perspective

Please note that the title given here is in many ways flawed.

I deliberately did this so that we can use it as an example of how you should refine the title.

Let us analyse and refine the title.

To begin with, the title is too long. We will need to shorten it.

There are too many pompous words in the title.

“Epistemological explanation” is a tautology. Epistemology ís the explanation of something. The student should omit either “epistemological” or “explanation” or rephase the sentence entirely.

Even “migration” can probably be replaced by something like “change”.

Using “epistemology” twice in the title makes it sound awkward. The student should lose the second “epistemology”.

Ontology will probably be the right word to use if it is the student’s purpose to do research on the changed meaning of Functionalism as a paradigm over time. She or he could have explained this in the body of the proposal or could have used a simpler word, for example, the “original meaning”.

Michel Foucault’s philosophy is said to be post-structuralist in nature, or perhaps even post-modernist. He, however, does not agree. It would be rather risky to use his philosophy as the foundation for your research title if you are not sure that his philosophy is even relevant to your study.

Lastly, it would be difficult to come to conclusions and to suggest recommendations that would apply to the entire world. Different countries and even continents differ in terms of culture, geography, politics, levels of development, etc. It would, furthermore, be impossible to conduct research globally because of time, financial and physical constraints.

Here is a suggested title that would eliminate the flaws in the original one:

An analysis of the changes in the value system and structure of the Namibian society since independence.

The meaning of the original title has changed in the sense that it now refers to a much narrower context.

Some universities might require you to use some more technical or scientific terms, perhaps just to lend some status to the title of your research.

In my opinion, however, the status of your research should come from the quality of your research and not from window-dressing.

Close and summary

In summary, check the requirements for a title page of the university where you study or plan to study.

Ask your study leader for examples of good title pages and copy their layout.

Keep the title of your research report short and simple, but also listen to the suggestions of the Postgraduate Committee and your study leader.

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