Thursday, February 5, 2015

Outline of a Masters or Doctoral Thesis or Dissertation

Ok, so two days ago I posted Chapter 4.  I didn't think of posting the others, because they have been on my website for years.
But then again, not everybody visits my website, which is at , and there may even be people who still don't know about my "Free online doctoral programme" which is at

For all of you then, here are the links, first to the "Logic of a thesis" and then a brief sketch of what goes into every chapter.

The logic of a thesis

So there you have it.  Now spend the weekend and just populate it.  Then you can submit on Monday.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

How to write up the findings chapter

I don't know why I have taken so long to describe the findings chapter. My "Free online doctoral programme" has been up for three years now, but still it is silent on the most important chapter. So, here goes.

In a traditional five section thesis, the findings make up section four, Introduction, Literature survey, Methods, Findings, Conclusions and Recommendations. Nevertheless, it is really the first chapter that you will write out completely. It is the most important chapter of the thesis the most exciting one, but also the most difficult one to get started with.

The most common mistake that people make is to write the chapter as an inventory of what the instruments told them.  They would start unpacking the demographics of the participants, and then launch into the questionnaire from question 1 to question 100, providing all the relevant statistics, and generally boring everybody to tears.  So how is it done?

The first thing to do is to orientate the reader regarding the research.  Do not be repetitive, but explain briefly the purpose of your research and why you followed the methods that you did. Then explain how you will structure the findings chapter.  Two structuring principles are important here.  Your theoretical or conceptual model and your research questions.  The questions are structured as they are derived from the theoretical or conceptual model.  A simple example would be if one were to use a system as a conceptual model.  So the conceptual model will say that there is an input, there are processes, there is an output and there is a feedback loop to ensure sustainability. From this the questions will be derived.  What is the input? What are the processes? What is the output? How is sustainability achieved? And that is how the chapter will be structured.

So after brief description of the research and the participants you launch into the story of your research.   The rhythm is this:

The question was...
The reason for this question was to determine...
The instruments used to get to the answer were...
The instrument that gave the best information was...
This is the information that the instrument gave (in narrative form)
And here is the evidence of that information (statistics, quottionss, screen captures, embedded video clips, transcripts)...
These instruments supported the answer in this way, and here is the evidence.
These instruments gave contradictory evidence (if any) and this is it.
So my tentative answer to the question is ...
This supports the literature that says... and contradicts the literature that says... and adds the following to our body of knowledge.

And so you go on, question by question question.  Of course, you start with the sub-questions and the lesser questions so that they all add up when you finally ANSWER THE MAIN QUESTION(S).

And that's it. You  have presented your findings.  Now write Chapter 5 the way Tjeerd Plomp suggests. Then tidy up the other chapters and ensure they are completely aligned with Chapter 4. Then submit and have a happy life.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Don't be tense about tense

Prof Alta van der Merwe asked me to write up something about the use of tenses in a thesis, so that she could get her students to cite me.
I can resist anything except temptation, so, for the sake of citation, here goes, Alta!

Use the simple present tense for things that go on indefinitely. Use the past tense for things that have just happened, and the past perfect for things that had already been completed by the time the research took place.

Chapter 1 - Introduction
This thesis describes   research that was conducted to determine if there had been a significant improvement in the results of a given treatment.

So to explain more clearly.  If you are writing about the thesis itself, then you use the simple present.  Chapter One deals with the introduction, rationale and research method of the study. Chapter Two reports on the current literature. Chapter Three describes the methodology.  All in the present tense, because those chapters fulfil those functions right now, and always will.

Chapter 2 - Literature survey
The literature survey is written predominantly in the present tense.  Smith and Jones say: "We don't know what we are doing but we publish it anyway" (2014 p. 67).  Note that Smith and Jones are two authors, so they say.  But the article by Smith and Jones says, because it is just one article.  If, however, you are telling the story of Smith and Jones and their research, then it is in the past tense. Smith and Jones conducted research in the 1990s, and found numerous instances of people publishing in fields that they know nothing about. As their article puts it (present tense) "People publish for the sake of seeing their name in print, rather than to contribute to knowledge" (Smith and Jones, 1990 p. 27).

Chapter 3 - Research methods
Here you use mainly the past tense.  You are describing what you did.  If you have to follow up on things that had already been done, then you use the past perfect, and if you have to cite and author to substantiate what you did, then you use the present tense.
Questionnaires were distributed among the participants who had already viewed the movie and they were asked to complete a four-point Likert scale,  Johnson (2013) suggests that a Likert scale should have an even number of points to prevent participants from taking a mid-point position.

Chapter 4 - Findings
All in the past tense.  It is what you found.  Even if you found things that will hold true indefinitely, it still remains in the past, because that is when you found it.  Yesterday I found that the sky was blue. The fact that it is blue today, and will probably be so tomorrow is irrelevant.

Chapter 5 - Conclusions and recommendations
Conclusions are written in the present tense.  The conclusions are your contribution to the body of knowledge.  It was found that some people did one thing and other people did another. The conclusion is that different people do different things.
Recommendations are written in the imperative.  More research should be conducted to determine the circumstances under which people do what they do.

So that's it. No need to be tense about tense.  Just tell it as it happens.