Creating the skeleton for thesis

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A PhD is about producing some research that is useful to other scholars. A thesis needs a thesis. A PhD thesis, like most organisms, needs a skeleton.

In fact, there are four aspects to this, which a doctoral student in the process of writing up should cover:
1. The main message: the conclusions you present: what the essential elements are, and the relationships they have to the final message. That is, it should not be just a description of what you did, but lead to some definite conclusion(s). This is your “contribution to knowledge”.
2. A reasonable argument:  An argument consists of several parts, where some parts support others.
3. It is not just an argument:  the structure of the dissertation (what the parts are and how they relate to each other) should be strongly related to the logical structure of your argument.
4. Put in lots of “glue” statements to show readers how the parts relate, it is a set of signals that readers can easily use to organise theirs: signs to structure the reading.

The Skeleton

A “skeleton” helps researchers work separately at any given time and help the readers understand it, and find the bits they want at any given moment. Other researchers, are looking for the take away from your conclusions. In short, the structure of the thesis should be strongly related to the structure of your argument.

In summary, you  need to:

  • Practise writing: papers, notes, chapters
  • Practise reading. Read PhD theses.  At the least, it tells you what, as a reader, you wish the author had done to help you.
  • Practise reviewing, reshaping, assembling logical skeletons for arguments. Try writing down in outline form the arguments, the underlying logic, of papers and theses you read. How strong are they? what do they need to be better supported?

Another way of looking at your thesis is to create a story about it all. The “thesis” is the story: the overall argument you want to make. The point is  to concentrate on how all your bits fit together; what you want to end up saying, how your work supports that conclusion, how the literature relates to the argument you are now putting forward. The story is about being a self-critical and measured account of what you know think can be said about it.

Once you’ve got your story straight, the rest is just work, filling in chunks, and writing “glue” to keep the (inattentive) reader straight about what each bit is doing to do the whole.

The point is to construct something that other researchers want to read, and can find what they need in it. Construct a reasonable argument: why makes you believe in what you do, what it depends on, why some other people’s assumptions aren’t relevant to what you do, etc.

Reference: Creating the Skeleton for a thesis

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