Writing your thesis may well be the biggest challenge of your academic career so far.
A project of this scale requires careful management and in this section you will find advice on how to actively plan and control its direction to ensure that you deliver a thesis that is of a sufficiently high standard by your expected submission date. You should aim to have your plan ready by the time you start your final year - if not earlier.
|The Graduate School's Top Tips for Planning Your Thesis|
No one ever said writing a thesis was easy, but there are things that you can do to make the process less painful. In particular, having a clear plan that tells you what to do and when to do it will help you take control of your work instead of allowing it to control you.
Regularly reviewing your progress against your plan will allow you to see any problems before it becomes too late to do anything about them and will help you stay motivated as you see your thesis taking shape and can mark parts of your plan as completed.
A plan is a scheme for achieving an objective - but you need to know what the objective is before you can put together your plan for achieving it.
Of course your objective here can be stated quite simply - completion of your thesis. But that does not give you enough information on which to develop a plan; so you need to break this down into more specific objectives.
We would suggest that you are likely to have the following specific objectives - to write:
- a thesis of an appropriate standard
- a thesis that is submitted on time
- a thesis that meets the University's rules on word counts
- a thesis that meets the University's rules on formatting
Having these more specific objectives allows you to define them in a way that will allow you later to know whether you have achieved them or not.
The Regulations Governing Research Degree Programmes set out the requirements that your thesis must meet if you are to be awarded a research degree. To be awarded a PhD, the thesis must:
- make a distinct and original contribution to knowledge
- contain work which is considered to be worthy of publication
- demonstrate a broad knowledge and understanding of your discipline and associated research techniques
- show the successful application in your work of your knowledge of your discipline and associated research techniques
Keeping these requirements in mind will give you a clearer idea of the standard of work your thesis is expected to demonstrate.
Thesis Submission Date
Your thesis must be submitted for examination by the time you complete the maximum registration period for your research degree programme. In the case of a full-time PhD, the maximum registration period is four years from your initial date of registration. You can find the maximum registration period for other research degree programmes in the Regulations Governing Research Degree Programmes.
Extensions beyond this date are approved only in specific circumstances and the maximum extension period is six months, so it is important that you take your expected thesis submission date into account as you put together your thesis plan.
Thesis Format and Word Limits
The rules for formatting research degree theses are quite straightforward, but it is important that you get them right.
You can read more about the University's rules for thesis formatting and word limits.
Extensions to the word limit are approved only in specific circumstances, so it is important that you take the maximum word limit into account as you put together your thesis plan.
Develop a Thesis Plan
These specific objectives can now be turned into a plan that shows what you need to do and when in order to achieve them. Here your plan will be in two parts - a thesis plan and a work plan.
Your thesis plan should show the individual sections/chapters that will make up your thesis and say a bit about what each one will contain.
This does not have to be too detailed and probably one side of paper will be enough for this, but it should show:
- the order of the sections/chapters that will make up your thesis
- the title of each section/chapter
- a note of what each section/chapter will cover
- an indicative word count for each section/chapter (making sure that the total does not exceed the maximum word limit allowed)
As you do this remember that the University has rules for the way in which the content of your thesis must be ordered. Theses must be structured as follows:
table of contents
main body of the thesis
appendices (if needed)
You need to take these rules into account in your thesis plan. It is also a good idea to get some feedback on your thesis plan from your supervisory team to make sure that the planned structure of your thesis is consistent with normal practice for your discipline.
You may find it useful to look at some recent theses in your Department to get a better feel for how a thesis should be structured and the sort of tone it should have.
Your Original Contribution to Knowledge
As you develop your thesis plan, try to remember as well that the purpose of your thesis is to explain what original contribution to knowledge your research has made.
Try to think about how your thesis will tell this story - where will you set out what your contribution to knowledge has been? how will each section/chapter develop that story? will your structure help to present that story in a logical and clear manner?
Develop a Work Plan
The next step is to take your thesis plan and develop a work plan for completing each section/chapter.
Your indicative word count for each section will give you some idea as to which sections/chapters may take longer to write than others and there will be some sections (like your acknowledgements) which should not take very long to write. You should also take account of sections/chapters where you will be able to re-use something you have already written - like a conference paper or progress report.
The important thing in developing your work plan is to be realistic - clearly you cannot spend all day every day writing, but you should be writing regularly and giving sufficient time to your writing to allow you to submit your thesis before you complete your maximum period of registration.
Most research students find that in their final year they need to spend at least some time each day writing their thesis in order to complete it on time. Many find that keeping "office hours" for their thesis is a good way of making sure they focus on their writing - that is, having fixed hours each day that are set aside for writing their thesis.
We would suggest that in your work plan you will need to allow sufficient time for a process similar to the one outlines below and have specific dates for completion of each stage:
- drafting and re-drafting each draft section/chapter
- seeking comments from your supervisors on each draft section/chapter
- revising each draft section/chapter in light of your supervisor’s comments
- preparing a complete final draft
- seeking comments from your supervisors on your complete final draft
- revising your complete final draft in light of your supervisor’s comments
As with your thesis plan, we would suggest that you get some feedback from your supervisory team to make sure that your work plan is realistic and that they know when you expect to submit draft work to them for comment on.
What types of information should you include in your introduction?
In the introduction of your thesis, you’ll be trying to do three main things, which are called Moves:
- Move 1 establish your territory (say what the topic is about)
- Move 2 establish a niche (show why there needs to be further research on your topic)
- Move 3 introduce the current research (make hypotheses; state the research questions)
Each Move has a number of stages. Depending on what you need to say in your introduction, you might use one or more stages. Table 1 provides you with a list of the most commonly occurring stages of introductions in Honours theses (colour-coded to show the Moves). You will also find examples of Introductions, divided into stages with sample sentence extracts. Once you’ve looked at Examples 1 and 2, try the exercise that follows.
Most thesis introductions include SOME (but not all) of the stages listed below. There are variations between different Schools and between different theses, depending on the purpose of the thesis.
Stages in a thesis introduction
- state the general topic and give some background
- provide a review of the literature related to the topic
- define the terms and scope of the topic
- outline the current situation
- evaluate the current situation (advantages/ disadvantages) and identify the gap
- identify the importance of the proposed research
- state the research problem/ questions
- state the research aims and/or research objectives
- state the hypotheses
- outline the order of information in the thesis
- outline the methodology
Now read the following two examples from past theses, noting which stages are included in each example. How does example 1 differ from example 2?
Read the following sample sentence extracts from Honours theses Introductions. When you have decided what stage of the Introduction they belong to, refer to the stages in a thesis introduction and give each sentence extract a number. Then check the suggested answer to see if your answer agrees with ours.
Example 3: The IMO Severe-Weather Criterion Applied to High-Speed Monohulls (School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering)
Example 4: The Steiner Tree Problem (School of Computer Science and Engineering)
What does this tell you about thesis introductions?
Well, firstly, there are many choices that you can make. You will notice that there are variations not only between the different Schools in your faculty, but also between individual theses, depending on the type of information that is being communicated. However, there are a few elements that a good Introduction should include, at the very minimum:
- Either Statement of general topic Or Background information about the topic;
- Either Identification of disadvantages of current situation Or Identification of the gap in current research;
- Identification of importance of proposed research
- Either Statement of aims Or Statement of objectives
- An Outline of the order of information in the thesis
Note: this introduction includes the literature review.
Example 5.1 (extract 1): The effects of Fluoride on the reproduction of three native Australian plant Species (School of Geography)
|Stage 1||Sample sentence extracts (the complete Introduction is 17 pages long)|
|Give some background (p.1 of 17)|
1.1 Fluoride in the environment
Molecular fluorine (F2) is the most electronegative of the elements and therefore is highly reactive. Due to its high reactivity it is never found in its elemental form in nature. It combines directly at both ordinary or elevated temperatures with all other elements except oxygen, nitrogen, and the lighter noble gases (Cotton & Wilkinson, 1980).
Example 5.2 (extract 2): The effects of Fluoride on the reproduction of three native Australian plant Species (School of Geography)
|Stage 2||Sample sentence extracts|
|Provide a review of the literature related to the topic (p.2 of 17)||The main source of elevated fluoride in plants comes from atmospheric industrial pollution. Because of its extensive industrial use, hydrogen fluoride is probably the greatest single atmospheric fluoride contaminant and is generally considered to be the most important plant pathogenic fluoride (WHO, 1984; Treshow, 1965)… However, fluorides can cause damage to sensitive plant species even at extremely low fluoride concentrations(Hill,1969), accumulate in large amounts within the plant and cause disease if ingested by herbivores(Weinstein, 1977).|
|Stages 4 and 5||Sample sentence extracts|
|Outline the current situation; Evaluate the current situation and indicate a gap (p.12 of 17)||Doley (1981) summarized several unpublished studies that compared the sensitivity rankings of 24 species according to the responses of photosynthesis and the development of visible injury symptoms. This analysis showed that for nine species, photosynthesis measurements indicated greater sensitivity than was obvious from visible assessment, and for seven species the converse applied. This indicated that, while it may generally be true that physiological responses occur at lower doses than visible injury, this does not always appear to be the case.|
Example 5.4 (extract 4): The effects of Fluoride on the reproduction of three native Australian plant Species (School of Geography)
|Stage 7||Sample sentence extracts|
|State the research problem(p.4 of 17)||In many Australian plant species, young expanding leaves appear much more severely injured by gaseous fluorides than are old leaves. This suggests, either that the young leaf tissues are more sensitive to fluoride than mature tissues, or that sufficient fluoride enters the tissues directly through the cuticle to disrupt normal leaf development before the stomata have fully developed and opened(Doley, 1986a). This question has not been resolved due to the inability to accurately localize low concentrations of fluoride(Doley, 1986a)|
Example 5.5 (extract 5): The effects of Fluoride on the reproduction of three native Australian plant Species (School of Geography)
|Stage 8||Sample sentence extracts|
|State the research aims and /or research objectives (extract p.16 of 17)||Knowledge of the effects of fluoride on the reproductive processes of species within a forest community will help predict potential changes within the community following an increase in atmospheric fluoride due to additional industrial sources, such as aluminium smelters. For these reasons, this project was designed to investigate the reproductive processes of selected species in a woodland near the aluminium smelter at Tomago.|
Example 5.6 (extract 6): The effects of Fluoride on the reproduction of three native Australian plant Species (School of Geography)
|Stage 11||Sample sentence extracts|
|State the outline of the Methodology (extract p.17 of 17).||Germination trials were performed on seeds collected from each species along the fluoride gradient to determine if fluoride has an effect on their viability and hence the regeneration fitness of each species. A density study was used to determine if there were any differences between numbers of mature and immature trees, number of trees producing seed follicles and the number of trees flowering in this season along a fluoride gradient. By using soils collected at various distances away from the smelter the study also investigated differences in germination from the natural soil seed reserve along a fluoride gradient.|