DISSERTATION CHAPTERS

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General Rules For Writing Dissertation Chapters

The aims and objectives of the research; how tightly these can be specified will vary from discipline to discipline but they should have been defined and articulated at the very beginning of work on the dissertation. I won’t say more on this because this is not about how to do your dissertation but about how to write it up, but suffice it to say that aims and subsidiary aims or objectives are critical.

The context of the work; the reader needs to get a handle on what this is about as soon as possible and the author’s reasons for engaging with the topic. There is no premium on a marker asking herself, “What is this person on about?” twenty pages in. …and you might be interested in this link (via my blog) to an interesting reflective piece by Keith Lyons; it’s more to do with approaching research rather than writing it up, but it’s all part of the process
The context may be academic; “Building on Aardvark and Molestrangler’s seminal 2002 work on…” —in which case resist the temptation to go into detail because the place for that is in the Literature Review.
It may be historic; “The specification of underwater knitting as a core competence by the Institute of … has led to…”
It may be narrative; “Based on the author’s experience of teaching English as an additional language in Korea, this study uses a grounded-theory approach to generate alternative ethnographic accounts of …”
Regardless, it should be as simple and clear and practical as possible. (The context of the choice of research methods is considered separately under Methodology.) It may well lead into…
A more detailed exegesis (OK! unpacking) of the title; which may include reasons for the choice of certain words, the reason for the part after the colon (which is generally to qualify and restrict the aspirations of the main title);
“Generating a theory of everything: necessity and sufficiency in explanatory accounts of the physical world by seven and eight year old children in an inner-city school.” Why that grandiose first part? What it meant by “necessity and sufficiency” in this context? In turn this may lead into…
The more specific research hypotheses to be tested or questions to be answered. Each can be spelt out and then commented on for a paragraph or so. Do this with a view to re-visiting them in the conclusion. (In practice you may well be writing this after writing the conclusion, of course.) Tie these in to the aims and objectives—it may of course make more sense to re-arrange these items in order to make the links clearer. There is nothing sacrosanct about the order in which they are presented here.
Exclusions: you have to get these in somewhere, and up-front is the best place;
“The scope of the study does not extend to a consideration of… because of lack of time/resources/space…” “
As discussed in the Literature Review below, most previous work in this area has concentrated on… On this occasion, however, attention is directed at…”
The shape of the dissertation; outline, chapter by chapter, how the argument fits together, and mention the material which has been relegated to the appendices.
Conventions adopted;
“Because of the nature of the action-research process, the convention of the author referring to herself in the third person makes for convoluted expression and hard reading. After consultation, I have decided to adopt a first-person narrative voice…” (“After consultation” is important—you are less likely to get hammered if your supervisor agreed to it.)
“For simplicity, and where it does not affect the sense, reported interviews refer to the interviewer and interviewee as of opposite sexes…”
“All transcripts of interviews have been translated into English; original language versions are available if required, but will be destroyed (as per the ethics policy) as soon as assessment formalities have been completed…”