I have been fielding some inquiries recently about how one might go about structuring a Master’s thesis. This is what I came up with:
Abstract: One to two pages (max) describing the research focus, a brief overview of the methodology, the main results, something about the significance of the findings and how the thesis advances the field.
Foreword: Acknowledgement to those who have helped you.
Table of contents: List of chapters and sections
List of tables, diagrams: Only if relevant
Chapter 1: Introduction
This sets the scene and might possibly include:
- An introduction to the topic, and what aspect of it you chose to investigate, i.e. tell your reader about your research aims and research questions (what did you want to find out?)
- Something about yourself. What was your vested interest in this choice of topic.
- Something about the context/setting of the study. What does your reader need to know? What context factors are particularly relevant to your topic.
- A rationale for your study. Why is this study important? Has much been written about it. (Indicate that you will elaborate on this in your Literature Review.)
- Chapter by chapter breakdown: A paragraph about each chapter. What is the main contribution of the chapter? How do they relate?
Chapter 2: Literature review
The purpose of a literature review is to map the research that has been done in respect of your chosen topic and to summarise the range of findings produced (including gaps in the research done which may indicate how original your own approach might be). The literature review will also enable you to map the various theoretical positions that might be currently brought to bear on your topic and also the various methodologies currently used to investigate topics that are similar in some ways to yours. (There are lots of places you can go to obtain guidance on writing a literature review.)
Chapter 3: Research Design
In general, this chapter explains AND JUSTIFIES how you propose to answer your research questions:
- Begin by restating your research goals and questions. Sometimes research questions are hypothesis driven, that is, driven by a provisional account or explanation of something that you formulated prior to the investigation.
- Overall design: What kind of study is this (e.g. qualitative, quantitative, mixed methods)? Is it a case study? Ethnography?
- Sample: What was the justification for selecting the participants you did? How did you go about selecting/identifying you participants? How were they approached? Were there challenges you needed to overcome in obtaining your sample?
- Methods: Here you discuss the kinds of evidence (data) you will be collecting. Justify each method (re how it will help your investigation). What have research experts said about these methods? Methods include questionnaires, interviews, focus groups, and observations (especially in relation to qualitative research).
- Analysing data: Here you provide an account of how you went about analysing your evidence/data, perhaps using an example of how you went about your coding (in the case of qualitative data).
- Validity and reliability: You’ll need to read about what these words mean. Essentially, though, in this section you argue a case for why a reader should trust your findings
- Ethics: What were some ethical issues you encountered and how did you deal with these?
Chapter 4: Findings
In this chapter you begin with a brief restatement of your process of analysis and systematically provide your reader with a clear overview of your findings theme by theme (sometimes you might have sub-themes). For each theme, you will need to offer examples of data which clearly show how you have derived a particular finding from the evidence you gathered.
Chapter 5: Discussion
This can be a final section in your “Findings” chapter. In your discussion, you offer your own analysis of your findings, i.e. where you take a step back and provide an overview of the main points to emerge, sometimes with reference to your Literature Review.
Chapter 6: Conclusion
- Begin with a summary of the research problem or topic, the main findings and the discussion. You might consider structuring this around the sequence of themes from your Literature Review. How do your results support, advance or contradict previously reported research?
- What are the implications of your research for particular groups of stakeholders, i.e. people with an interest in your topic?
- Limitations in your study: Could you have oriented your research questions better? What questions do you wish you had asked (if any)? Where there some limitations re the sample and your methods?
- In which direction should further research on your topic go?
- Final statement: How do you feel having completed this study? What do the findings mean for you personally?
© Terry Locke: 2019