I recently asked via social media what posts people would like to see relating to writing and academia and a friend of mine made this very good point:
“I often find that despite the purpose of papers being to present research or ideas people… often miss the point that the paper still has to hook people in and the chapters have to connect to one another.”
It just so happens that I was talking to an old tutor of mine the other day and he was telling me that every year he presents a seminar to new PhD candidates on PhD structure, and he told me the following:
“If I could just tell them to meditate for an hour on structure, I would”
Essentially, he did not want students to constrain their thinking into an idea such as “a PhD must have 6 chapters” or “I have read a lot of other PhDs and they were always structured this way”. I think, for a really long document like a Dissertation or thesis structure is paramount, as my friend said, you have to hook the reader. However, the structure should reflect your content, if your article/thesis/dissertation feels like it divides nicely into three parts, that’s fine, as is ten smaller chapters. Working out the divides is fairly simple, for example, my MA dissertations was structured in the following way:
- Initially, three short sections, my abstract, introduction and aims. All three of these are REALLY important for initially engaging a reader, so I will go over them in more detail in my next blog entry.
- Methodology – how I collected my data, my analysis methods, any ethical problems etc.
- Literature review – overview of existing literature, split into categories based on its specific focus
- Analysis – split into several sections based on different analysis approaches, statistical analyses and detailed observations
- Appendices – this contained things like permission forms, additional non-essential data statistics, data transcripts etc.
As you can see from the above, each ‘chapter’ has an overall theme, and is then split into smaller sections each dealing with something specific. It is useful in long documents to make sure the reader has cues as to the direction you are taking, for example, adding lines such as ‘in the next chapter, I will examine the interview data in detail’ or ‘ethical problems are explained in more detail in chapter 5, page 36’ these help the reader orient themselves within the document as a whole, and let them know that information which hasn’t been covered yet is going to be covered later.