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Thesis structure, mistakes to avoid

Thesis structure: 5 common mistakes to avoid

Dec 01, 2012 - Posted to  Thesis Writing
Suffice to say, a great number of students struggle with the construction of their thesis. This may be in part due to initial trouble narrowing down a topic as well as conducting adequate research to satisfy the demands of the assignment. Though generally, many of the mistakes that occur are structural ones-they are related to the construction of the paper's content (such as the abstract, introduction, literature review, methods section etc.) and proper adherence to formatting and styling guidelines. Below are a few common mistakes that at the very least, some graduate students encounter when preparing and submitting dissertations.

Mistake #1

A faulty and poorly constructed literature review

The literature review can be one of the most trying components of your paper. It requires a great amount of research and if not done correctly can result in heavy markings on your dissertation. A literature review should be a true representation of the available information on your topic and include noteworthy and well-known experts in the field that your are exploring. Adequate research in this area communicates to your examiners that you are aware of what has been tried and tested in the field and are well-versed in the subject matter. A lack of proper research is very noticeable and difficult hide when developing an argument.
Recommendation: Avoid costly shortcuts. Really read. Dig and dig some more. Be certain that you have truly read a substantial amount of literature on the topic and most importantly have referenced the pioneers of the field in which you are studying.

Mistake #2

Not adding anything new to the field

Surprisingly this is something that is easily overlooked in the midst of compiling literature reviews and conducting primary and secondary research. Its only surprising because one of the the major objectives of a thorough literature review is to aide the student in finding their original space or 'gap' to fill with their new research. So its possible that students that are lacking in the literature review also lack in their ability to articulate exactly what their research adds to the discussion of the topic. In short, you can't state what's so special about your research unless you know for sure that its in fact special. You may be quite surprised when your examiner notes that what you thought was original research is actually old news.
Recommendation: Do a thorough literature review and take your time in identifying what exactly you are going to contribute to the particular field of study. Be sure to articulate it clearly in the beginning of your paper as well as throughout, in places such as the discussion and conclusion sections.

Mistake #3

Sloppy sources and an inaccurate account of references and consulted works

Your bibliography is one of your most prized thesis-related possessions. Even if you don't see it that way many people rely on your sources to conduct their own research as well as verify your information. And obviously for examining purposes, the later is more important. Its very likely that your reference or work-cited page and bibliography will be under a great amount of scrutiny during the review process-so its in your best interest to carefully construct both. *The reference list is a must because it details the publication information for anything that you directly referenced in your paper. The bibliography is also important but optional because it details the works you consulted that may or may not have ended up in your paper.
Recommendation: Take your sources seriously. Your reference list and bibliography not only show your trail of research but also your credibility as a researcher and that your work can be relied upon, not only for your examiners, but also for anyone else that decides to pick it up.

Mistake #4

Lousy writing and spelling and grammar errors

Its true that writing style and structure may be one of the last things on your mind when constructing a dissertation, but as with most things-presentation counts. An excellent collection of ideas and findings can easily be misinterpreted and poorly marked due to silly spelling or grammar mistakes. Along with this faulty paragraph and sentence structure can severely impact the fluidity of your paper and making it difficult to read or follow. Knowing how to construct compelling paragraphs and select appropriate organizational structures, may not go into a manual on thesis writing, but is still a major aspect of presentation and should not be overlooked.
Recommendation: Pick up a basic book on writing mechanics and style to either refresh your memory or improve your current skills. And in addition to proofreading programs, enlist a professional editor to revise your work before submission.

Mistake #5

Skimping out on the conclusion

Its definitely very tempting to provide a short, insufficient conclusion at the end of a very long piece of work. The temptation probably stems from exhaustion and being at loss for intriguing or inspiring thoughts. Despite your lack of enthusiasm, your conclusion still needs to match the rest of your paper. When considering the size of your thesis, your introduction as well as your conclusion should do a good job of balancing out the main body that surrounds it. To ensure that you conclusion is adequate, simply stick to satisfying the goals of a conclusion.
So what should a conclusion accomplish? Your conclusion must, at the very least, summarize all the major points expressed in your paper (which is a lot), indicate any key findings and specific contributions to the field, leave a final impression with the reader that indicates the level of significance and merit of your overall work, and make considerable recommendations for further research.
Recommendation: Try to include all of the elements of a successful conclusion and treat it like any other major component of your paper. To emphasize this point try and start writing the conclusion before completing the rest of the paper, so when it comes time to finalize it a good portion of the work is already done.
In addition to the common mistakes mentioned, another very prevalent and serious fault in thesis construction is topic selection. Long before any structural problems can occur many students start off on the wrong foot by selecting broad, unmanageable topics. Common and often broad topics are nice to work with because they offer an abundance of information.
For instance; 'Gender differences and emotional development' for a psychology paper, or 'Legal challenges to limited liability' for a law paper.
But the major problem with these topics is that most students will not be able to capture all that they comprise in the scope of their dissertation. This above all other things is an important pitfall to avoid. Select a narrow, reasonable topic (generally small dissertations fair better) that can properly be examined and presented in the time frame allotted and with the sources that are available.
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