Windows-based software is available in the Library, computer laboratories and in the University halls. Most of the machines have electronic mail facilities and Internet access.
Windows printing facilities are accessible in the room of the Students’ Union and are free of charge. In the event of difficulties with the above, students should contact the IT Department at email@example.com.
7.2 Writing the Thesis
Students should try at an early stage to envisage the final shape of their thesis, i.e. the whole as the sum of its parts, including the balance between the chapters and the way that each chapter links to the next. There is no single ideal thesis structure, and much will depend on the topic chosen, but there are some points of advice which have general application.
A thesis should be systematic in approach, and clear in exposition. Having decided what issues or questions are going to be studied, students should choose their methods of examination. Students should ask themselves: ‘How can I best explain my line of enquiry, and what will be the logical steps by which I can build up to a conclusion?’.
Students may use theory to identify what you expect to happen, then check against evidence of what actually happened to identify conformity with, or divergence from, the theory, and then offer interpretation. Alternatively, students may review the existing literature relating to their topic and identify the extent of common ground or differences of opinion, and then collect and evaluate information to reflect on how the general debate helps understand the case in question. These are examples of methodical research design, and they will be explained in further detail, along with other methods, in the BA IRES Methodology course. However, the important thing to remember is that students should avoid having a disorganised, rambling, series of points of information that fills up pages but does not lead anywhere.
Having a good research design with a definite layout of chapters, each corresponding to a logical next step in a progressive investigation, is necessary for the reader to understand what is written in the thesis. Students should keep in mind that even if something is clear in their own heads, a lack of logical expression will leave the reader unsure or confused about their argument.
In that regard, students must also be careful to avoid ambiguity and to be precise. They should support assertions with evidence or reasoned argument. They should add appropriate qualifications to general statements. And they should be thorough and well organised in their thinking, conveying their ideas through the judicious use of language as well as charts, tables, and graphs if necessary. Although methodology is of central importance, the thesis also requires communication and presentation skills.
In preparing a thesis it is obviously useful to draw from earlier work in the same topic area (properly acknowledged – see below). Most theses include a literature review, which is not an end in itself but rather a basis from which to consider how best to move forward to deal with the task at hand. Students should select what is relevant and useful, and adapt the literature to suit. Appendix C provides some practical suggestions on how to conduct a literature review.
In writing their thesis, students learn the skills by which academics advance knowledge and understanding. A strict requirement here is for students to always acknowledge what is taken from others, and not to present borrowed ideas as their own. In this respect, the bibliography of consulted references is an important part of any thesis. It is also important to quote data sources. Students should start a bibliography at an early stage of their work, and update it regularly as they progress. While reading through research materials, it is also useful to keep a record of important page numbers for later reference – all quotations need specific attribution. The recommended style of presentation is covered in a later section of this document.
The thesis should be within the prescribed length limits, i.e. between 9,000 and 10,000 words (excluding bibliography and appendices). Part of this exercise is to experience the discipline of writing within stated confines, necessitating that students make judgements about what is relevant and important.
The early stages of thesis work involve searching for material, reading, planning: these are all inputs. What matters ultimately is the output. The transition from preparation to production can be traumatic! It is suggested that students do not write the introduction first, but rather leave it until they know exactly what they are introducing. A good approach is to start with substantive chapters of the thesis that review the literature first, or introduce relevant theory, or present the evidence. The next step is to move on to chapters that set up the methodology, undertake the analysis, and provide interpretation. Finally, the last stage is to write the introduction and conclusion.
Moreover, towards the end the thesis writing process it is a good idea for students to discuss with their supervisors the exact wording of their thesis title. A thesis usually evolves over time and the focus can move slightly away from what was initially envisaged. This is normal. Ultimately, students should choose a title that is brief and which accurately describes what their thesis is all about.