quick question on thesis structure...


Hi everyone

I'm currently beating myself up about how to structure my thesis, with 1/2 chapters in particular causing the main issue. Basically, I have carried out 2 quite data-intensive surveys as the main focus of my research. I seem to have done too much work for my project as there are 7 other chapters, with intro, method development (hardcore chemistry..), preliminary survey, preliminary toxin work, a study of two sites, PCR chapter and discussion.
The other data chapters will be relatively short, 10-20odd pages, but the issue is in whether to divide the main survey into 2 chapters. I tried it one way, my sups said it was quite hard to read and follow, although in their wisdom they started with the second one so the ground work was all in the previous chapter...I am currently trying to split it in another way, but it's really difficult. Whatever way I split it I will have to cross reference between chapters a lot and I end up repeating myself quite a bit. I think it would be easiest to read if it was all in one big chapter, even if it is a bit more complex, however this will be a 50-60 pages chapter, with a lot of results and tables, including several different statistical tests that require a lot of discussion and interpretation.

So I guess the question is, what do you think examiners would prefer? Will a huge complex chapter be ok or look a bit silly in the middle of several relatively small chapters? OR should I split it and run the risk of irritating examiners with lots of cross referencing and repeating things in an attempt to simplify it a bit? And I'm meant to submit in 3/4 weeks... :$

Avatar for sneaks

I'm in a similar situations (well I'm nowhere near finishing and have nowhere near as much as you but...) I have a huge questionnaire study, where I designed my own questionnaire and then chucked it in with a load of other questionnaires in a big study. So I have to explain the questionnaire development AND talk about the other questionnaires, and all in all there will be about 20 hypotheses! And I can't really separate them and pretend they were different studies because they use the same participants.


I *think* I'm going to do study 3a and study 3b, so they are separated to ease the reading for the examiners, so its not one HUGE method section AND intro AND discussion etc. For me I'm having Study 3a = my questionnaire, development etc. Study 3b = other questionnaires, AND testing hypotheses that are based on my questionnaire.

Not sure if this is relevant at all! But I would go with whatever is easier to read for the examiner.


Hi Sneaks! it's a nightmare isn't it trying to find the best way of putting things?! I think I might take the risk and go for the one big chapter actually...there are 3 ways I can split it, and they all mean I'll have to quite extensively cross reference between 2 chapters, I'll have to re-introduce the study and methods again and the discussion is very difficult to split between the two. Plus when reading one chapter, personally I know I'd be saying 'what about this and that?', which is all in the following chapter, so it might be too much of a split...
I just spent an hour on the phone to my mum talking her through the results as if it was all one big chapter. I figured if I can explain it so she understands it, then I can explain it so my examiners can understand it! Bless her, she sat and did her best to keep up and said it all seems logical to keep it together, she could get the jist of it ok, so I think I might just take the risk and do it that way...it's quite exciting really! How pathetic! :-) I figure, if I can reasonably justify why I've done it that way then it should be ok, otherwise if the examiners really want me to change it, I can do it after the viva, the results and the findings will still be the same.


Just a suggestion, but could you split it into 2 sub-chapters? Have one large intro section that introduces it all, then separate it so it makes the most sense. Because it's strictly all in one chapter, there's nothing wrong with all the cross-referencing you need to do, but being in sub-sections it splits it up and makes it seem a bit more managable for the examiners to read.

There is no wrong or right way to do it, and it's really hard to second guess what the examiners will think is the best way of structuring it, so in the end, just go with what ever you think makes the most sense.

I've had so much trouble trying to structure my chapters, and at only a month from submission I'm still moving things around, so I know how frustrating it can be- good luck!

Avatar for sneaks

Well you've prompted me to think about mine a bit more!

I think I'm going with

study 3a intro, method, results, discussion. Study 3b intro, method (similar as same participants, but more detailed), results, discussion. Study 3 overall discussion.

Truth be told, I want to ditch 3a completely!


Sounds like a decent way to do it Sneaks, if your 3b study is a bit different from the 3a then it should be ok to do it that way. Why are you not sure about the 3a though? Can you write it as a preliminary study, to lead onto the 3b study?

I was thinking about doing a sub chapter too AmyP, I think I'll see if I can do something like that. I just have to partition the results section, if I can do that well and the graphs and tables are clear, then it should be ok taking the reader through it without getting lost. Just means my writing will have to extremely well done to explain everything.

Avatar for sneaks

study 3a is about me designing a questionnaire - so basically a long method. and then study 3b is applying that questionnaire I guess, with the same sample that it is tested in, but in study 3a, just talking about the structure of the questionnaire and 3b talking about actual hypotheses linked to the other questionnaires e.g. "construct x on Sneaks' questionnaire will moderate the ABC contstruct on mr man's questionnaire"

The reason I'm not sure whether to include it is because a) the questionnaire is based on a template analysis, which I changed AFTER designing the questionnaire, so now doesn't relate well to questionnaire :-( b) factor structure is awful c) prelim analysis shows questionnaire doesn't really work i.e. hypotheses are all rejected :-( But at the mo, sup thinks its 'worthwhile' but I'm not so sure.


I have gone out on a bit of a limb with my methodology chapter - or so my supervisor tells me -, and have covered the methods I am using for each chapter and justified their use etc. on a chapter by chapter basis there, so no need for this in the chapters themselves. I am not in the sciences, and I know that they are a bit different, but it might be a way round the cross ref bit. Or could you explain what you are doing in both surveys in one chapter, and then put all the rest, results, tables etc. in another one? I think you should try to get the chapters as even as possible, I think that is the norm, and it might look a bit odd to have one that is so obviously different from the rest, they might even ask why you haven't split it, especially if it is hard going. You need to think about their ability to concentrate for long periods - I would go for two shorter rather than one long :-)


That's exactly what I'm worried about Joyce, I've no idea what way my examiners will be about the structure. I have one supervisor who has examined plenty of theses, and he says stick in one big chapter. My main sup keeps changing his mind, and now they seem to both be washing their hands of it - after several discussion on their opinions of how it should be done, they've suddenly changed to "it's your thesis, so long as you can defend it..." Which doesn't exactly inspire confidence I must admit.
Anywhoo, I'm going to try the big one. I have to set each chapter out at a study, so they all have to have separate intro, methods etc, so I'd be repeating myself a lot. Plus for the main studies I'm cross referencing to the preliminary chapters, and for the PCR chapter I'm cross referencing to the main studies, so I don't want it to be too crazy. Hopefully it will all work out in the end and common sense will prevail and they will understand why I've done it this way! Famous last words eh?! :)