The Introduction and Conclusion that bracket your thesis need to match closely. These sections play a key role in unifying the project (this becomes even more important if you are writing a thesis by compilation – these are the crucial moments in which to demonstrate that your PhD is one big project, not a series of little bits and pieces).
You’ll probably already have an Introduction to the project that you wrote fairly early on in the process. At the end of the project, this is likely to need considerable reworking to make sure that it still matches where your research led over the years. Most of you will already have noticed that your project has changed over time as you learn more about the topic – some ideas that seemed important at the outset recede into the background, and other new ideas will have come to the foreground. Now that you know where the thesis ends up, you can write an Introduction that sets the reader up to get there.
How do you make sure that your Introduction and Conclusion match?
I recommend that you write the Introduction and Conclusion alongside each other, at least in the last stages of preparing the thesis document. The Introduction needs a clear statement identifying your research question or, if this is not how it is expressed in your discipline, a statement of what it is that you are trying to find out. I think it is very helpful if you are able to write this as an actual question, as this not only refines the focus, but also allows you to provide the answer to that question.
List your main question and your sub-questions in your Introduction. In many disciplines it is possible to number the questions, or to present them as a dot-point list. Then you can answer those questions in the same order using the same wording and numbering in your Conclusion.
That way you can check:
- In the Introduction I wrote that I wanted to find out XXXX.
- In the Conclusion, I wrote that I did in fact end up finding that XXXX.
Examiners can use these explicit sentences to see that you have actually done what you set out to do. Some examiners read the Introduction alongside the Conclusion as a way of checking what you promised at the outset and that you have managed to deliver on that promise. You can make sure that they see the close match between the promise and the delivery.
ACTIVITY: What is your over-arching research question, and what are your sub-questions? Please write them in the Comments box. Now, if you are at the end of your project, have you found answers to those questions? If not, do you need to rework the questions to match what you did end up discovering?
Introductions and Conclusions are not easy sections to write, partly because these are the most abstract parts of the thesis, the theorising, ‘philosophising’ part of the PhD.
A big challenge in writing Conclusions is the necessity of stepping back from the mass of detail you have been immersed in over the past few years to instead look at the big picture. Returning to your research questions will guide part of this section, but there are also some other elements to include here that require some extra thinking.
For some more ideas about how to approach Introductions and Conclusions, have a look at these blogs on the DoctoralWriting website:
Oral exam – tips on preparation once you’ve submitted the written document
This late-stage work of matching the Introduction and the Conclusion will lead neatly into preparation for an oral exam. Finalising the document is a good time to be asking the big questions that examiners are also likely to ask you. Nathan Ryder of ‘Viva Survivors’ suggests a week of questions to pose (one each day), prepare answers to, and then review and reflect on later that day.
|Monday||What is your research about?|
|Tuesday||Why are you interested in your topic?|
|Wednesday||What have you learnt?|
|Thursday||What are your most important results?|
|Friday||What’s been most difficult in your research?|
|Saturday||What do you NOT want to be asked?|
|Sunday||What would you like to ask your examiners?|
Do you feel ready to talk about these ideas? Does it help to write answers or dot points to organize your thoughts? ANU is currently piloting a trial with a view to potentially introducing an oral exam as a standard part of our examination procedure. Questions like these are a useful starting point for gearing up into oral exam mode.
What leads to successful completion?
As a final word, having looked at some ways to show examiners that your thesis is now good enough, it’s worth thinking about how you get yourself to the point of submission. Lindsay (2015) reminds us that there are two main elements that lead to PhD candidates reaching the end-point in a timely manner:
- taking a project management approach to their work; and
- continuous writing throughout candidature.
If it’s early days for you, this is useful advice to shape your work habits; if you are well down the track, then maybe you have worked this out for yourself already. Either way, stick with it as you keep your reader in mind while you prepare the final version of your thesis.
Good luck with preparing your thesis for submission! I hope that this series of Pomodoro Breaks has given you some confidence in working out when your thesis is good enough for examination.
I look forward to seeing you in the Zoom meeting at 4pm this afternoon: click here.
Meeting ID: 460 696 2330 Password: 861638
We’ll have time to discuss any further questions you have and a chance to debrief on your thinking during the week.