Writing a thesis, or indeed an academic book, means constructing an extended argument. One common problem in writing a very long text is that it’s not hard in 80,000 to 100,000 words for the reader to get lost in between chapters – they aren’t sure of the connection of one to the other and of how they work together to advance the case being made, move by move. And sometimes the writer can get lost too! That’s because chapters are often written in a different order to the order in which they are read, and sometimes they are written at very different times. Of course, sometimes the text is written straight through. But whatever the circumstances, it’s easy for both reader and writer to get lost in the overall argument because there is just soooo much detail to cover.
Here is one way to address the getting lost problem and one that many thesis writers find helpful. Confident and clever writers will find their own way to connect chapters together, but if you’re feeling a bit stuck this will help. It’s just a simple frame to use at the beginning of each new chapter. The frame – link, focus, overview – can be used for writing the first draft of the whole text. Because it’s a bit formulaic, it’s helpful to play with it on the second and third drafts so it reads more easily. But even when playing with it, keep the three moves because this is a good way to keep yourself as writer, and the reader, on track.
Paragraph One: LINK
Make a connection to what has immediately gone before. Recap the last chapter. In the last chapter I showed that… Having argued in the previous chapter that… As a result of x, which I established in the last chapter….. It is also possible to make a link between this chapter and the whole argument… The first step in answering my research question (repeat question) .. was to.. . In the last chapter I …
Paragraph Two: FOCUS
Now focus the reader’s attention on what this chapter is specifically going to do and why it is important. In this chapter I will examine.. I will present… I will report … This is crucial in (aim of thesis/research question) in order to….
Paragraph Three: OVERVIEW
The third paragraph simply outlines the way that you are going to achieve the aim spelled out in the previous paragraph. It’s really just a statement of the contents in the order that the reader will encounter them. It is important to state these not simply as topics, but actually how they build up the internal chapter argument… I will begin by examining the definitions of, then move to seeing how these were applied… I first of all explain my orientation to the research process, positioning myself as a critical scholar.. I then explain the methodology that I used in the research, arguing that ethnography was the most suitable approach to provide answers to the question of…
Now, as I said, this is pretty mechanical and it doesn’t make for riveting reading. It’s meant for conventional theses and not those that break the mould. However, the bottom line is that it’s better to be dull and establish coherence and flow between chapters, than to have the reader, particularly if it’s your supervisor or the examiner, wondering what’s going on and how what they are now reading links back to what has gone before, and what the chapter is going to do. And if you’re the writer, it really does help keep you on the straight and narrow.
This post is the first of a four part series suggesting one strategy for achieving flow. Read the rest here, here and here.