Any of you who watch cooking programmes will know the cheffy talk about mise-en-place. It’s a term used to describe all the various kinds of preparation that need to be done in order to whip up something that can be described as “freshly cooked to order”. In reality many restaurant meals have components that are precooked and cut into the right portion sizes – they need only to be added, heated, stirred and assembled, with a minimum of actual cooking time between order and service. That you don’t have to wait too long for your food is down to lots of mise-en-place.
The notion of mise-en-place is also helpful in thesis writing. There is a lot of preparation than can be done before a draft text is begun. And just as in cooking, the more preparation you do, the quicker and less painful the actual writing time involved.
It is for example very helpful when contemplating writing the thesis to create folders for each chapter, literally or on the computer. In each folder goes a long abstract of no more than a page, together with all of the various bits that you have collected and generated around that specific topic. If these bits are organized/renamed so that they fit the order of the abstract, then you won’t get lost shuffling through various documents, but will be able to work through them as you write – if you need to. Some software now allows for this kind of multiple document organization too.
The conclusion to the thesis may appear to need less mise-en-place than other chapters, because there is no new data, no new literatures. However, the long abstract is a helpful tool in guiding the writing of the text, and because of that, there are some things that you need to remind yourself about before constructing one.
First of all, you need to go back to the first chapter and see how you created the warrant for the research. Was there a policy or practice problem you were addressing? Next, check the literatures and methods – were there particular issues here that you said your work would speak to? Now, armed with this knowledge – which you might even want to cut and past into a separate document or just jot down as bullet points – assemble the elements for the long abstract by answering the following questions:
(1) What were your research question/s? This thesis posed the question/s (a)…. (b)
(2) What were your answers to the research questions and how did you arrive at them? My research study was – describe in one sentence the kind of research you undertook eg mixed methods study of…. I found in answer to research question (a) …… and research question (b)…….. . Don’t write more than about three sentences or four or five bullets points in answer to each research question.
(3) What do your findings have to say to the literatures? Write an answer in no more than four or five sentences. Think about whether your findings – challenge, trouble, suggest something (say what), add to what we know about x from (name category of literatures and key authors), support (what)… My work contributes to the literatures on… by….
(4) What are the implications of this new knowledge? Who needs to know what you have to say? Why? How could this knowledge be of interest/use to them? (Go back to the policy or practice problem or think of a policy or practice problem to which this knowledge speaks, or think about the ways in which literatures are currently used/spoken that might be changed by your addition. Be careful not to over or underclaim here.) What might happen as a result of knowing this new stuff, your contribution? These findings could be of interest to… benefit to.. worry … Just write a few bullets or sentences in answer.
(5) What further research might now be done as a result of your work? Here you need to think about your work opening up a research agenda, being a building block for further work that you, or someone else, might do. Write a few bullets or sentences here. As a result of my study, further research might well be conducted on/in order to …
(6) Optional question – Are there any implications for your own research practice? What did you learn about researching from this study? Write a sentence or two or a couple of bullets only.
At the end of this exercise you ought to be in a position to write a long abstract of no more than about a page. That stage isn’t entirely necessary of course, and you could simply use the answers to the questions as a road map to the chapter.
But putting the answers into a cogent abstract form is another bit of preparatory work. The purpose of the abstract is not to pin down the content, but to get the authoritative tone right so that when you start on the actual draft you aren’t worrying about the appropriate way to ‘speak’. It’s another kind of mise-en-place that helps the first run at conclusion writing go more smoothly.
I’ve been reading these posts over the past few days and I am very glad to see all this sound advice collected so neatly in one place. However, I find myself wondering about the role of supervisors and committees in shaping theses and dissertations. Standards, practices, incentives, and people vary from place to place and there are well sorted supervisors/committees, and others not so much. My sense is tha the final content and organisation of a dissertation is heavily influenced by, for example, what others feel should go into it; the candidate’s sense of freedom to advocate for the composition and content of their own work; how much engagement the student has with other peers and other academics throughout the process; and the relative interest, attentiveness, and skill of examiners and mentors.
Yes they are clearly very important. My blogging always must be subsidiary to what supervisors say…
Thanks so much for this useful and practical post – just about to dive into writing my thesis conclusion and you’ve offered a really excellent framework that is very helpful in getting things started. Much appreciated!
Reblogged this on simonwoodhonours and commented:
A useful blog post from Professor Pat Thomson which shares some nice ideas for structuring a thesis conclusion – after a day of doubt and anxiety, these pointers should help me build a conclusion ‘roadmap’ that may allow me to more clearly articulate my arguments and ensure i am not introducing new material or irrelevant content in my conclusion
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Reblogged this on Health Services Authors and commented:
For an author the conclusion is a tricky section to write, be it in a thesis or an article. The two pitfalls that one has to avoid are to repeat what has already been said in the preceding sections and not to respond to the questions “so what ?” and “now what?”. The conclusion section is the place where one must describe what our findings imply for policy and practices at an operational level. At this stage one must not forget either to situate our article in the extant literatures. in conclusion the pillars of the conclusion section should be:
practice and policy implications,
position in the literature ,
weakness and further research to be done.
The two consecutive posts in the blog “patter” on the subject are worth to be read.
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Dug out this post once again just to leave a comment of thanks. This blog post and your previous one got me through a re-write of my discussion chapter following my viva. My corrections were signed off and I graduated last week. Being able to break down the discussion points in this way helped me to get started with the writing and also helped me to get the relevance of my research across. A big thanks!
Congratulations. Pleased to have been of help.
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Thank you Pat Thomson and also for our wonderful construct of the virtual school bag. It has been central to my PhD research. This post is also going to help me through the construction of a decent conclusion which so far has eluded me.
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