Thesis and research writing

These resources provide general guidance on ways of approaching, researching and structuring a thesis. There is also specific information on common elements and examples of these elements from various disciplines. The elements common to all theses are title page, table of contents, list of figures and an acknowledgments page before the main sections listed below, and a reference list following. There may also be appendices.

The role of the abstract is to tell readers: 

  • WHAT the research is—what question the research is attempting to answer 
  • WHY the research was done 
  • HOW the research was done—what methodology was used 
  • WHAT the results of the research are 
  • What the results MEAN 

In effect, the abstract sums up the research and summarises the separate sections of the thesis. 

Find out more about Abstracts (PDF)


Introductions introduce the research in detail and establish the validity of the research by showing that the previous research in the field contains some kind of 'gap' in knowledge that will be filled by this research: 

  • establishing the field 
  • summarising previous research 
  • preparing for present research—showing the gap 
  • introducing present research 
  • overview of thesis chapters 

Find out more about Introductions (PDF). 


The role of the literature review in a thesis is to provide a critical review and analysis of the literature relevant to the particular topic. The literature review may be part of the introduction or a separate chapter, depending on the amount of literature that needs to be discussed. The purpose of a literature review can be to: 

  • summarise and evaluate past research 
  • show similarities and differences in previous research 
  • give an overview of controversies in past research 
  • place the research into context 
  • show a gap in the current research 
  • justify the need for the research 
  • generate new research hypotheses 

Find out more about Literature reviews (PDF). 


The methods and materials section tells the reader 'how' the testing or experiments that were part of the research were carried out. It may have sections that explain: 

  • WHEN the study was carried out 
  • WHERE the study carried out 
  • what MATERIALS were used in the study, and 
  • HOW the study was carried out / WHAT procedures were used 

This last point might include issues such as the statistical methods that were used to analyse data. Remember that a materials and methods section should not present any other information: it should not have results or discussion elements mixed in with the description of materials and methods.

Find out more about Materials and methods sections (PDF). 


The results, discussion and conclusion sections of a thesis may appear as separate chapters or may be combined in different ways. Three models below show the possible combinations.

Model 1 Model 2 Model 3
Results Results and Discussion  Results
Discussion Discussion and Conclusion
Conclusion Conclusion

These models are taken from Murrison, E. & Webb, C. (1991) Writing a research paper. From the series: Writing Practice for University Students 

There may also be mini results, discussion and conclusion sections occurring within chapters if there is no separate results section or chapter. 

Find out more about Results sections (PDF). 


The function of a discussion section is to: 

  • interpret the results presented in the results section; and 
  • discuss the results in relation to the research question and to the results of previous research in the field. 

Of course, to present any discussion about results from previous research, these must already have been introduced in the literature review. Discussion chapters also often include sub-sections on issues arising from the study, or that detail the implications of the research. 


There are two generic - though not exclusive - structures for a thesis. To find out more about these, see the Common thesis structures (PDF). This section relates to the body chapters in a Type 2 structure, which is mainly found in theses using a theoretical rather than a scientific approach. The order of the body chapters must form a logical progression, and each chapter will require its own introduction and conclusion. The following examples each provide an overview of the contents page of a thesis, showing overall structure, and then examine the structure of a body chapter. 

Find out more about Body chapters (PDF) 


The role of the conclusion is to summarise for the reader: 

  • WHAT aims the research fulfilled 
  • WHAT the results of the research were 
  • What the results MEANT 
  • The overall importance of the research 

Find out more about Conclusions (PDF).