Writing a research thesis
What is a thesis?
A thesis consists of an argument or a series of arguments combined with the description and discussion of research you have undertaken. In the case of a PhD, and to a lesser extent, a Masters (research) thesis, the research is expected to "make a significant contribution to the chosen field" (Phillips and Pugh, 1994, p. 23). This does not mean to revolutionise the field (though some PhDs may). You are expected to review critically the available publications in the field and attempt to add an element of original research to it. This may simply mean that you adapt someone else's research plan for the situation you want to investigate; in this way you extend the knowledge about an area. Your supervisor will advise you about suitable research. Minor theses (eg, for coursework Masters programs or Honours theses) may also contribute to the knowledge in the field, though the main requirement is that they provide evidence of an understanding of the field. Reporting on minor research studies may take a wider variety of shapes than the minor thesis. Accompanied by appropriate commentaries and adequate discussion of the related issues in the field, videotapes, books, and works of art and literature have all satisfied the requirements for Master of Education coursework programs’ research report. Preparing to write/research
The following recommendations may help you to work efficiently, and, eventually, confidently while carrying out and presenting your research. 1. Know your role as a researcher
The general responsibilities of a PhD student and their supervisors are set out in the Research Degrees in Education Handbook and the University handbook for research students. Many of these responsibilities are also applicable to M Ed students and writers of theses and their supervisors. An important feature of these stated responsibilities is the expectation that a researcher will be fairly independent, and that he/she will ask for help when it is needed rather than expect the supervisor to infer this need. On the other hand, it is the responsibility of the supervisor to teach the beginning researcher how to develop a focus, conduct research and write about this (possibly simultaneously). Remember, though, that in the Australian academic tradition, teach does not mean tell; rather, it means guide. It is not easy to ask for help, especially when you are feeling surrounded by unachievable tasks and incomprehensible texts. Just remember that independence is related to expertise. No-one can reasonably expect a beginning researcher to know all there is to know about research or about the field they are working on. Nor can a supervisor guess when you feel like you're drowning in a sea of unknowns. You have to tell them that you need to know what the next step should be (and negotiate this with them), or ask them to help you identify the important areas in a field, or to tell you how to go about finding out which central theorist to begin reading. Your sense of independence will grow, and your questions will change as you progress. Research students may find that an intensive schedule of consultations with the supervisor is necessary in the initial stages. Supervisors may take a more dominant role at this point (usually because they feel they have to help you get things started). If you feel that you are losing a sense of this being your work, think carefully about the direction you would like it to take and discuss this as soon as possible with your supervisor. You should meet your supervisor on average at least once a fortnight. Plan small, achievable tasks to do between meetings, rather than huge assignments. Research students often feel disappointed with the amount of work they achieve in a given time, because their aims are overambitious, or because they do not realise how complicated a task is (Phillips and Pugh, 1994). If you want to discuss something you have written with your supervisor,...
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