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Writing one thing at a time

In order to write effectively, it is important to understand the different functions that your writing needs to perform. For example, you need to distinguish between presentation, interpretation, analysis, discussion and so on. A well organised text tackles one function at a time. It will not, for example, combine presentation with discussion.

One way of distinguishing between these different functions is to put all your introductory material into dedicated chapters (a theory chapter, a chapter to present your findings etc.) and then put everything that can be classified as discussion into a separate discussion chapter. You may also choose to discuss as you go along: This is common practice in philosophical and theoretical dissertations. Whatever strategy you adopt, it is important to indicate clearly which parts of your text are descriptive in nature and which parts represent your interpretation, your arguments, other scholars’ arguments, and so on. This will help the reader to follow your reasoning, and help you to fulfil the research ideals of reflexivity and objectivity.

Tip: Personal views and beliefs have no place in academic writing.

Presentation

Descriptions and presentations should be as neutral and straightforward as possible. When presenting a theory, for example, the test is whether the originator of the theory would approve of what you have written. On this basis, your criticism will carry much more weight than if your presentation were skewed from the start.

Your text will be better organised if you begin a new section before starting a discussion – but this is a matter of style and no absolute rule. 

Tip! Present the material with your own words, then consult the source to check the facts. 

Analysis

The data collected for an empirical dissertation will have to be analysed, that is, interpreted, coded and/or categorised. There are many ways of doing this and you should refer to methodological literature in your field. The analysis can either follow your presentations, or be integrated. For examples of how to organise your analysis, other theses are probably the best sources.

Discussion

In a theoretical dissertation, argumentation and discussion are central. You can either discuss your ideas and concepts as you go along or in a separate chapter. Whichever strategy you adopt, make sure that you are not presenting and discussing at the same time. 

In an empirical dissertation, the discussion usually comes after the descriptive parts, and brings together what has already been said (background, theory, and method). See more on discussion under the IMRaD format.

What is argumentation?

How can you recognise debate in a text? There are a number of words that signal argumentation (as opposed to  presentation). For example: If… then… provided that… it may be claimed that… On the one hand … on the other hand … accordingly … (and so forth).

Last updated: December 19, 2017

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