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How to Make Your Dissertation or Thesis Easier to Read


Dissertation Writing – Metatext & Signposting

If you are an international postgraduate student, you may have limited experience of extended writing such as that required for a dissertation. You may also find it a challenge to determine the research topic if you have previously been assigned these by tutors or supervisors. This is why initial planning of your dissertation or thesis is so important, as discussed in a previous post.

A key point to remember that when producing such a lengthy piece of written work, you have a responsibility to the reader – it is your responsibility to guide the reader through the text and ensure they understand the significance of each section in relation to other sections so they can comprehend the foundation and logic behind what you argue and also how the flow of what you present logically arrives at the conclusions made based on the research findings. This requires a degree of explicitness in writing which many students do not possess or may struggle to manage.




Using previews, reviews and overviews in your dissertation or thesis

One way to recognize your responsibility as the writer is to use metatext (metadiscourse) to acknowledge the reader. You, as the writer, can use metatext to help organize your dissertation for the reader and interact with the reader to help bring the text alive.

If you are a non-native English speaker, you will need to gain some experience in recognizing and using metatxet before you become proficient at it; in particular you should become aware of the need to include previews, reviews and overviews at certain critical points throughout a dissertation or thesis because it is such a long text. This will help the reader to better understand the structure of the text and the arguments which you present.

Example:
Here is an extract which shows how a PhD student structures the conclusion of a chapter by using a brief summary followed by a preview of the next chapter so that the reader has a clear signal as to where they currently are in the overall text. This is often referred to as ‘signposting’ – making sure that the reader does not become lost in the text.

    7 Conclusion

    This chapter has examined various methodologies employed in the discovery of patterns of preference related to interpersonal values and strongly argues that the Appraisal framework used is effective for identifying and describing interpersonal meanings in the subject of history as taught in schools. Chapter 8 will demonstrate the way in which this analytical method can make a significant contribution to how the interpretative nature of history is understood and especially the related written work produced by students.

Research data regarding reports written by examiners on PhD theses submitted shows how important signposting is in relation to the reader of the thesis. A summary of the most important points is included below:

  • A thesis which is evidently not reader-friendly has a negative impact on the enthusiasm of the examiner/reader while reading it.

  • Examiners value the overall presentation of a thesis and those which make a good impression are received more favorably.

  • Using signposting such as previews, summaries, clear sequencing, and avoiding unnecessary repetition helps the reader understand the text more easily.

  • A thesis which is badly written or presented is distracting for the examiner/reader. The thesis should include help for the reader to ensure it can be understood easily. The writing should be of high quality, content should be interesting, and generally the thesis should be well-presented.




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