The 4 Essential Elements of a Great Thesis or Dissertation

You’ve done your research, and you’re ready to write up. How can you make sure that your manuscript will be up to scratch? What should you keep in mind as you begin the writing process?

Of course, the best thing that a thesis or dissertation can be is finished! Aside from that, however, I’ve found that a good thesis or dissertation always features the following four elements.

1. A Clear Thesis Statement

You probably heard this advice as early as your first year in undergrad (or high school!), and it applies now as much as it ever has: Have a clear thesis statement. A clear thesis statement is a sentence (or two) that tells the reader what exactly they are going to learn by reading your thesis. It may sound daunting to compress all of your research into a single sentence. If so, try asking yourself these questions:

  • What, in the fewest words possible, is the gist of my thesis/dissertation?
  • What single new piece of information is my research bringing to the table?
  • What is the most important claim that I make in my thesis/dissertation?

Don’t worry if your thesis statement isn’t groundbreaking (e.g., “Plato was wrong about x, y, and z”); all you need is something reasonably original and plausible (e.g., “Plato’s argument about x might be relevant to y and z, too”). Once you’ve found your thesis statement, rephrase it and repeat it often (especially in your introduction and conclusion).

2. An Introduction with a Good Roadmap

What is a “roadmap,” you ask? A roadmap is what I like to call the paragraph(s) that appear early on in your thesis that describe how the rest of your thesis is structured. The best roadmaps are written after you’ve written the bulk of your thesis, and should be as boring as possible. All you need to do is string a few sentences together, one for each section of your thesis:

  • In chapter 1, I describe…
  • In chapter 2, I present…
  • In chapter 3, I argue…

Having a good (and accurate) roadmap early on in your thesis gives the reader the impression that you know exactly what you are doing—especially when they read on to see that you’ve delivered the goods.

3. Intellectual Humility

This is the vaguest of the four essential elements, but in my opinion it is just as essential as the other three. In your writing, don’t make claims to have “proven,” or “clearly shown” x, y, or z. Rather, claim to have “given good reason to think that,” or “provided evidence for” x, y, or z. Some of us were taught that this kind of writing makes us sound “weak,” but that’s just not true. Is it presumptuous to think that no one, ever, in the future of your field, will ever be able to prove that your conclusions are false. Even if they do, however, it will still probably be true that you provided evidence and good reasons for your conclusion. The latter kind of claims, then, are much more likely to be true, and so are much more valuable.

4. Good Writing

It’s very simple: a good thesis or dissertation is always free of blatant typographical, spelling, and grammatical errors. The writing should be clear, concise, and consistent. It is what gives you, as a researcher, credibility. And this is exactly where a good editor comes in!

Please feel free to contact me to find out how I can help ensure that your thesis or dissertation incorporates these four essential elements!

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