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My advisor has asked me to write my thesis in parts. So, basically, my thesis will have three major parts, each of which explains a different piece of work. However, he is asking me to also add a part called "Introduction" and a part called "Conclusions"

I know he is not quite experienced with this type of thesis writing (i.e., writing in parts), so I am not sure if this is the right thing to do. Moreover, he is asking me to add "Introduction" and "Conclusions" chapter to each part (except for the parts with the same names). This is also a little bit strange to me!

So, could someone help on structuring my thesis? This is the overall structure:

  • Part 1: It consists of three main chapters on topic A.
  • Part 2: It consists of two main chapters on topic B.
  • Part 3: It consists of one main chapter on topic C.

I am definitely going to need an introduction somewhere to justify the three parts and how they are relevant to each other and can be placed in the same thesis, however, I do not know where this introduction should be (should it be a chapter somewhere or part?)

EDIT: Here I also mention my advisor's suggested structure for clarity:

  • Part 1: Introduction (with one chapter called Introduction)
  • Part 2: topic A (with one chapter called Introduction and another called Conclusions)
  • Part 3: topic B (with one chapter called Introduction and another called Conclusions)
  • Part 4: topic C (with one chapter called Introduction and another called Conclusions)
  • Part 5: Conclusions (with one chapter called Conclusions and another called Future Work)
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Your adviser's suggestion is a tad unconventional based on my individual experience (which may be institute and field-specific), but is not untenable. It may actually be very good advice.

As goes the common joke, while there would be a common theme which ties up your entire thesis in unison, perhaps the three parts you describe might pertain to a common methodology/approach being utilized in three altogether different contexts. If this is true, this is not at all an unusual, and under these circumstances, you have been given very good advice. Three different contexts each deserve their own respective introduction and conclusion sections.

In this case, I would offer you the following advice:

  • If you are uncomfortable having 4 different "Introduction" sections in your thesis, you can perhaps try this. Call the first introduction section "Introduction" itself, and make it a general introduction to the common theme, i.e. the approach you pursue in this work. While you tease the contexts A, B and C, do not go full throttle describing them here in this section. Just mention them, and say, they will be elaborated on later in the thesis.

  • The individual introductions to the three parts need not be named "Introduction". (Though if you want to call it by that name, your wish.) You can give it some other alternative title, such as "Prelude", or nothing at all. Latter is also a very reasonable choice, an untitled 2-3 page monograph at the beginning of a new section will be automatically understood as an introduction only. What else can it possibly mean?

  • Likewise, for the three individual conclusions sections, and the final overall conclusion - they will have different composition, even if you choose to give them the same name. The individual conclusion sections should conclude the findings of the individual parts, while the final conclusion section would basically describe how magnificently the common theme/approach worked in altogether different contexts to elucidate how nature works as per the same laws etc. etc. This final conclusion section should only reflect over the detailed individual parts' conclusions, not go through them comprehensively again (since that would be a repetition), and point out some general observations and comparison between the three sections/parts.

  • You can also add a summary and outlook subsection to the final conclusion chapter, which will make the last conclusion stand out from the earlier ones, while conveying that this is where it all draws to a close in this work, but is hardly the end as far as the spirit of this investigation goes and that there are future directions which you would ardently pursue.

Of course, my answer assumes that at your university, scholars have the flexibility to organize their thesis the way they want. Please check first that there is no rigid organizational paradigm that everyone is supposed to conform to.

Hope that helps :)

  • 1
    Thanks for your answer. It was very useful. I just need some clarification. In most of the answer, you use the terms "section". Here is exactly my problem. I don't know what should be a part/chapter/section? Everything you said makes sense and my university is flexible with the organization of thesis. However, I am not sure if a part called Introduction with one chapter (probably called Introduction as well) would make sense (the same for concolusion)! – Moh Mar 21 at 9:27
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    You can, if you so desire, and particularly since you mention that you have this flexibility. As regards the image, like I'd said earlier, that's just one of the possible ways of doing it, to keep the arrangement clean while preserving the logical order. If you so desire, you can also have them as "Parts" only, with the "Parts" being merely a symbol notation. So, in this case, your contents page reads: Ch 1, Ch 2, Part A which has Ch 3, 4, 5, 6, Part B which has Ch 7, 8, 9, 10, Part C which has Ch 11, 12, 13, 14, followed by Ch 15 Conclusions, Ch 16 Summary and Outlook. (comment continues) – 299792458 Mar 21 at 11:53
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    (contd.) But as you can see, this will greatly increase the total number of "Chapters". Additionally, you will have the problem of Ch 1, 3, 7 and 11, all being Introductions, and Ch 6, 10, 14, and 15 all being Conclusions.Clearly, that's not a very good way of going about it. The alternative I suggest, with Chapters and Sections, as shown in the image, avoids this problem, and gives you the additional flexibility of not giving a name to the introductory bits of Ch 3, 4, and 5, preserving them as un-named 2-3 pages which serve as the introductions only. (continued further) – 299792458 Mar 21 at 11:58
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    (contd.) You can always propose this scheme to your adviser and get his views on this alternative classification, pointing out that it preserves the same logical order as his/her suggestion only, but is cleaner. I am confident he/she will concur. :) – 299792458 Mar 21 at 11:59
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    Exactly that is what bothers me. Having all those repetitions and tiny parts/chapters. Thank you for your help. I'll do as you suggested and try to compromise. – Moh Mar 21 at 12:43
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Run, don't walk, towards the advice of your advisor.

I'm not sure why you are questioning their "experience writing a thesis in parts."

You should add a broad introduction and broad conclusion that service your entire thesis; these will be before and after your Part 1 and Part 3, respectively.

You should add individual introductions and conclusions to each Part. Therefore you will have a total of 4 introductions and 4 conclusions, with 3 of each that have a narrower scope and 1 of each that have a broad scope.

You will probably additionally have introductions and conclusions within each chapter in each part, though you may not label them as such and they could simply be paragraphs. This is simply good writing and is not at all related to thesis writing specifically.

  • The Introduction before Part 1 and the Conclusion after Part 3 should be parts themselves or chapters in your opinion? – Moh Mar 21 at 9:19
  • @Moh Ask your advisor. – Bryan Krause Mar 21 at 12:52
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I think there are two parts to your question: 1) how to structure your thesis, and 2) what to call the different sections of your thesis. Your advisor's suggestion for the structure seems quite reasonable to me, and it's how my thesis was structured. As for the names of the sections, I too would prefer not to repeat the names "Introduction" and "Conclusion" for each chapter. But there are ways around it. Here's an example of how I structured one of the middle chapters of my thesis.

                             Chapter 5

The introductory material for the chapter goes here. I didn't give 
this section a name. It's just text that goes before the first topic 
in the chapter.

5.1 Some Topic

...

5.2 Another Topic

...and so on...

5.9 Summary

The "conclusion" for this chapter goes here.

I suspect that what your advisor cares about is the structure, rather than the names of the sections, so you might give him something like this for your next draft. If it turns out he does care about the names, then I'd follow his advice. This might be a convention in your field, and presumably your advisor knows what the external examiners expect in a thesis.

As your thesis begins to take shape, you might find that the best way to present your research is to modify this structure somewhat. You are the expert on your own research, and your advisor is the expert on what is expected for a thesis in your field, so the two of you will probably need to compromise on some things. I had some lively (but friendly) debates with my advisors about the structure of my thesis, and I think the result was all the better for it.

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In the field of Mathematics the standard is to start with maybe a chapter of Introduction, and include some introductory material for each chapter.

Conclusions are often limited to the end-of-proof symbol. However it is common to end with a section called something like Future work or Open questions.

  • My experience is that you don't need conclusions if your results are for the eternity. If you come from a more applied area, introduction states the things you wanted to do and conclusions state the things that were done. – Oleg Lobachev Mar 20 at 22:15

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