A generic problem (I think) with many researchers, is that as well as trying to write up their literature review and other parts of the thesis, they try to continually re-invent their writing style . . . just to make it look like they are really clever!


Always remember that the written report / thesis is a “communication” and that someone has to be able to read it and make sense of it.  For example, a key ergonomic principle of website design is that you can make it as fancy and technically sophisticated as you like . . . but it is useless unless people can actually engage with it and use it.  The same is true for the writing style of the thesis – why make it more abstract and complicated to read than is really necessary ???


So – is the best approach not to adopt a writing style that is (a) basic, (b) directive, and (c) explicit ???


The more you do this, the easier it is to read the thesis and get an early understanding of how the writing style leads to an easier engagement with the reading and EXAMINATION process.


Yes – remember that as well as just having to read the thesis, the other person is probably the Examiner !!!




Ok – an example might help here.  The start of a section in the literature review might have these sentences:



–  The current section critically reviews the pertinent literature regarding (issue to be addressed in this section) . . .


–  Reviewed here are the important and seminal works of (references here) . . .


–  As will become evident from this review, the central debate in the literature relates to the issue of (insert what the issue, argument, debate is) . . .


–  The review will, through a detailed analysis of the literature, demonstrate how the weight of evidence . . . supports / refutes . . . which argument, debate, opinion, etc.  . . .


–  From this understanding, the current thesis will demonstrate (how and why we needed to review this material so as to make some decision needed in this research – e.g., which operational definition of the central construct to adopt) . . .




So, what have these few basic, directive, and explicit sentences done for the reader ???



1. They had indicated that you have thought about the structure and flow of the section.


2. They have identified the important literature, debates, etc.


3. They have made a “contract” between you and the reader – you have promised what they should read about . . . and why . . . and in what order etc.  This will keep you focused on delivering on what you promised!




When you have done this, the last paragraph of the section is really this introductory paragraph in reverse order:



–  Reviewed in this section was . . .


–  As was evident, . . .


–  And so on . . .




Now, have a go yourself – it is easier than you think.



Remember that regardless of the length of the section, this is still the structure to use.  When you do this, all of the sections are then like bits of lego – easy to move around and stick in different places . . . as they all have the same structure at the top and the bottom – easy to stick in a different place if it doesn’t look right where you had originally intended it to go.


If you don’t do this, and have decided to be clever, and be like Seamus Heaney or J. K. Rowling, and developed a new and fancy writing style for each section, they become difficult for the reader to follow and they are then also hard to move around without losing the structure and flow of the material.



Have a look at the blog on “Writing Style – Linking Sentences and Signposts”.


Also, have a look at Pat Thomson’s blog on metacommentary:





Conor  🙂




Posted on 2nd October, 2015.  Copyright Conor Mc Guckin