Thesis: Components, Functions and Characteristics

Components of a Thesis

Theses come in various sizes and shapes. The components of many theses are similar although their functions and requirements may differ according to the degree they are presented for. The components and their functions and characteristics are set out below.

Note that not all theses must contain all components. Consult with your supervisor and the regulations governing your degree to identify which components you need. A notable exception from the following format are theses that do not have an empirical element, and historical studies. The ways in which data are related to the literature can vary enormously, so that there may be no clearly defined differentiation of function amongst your chapters regarding literature and data presentation.

Although these components appear approximately in the order in which they are often presented in a thesis, they may appear in quite different orders (especially the sections of the body of the thesis) and forms. Moreover, you are very likely to compose them in a completely different order. For example, the introduction is often written late, and is certainly revised in conjunction with the conclusion, and the abstract should be written last. Also, your chapter/section names don’t have to be generic (such as ‘Introduction’, ‘Review of Literature’ etc.). You can choose a more descriptive name, for example: ‘Exploring the Context’, ‘Bilingualism in EFL Settings’ etc. When in doubt, consult your supervisor!

Components of a Thesis: Functions and Characteristics

 Cover page

  • identifies topic, writer, institution, degree and date (year and, if you like, month)
  • title, candidate’s name and qualifications, degree aimed at, faculty, university, month and year presented


  • states that the material presented has not been used for any other award, and that all sources are acknowledged
  • states that the approval of SCERH was received and gives the reference number

An example of a declaration page appears below:


  • to thank anyone whose support has been important for your work
  • the supervisor generally receives the first vote of thanks. Don’t forget your participants (though  remember confidentiality). This section is the least bound by convention. You may speak from the heart.

 Table of Contents

  • lists all major divisions and subdivisions marked by numbers and indicates which page they are on
  • the titles and subtitles of sections should appear in a style and size consistent with their position in the hierarchy (see style manuals for help in selecting your system)
  • numbering hierarchy: 1, 1.1, 1.1.1,

Lists of Tables/ Figures/ Illustrations/ Appendices

  • lists all of these and the pages on which they appear
  • a separate section is used for each of these categories (it is often handy to number such items using the chapter number first: e.g., Fig 1.1, Fig. 2.1, Fig.2.2, etc.).


  • orients the reader/ presents the focal points of the thesis
  • summarises the thesis, mentioning aims/purposes, focus of literature review, methods of research and analysis, the findings, and implications


(may be given a more descriptive name to reflect the topic)

  •  provides background information and rationale for the research, so that the reader is persuaded that it will be useful/interesting. It usually also serves as a frame within which the reader reads the rest of the thesis
  • provides background information related to the need for the research
  • builds an argument for the research (rationale) and presents research question(s) and aims
  • may present personal motivations behind research
  • may present a theoretical starting point
  • gives an outline of subsequent chapters

 Literature Review

(this may consist of more than one chapter with descriptive titles)

  • to show the reader/examiner that you are familiar with issues and debates in the field (you need to explain these and discuss the main players’ ideas)
  • to show the reader that there is an area in this field to which you can contribute (thus, the review must be critically analytical)
  • this is the section where you cite the most, where your use of verb tense becomes most important in conveying subtle meanings, where you must beware of unwarranted repetition. This is where plagiarism can become an issue.
  • you must remember to discuss theory which is directly relevant to your research
  • in a minor thesis, this may be incorporated into other parts of the piece presented (e.g., in the introduction, in a discussion). Alternatively a literature review may be the main source of data, and fulfill the aims of the thesis, in which case it may need to consist of one or more large chapters


(research design)

  • presents an understanding of the philosophical framework within which you see your inquiry (i.e., discusses epistemology of the research – using literature)
  • presents a rationale for the methodological approach (using literature)
  • describes and justifies the methods of research and analysis (using literature)
  • reveals the boundaries of the research (the scope – this may occur instead in the Introduction)
  • describes what you did (past tense) for selection of site, participants, data gathering and analysis
  • it may include illustrations (e.g., a timeline depicting stages/steps in the research)
  • describes steps taken to ensure ethical research practice (shows you are a serious researcher who takes account of how research may affect participants)
  • you should discuss issues of validity and reliability and/or credibility here


(presentation of data)

  • presents the data and findings, ordered/analysed in ways justified earlier (methodology)
  • past tense is a feature here (usually)
  • data in tables should be carefully set out, checked and discussed


(analysis of data)

  • discusses findings, drawing out main achievements and explaining results
  • makes links between aims and findings (and the literature)
  • may make recommendations – these could appear in the Conclusion chapter


  • draws all arguments and findings together
  • leaves the reader with a strong sense that the work you set out to do has been completed, and that it was worthwhile
  • summarises major findings
  • presents limitations
  • presents implications
  • suggests directions for future research
  • ends on a strong note


  • provides a place for important information which, if placed in the main text, would distract the reader from the flow of the argument
  • includes raw data examples and reorganised data (e.g., a table of interview quotes organised around themes)
  • appendices may be named, lettered or numbered (decide early)

 References/ Bibliography

  • shows the reader which texts/materials you have consulted
  • is in alphabetical order
  • may be annotated, though usually is not
  • should not include secondary references (those ‘cited in’ a primary reference)

 Glossary/ Index

  • helps reader where the context or content of the research may be unfamiliar
  • a list of key terms/topics


The Academic Language & Literacy Development Unit, Faculty of Education, Monash University. The university acknowledged the following advisers who have contributed to producing this guide:Ms Rosemary Viete, Dr Raqib Chowdhury, Dr Anna Podorova, Dr Melissa Barnes, Ms Sue March

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