Guidelines for Thesis Writing

These guidelines provide information about the key sections of a doctoral thesis and summarise the main content of each section. The information provided here is based on what is generally applicable to most disciplines. You are advised to consult university guidelines and your supervisor to understand the specific requirements for theses in your discipline.

In general, the main sections of a thesis are:

Literature Review


The Abstract is a succinct and comprehensive synopsis of the thesis. It includes statements summarizing each section of the thesis such as Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and Conclusion. A well-written Abstract provides readers a clear indication of what the thesis is about and thus enables them to judge the relevance of the thesis for their own research. It also enables the thesis examination panel to make an informed judgement about the viability of the research for a doctoral thesis. Please refer to university guidelines or consult with your supervisor if you require clarification about the length, format or any other aspect of writing an Abstract.


The Introduction to a thesis has multiple purposes. It identifies and details the specific research topic under investigation and outlines current research relevant to the research topic so as to identify the research gap and highlight the need for the current study. The main purpose of the Introduction is to contextualise the current study within a brief review of existing research on the topic and demonstrate how it addresses the gap in current knowledge that the author has identified. It often concludes with an overview of the structural organisation of the thesis.

Literature Review

The Literature Review chapter in a thesis further contextualises the current study via a detailed discussion of existing research on the topic. It highlights the significance of the current research agenda by identifying a gap in current knowledge of the topic and thus establishes its unique contribution to the field. As a PhD student, you are required to demonstrate a thorough awareness of key issues that are relevant to the research topic and show how your research justifies your membership of the academic community in your discipline.

The main purpose of the Literature Review is to establish the theoretical basis for the current research. It achieves this by:

  • identifying the research topic and its main themes;
  • presenting the theoretical viewpoints, product or system designs, models and algorithms, to establish their relevance to the research topic;
  • reviewing and evaluating relevant research;
  • identifying the research gap that the thesis will address;
  • stating the contribution of the study.

An effective Literature Review enables the reader to gain an in-depth understanding of the research and demonstrates the writer’s knowledge of the research topic to the examination panel. It should not merely refer to existing research on the topic but instead, compare, evaluate and carefully integrate existing perspectives to present a coherent story that leads to the need for the current study and establishes its significance.


The Methods chapter in a thesis constitutes the foundation for the Results chapter that follows. It systematically describes the research design, for example, the procedure of data collection, and the materials, tests or/and experimental equipment needed in the procedure. Details on data analysis and procedural choices should also be justified. Algorithm-based studies usually include the preliminary, as well as the main calculations of algorithms. This chapter is a critical part of the thesis, as it allows the reader to understand and evaluate the credibility of the results, and anticipate the findings that will be deliberated in the Discussion chapter.

Key features of an effective Methods chapter are clarity and comprehensiveness. Data collection procedures or algorithms should be precisely detailed to allow replication and mathematical verification. Ambiguity in description or omission of details of procedures adopted will have a negative impact on the credibility of the research.

In this chapter, you are required to:

  • establish the feasibility of the research design by describing the materials involved in the experiments, experimental and calculation steps, and data analysis procedures sequentially and logically;
  • demonstrate the credibility of the results by justifying the choices of materials used and procedural choices made in the experiments or the algorithm calculation;
  • allowing the replication of the experiment(s) or the re-verification of the algorithm(s) by detailing the experimental or calculation steps and data analysis procedures with adequate information.

Please refer to the university guide or consult with the supervisor for clarification about the requirements for this section, as requirements for different universities and different disciplines may vary.


The primary function of the Results chapter is to provide a clear and comprehensive report of what was found as a result of following the experimental procedures of the study. It is important to present the data in a meaningful manner and avoid merely listing results. You should select results that contribute towards bridging the gap in current research and create a logical basis for the Discussion chapter.

In the Results chapter, you should present key data and show how they were derived. You may include a few observations or statements in relation to the data, leaving the detailed discussion of results for the Discussion chapter, unless you have decided to present results and discuss their significance within the same chapter, i.e. Results and Discussion. The complexity of the research, the number of experiments or studies conducted, and the discipline determine whether the Results and Discussion chapters are combined or presented as two separate chapters. You should consult university guidelines or your supervisor if you need any clarification in this aspect.


The fundamental objective of the Discussion chapter in a thesis is to deliberate on the key findings of the research so as to establish their significance and demonstrate how they address the research gap identified by the current study. Most importantly, it consolidates the findings and explains their contribution to the field of research.

Summary of key aspects of the Results and Discussion chapters


  • Factual presentation of findings which will be used as the evidence base for the Discussion chapter
  • Clear and unambiguous reference to the methods or analytical procedures followed
  • Key experimental and numerical results obtained
  • Description and explanation of results (do not include too much detail as this will appear in Discussion)
  • Tables, graphs and figures to highlight key results with meaningful text to briefly describe what is shown


  • Reference to the objectives of the study and key results to support the discussion
  • Comparison of results obtained with those from existing research
  • Discussion of results in terms of how they address the research gap and in the wider context of their contribution to the field
  • Interpretation of the findings presented in the Results chapter and explanation of their significance (a) in comparison with findings from existing research and (b) whether the objectives of the research have been achieved

If the author presents the limitations in the Conclusion, it is done to highlight shortcomings in the research and present them as aspects that future research could address. From this perspective, the limitations could serve as the basis for some of the recommendations for future research the author wishes to make.

Students are advised to check with their supervisor to determine the approach to discussing limitations that their specific discipline adopts when they write the final chapters of their thesis.


This section of your thesis serves as an executive summary of the research and provides a succinct, yet comprehensive overview of your study. It is important that this chapter be entirely based on the findings and observations of the current study. This means you should not introduce any new ideas for discussion or observations

In this chapter, you should cover the following points:

  • Summarise the outcomes of your research.
  • Present the conclusions you have drawn from your research. This shows that the gap identified in your Introduction chapter has been bridged or the problem has been addressed.
  • Discuss the contribution that your research has made towards the theory and/or practice in your field.
  • Discuss the limitations of your study. This will then form the foundation for your recommendation for future research in your field.
  • End on a positive note, i.e. stress the contribution your study has made in your field.


The list of references should include all sources cited in the report. You will need to confer with your supervisor or consult departmental guidelines about the format appropriate for your discipline.