The structure is the text’s ‘skeleton’. It keeps the different parts together in a particular order. To create flow and cohesion, it is vital to understand the various chapters’ functions and how they relate to one another. Everything you write in your assignment should have a purpose. Below, you will find some advice on what the various chapters of a thesis or an assignment should contain, with emphasis on their function in the text as a whole.
An assignment can be organised in various ways. Early on in the course of your studies, you will normally be given so-called ‘describe and discuss’ assignments. In the health sciences and the natural sciences, the IMRAD model (Introduction, Methods and Materials, Results and Discussion) is the most common structure . In the social sciences and the humanities, you can organise your text more freely.
Characteristics of a good assignment:
- All questions raised have been answered or clarified.
- The reader understands where the author is going at all times.
- Everything that is introduced and explained has a function.
- Theory, if used, analyses/interprets data.
- The method chapter is concrete.
- The findings are clearly described.
- The discussion brings together empirical evidence, theory and method.
- The conclusion follows from what had been discussed.
One thing at a time
In order to be able to write efficiently and in a structured way, it is important to distinguish between different types of writing actions, such as explanation, interpretation, analysis, and discussion. Deal with one thing at a time, and avoid mixing for example explanation and discussion. In this way,you will create a more orderly text.
In a theoretical assignment, argumentation and discussion are crucial elements. Either discuss ideas and concepts along the way, or place the discussion in a separate chapter. The latter is the most common in empirical work. In any case, ensure that you do not describe and discuss at the same time.
It is also important to signal what is the reproduction of other peoples’ ideas, and what is your own interpretation of and argumentation around those ideas. The reader ought to see the distinction; this is part of research ethics. The reader should also be able to follow your reasoning concerning the work of others. You must be able to show you can be objective, and that you can hedge (make non-committal statements) when necessary.
It is possible to make an outline of a text even after you have written it. If you wonder whether the text has a clear structure, ‘tag’ paragraphs with, for example, Post-it notes. Note the point made in each paragraph, in keywords. If a paragraph makes more than one point, you can consider splitting it, or moving content. What belongs together logically should also stand together.
Then look at the connections. Are the points made in the correct order? Is there soimething that needs to be moved? Use the Post-it notes and try this.
In an empirical text, discussion normally comes after the results, and brings together what has gone before (background, theory, method and findings). See more about discussion under the IMRaD model.
Based on the discussion, draw conclusions. A conclusion is a type of inference. Conclusions must be valid, that is, they must follow logically from what they are based on. In empirical, quantitative studies, validity concerns the degree to which research measures what it is intended to measure.
The building of paragraphs: the T-E-R model
Below follows a basic ‘recipe’ for argumentation in a paragraph. The formula can also be used in non-argumentative paragraphs. Remember, however, that writing well does not mean following a specific recipe, but using recipes, role models, and so on can be inspiring for shaping one’s own expression. Certainly, if a paragraph is not working, the T-E-R model can be used to help fix it.
T for Topic – what is this about?
The first thing that must be clarified when writing a paragraph is what it is about, that is, the topic. The first sentence in a paragraph should therefore be a ‘topic sentence’ that shows what the paragraph is about. The topic sentence can be an assertion, or it can lead to an assertion that then must be elaborated upon and justified.
The topic can be a bridge to the preceding paragraph, linking known information to new, or it can start something new.
As a rule of thumb, there ought only be one topic per paragraph.
E for Elaboration – how and why
Elaboration is the main part of the paragraph, containing all the necessary material: explanation, examples, facts, lists, sources, and argumentation.
In an academic text, it is expected that claims are substantiated and justified. The term ’evidence’ is used. Evidence can be empirical (research data, surveys, facts and verifiable statements) or theoretical justifications. Claims that are not substantiated cannot be discussed, but fall under the category of ’opinion’. In the discussion, it is usually the justifications that are discussed - are they good or bad? Are there other possible explanations? To examine this, it can be very useful to refer to examples. Through examples, you can show how you understand the topic in practice, and you can bring in nuances that are awakened in the reader in the form of recognition and associations. A well-chosen example can thus save you extra explanation.
R for Relevance – what does this mean?
The end of a paragraph will make the relevance clear. It will be clear to the readers why they are reading this, where they have been, and where they are going. It is also possible to draw inferences as a way of showing relevance.
Readers place the most emphasis on the end of the sentence or paragraph. This means the end of the paragraph ought to have the most weight placed upon it by the writer. If there is an extra good point, place it here.
The formula is thus: Topic, Elaboration and Relevance, T-E-R. The relevance statement at the end of a paragraph can often be a springboard to the next paragraph, which again starts with a new topic. Thus, the text can be built up through several paragraphs that follow the formula T1-E-R, T2-E-R, and so on.
Read five paragraphs of a textbook from your syllabus and see how many of them follow the T-E-R model.