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.
A good assignment is characterised by the following
- All questions posed in the assignment are answered or explored
- It is always clear to the reader in which direction the writer is going with the paper
- Every element described or addressed has a clear function
- The chosen theory is applied to analyse/interpret the data (if relevant)
- The methodology is concrete and verifiable
- The findings are clearly described
- The discussion connects empirical data, theory and methodology
- The conclusion follows clearly from what has been previously laid out
# One thing at a time
In order to write efficiently and structured, it is important to distinguish between various types of writing acts, such as presentation, interpretation, analysis, and discussion. Focus on one thing at a time and avoid mixing up presentation and discussion in the same statement. This will help you structure your text.
In a theoretical text, argumentation and discussion are crucial elements. You can either discuss ideas and concepts underway, or you can leave a separate chapter for the discussion. The latter is the most common in empirical texts. Regardless of what you decide, make sure that you do not describe and discuss in one turn.
It is also important to indicate what is a rendering of other peoples’ ideas and what is your own interpretation and argumentation. In so doing, you will help the reader follow your line of thought, and you show that you are able to make certain reservations when necessary. This is part of the researcher’s ideal concerning reflexivity and objectivity.
If you are in doubt about whether your text has a clear structure, try to ‘tag’ your paragraphs with Post-it notes or something similar. Write down the main point of each paragraph as one sentence or as keywords on the Post-it note. If your paragraphs have more than one main point, you may consider splitting them up or moving some of the contents elsewhere in the text. Whatever is logically connected should stand together in the same paragraph.
When you have ‘tagged’ all your paragraphs, you can start looking for coherence. Are your points arranged in the right order? Should any of them be organised differently? Move the Post-it notes around and try out alternative ways of organising your points until you are happy with the structure.
In an empirical text, the discussion normally follows the presentation and brings together what has been said earlier in the text (background, theory, method and findings). You can read more about the discussion part under the IMRaD model.
You can draw conclusions based on the discussion. Conclusions must be valid; in other words, they should follow logically from the argumentation presented in the discussion. In empirical, quantitative texts, this is called validity.
# How to construct a paragraph: The T-E-R model
Below follows a basic ‘recipe’ for how to structure a paragraph. Keep in mind, however, that good writing does not necessarily mean following a particular recipe. Recipes, models etc. can nevertheless be an inspiration when you create your own style of writing.
Topic – What is this about?
The first thing you need to clarify in a paragraph is what it is about, its topic. The first sentence of the paragraph should therefore be a ‘topic sentence’ showing what the paragraph concerns. The topic sentence could be a statement, or it could lead up to a statement that you elaborate and argue for in the rest of the paragraph.
Elaboration – How and why
In an academic text, you are expected to support and provide evidence for your statements and arguments. Evidence can be both empirical (research data, surveys, facts and verifiable statements) or theoretical. Weakly founded arguments or unsupported statements cannot be discussed, and they therefore fall under the category of speculation or guesswork. In fact, it is precisely the foundations and reasons for your arguments that should form the basis of your discussion – are they good or bad? Are there other possible explanations? One way of exploring and supporting your arguments could be to demonstrate your points by way of examples.
Relevance – What does this mean?
The relevance of an argument becomes particularly visible by the use of examples. Through examples, you can demonstrate how you understand the topic under discussion in practice, and you can include nuances evoked in the reader through recognition and associations. A well-chosen example may therefore save you the trouble of much elaboration and explanation. Another way of demonstrating relevance is to draw conclusions.
This leaves us with the following model: Topic, Elaboration and Relevance, T-E-R. The relevance statement in a paragraph may often function as a launchpad for the next paragraph, which introduces a new topic. Thus, the text can be organised under the following model: T1-E-R, T2-E-R and so on.
Many of the paragraphs on this page are in fact examples of the T-E-R model.
Read five paragraphs of a textbook from your syllabus and see how many of them follow the T-E-R model.
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