(Key Points in) “Writing the Successful Thesis and Dissertation” by Patricia Clark

Writing the Successful Thesis and Dissertation 


Chapters 3, 4, and 6

  • Understanding writing as a process can enable writers to discover a workable topic.
  • Scholarship can be viewed as an ongoing conversation.
  • The proposal is a rhetorical genre in which writer, audience, and text interact to fulfill a particular function.

As you read, keep in mind the following questions:

  • What is already known about this topic?
  • What would someone in the field like to investigate further?
  • What question can I ask that will lead me to find out more about this topic?
  • What method can I use to find an answer to this question?

Look for ideas in other theses and dissertations.

Be practical when choosing your topic.

Join the conversation.

Tuning into the conversation:

  • What is the name of your “field”?
  • What is your field “about”?
  • Why is this field important?
  • What issues does this field address?
  • What are the prominent journals in this field?
  • Who are the prominent scholars in this field?
  • What issues in this field generate disagreement?
  • What aspect of this field interests you the most?

The Proposal as a Genre

  • What is the function or purpose of the proposal?  That is, what is a proposal supposed to do?
  • For whom is the proposal being written?  For what audience is the proposal intended?
  • What role should the writer of a proposal assume?

The primary function or purpose of the proposal is to argue for the worth of the topic selected for the thesis or dissertation.  The goal is to convince:

  • The project is worth doing.
  • The project can be done using the method stated and in the time allotted.

One contributes to the conversation by:

  • Addressing a problem or question that others have addressed unsuccessfully.
  • Finding a gap in the literature that needs elaboration or clarification.
  • Conducting a study that needs to be repeated or modified.
  • Analyzing a text that differs in some way from previous analyses, or applying a theory or analytic tool in a new context.

Problematizing is central to the process, and a convincing proposal argues:

  • The problem, question, or issue is worth considering.
  • The problem is important to the profession.
  • The problem has not been addressed adequately in the profession, although there probably has been some work done on it before.
  • The author has a viable strategy for addressing the problem in a reasonable time.

To be convincing the writer must:

  • Explain the nature of the problem, question, or issue.
  • Demonstrate its significance in the field.
  • Establish that the author has investigated prior scholarship.
  • Present a means of addressing the problem or question.
  • Show that the work can be completed in a timely manner.

Possible method: Problem, Question, Purpose

How to present an appropriate authorial persona:

  • Use an appropriately formal academic style.
  • Use an appropriately qualified style.
  • Clarify and document your statements.

Elements in a Proposal:

  • Establishing the background and context of the research problem in question. (relevance)
  • Explaining the problem, issue, or question set within the context of the field. (significance)
  • Defining key terms
  • Showing that the proposal writer is familiar with relevant literature.
  • Explaining the approach, theory, or method that will be used.
  • Describing a likely structure for the final product that will be written and a time schedule for completing the project.

Diagram of John Swales’ CARS (Create a Research Space) Model:

A “move” can be understood as a “direction” in which the text proceeds to make its point, and when you look at the moves in the text you read, you will be able to construct a map that will help you navigate.


  1. Establishing a territory
  2. Establishing a niche
  3. Occupying the niche

Dudley-Evans’ Model:


  1. Introducing the field
  2. Introducing the general topic within the field
  3. Introducing the particular topic (within the general topic)
  4. Defining the scope of the particular topic
  5. Preparing for present research
  6. Introducing present research

Reviewing the Process of Mapping a Text:

  1. Get an overview of the topography.
  2. Examine the text for its central “moves”.
  3. Consider the text in a rhetorical context–figure out the nature of the conversation.
  4. Situate the text within the discipline.
  5. Identify areas of intertextuality.
  6. Compare this text to other texts you have read.
  7. Ask yourself why you reading this text.
  8. Create signposts in the text.
  9. Keep track of your own location.
  10. Evaluate your presence within this text.

Questions associated with a Literature Review:

  1. What is my central question or issue that the literature can help define?
  2. What is already known about the topic?
  3. Is the scope of the literature being reviewed wide or narrow enough?
  4. Is there a conflict or debate in the literature?
  5. What connections can be made between the texts being reviewed?
  6. What sort of literature should be reviewed? Historical? Theoretical? Methodological? Quantitative? Qualitative?
  7. What criteria should be used to examine the literature being reviewed?
  8. How will reviewing the literature justify the topic I plan to investigate?

Key Terms associated with a Literature Review:

  • Compare and Contrast
  • Criticize
  • Highlight
  • Show
  • Identify
  • Define
  • Question

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