700 - Writing the Thesis Report
700.1 - Reports of Theoretical Projects
An outline for communicating the essence of a theoretical project should be individually planned. As a rule the thesis will probably benefit from an Introductory chapter at the beginning to set forth the study question and the method of investigation used and a Discussion chapter at the end in which there is a discussion or interpretation of the project viewed in its entirety and of the implications of the study for clinical social work. The rest of the report, which is expected to conform to standard formal style of presentation, should present to the reader the results of a student's effort to organize, appraise, and synthesize ideas and to report serendipitous findings. Each chapter title may indicate the content that is included. Reports of theoretical projects are quite varied in scope and structure, and the student and advisor should feel free to develop the chapter format that is best suited to exposition of the study's content. Below is the framework for a theoretical thesis (Corbin, 2008) that can serve as guide for each chapter.
700.2 - Theoretical Thesis Framework
- Clear statement of issue
- Clear identification of needs as presented by the literature
- Clear connection to the field of social work
- Clear reason for the reader to pay attention
- Identification of the theories or concepts that will be examined - indicate why these specific theories/concepts will be examined
- Summary of what is to follow and transition to the next chapter
Conceptualization and Methodology
Develop a conceptual or theoretical framework
- Identify the areas within each theory or concept that will serve as criteria with which you will evaluate/discuss/ interpret the phenomenon
- Indicate how you will intend to evaluate, discuss or interpret the phenomenon - point by point, overall discussion, compare/contrast
- Identify potential biases
- Consider strengths and limitation of the plan
- Consider expected findings and possible implications for theory and practice
Chapter on the Phenomenon
- Give an overview of the phenomenon - scope, length of time, population involved
- Present a detailed description of the phenomenon
- Case material
- Summary of the literature
Chapter on Theory/Concept 1
- Give an overview of the theory/concept and give a sense of what the chapter will do
- Give the background about the theory/concept - history, trends, key features, principles or orientation of the theory/concept
- Give some background about for whom this theory/concept was developed and for what purpose
- Summary of key points
Chapter on Theory/Concept 2
- Recaps major points of theories/concepts 1 and 2 and the phenomenon
- Begins to evaluate/discuss/interpret the phenomenon in light of the theories/concepts
- Summary of the new evaluation/discussion or interpretation
- Identification of strengths and weaknesses of the methodology or the summary
- Consideration of implications for social work practice, policy or research
700.3 - Reports of Empirical Projects
Introduction. The Introduction will be Chapter I of your thesis. In summary, remember to include a brief description of the purpose and the scope of the study. A case should be made for the importance of the study here. This chapter might begin with a statement such as "The purpose of this study is. . . ." In general, this chapter should serve as a map or guide to facilitate the reader's understanding of and orientation to the subsequent chapters that will deal with the subject in detail.
Literature review. The review of the literature ordinarily constitutes the second chapter of the thesis. This chapter should contain a thorough review of the findings from other experimental investigations, surveys, studies, or writings that are pertinent to the student's project. It should contain sufficient theoretical and conceptual material for the reader to understand how the project is viewing the topic and participants. Issues of human diversity will often be an important aspect of this understanding. Sufficient factual material should be included to establish, for the reader, the logical connections between the research being reported and any other research or scholarly work which has been undertaken in this particular content area. The content of this chapter should provide baseline information for the discussion chapter in which the writer will evaluate the contribution that his or her research has made to knowledge within a given area of inquiry. Remember that the rules for acknowledging the words and ideas of others must always be observed. A reference list of primary sources must always accompany the literature review chapter.
Remember to include a final paragraph in this section (Chapter II of your thesis) laying out the conceptual (theoretical) framework for your study and the rationale for conducting your study based upon the previous literature. Delineate the questions, problems, situations and/or hypotheses that you are proposing. This paragraph should provide a logical bridge between the Introduction and Review of the Literature sections and the Methodology.
Methodology. The Methodology section tells the reader exactly what was done in enough detail to permit an experienced researcher to carry out the study. The chapter may begin with a formulation section, stating the study question(s) or hypothesis in researchable terms.
This chapter should contain a brief discussion of the process(es) by which the research was conducted, as well as the reasons for the methodological decisions. The actual content of this section will vary with each research project; however, it should contain a description of the general research strategy (i.e., experimental, qualitative, phenomenological, etc.); the method used for sample selection (i.e., probability, simple or stratified random, non-probability, accidental); a description of the data collection instrument (i.e., structured or unstructured interview, questionnaire, etc.); the method of measurement (i.e., what was measured and how it was measured); the reliability and validity of the measurements employed; and the method for analysis or conclusion-drawing (i.e., statistical or content analysis, etc.). It should also indicate any changes made in the design during the course of conducting the study as well as rationales for these changes.
Sample. This sub-section answers three questions: who participated in the study, how many and how were they selected? Provide major demographic characteristics (e.g. age, sex, race) as well as any other relevant information. Report selection procedures (e.g. random, purposive, etc.) and explain the strategy used. Provide whatever information about the participants that is needed to assist the reader in determining whether those selected are persons from whom it is logical to expect to obtain information relevant to the issue under investigation.
Data collection. (also called “Procedures”, and always including informed consent information). This section describes the method of data collection used and the procedures for gathering information (time period, recording method, etc.). First, procedures to protect participants must be detailed, including reference to the complete IRB materials. Consent forms used should also be included in the Appendix section. Second, the domains of variables covered should be described in the text. This sub-section also describes the instrument(s) used in the study (e.g. open-ended interview questions, a questionnaire, a standardized measure, etc.).
You may include one or two examples of questions, but the instrument itself is an Appendix to be incorporated at the end of the thesis. If an existing instrument was used, its properties should be described and its suitability discussed. Finally, the way the data collection procedures were carried out must be described.
Data analysis. The general strategy used for analyzing the data should be presented. Any special procedures used to code data or to make classifications or judgments based on the data should be spelled out. In statistical analyses, tests used, levels of significance adopted, and sometimes language used to describe the results of tests is given. Unless unusual or complex procedures were used, this section is ordinarily brief.
Findings chapter. The Findings or Results section of your thesis will ordinarily be much longer than the preceding chapter. Unlike other writing forms, where it may be customary to move from a description of certain evidence or behavior to a diagnostic statement or a conclusion, research writing usually reverses that procedure. It often begins with a statement "The major findings were . . . ." followed by an explanation of the evidence obtained from the analysis of the data which allowed the writer to draw that conclusion. It may also begin with a restatement of the hypotheses, questions, or with a description of the particular area of inquiry. This method of presentation assists the reader to focus immediately on the study issue and to locate, at a glance, the major consequences of the investigation. It also is efficient to discuss the relationship of findings to the particular study issue(s) at the point at which they are first introduced.
Issues of who was studied (and who was not studied) should be clarified and located in relation to prior conceptual and empirical work. How the findings of the present study may be generalized beyond the actual sample should be detailed, and any limits to generalization (such as no information on women, specific racial/cultural groups, etc.) should be noted. Sometimes there are two types of findings obtained, descriptive, in terms of single variables, and relational, in terms of correlations among two or more variables. It is customary to present descriptive findings first, followed by relational findings.
In addition, there may be different sets of findings based on the research plan. The first are those findings obtained from analysis or data related to the questions that were originally stated in the research plan. The second are those findings which result from questions generated by the researcher in the course of the data analysis process but which were not explicitly set forth at the inception of the study. Findings of the second type should be stated in the same form but should be treated separately in the chapter. The logical connections between these two sets of hypotheses should be made explicit.
Discussion chapter. In general, this final chapter should consider the implications of the study's findings in relation to the central issue(s), to previous work in this subject area, and to clinical social work practice. This chapter should tie together the "Review of the Literature" and "Results" chapters in such a way that it is possible to see clearly the implications of this study in relation to other research or scholarly work. Attention must be given to the meaning of this work for clinical social work.
If, in the course of this discussion, the present research stimulates new questions, it is customary to state these questions and to indicate possible new and fruitful directions for research. (Unless such questions have been generated and delineated, it is equally appropriate to omit such stereotypic statements as "further research should be done in this area.") This chapter should help the reader gain a sense of continuity between the study being reported and other work that as been completed. It should also make connections between the various parts of this particular study and from this study to the development of knowledge for the profession.
700.4 - Preface and Appendix Sections
Usually the preparation of preface and appendix sections is deferred until the body of the project report is written. The exception to this is in the preparation of the reference list. The first draft of this reference list should be assembled when the literature review chapter is drafted. This list will grow with subsequent chapters, but the majority of entries will remain the same. Citations should be complete. It is exceedingly time-consuming and frustrating to retrieve and complete citations later in the year.
Abstract. The Abstract is a brief summary of the thesis, not to exceed 250 words. This summary should be headed by: (1) the student's name; (2) the name of the fieldwork agency only if the project is related to the agency; and (3) the project title in full. The Abstract should be inserted in front of the thesis before the title page, even though it usually is the last piece written. This information should be arranged in order, placed in the upper right corner and single spaced. The Abstract must be included in each copy of your thesis. Also, please submit one (1) additional copy on regular paper for listing in the Smith Studies.
The text of the Abstract should contain: (1) a brief statement of hypotheses, questions, and reasons why the project was undertaken; (2) a brief statement about the general methodological approach, sample size, and sample characteristics; (3) a statement of the major findings or positions achieved; and (4) a statement of conclusions or implications of the study. (See Appendix A for an example.)
Title page and acknowledgments. The title page should conform in content and style to the "Sample Title Page" shown as Appendix B of the Thesis Guidelines. The optional acknowledgment sub-section should be confined to a brief statement the writer wishes to make in recognition of those institutions, organizations, or people who made a significant contribution to the research effort. (See Appendix C for an example.)
Table of contents. The table of contents should list the titles of the major sections and sub-sections of the project report, from the Preface through the Reference section. (See Appendix D for sample "Table of Contents".)
List of Tables. This section should list the numbers and titles of the tables used in the body of the report. The only tables to appear in this list are those that carry numbers and titles in the text. If no more than four tables appear in the report, this sub-section is usually omitted. (See Appendix E for sample "List of Tables".)
List of Figures. This section should list the numbers and titles of the illustrations used in the body of the report. If no more than four illustrations appear in the report, this sub-section is usually omitted. (See Appendix F for sample "List of Figures".)
References . All sources of information used in your thesis report must be properly acknowledged. These sources may include published and unpublished materials. Normally, primary sources are used throughout the Thesis. Use of a standard reference style ensures that information on all sources is complete enough that a reader could obtain all of the material referenced, if desired. The reference style to be used is described in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed., 2010). All students should own this manual. Extensive illustration of formats for the reference list is given in the manual. (See Appendix G for a Sample Reference List in APA Manual format, and Appendix I regarding citation of sources from the World Wide Web.) Students should check the body of the text and the reference list to ensure that all works cited in the text appear on the reference list and that the list contains only works actually cited in text.
Appendices.The number and type of appendix sections included in the thesis varies. Tables or figures may be placed in the text of the Findings chapter or may be included as Appendices. This placement is a matter of preference, although lengthy tables of more than one page may be difficult to insert effectively in the text. Copies of cover letters, the HSR approval letter, consent forms, data collection instruments and all other sample recruitment materials (i.e. flyers, posters, etc.), are also included in the appendix.