Structuring an assignment
In the following you will find a description of the most important parts of a bigger assignment, such as a bachelor’s or master’s thesis.
Parts of an assignment:
Requirements may vary from subject to subject, and therefore you should always make sure to find out what is required in your subject area. For example, some subject areas follow the IMRaD model.
Longer assignments, such as bachelor’s or master’s theses, need an abstract. An abstract is a summary of your text. It is important that the abstract is informative, given that not all potential readers are necessarily experts in the field.
The abstract should be short, preferably no more than one standard A4 page, and give a short overview of the contents of your text. You should tell the reader:
- what you investigated
- how you did it
- what you found out
By reading the abstract, the reader should be able to determine whether or not they are interested in reading the rest of your paper.
In the introduction, you should place yourself within a research space, and demonstrate your knowledge of previous research. In other words, you should present what we already know, and what we do not know yet know about the subject. You do this by presenting:
- a problem or phenomenon you want to study
- the reasoning behind your choice of topic
- the research question or hypothesis you set out to investigate
Towards the end of the introduction, you should also say something about how your text is structured, as a short guide to the reader.
A useful tip is to begin writing your introduction early in the writing process. In so doing, you establish a clear direction for your paper, and how you are going to write it. You should then revisit your introduction towards the end of the writing process, complete it and make sure it corresponds well with the rest of the text.
In your theory chapter, you should place your research within a theoretical frame. The goal of this chapter is to present the specific theories and terms you use in your text. You should also make sure to explain why these theories and terms are important for your research. You should demonstrate a good grasp of any theories you intend to use. Make sure you only present theories you are actually going to use in your analysis or interpretation of the data.
It is worth noting that not all assignments have a separate theory chapter. If you use the IMRaD model, for example, you will have already introduced existing research in your introduction.
In this chapter, you present your methodological approach, explaining why and how your choices of method and design are suited to answer your problem statement. The chapter should answer the following questions:
- How did you collect the data?
- How did you interpret the data you collected?
- Why did you choose these methods?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of these methods?
By pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of your methods, you also invite discussion about ethical aspects of your project. In so doing, you show that you have generated your results in a valid and reliable manner, but also that you are able to critically reflect on your own work. Like in the theory chapter, it is important to only include methodology that is relevant to your research.
You analyse your data by presenting, explaining and evaluating your findings. The analysis chapter is often referred to as your results, such as the IMRaD model.
- In quantitative research, it is common to present your findings not only in writing, but also by using figures and tables to give the reader an overview and better insight into what you did.
- In empirically based studies, the analysis will be focused on describing and interpreting. Many scientists will often discuss specific findings in this chapter, and focus more on general patterns in the discussion chapter.
A good tip for finding out how to write your analysis, is to look at how it is done in other papers at the same level within your subject area.
In this chapter, you discuss your findings and what they implicate. Discussing your findings means that you:
- compare different views, arguments, factors and causes
- evaluate and compare your findings. Isthere more than one possible way to interpret them?
This chapter should answer the following questions:
- How do the results answer your initial problem statement?
- What do these results mean?
It is a good idea to repeat your problem statement, in order to remind the reader of what it is.
You should also look back on your research and evaluate how valid and reliable it is.
- What could you have done differently?
- What are its strengths and weaknesses?
For example, you can criticize your methods, and explain what you would have done differently if you were to start the research over.
Whether your final chapter should be a downright conclusion or a summary, depends on your problem statement. A conclusion should answer your problem statement, while a summary revisits the most important parts of your paper.
A good conclusion or summary mirrors the introduction, where you said what you would do, by stating what you did. You should also try to widen the scope again and place your paper within a broader perspective, pointing out possibilities that have emerged with your project. Which does your paper offer to the subject area? What further studies should be conducted? By answering questions like these, you use your own paper as a starting point for other, potential studies to be conducted in the future.
Rienecker, Lotte og Jørgensen, Peter Stray (2013). Den gode oppgaven: Håndbok i oppgaveskriving på universitet og høyskole. Bergen: Fagbokforlaget.
Dysthe, Olga, Hertzberg, Frøydis og Hoel, Torlaug Løkensgard (2010). Skrive for å lære: Skriving i høyere utdanning. Oslo: Abstrakt.