In the footsteps of others

The University of Birmingham eTheses repository has a fantastic new look and improved functionality, so now is a great time to have a browse through previous UoB theses.

etheses infographic cropped

A research thesis is a very different piece of writing from anything else you may have produced before, and from anything you will need to do in future, and as such, it can be difficult to understand exactly what is required, particularly in terms of structure and style.  Looking at previous theses can provide really useful examples to help you navigate this unique form of academic writing. 

The updated eTheses repository contains thousands of University of Birmingham theses, mainly from the present century.  Library Services also work in conjunction with the British Library’s EThOS service to digitise and deposit older print theses into the repository as they are requested.  It is hugely popular.  In fact, over the past 5 years eTheses has seen more downloads than any other single institution in the UK.

eTheses gives you lots of options for searching and browsing, including by College and even Supervisor.  You can limit your search to items available to download, by setting the Full Text Status option to ‘open’.  For items with a restriction on access, do look for the ‘request a copy’ link – in some cases authors will permit access for private study.  If you are particularly interested in historic theses, you can search our entire hard-copy thesis collection, housed in the Research Reserve, using FindIt@Bham.

When you have found some relevant theses, here are some useful resources to help guide your reading:

However, one of the sections you may find useful very quickly is the table of contents.  You can immediately get an understanding of the structure of the thesis, and it’s easy to compare between theses.  Is the literature review presented as a stand-alone chapter at the beginning of the thesis, for example, or is it distributed between different chapters?  Does the thesis have a standard IMRaD structure, a thematic approach, or something different?  In a short amount of time you should be able to find out whether there is a discipline norm for your area (although you’ll probably also find exceptions!) or whether everyone adopts a different structure as best suited to their individual research.  You may get some ideas about which structure is best suited to your thesis.

What has been the most useful aspect of exploring previous theses for you?  What has surprised you about research theses compared to other forms of academic writing?

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Helen Kara

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