In composing your thesis or dissertation, you naturally move back and forth through all five phases of the writing process. (For more on engaging each stage of that process, see this post from March 2017.) In this entry, we revisit this theme but with an emphasis on the eventual product—your final monograph—and some tips and thoughts on one of its important components: the end.
The End First
No matter how many chapters it has, your thesis or dissertation is like any piece of writing in that it presents to the reader three broad parts: an introduction, a body, a conclusion. In the Thesis Office, we generally suggest that you compose these parts in following order: chapters of the body first, conclusion next, introduction last. Still, we acknowledge that during the long project you’ll likely need to veer slightly from this overall plan. If you find yourself stuck on a certain chapter or part, you should move on to another that you can more actively and productively make progress on. If you find yourself adequately ready to draft introductory material, so be it.
Yet consider the advantages of drafting your ending very early on—long before you start to tackle the introduction and even before you draft one or more chapters of the body. Components of a successful final chapter include a brief summary of your key findings, a restatement of your conclusion(s), an assertion of your work’s significance, an acknowledgment of its shortcomings, and recommendations for related future research. When you wrote your proposal, you likely envisioned how your project would address such concerns. You may be able to draft a concluding chapter that tentatively covers them while—or shortly after—you complete necessary readings, lab experiments, interviews, field work, and/or data analysis. Drafting an ending first can provide a firm foundation on which to build the rest of your document, particularly its beginning.
The End in Reach…
As you head toward your finish line, keep in mind that, in the final analysis, no piece of writing is ever fully realized. “Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see,” said poet Alexander Pope back in the 18th century, “Thinks what ne’er was, nor is, nor e’er shall be.” Granted, in the Thesis Office, where we generally work with writers in the final stages of document preparation, we do stress the need to adhere to the Grad School’s guidelines for formatting a thesis or dissertation at NIU. Your finished document must be consistent and accurate in terms of form. But we certainly recognize that any piece of writing varies in presentation of content. So should you. Ways to express ideas in writing are infinite. In finalizing your overall written statement, try not to let the best be the enemy of the good.
The Writer’s End
On a related note, consider the various meanings behind the end to a piece of writing. More than just the happy moment when you can confidently type “The End,” it can refer to the purpose you bring to the overall task. Pope, the poet mentioned above, had this meaning in mind in these further lines in his versified “An Essay on Criticism”:
In ev’ry work regard the writer’s end,
Since none can compass more than they intend;
And if the means be just, the conduct true,
Applause, in spite of trivial faults, is due.
Thoughts worth keeping on board as you realize—and approach—your writing’s end.
Incidentally, in another sense this post is this blog writer’s end. My assistantship in the Thesis Office ends on July 31. Another graduate assistant will take my place in August and work with Carolyn and Robyn. Best of luck to all, at any and all stages of your projects!
Doctoral Candidate in English