An important implication of this, one that is often overlooked in discussions on how to formulate your thread, is that the thread is weaved across the chapters. It is not a fixed thing, nor is it consistent from the first to last page. You layer it; you weave a tapestry, starting with your gap, then your findings, then filling the gap.
Together, these various sections form the argument your thesis is making.
And that argument is broadly directed at the following goals:
- This is the gap and the questions I think we can answer to fill it
- This is why filling that gap matters
- And this is the answer to my questions.
Picture it differently: if you start on page one by immediately fleshing out a nuanced, complicated argument, your reader is going to be confused. Instead, you have to ease them in gently. Tell them what you’re doing, then why you’re doing it, then how you’re doing it, and then what you found when you did it. Together, these elements make up your thread – they’re all directed at a bigger purpose: that contribution.
What is a contribution to knowledge?
But if your thread is directed at elaborating upon your contribution, this spawns a new question: what is a contribution to knowledge?
There are typically three types of contribution that you could make in a PhD.
1. An empirical contribution
This is where you present findings on a subject/case/phenomena that hasn’t been studied before.
2. A theoretical contribution
This is where you develop a new theory to explain a phenomenon, or you apply theory that has never been applied to this phenomenon in order to generate new theoretical insight.
3. A methodological contribution
This is where you apply new methodological tools to things that have already been studied, in order to generate new insights or a new perspective. Or, this is where you develop new methodological techniques (for example, new survey designs, or new measurement techniques) that can be used by other researchers in the future in different contexts.
Your thesis may only make one type of contribution. That’s absolutely fine. You may find that you hit two or even all three of these.
Finding and sewing the thread through your PhD isn’t easy and, given that it is an elaborate process, it can only really be done at the final stages of the PhD journey. That’s because this is the stage when you finally have your data, findings, core argument and a complete literature review. It’s also when your theory framework is sufficiently robust and, to put it more bluntly, when you actually know what you’re talking about.
This means that if you aren’t in the final stages, there’s no need to panic: you can’t find the thread yet because you haven’t go to that stage of the journey. It’ll come.
If you’re still struggling to find your thread, or you need any other support as you write your thesis, check out our one-on-one PhD coaching
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