Saul Greenberg

Structure of a Chapter 1



All theses begin with a Chapter 1. While there are many ways to write a Chapter 1, most have a surprisingly similar structure. In essence, Chapter 1 defines the research and the thesis by following a that structure reflects how one thinks about research.

The exact same structure appears (albeit in different forms) in many grad writings and presentations: in research proposals, in scholarship applications, in abstracts, in papers, and so on.

Step 1. Read and Analyze Several Chapter 1's

Before you read my view of a Chapter 1, read and deconstruct several examples of Chapter 1's from existing theses.

  • Read three examples of Chapter 1.
  • Find at least one other good thesis in your area of interest and read its Chapter 1 as well.
  • Deconstruct the structure of each chapter to see what they do in common and how they differ. Each structural component should be phrased as a short sentence to be included in a list.

Tips for this exercise.

  • Don't worry about the content. This is not an exercise to understand the actual research discussed in the thesis. Rather its an exercise on how people go about describing their research.
  • Section headings are a good place to start, as these usually (but not always) indicate a structural change.
  • For example, almost all chapter 1's have a section at the end that gives a chapter by chapter summary of the thesis; this would appear on your list as chapter by chapter summary.

Step 2. A Chapter 1 Structure

Go to my own deconstruction of Chapter 1's. Compare it with your own.

Step 3. Examine Other Theses Chapters

Take the structure and quickly examine one or two other theses.

  • Do they miss some of these points in their chapter 1?
  • Does it make it better or worse?
  • Are there other structural additions / variations that they use?
  • Within these elements, what are the differences in style?

Step 4, Write your Own Chapter 1

Try writing your own Chapter 1. If you are still early in your work, try structuring your chapter as sub-headings, and filling each heading with notes that rough out what you think you will say or do within it.