The structure of a scientific work is the basis for their success. Our expert explains what a proper structure looks like.
If one believes in conventional counselors, scientific theses are divided into an introduction, a main part and a conclusion. That’s not wrong, but trivial and unhelpful. Moreover, according to the advisers, every job is different and requires a specific structure. If that were correct, you would not need advice, because then you would have to do everything yourself after all.
That does not have to be. In fact, there is a general procedure model for the preparation of theses, chores, diploma theses or seminar papers. Philosophically, this roughly consists of the discovery, justification and exploitation context. This model, which is widely used in the humanities, can be adapted to the special features of scientific, technical or economic theses. The basis for this is the> Systems Engineering <, an interdisciplinary approach to the implementation of complex projects, which has proven itself worldwide for decades.
Phase 1: Understanding scientific work as a project
The starting point of the following considerations is that even a scientific thesis is basically nothing more than a project, because it is produced within a limited period of time, it deals with a clearly defined topic and aims to solve a problem. For this, Systems Engineering offers a large number of contemporary methods that are compatible with the theory of scientific process model, but also have the advantage of being particularly well suited to scientific, technical and economic issues. If one follows the philosopher of philosophy Karl Popper, then each realization begins with the perception of a problem. So it is a good idea to give an initial introduction to this impetus for carrying out a scientific work and to explain why the solution to the problem is important – nothing more. Just as the author of a thriller usually does not reveal who the killer is in the first scene, the author of a thesis should not reveal anything in the introduction. A good thesis is also characterized by the fact that it builds up tension at the beginning and maintains it until the end.
Phase 2: Analysis of the situation
In the second phase of a scientific project, the situation is analyzed. It is important to gain an in-depth understanding of the task, the initial situation, the state of science and technology, the boundary conditions, the object of investigation and the room for maneuver. Various methods of primary and secondary research as well as different sources of information such as literature or real phenomena are available.
Phase 3: Defining goals
Only when the situation is sufficiently well known can the goals of the project be formulated in such a concrete way in the third phase that they can be used as criteria at the end of the work to assess whether the result meets expectations. The goal concept refers to the purpose and application orientation of research projects, which is particularly pronounced in science, technology and economics. Alternatively, one can also speak in this phase of the formulation of a research question.
Phase 4: Select methods and tools
In the light of the situation knowledge and a concrete objective, in the fourth phase the models, methods and tools are selected, with the help of which the problem is solved, the research question is to be answered. In a business or engineering job that deals with logistical problems, for example, based on queuing models, experiments (method) could be performed using a simulation program (tool).
Phase 5: Execute work program
The resulting work program will be completed in the fifth phase. This is a creative process, which is generally described as an interplay between divergent (synthesis) and convergent (analysis) thinking and takes place in the conflict between man and the environment. This corresponds exactly to the approach of critical rationalism. First, solution proposals in the form of hypotheses are formulated for a problem in order to subsequently verify these by empirical tests. Hypotheses that prove themselves are maintained, others are falsified and eliminated until the problem is solved, or it turns out that the problem can not be satisfactorily resolved on the path taken.
Phase 6: Evaluation of the solution
In the sixth phase, the solution is evaluated against the background of the original objective. If not all of the target criteria have been fulfilled, this can lead to further research needs. In addition, the processing of the task may have resulted in completely new questions. In this way, a thesis often concludes with an outlook on further work.
The perfect structure
The sketched phases initially only describe the procedure for working on a scientific task. The structure of the documentation of this work does not necessarily have to be structured the same way – but it should be, because in this way the solution becomes comprehensible in the sense of this word. In this respect, the procedure model does two things: It structures the process of cognition and structures its documentation. At the same time, this procedure model helps to eliminate a whole series of misunderstandings that cause problems for many students. These include, for example, the so-called theoretical part, which often follows the introduction and allegedly serves a theoretical foundation. In fact, there are theses in which the second chapter deals with theoretical questions.
These are master’s and doctoral theses that deal with the solution of theoretical problems and thus contribute to scientific progress. Among other things, it is necessary to analyze known theories in order to show their deficits and to derive the need for action for their own work. In this respect, it is formally the situation analysis that was described above as the second phase of any scientific work. However, in practical theses, especially in bachelor theses, the situation analysis in the second chapter primarily refers to the analysis of a practical problem, whereas theoretical considerations are first made in the methodological part, ie in the fourth phase and thus in the fourth chapter. The insertion of a so-called theoretical part after the introduction breaks the red thread in such cases, is often limited to a simple reproduction of set pieces from textbooks and contributes, if at all, only little to problem solving.
In a small guide to the structure of scientific theses, these and many other insights are explained in detail. Experience in recent years has already shown that students save a lot of unnecessary work and gain security.