Limitations and Implications for Further Research

Ah, the limitations. A downtrodden view is that this is the part of the thesis in which you firmly state what your work does not accomplish. Or, framed in a more positive way, this section lays out what is beyond the scope of your paper. It is fine, normal, and reasonable that you have limitationsAll studies have limitations.  Having a limitations section just means that you are aware that you couldn’t do everything in your one studies.

How do you write the limitations? First, clearly remind the readers what you did do—in terms of scope, method, sample, timeframe, and other relevant information. Next, take the reader through different ways to approach your same topic.

So if you did a content analysis of educational video games, you would acknowledge that you used a quantitative method of a particular type of text. You did not do qualitative research, audience studies, or analyze other video game genres.

This brings me to the next part of this section. The more uplifting portion in which you outline possibilities for extending your current work. This is good. You want your study to set up further studies on the same time.  For the video game example, you might write “Further research could analyze the educational video games using qualitative analysis.  In addition to educational video games, role-playing games may provide insight into [phenomenon studied]. Studies could also explore how various audiences interpret the textual messages in the games. Such reception research is important to understanding how messages in video games are encoded and decoded.”

Layout a few different paths, but no need to go overboard.

Well done so far! You are almost there.

Approaching the Finish Line: The Conclusion

Conclusions are often rushed. Regarded as an afterthought, as an “almost there” to the extent to which they lack one’s best effort. Most students I have had err on the side of the too-short Conclusion, screaming “I want to be DONE!!!!”

Here’s the deal: the Conclusion matters. Just like you need a solid introduction, you also need to finish strong.

What’s the difference between the Discussion and the Conclusion sections? It’s the difference between focusing on individual trees and looking at the forest as a whole.  In other words, your Discussion goes point by point through your findings, elaborating and contextualizing your results.  The Conclusion is where you examine the big picture, the implications, the so what of your study.

Your approach depends on your topic and statement of purpose.  Here are some of the common approaches:

Connecting to the Larger Problem
This approach circles back to your introduction, in which you laid out a specific problem that needs to be resolved. It might be social, economic, environmental, institutional or all of the above. Here, you would situate your findings and discussion, telling readers how your study (a small slice of the pie) relates to the larger pie as a whole.  With studies on representations of breastfeeding, this approach would tie together the findings (that breastfeeding has been normalized in a limited way) to the greater problem (that breastfeeding rates vary greatly based on race, geographic region, and other factors).  Of course, this approach does not work for all studies.

The Prescriptive Approach

Similar to the “Larger Problem” approach, this one takes an additional step and ends with a “Call to Action,” demanding change and specifying ways in which that change could occur.  With breastfeeding, a prescriptive approach would be incorporate detailed actions that media could take to normalize breastfeeding (i.e. diversifying representations to include more breastfeeding mothers of color). Such prescriptive actions could address multiple levels of needed change, across individual, community, and institutions.

The Reflective Approach
For this approach, the writer ponders the findings, as situated in the existing literature and historical context, and seeks to make sense of them.  Why these findings at this moment for this text or this group of people? As opposed to the Discussion section, though, a reflective Conclusion would aim to explain the Findings as an overall, macro, or bird’s eye view—telling us the place in history or in a cultural moment.

Of course, there are certainly other ways to approach your Conclusion. The main point here is that you should address the big picture, not introduce new findings, and stay on topic.  Your adviser will help guide you through writing this section.

Revision Land

You thought the post after the Conclusion would be on the defense, didn’t you? Ha! Sorry for the disappointment, but you don’t just get to jump from the draft to the finish line.  Don’t get me wrong—it is an accomplishment to complete the first full thesis manuscript.  Some people never make it to this stage.  That said, you have rounds of revision to undergo before your thesis is ready for the defense.

Hopefully, you’ve been in close communication with your thesis adviser this whole time and you’ve already revised the first half of the thesis based on feedback from the proposal defense. If not, do that first. And if your adviser has critiqued other sections, make sure you’ve corrected those as well (I prefer to look at a draft of the Findings section by itself). Once all feedback has been addressed, it’s time to send your first full draft to your adviser.

Give your adviser 1-2 weeks to read the draft.  We are busy people and we care about our students so we need the time to read it and give you feedback.  It’s fine to check up on your adviser after about a week if you haven’t heard anything.  This email should be more to the tune of “Hi Dr. _____, just making sure you’ve received my thesis. Thanks!” and definitely not “S’up, First Name, why haven’t you read my thesis yet?”

When you receive your thesis feedback, brace yourself.  Criticism is not easy for anyone.

Some points to keep in mind about your revisions

  • Take a deep breath. If you need to just glance at the feedback briefly and then come back later to do the work, that’s fine.
  • Recognize that everyonehas to do revisions. The more revising you do now, the more smoothly the defense will go.
  • If your thesis isn’t as marked up as expected, it may be because your adviser wants you to focus on particular changes for this round and save more detailed changes for later (i.e. if your adviser spots some organizational issues, it makes sense to have you fix the structure of the thesis before highlighting grammatical problems).
  • Address everynote, question, and mark-up from your adviser (and your committee). Your revised draft should not include any of the issues from the last round of revision. If you don’t understand something, ask!
  • I will say it again, revise everything! Nothing is more frustrating than rereading a thesis with the same issues that I commented on in a previous draft. It feels like the student doesn’t care and doesn’t value my time.
  • Revise everything your committee members suggest. You also don’t want your committee thinking that you don’t care and that you don’t value their time.
  • Visit the Writing Center on campus. The folks there can help you with your writing and give you support.
  • Push through and complete the revisions! You can do it!
  • Don’t be surprised if there are more revisions. Most students go through multiple rounds with their adviser before the thesis moves to the committee.

Thesis Defense: The Final Frontier

You’re almost there! One step at a time.

Your thesis adviser makes the call about when your defense will be.  You should communicate the timeline, but don’t demand that it’s time to defend. To graduate in a particular semester at MTSU, you must defend by about mid-way through the semester (October for Fall and March for Spring graduations).  With these tight deadlines, it’s best to plan to defend your thesis proposal in the semester before you intend to graduate.  Doing so will set you up to have a draft of your full thesis by the first month or so of the semester, building in time for revisions and for your adviser to read and provide feedback.  It also accounts for time to meet with committee members and get their feedback on sections relating to their expertise.

After rounds of revision, you will reach that blessed moment in which your adviser gives the greenlight for the defense.  Go over your thesis one more time, making sure that you are adhering to all of the university’s guidelines—pagination, margins, etc. Be diligent in this task.  Don’t rush through or assume you did things right.  Now is the time to check the formatting.

At this point, you and your adviser will have the arduous task of arranging an hour in which the whole committee can meet and a conference room is available.  I believe that scheduling the thesis is almost as much of an accomplishment than finishing the first draft.

With the thesis defense scheduled, you can begin your preparation.  I recommend meeting with your adviser for a pep talk and further guidance.  You should also read your thesis and create a PowerPoint presentation to deliver at the defense. Plan to present for about 12-15 minutes.

Tips for your presentation

  • Limit the text on each slide.
  • Don’t add annoying animations or other distractions (i.e. weird font colors, hard-to-read font, sound effects).
  • Incorporate relevant images. If you studied a TV show, I want to see images of that show in your presentation.
  • Follow the thesis structure to set up your presentation, keeping in mind that the second half of the thesis is your contribution to the field (in other words, don’t spend more than a few minutes setting up your study).
  • Back up your presentation and store in multiple places. Don’t assume the WiFi will be working.
  • Remember, you are the expert on your topic. That said, don’t talk down to your committee.
  • Practice, practice, practice!

For your actual defense, get dressed up.  It’s not a Black Tie affair, but we should be able to tell that you tried and that you care.  You spent 2+ years getting to this moment. It is a big deal.  Bring copies of the thesis signature page to the defense.