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PhD Writing 4: How to write the conclusion chapter of your PhD

Writing the conclusion to your PhD thesis can be daunting.

How are you meant to draw together more than three years’ worth of work into one concise chapter, and make those wider conclusive points that have been on the periphery of your research throughout your PhD?

First, it’s important to note that just as every PhD project is different, so too is every conclusion. By the time it comes to writing your conclusion, you are the person who knows your research the best and are also the most well-informed person on your area of study. It is vital to remember that you are absolutely the optimal, most qualified candidate to draw conclusions from your research.

That being said, here are some useful tips for writing a PhD thesis conclusion, whether your field of research is in Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine (STEM) or Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities (SSAH). 

Clearly state the answer(s) to the main research question(s)

By now, you will have honed your research question(s) – here is your opportunity to intelligibly answer those questions or address your hypotheses. If you are struggling with where to start with your conclusion, directly answering your research questions is a good opener.

Summarise and reflect on the research you have undertaken 

The conclusion provides the opportunity for you to tie all your chapters together, showing how they all connect under the umbrella of your PhD title and your research questions or objectives.

Acknowledge the limitations of your research

Most PhD conclusions include a reflection of the limitations of your research. Areas for consideration include: 

  • Scope: What has your focus or research questions excluded or not been able to cover within this project, and why? 
  • Time and word limits: How have the limitations of the PhD period restricted your research, or how have the word counts affected the expression of your thesis into a paper? (This may overlap in part with scope.)
  • Access: Were you unable to access certain resources or materials, and how has this limited your research? 

Make recommendations for future work on the topic 

Whether you want to be the one to continue this work in postdoctoral research, or if you are ready to hand this off to the next generation of researchers, this is your chance to gesture towards potential future avenues of research. For example, you could highlight other directions or approaches that could be explored, alternative data sets that could be studied or new questions or hypotheses arising from your research that could be further investigated. This is also a good time to offer suggestions for addressing the limitations to this research that you have identified.

Showcase the original knowledge you have contributed to the field 

A significant and substantial part of a PhD is about providing an original contribution to your field. Here is your opportunity to lay bare what you have contributed and how you have done that. Your literature review will have discussed the relevant literature and identified prominent gaps in the knowledge within your field of study. Your conclusion can then show how you have filled those gaps in an innovative way. 

End note

Finally, working on your conclusion is an excellent opportunity for yourself to reflect upon your research as a whole. 

Before and as you write this chapter, reflect upon these questions:

  • Where does your research fit in the existing body of knowledge? 
  • What gaps in research have you addressed? 
  • What is new and exciting about your research? 
  • How is the literature in your field in dialogue with each other, and with your study?

By answering these questions, you should be able to arrive at a concise, yet insightful summary of your overall research journey, process and findings.

 

Read previous in series: PhD Writing 3: How to write the introduction chapter of a thesis

 

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