Any of you who watch cooking programmes will know the cheffy talk about mise-en-place. It’s a term used to describe all the various kinds of preparation that need to be done in order to whip up something that can be described as “freshly cooked to order”. In reality many restaurant meals have components that are precooked and cut into the right portion sizes – they need only to be added, heated, stirred and assembled, with a minimum of actual cooking time between order and service. That you don’t have to wait too long for your food is down to lots of mise-en-place.
The notion of mise-en-place is also helpful in thesis writing. There is a lot of preparation than can be done before a draft text is begun. And just as in cooking, the more preparation you do, the quicker and less painful the actual writing time involved.
It is for example very helpful when contemplating writing the thesis to create folders for each chapter, literally or on the computer. In each folder goes a long abstract of no more than a page, together with all of the various bits that you have collected and generated around that specific topic. If these bits are organized/renamed so that they fit the order of the abstract, then you won’t get lost shuffling through various documents, but will be able to work through them as you write – if you need to. Some software now allows for this kind of multiple document organization too.
The conclusion to the thesis may appear to need less mise-en-place than other chapters, because there is no new data, no new literatures. However, the long abstract is a helpful tool in guiding the writing of the text, and because of that, there are some things that you need to remind yourself about before constructing one.
First of all, you need to go back to the first chapter and see how you created the warrant for the research. Was there a policy or practice problem you were addressing? Next, check the literatures and methods – were there particular issues here that you said your work would speak to? Now, armed with this knowledge – which you might even want to cut and past into a separate document or just jot down as bullet points – assemble the elements for the long abstract by answering the following questions:
(1) What were your research question/s? This thesis posed the question/s (a)…. (b)
(2) What were your answers to the research questions and how did you arrive at them? My research study was – describe in one sentence the kind of research you undertook eg mixed methods study of…. I found in answer to research question (a) …… and research question (b)…….. . Don’t write more than about three sentences or four or five bullets points in answer to each research question.
(3) What do your findings have to say to the literatures? Write an answer in no more than four or five sentences. Think about whether your findings – challenge, trouble, suggest something (say what), add to what we know about x from (name category of literatures and key authors), support (what)… My work contributes to the literatures on… by….
(4) What are the implications of this new knowledge? Who needs to know what you have to say? Why? How could this knowledge be of interest/use to them? (Go back to the policy or practice problem or think of a policy or practice problem to which this knowledge speaks, or think about the ways in which literatures are currently used/spoken that might be changed by your addition. Be careful not to over or underclaim here.) What might happen as a result of knowing this new stuff, your contribution? These findings could be of interest to… benefit to.. worry … Just write a few bullets or sentences in answer.
(5) What further research might now be done as a result of your work? Here you need to think about your work opening up a research agenda, being a building block for further work that you, or someone else, might do. Write a few bullets or sentences here. As a result of my study, further research might well be conducted on/in order to …
(6) Optional question – Are there any implications for your own research practice? What did you learn about researching from this study? Write a sentence or two or a couple of bullets only.
At the end of this exercise you ought to be in a position to write a long abstract of no more than about a page. That stage isn’t entirely necessary of course, and you could simply use the answers to the questions as a road map to the chapter.
But putting the answers into a cogent abstract form is another bit of preparatory work. The purpose of the abstract is not to pin down the content, but to get the authoritative tone right so that when you start on the actual draft you aren’t worrying about the appropriate way to ‘speak’. It’s another kind of mise-en-place that helps the first run at conclusion writing go more smoothly.