How to write the final paragraph of your thesis or research proposal

Sample lesson


ThesisCore is an online course that helps you write your Bachelor’s or Master’s dissertation: from start to finish!

This is a sample lesson from the course:
How to write your research proposal.

In this course you will learn about the 5 questions a research proposal should always answer. This lesson is about the 5th question: “What are your research expectations?”.



Objective
In the 5th Paragraph, discuss the expectations you have for your study.
Assignment
This lesson includes an assignment.

Introduction

The fifth and final paragraph of your proposal is usually the easiest to write. In this paragraph, you discuss what you expect to find in your study. And therefore, what other researchers may learn from your study: how does your thesis change, challenge, or advance the scientific discussion on your topics? In short: it’s your personal reflection on the research idea you have laid out in the previous four paragraphs.

Example

To illustrate this final paragraph let’s discuss an example from the literature. Hofstede, Neuijen, Ohayv, and Sanders (1990) study whether organizational culture1 is determined (or ’caused by’) by nationality (and organization-specific factors). In the final paragraph of their Introduction, the authors write:

“Our hypothesis was that organizational cultures are partly predetermined by nationality, industry, and task, which should be visible in significant effects of such factors on culture dimension scores. Partly, we expected them to relate to organization structure and control systems. However, we expected that correlations between culture measures and such nonculture data would leave sufficient variance unexplained to allow a considerable amount of uniqueness to each organization.”

— From: p. 287, ‘Measuring Organizational Cultures – A Qualitative and Quantitative Study Across 20 Cases’

Guiding questions

Let’s have a look at some typical questions you can ask yourself to get a similar result as in the example:


1. What do you think you will find?

A good start is to simply state what you think you will find in your study. Obviously, you don’t know this for sure yet: it’s an expectation. This should therefore be reflected in this statement. You could for example start as follows:

  • “I hypothesize that …”
  • “I expect to find that …”
  • “My expectations are …”

… followed by what you think the result of your study will be. Limit your discussion to your topics. Have a look at our example, where organizational culture, nationality, industry and task are the main topics:

Our hypothesis is [was] that organizational cultures are partly predetermined by nationality, industry, and task, which should be visible in significant effects of such factors on culture dimension scores. Partly, we expected them to relate to organization structure and control systems. However, we expected that correlations between culture measures and such nonculture data would leave sufficient variance unexplained to allow a considerable amount of uniqueness to each organization.”

— Adapted from: p. 287, ibid.
— Note: emphasis added


2. What should we look for/at?

Now that you have stated what you think you will find, a logical next step is to discuss how you can confirm whether your research idea is correct. This usually involves explaining what we should look for in the output of your study: the ‘results’. The results may obviously not be available yet, so you will have to limit this discussion to a ‘hypothetical’ situation.2 Furthermore, they will largely depend on your research method.

For example, if you plan on interviewing people you could write: “Given the background of my interviewees, I expect that the discussions will allow us to thoroughly explore the link between A and B, and that common themes will emerge during these discussions.” If you want, you can even specify these ‘common themes’ and ‘common topics’ that you expect to find.

If you plan on using a quantitative approach like the authors in the example, you could write something along the lines of:

“Our hypothesis is [was] that organizational cultures are partly predetermined by nationality, industry, and task, which should be visible in significant effects of such factors on culture dimension scores. Partly, we expected them to relate to organization structure and control systems. However, we expected that correlations between culture measures and such nonculture data would leave sufficient variance unexplained to allow a considerable amount of uniqueness to each organization.”

— Adapted from: p. 287, ibid.
— Note: emphasis added

Example

To some of you, this statement from Hofstede, Neuijen, Ohayv, et al. (1990) may seem simplistic: if you’re doing a statistical analysis, then obviously you want your results to be significant! However, it certainly isn’t always the case that a researcher is looking for significant results: sometimes researchers are interested in showing that there is no effect! See for example this Economics paper, or this article from Psychology.

Plus, even if you are looking for significant effects: it’s actually good practice to take away all the guesswork for your reader! Therefore, if it’s significance that you’re looking for, why not state that in this paragraph?


3. Why will other people learn something from your study?

Another way of highlighting the added value of your study is by discussing how your study is different from all the other studies that are currently available on your topic. This method works particularly well if you had previously emphasized that your study will indeed be different from previous studies (i.e. in Paragraph 3 of your proposal).

An illustration. Let’s again take the ‘interview’ example: “Given the background of my interviewees, I expect that the discussions will allow us to explore the link between A and B more deeply than previous research using surveys has allowed.” From this, other researchers will understand that they will learn something new from your study: because you will apply a different research method than all the other research that is currently available.


4. Do think your research idea will give the ‘final answer’, or will it leave room for debate?

Let’s immediately jump to the answer here: no, it’s unlikely that your thesis will provide the last piece of the puzzle to a scientific debate (although it’s not impossible!). At the same time, this doesn’t mean that you should down-play your research idea: there are simply limitations to what you will be able to figure out in the relatively short amount of time you have for writing your dissertation. So, how do you strike a balance between alluding to a potential shortcoming of your study, and remaining confident about (the results of) your research?

Let’s go back to the example. The authors write that although they expect their research idea to work, all organizations remain unique. You can also read that they certainly don’t invalidate their own research idea. Rather, they state (in between the lines) that the ‘left-over uniqueness’ of organizations will leave room for future researchers to explore and debate the previously mentioned topics:

“Our hypothesis was that organizational cultures are partly predetermined by nationality, industry, and task, which should be visible in significant effects of such factors on culture dimension scores.Partly, we expected them to relate to organization structure and control systems. However, we expected that correlations between culture measures and such nonculture data would leave sufficient variance unexplained to allow a considerable amount of uniqueness to each organization.

— From: p. 287, ibid.
— Note: emphasis added


Retrospectively – Prospectively

When reading scientific literature, you may notice that authors often write this paragraph retrospectively, or as:

“[as] … a look back at events that took place, or works that were produced, in the past.”
>
— From: Wikipedia ‘Retrospective’

After you’ve finished your research, I suggest you to slightly rewrite this paragraph to let it reflect what you actually found in your study (i.e. a summary or your results). Notice that this is also the case in the example: the authors are talking about their study ‘in retrospect’. However, I can easily show you what this paragraph would have looked, had this been a Research Proposal:

My expectation is that organizational cultures are partly predetermined by nationality, industry, and task, which should be visible in significant effects of such factors on culture dimension scores. Partly, I expect them to relate to organization structure and control systems. However, I also expect that correlations between culture measures and such nonculture data will leave sufficient variance unexplained to allow a considerable amount of uniqueness to each organization”

— Adapted from: p.287, ‘Measuring Organizational Cultures – A Qualitative and Quantitative Study Across 20 Cases’

Questions and answers

Question: It sounds like I need to discuss a hypothesis in this paragraph?

Answer: Well, it may certainly sound like that. But, you do not have to include a hypothesis. In fact, a formal hypothesis (i.e. Hypothesis 1: Your hypothesis) is never included in a thesis proposal or introduction. Why? Because the appropriate place to introduce a hypothesis is the Theoretical Framework!


Assignment

You can now start writing the fifth paragraph of your research proposal / Thesis Introduction. In this paragraph, write down the expectations you have about your study: What do you think you will find? And what will other researchers learn from your findings?

Back to Introduction

References

[1]
G. Hofstede, B. Neuijen, D. D. Ohayv, et al.
“Measuring Organizational Cultures – A Qualitative and Quantitative Study Across 20 Cases”.
In: Administrative Science Quarterly 35.2 (1990), pp. 286–316.
DOI: 10.2307/2393392.

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