Using the PhD Thesis Introduction as a Heuristic Device for Supporting the Writing of a Thesis


  • James Donohue The Open University



genre, social semiotics, phd thesis, systemic functional linguistics, theme-rheme, film studies, discursive knowledge


This article explores the role of a thesis introduction in establishing the contribution of the thesis to its field of study and how the introduction might be exploited by the writer of the thesis and their supervisor to scaffold the thesis writing process. The focus is on how the introduction realizes a conceptual map of the field of the thesis, a series of speech acts, and a text which construes the conceptual map of the field and the relevant speech acts by means of its method of development. A second focus is on how these aspects of the introduction can serve as heuristic devices which can be used to generate versions of the introduction and to project the structure of the entire thesis.


Austin, J. L. (1962) How to Do Things with Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Berkenkotter, C. and Huckin, T. (1993) Rethinking genre from a sociocognitive perspective. Written Communication 10(4): 475–509.

Bordwell, D. (1989) Making Meaning: Inference and Rhetoric in the Interpretation of Cinema. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Bunton, D. (2002) Generic moves in Ph.D. thesis introductions. In J. Flowerdew (ed.) Academic Discourse 57–76. London: Pearson.

Cope, B. and Kalantzis, M. (eds) (2000) Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and Design of Social Futures. London and New York: Routledge.

Donohue, J. (2002) Genre Based Literacy Pedagogy: The Nature and Value of Genre Knowledge in Teaching and Learning Writing on a University First Year Media Studies Course. Unpublished PhD thesis. University of Bedfordshire.

Eggins, S. (1994) An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics. London: Pinter.

Giddens, A. (1979) Central Problems in Social Theory. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Gray, A. (2002) The Book of Prefaces. London and New York: Bloomsbury.

Halliday, M. A. K. (1978) Language as a Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning. London: Edward Arnold.

Halliday, M. A. K. (1994) An Introduction to Functional Grammar. London: Edward Arnold.

Hoey, M. (1995) On the Surface of Discourse. Department of English Studies, University of Nottingham.

Hoey, M. (2001) Textual Interaction. London: Routledge.

Hoey, M. and Winter, E. (1986) Clause relations and the writer’s communicative task. In B. Couture (ed.) Functional Approaches to Writing: Research Perspectives 121–141. London: Frances Pinter.

Inspiration7 Software (2002) Portland, Oregon: Inspiration Software, Inc.

Lemke, J. (1985) Thematic analysis: Systems, structures and strategies. Semiotic Inquiry 3(2): 159–187.

Lemke, J. (1990) Talking Science: Language, Learning, and Values. Norwood, New Jersey: Ablex Publishing.

Martin, J. R. (1992) English Text. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Martin, J. R. (1997) Analysing genre: functional parameters. In F. Christie and J. R. Martin (eds) Genre and Institutions. Social Processes in the Workplace and School. London: Cassell.

Ravelli, L. J. (2000) Signalling the organisation of written texts: Hyper-Themes in management and history essays. In L. J. Ravelli and R. A. Ellis (eds) Analysing Academic Writing: Contextualised Frameworks. London and New York: Continuum.

Searle, J. (1969) Speech Acts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Swales, J. (1990) Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Winter, E. O. (1977) A clause-relational approach to English texts. Instructional Science 6(1): 1–92.

Winter, E. O. (1982) Towards a Contextual Grammar of English: The Clause and Its Place in the Definition of Sentence. London: George Allen and Unwin.



How to Cite

Donohue, J. (2010). Using the PhD Thesis Introduction as a Heuristic Device for Supporting the Writing of a Thesis. Writing and Pedagogy, 1(2), 195–226.



Research Matters