Simplifying a thesis by defining the key terms of the research

By Neha & Priya Chetty on November 12, 2021

Thesis research involves many complex elements. Every chapter in a thesis serves a different purpose which simplifies these elements. For instance, the introduction chapter of a thesis discusses key information about the topic, objectives, and problem statement. Another key element of the chapter is the definition of key terms, which considers the knowledge level of the reviewer. This article explains how to present the definition of key terms of a thesis.

The reviewer may not be always from the field on which the thesis is based. Thus, there are chances of non-familiarity with the technical words of that field. To address this issue of lack of clarity, the researcher should include the definition of key terms section to define important terminologies. This section simplifies the complexity of the thesis and also enables better engagement.

Key terms are the main terminologies that are present in your thesis. For instance, in a thesis on the influence of branding, loyalty, and satisfaction on consumer buying behaviour, the key terms can be branding, loyalty, satisfaction and consumer behaviour. A reviewer who is unfamiliar with these terms because they do not belong to the marketing field will want to know their meaning before reading any further.

The purpose of defining the key terms of a thesis
Figure 1: The purpose of defining the key terms of a thesis

While defining the key terms includes definitions by other scholars to establish credibility. It also acts as a foundation for the research problem and the literature reviews (USCLibraries, 2017b).

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The key terms section should be concise

The introduction chapter accounts for 10% of the thesis. Therefore the definition of the key terms section should be critical, relevant and concise. However, it should be indicative and explanatory. This section should start with a brief one or two-line opening sentence to enable the reviewer to get in the flow of the topic. This should be followed by the terms and their corresponding meanings and definition in bullet points format.

  • The section must be written with the help of the most common, popular, and widely used definitions. They must also be sourced from credible and published authors. Data and statistics should be avoided in the definition of key terms unless it is indispensable.
  • Every term should end with a mention of the relevance of the term in the field as well as the topic.
  • Avoid giving more than one definition per term.

An example of how to present it

  • Branding: Branding refers to the act of creating brands that are differentiated from the competition, thereby reducing the number of perceived substitutes in the marketplace (Sammut-Bonnici, 2015, p.1).
  • Consumer loyalty: A deeply held commitment to rebuy or patronize a preferred product/service consistently in the future, thereby causing repetitive same-brand or same brand-set purchasing despite situational influences and marketing efforts having the potential to cause switching behaviour (Oliver, 1997, p. 392).
  • Consumer satisfaction: Consumer satisfaction is defined as pleasurable fulfilment. That is the consumer senses that consumption fulfils some need, desire, goal, or so forth and that this fulfilment is pleasurable (Oliver, 1999, p. 34).
  • Consumer buying behaviour: Consumer buying behaviour refers to the selection, purchase and consumption of goods and services for the satisfaction of their wants (Ramya and Ali, 2016, p. 76).


  • Cedep. (2015). Unit One : Introduction to Research. Soas, 1–41.
  • Halloran, G. M., & Collins, W. J. (1974). Strategic human resource management. Annals of Botany, 38(5), 1039–1044.
  • Oliver, Richard L. (1999), “Whence Customer Loyalty”,  Journal of Marketing, 63, Special Issue, 33-44
  • Oliver, R. L. (1999). Whence consumer loyalty? The Journal of Marketing, 63, 33–44.
  • Qassem, M. (2017). Thesis, Dissertation and Article Writing Preparing Research Paper, Dissertation and Thesis. February 2014, 1–20.
  • Ramya, N. and Ali, SA (2016). Factors affecting consumer buying behavior. International Journal of Applied Research, 2 (10). 76-80.
  • Salaman, G., Storey, J., & Billsberry, J. (2005). Strategic Human Resource Management: Defining the Field. SHRM-Intro, January, 1–12.
  • Sammut-Bonnici, T. (2015). Wiley Encyclopedia of Management. New Jersey: Wiley & Sons.
  • USCLibraries. (2017a). Glossary of Research Terms This. Usc.Edu.
  • USCLibraries. (2017b). Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper. Usc.Edu.


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