How to Write a Thesis

It’s Show Time – Your Thesis Awaits

It could be a short story or it could be a show that lasts endlessly. Those are the two options for crafting a graduate thesis. You already know what is a thesis; what you may be struggling with is how to write a good thesis – one that your advisor (and committee, if there is one) will find worthy of approval and thus confer a Master’s degree upon you.

So, here is your challenge – how to write a Master’s thesis, get it finished in a reasonable amount of time, and please the “powers that be.” A thesis is not like any work you have produced before. It is a major research project, and it will take a huge amount of planning, motivation, and sacrifice.

With that said, here are some tips and guidelines that should ease your pain at least a bit.

Choosing Your Research Question

In your graduate program, there were some topic areas that piqued your interest more than others. This is a good place to start as you try to develop a research question and a hypothesis. So, find something that really interests you, and read an article or two on the topic in a professional journal. If it still interests you, then you need to read other research on the topic to see if you can craft some research of your own.

Many grad students want to set up research that replicates studies that have already been reported. This is great. Or, you may read a piece of research and the author has identified some constraints and made suggestions for future researchers. If you believe you can take one of those suggestions and design relevant research, great.

The point is this: Find a topic that interests you, do some data mining to discover what others have done, and identify a specific area of research that will build on what others have done.

Once you have identified your specific research question, you must develop a hypothesis – what you believe will be the outcome of your research. Write a statement of your hypothesis. You already know how to write a thesis statement for an essay you might write – consider your hypothesis your thesis statement for your project. Take it to your advisor for approval.

That Pesky Data Search

If you think your search for sources of data is a monumental and less-than-exciting task, you are right. But be glad that you live in the times you do. Your parents were pouring over card catalogues and micro-fiche in the library. Today, you have access to a data warehouse based upon keywords, and this does save a lot of time.

Still, there will be plenty of wasted time. You will pour through abstracts and choose pieces of research to read in full, only to find that they are not relevant enough to be included in your literature review.

And as you take notes, be certain that everything is referenced carefully – nothing worse than writing a thesis and not having the citation for a piece of information or a quote you really want to include. There are some software solutions to manage references – Refworks and Endnote, to name just two.

Make a Plan

Part of really knowing how to write a thesis involves really knowing how to plan and schedule. You may be seriously overscheduled with a leftover class or two, a part-time job, or other obligations.

The average time it takes to write a thesis is just not calculable. Much of it will depend on your research project and how long for its implementation. Writing it up, once the research is complete, will also vary. The best advice is to get that literature review section written while you are conducting your research, so that you are ready to go with the data reporting and analysis when it’s finished. You should have a general timeline in place, though, and try to meet those deadlines. And be certain to plan time for our advisor to review each section as it is finished. They can be notoriously slow at this.

Plan out a weekly writing schedule and stick with it as much as possible. On Sunday of every week, print out a blank schedule. Mark the times for writing, and tape that “puppy” where you will see it often. The visualization of an entire week at a time will help to stay with it.

The other important thing is to be realistic. If you schedule yourself from 9 am – 3 pm, are you really going to write for six hours straight? Probably not. Plan your writing in 3-4 hour chunks.

Find Your Environment

Distractions can kill you, whether they are friends, family, Facebook, or episodes of “Game of Thrones.” And those Internet distractions are the worst. If you don’t have enough self-control, get a software blocker that will not allow you to get to social media sites while you are supposed to be writing.

The other key is to find your ideal physical environment for writing. This may very well be at home, but if not, find a coffee shop, a library, or someplace where you will probably not run into anyone you know. Sit by yourself and work. Once you establish the parameters of your best writing environment, get to that environment during your scheduled writing time.

Support – You Need It

There are lots of types of support and only you know which types you need. Here are some typical support resources for writing:

  • Find 2-3 others who are also in the process of writing their theses. Plan your writing times together. Meet up at a location and work. It’s always good to know that others are “suffering” as you are. Plus, this type of support can keep all of you focused.
  • A good thesis means that writing is scholarly and grammatically correct. If you struggle with writing, get some help. Find a trusted editor, either someone you know or a writing service.  For information on writing services that also perform editing, get on some review sites and pick one that other grad students recommend. When you turn a section into your advisor for review, it needs to be well-written.
Be Kind to Yourself

You cannot become an automaton just because you are writing a thesis. You need downtime with family, friends, physical outlets, etc.

  • Plan for social time weekly. You need it.
  • Get some form of physical exercise regularly
  • Eat right
  • Get enough sleep
  • Celebrate your progress. Each time you finish a section, take a day off and do something totally fun.
Do and Don’t
  • Choose a research topic that you are really interested in. You are going to be “living” with it for a long time.
  • Develop a thesis statement in the form of a hypothesis, and get some help if you need it.
  • Review examples of a good thesis, preferable those that have been approved by the same advisor you have.
  • Find your best working environment and don’t “pollute” it with distractions
  • Reward yourself regularly with activities you enjoy
  • Don’t begin work on your thesis without a plan and a schedule. The result will be disastrous.
  • Don’t leave your advisor “hanging.” You need to have regular meetings and submit sections as they are completed.
  • Don’t ever turn in a section that is not written well. You advisor doesn’t want to plow through poorly and un-scholarly content. Get the editing/proofreading help you need.
  • Don’t ignore your need for social time, physical activity and a good diet.
  • Don’t let distractions eat away at your research and writing time. Get writing “buddies” or block your access to social media sites.
How to Write a Ph.D. Thesis

In some institutions, the culminating project for a Ph.D. is called a thesis. Do not confuse the master’s project with this. While they have many of the same structures, the doctoral thesis is lengthier and more involved. Students who are writing a doctoral thesis can use these tips, but need to understand that their school/department guidelines may be different.

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