By Jennifer Swenson
The Sparrow’s introduction to thesis writing is a clear-cut and comprehensive tool for those who are about to embark on one of the more difficult projects in all of academia. Thesis writing is not an art; rather, it is the product of many months of research and painstaking hard work. Whether you are writing a masters thesis, a PhD thesis, or any other form of this venerable genre, I hope this guide will serve you well.
Thesis Writing Background
What is a thesis?
A thesis is essentially a research report. It addresses a very specific issue and describes what is known about that issue, what work the student has done to investigate or resolve it, and how that issue may play out in the future. It is the thesis writer’s responsibility to familiarize herself with the history of the issue and the different points of view that exist. The thesis writer works with a mentor who is an expert in the field that the thesis concerns, but not necessarily an expert on that exact topic. Usually thesis topics are so specific that very few people in the world except the thesis writer herself could be considered an expert on them. Your thesis writing will make a contribution to the field about which you are writing, and in a larger sense, to all of human knowledge. A thesis is distinctively different from an undergraduate research report because it is so original.
How Specific Should My Thesis Get?
When writing a thesis, you should get extremely specific. The intended readers of your thesis are only (1) your advisor and (2) future researchers in the field you are studying. Thesis writing is not for the common man. Therefore, there is virtually no limit to how involved you can get in the subject matter. In fact, besides the writing in the body of your thesis, it will also be necessary to include diagrams, charts, tables, and images to illustrate your results and data.
How Should I Write My Thesis?
Like any good piece of writing, your thesis should be well organized, have a clear thesis paragraph, and be written in a simple, clear active voice. Naturally, you will have to use an abundance of field-specific terms and, in fact, it is easier for other researchers to read scientific terms than it will be for them to read oversimplified English. As thesis writers come from a multitude of countries, slang or jargon should not be used. Choose formality over informality when writing your thesis, but do not be wordy or ungrammatical.
How Should My Thesis Look?
In general, worry more about the substance and writing of your thesis than about its presentation. Diagrams may be neatly hand-drawn instead of created in a graphics program if the results are easier to read that way. Other than that, standard academic form should be used. 12 point, Times New Roman, 1” margins, double-spaced type will do. Follow the guidelines given by your advisor on title pages, tables of contents, and other parts of the thesis.
How Will Thesis Writing Affect My Life?
During the couple of months before your deadline, a good part of your time should be devoted to thesis writing. Writing a thesis is a consuming endeavor. However, the work you put into it is at least equivalent to the satisfaction of having finished your thesis and obtained your degree. Anyone that was ever involved in the writing of a thesis remembers the experience for the rest of their life.
Before You Begin Writing Your Thesis
Before undertaking the task of thesis writing, it is necessary to clear you mind. Do not think about the fact that you have nothing done yet, and seventy-five pages left to be written. Take the project in small steps. The challenge is similar to that of a five-mile run. As you are taking your first steps, you can’t picture how you will feel an hour later when, panting, you complete that fifth mile. But you always finish. I assure you that when you are twenty pages into writing your thesis, you will feel far less intimidated. Like the run, there is indeed a “stride” one gets into when thesis writing. And when it is all over, the satisfaction you feel will be immense.
Step One: Making An Outline
How To Think Of An Outline For Your Thesis
If you’ve played with the idea of writing your thesis straight and organizing it into chapters and sections afterwards, I’d like you to give yourself a good shaking and accept the fact that it will be necessary to produce an outline. Writing a thesis without an outline would take the average student approximately twice as long as writing a thesis with an outline. The advantage of making an outline is that the project can be seen in terms of smaller parts rather than one daunting whole. Instead of saying “Residual Polar Ice Caps On Mars: Go!” why not calmly state “Let’s begin with the scientific significance of residual polar ice caps. After that, we’ll go on to their history.”
How To Make Your Outline
An outline should have chapter names, headings, subheadings, and indications of graphs and figures. If organizing your thesis seems difficult, think of it just as you are thinking of writing your thesis: baby steps. Start with your chapters, change their order a bit, and when you feel relatively satisfied with the chapters you’ve chosen, go chapter by chapter and make headings. Repeat the process with subheadings. Doing so will make organizing your thesis, and your thesis writing as a whole, far easier.
Different universities employ different methods of outlining chapters for your thesis. How should you do it? For each chapter, decide which findings you will report, which graphs you will use, and which results you will chart. Create a sensible order for these figures and list them on a sheet of paper. Then pretend that you are relating to a colleague how you found your results or came to your conclusions. Make note of the important parts, or keywords, of your pretend discussion. These keywords will serve as the headings and subheadings of your thesis outline.
When You Think You’re Finished
When you have a rough outline, let a sit overnight. Come to it the next day with a fresh attitude and make revisions. Don’t be afraid to spend up to a week making an outline. Naturally, as you write your thesis, new headings and subheadings may pop up. In fact, your initial thesis outline will rarely look exactly like your final thesis outline. But that shouldn’t motivate you to allow your outline to remain incomplete. Try for a perfect outline. It will only help uproot writer’s block later on. I recommend beginning with the Materials and Methods chapter, for it is the easiest to outline. Simply record what you used and what you did.
Once your outline is completed, you have come to an important milestone in your thesis writing. But don’t rejoice yet; proceed directly to your advisor or mentor to find out if you’re on the right track. Speaking to your advisor will not only assuage your worries, it will show them that you are making progress with your thesis writing. Once your outline is accepted, hand over a copy to your advisor for reference as he or she reads your thesis chapters.
Step Two: Preparing Yourself To Write Your Thesis
Organize Your Thesis Using Electronic Folders
In preparing yourself for weeks or months of thesis writing, your computer will come in handy. Make a folder for your thesis, a subfolder for each chapter, an additional folder for your references, and a final folder just for general notes. As you proceed with writing your thesis, you should include notes and reminders in each folder as well as your general notes folder. Try putting notes and text in different colors.
Back Up Your Thesis Files Every Day
Errors, viruses, and computer crashes do happen. I do not need to describe the horror of a scenario where your thesis is lost. To back up your files, I recommend copying your files onto a CD and putting that CD in a safe location. You might also try uploading the files to the internet in case the CD gets lost. Lastly, external hard drives are quick, reliable means of backing up files.
Organize Your Thesis Using Physical Folders
You should also print out your progress and keep it in physical olders. As much as we have all grown to trust technology, paper is a surer bet. Physical folders can also be used for notes, scraps, scribblings, letters, and other artifacts of your thesis writing experience. Place all of your folders in a fireproof filing cabinet with at least one full draw reserved just for thesis materials. Now that you’re organized, you don’t want to go mixing up your precious thesis writing notes with other papers. You might also want to make a second copy of all your chapters, notes, and findings, and store it in a different place that you visit from time to time.
Take Care of Thesis Paperwork
When writing a thesis, there is always some university paperwork to deal with. At the very least, your thesis must be filed with the department and examiners must be nominated. There is no reason that you should have to experience bureaucratic delays at the end of the thesis writing process when you should be celebrating.
Step Three: Make A Schedule
Deadlines are the mother of invention. You and your advisor should discuss a reasonable schedule for producing chapters and ultimately, finishing your thesis. Make a schedule that is broken down into chapters. Depending on who your advisor is, these schedules might e loose indications of when certain chapters are due or strict timetables. I recommend taking them seriously. As each deadline passes and another chapter is stamped “complete” you will be getting closer and closer to the finish line.
Step Four: Start Writing Your Thesis
Thesis writing is like any other difficult task in that it can be tempting to procrastinate. As a result, you must make sure that you get something finished each time you sit down to write. Do not discard your work even if it seems far from final draft material. You will be surprised how your scratchwork is often laden with inspiration for future thesis work. Also, don’t worry about handing in draft work to your advisor. He or she will not be expecting you to be a perfect thesis writer. Nobody produces perfect work on the first try.
The first time you get a chapter back from your advisor, be prepared to see a great deal of corrections. Red ink is a rite of passage when it comes to thesis writing. That’s simply the way things go. Most students learn from experience, though. You will be proud to see how few corrections are made to the final chapter of your thesis as compared to the first. Keep in mind that your scratchwork is not being evaluated; only the final product will receive a grade.
How To Structure Your Thesis
The sections below apply to most, but not all, thesis projects. Your own thesis will use many of them, or some combination. Depending on your University and advisor’s policies, you will either be given a list of sections to use in your thesis writing or decide on your own. Regardless, here is a description of what is generally expected for the most common thesis sections.
The format of your Title Page is specific to your university. You will always need to put your name, the date, the name of your university, and the title of your project.
The abstract is a short section that describes the issue or problem you are approaching, your results and conclusions, and the larger significance of your work. Your abstract should be written once you have completed your thesis writing.
Table of Contents
The table of contents is a neat list of chapters, headings, and subheadings, along with the page numbers where each begins. It should be numbered using the Roman Numeral system.
The thesis’ introduction should explain why you have chosen to write about the particular issue or problem you are addressing. What significance does it have in the realm of science or humanity? Try to write from a teacher’s point of view, not a specialist who is speaking to another specialist. Although technical language is necessary and proper, people in related realms might read your thesis one day and you want your language to be somewhat user-friendly. You should also do your best to arouse the interest of your readers; this may be the only time during your thesis writing when you are permitted to employ a bit of creativity.
This section addresses what is known about the issue. You should write about the background, from where the problem arose, and how others have attempted to resolve the problem. It is normal to consult between 75 and 125 sources. Much of this information will come from the research you have done over the past couple of months and throughout the course of your graduate or post-graduate studies. For the exceptionally personal injury lawyer New York organized among us, the literature review section is the easiest part of the thesis writing process because it focuses on what you have been studying for the past three or four years.
The Body Of Your Thesis
When writing the body of your thesis, you must use more detail than you have ever used in any other writing, be it a research paper or ajournal article. Not only should you expound upon your findings more thoroughly, but you should describe exactly how you performed each experiment. Thesis writing can be challenging if one is not exceptionally organized and detail-oriented.
How exactly you organize the body of your thesis writing depends upon the logic of your progression of thought as well as your own preferences. You might have to build upon a hypothesis, describing how you tested it and what your results were, concluding with some kind of solution that you have devised yourself. For that type of thesis writing, you might use the following headings: Theory, Material and Methods, First Problem, Second Problem, Third Problem, Possible Solution, Conclusion. Other types of thesis writing might require you to discuss various methods in subsequent chapters instead of one Materials and Methods section.
When deciding upon which pre-established theory to include in your thesis writing, note that not all researchers will be familiar with your theories unless they are quite famous. Do not present multiple pages of mathematical proofs or the like, and do not forget to summarize even semi-well known theories. Original theory is best, for it nearly always guarantees that you will write with both thoroughness and passion. Thesis writing has no place for cliffhangers: be clear about what you are claiming so that your readers can keep it in mind as they peruse your work.
The Materials and Methods Section
While many theses have a Materials and Methods section, humanities theses may not. If you are writing a scientific thesis, however, you will need to describe the ways in which you performed your experiments. This should be simple thesis writing for you; all it takes is a literal description of what was done. Make sure you are as comprehensive and adept as possible in detailing your techniques, for it is very likely that other people will test your experiment in the future.
Results and Discussion
While these sections could easily be separated, it is common to combine them in your thesis writing, as their content tends to be interrelated. You may further break down this section into chapters based on subject.
Be sure to discuss the premises of your experiment before listing the results. You should also mention the variables of the experiment, the value of standard deviations, and other applicable background information. Diagrams, graphs, and charts will be very useful in illustrating your results.
The discussion part of this section should explain the meaning of your results, where they fit in the current literature concerning your issue, and whether they concur with or deviate from other experimenters’ work.
The conclusion section is less detailed than the rest of your thesis, and requires a more literary sort of thesis writing. Remember that you have already told readers the conclusion of your research at the very beginning of your thesis, in the abstract. The difference between that description and the one in the conclusion section is that here you will be more specific, and also get into the possible limitations of your results.
Keep in mind that definitive conclusions are not always the best finale for your work. Researchers will always have further questions; they will want to know which problems still exist, and which other problems arose from your investigation of the issue.
Lastly, the appendices section is used for the extras that did not fit into the body of the thesis. These extras generally would have disturbed the progression of the thesis, are overly technical, or are simply asides.
Congratulations! You are now well-versed in the art of thesis writing. Naturally, engaging in the work itself is the best way to excel at thesis writing. However, if you are having trouble getting started, are stuck in the middle, or simply need some editing, see the options below.