You’ve written undergraduate papers and even graduate-level papers. But now you’re getting ready to work on the biggie: your master’s thesis. Panic sets in as you realize that this is beyond the scope of your previous academic research and writing experience. Maybe even skills, you’re thinking now. “What was I thinking?” you groan, clutching your head. Take a deep breath and relax. While writing that thesis may not be painless, it’s not as difficult as you’d think. Below are six steps to writing your thesis that will make the process less intimidating.
Steps To Writing Your Thesis
- Choose your thesis topic carefully. Original research is expected in a thesis. However, you want to be sure that your work isn’t so original that there are no sources for you to refer to for research. The childhood of A.A. Milne might be utterly fascinating and help explain why he wrote his series of Winnie the Pooh books. But if few sources discuss his childhood, this might not be a good thesis topic. On the other hand, Abraham Lincoln’s childhood has been over-researched. And while plenty of sources exist, it would be difficult to add anything new to them. So this might also be a poor choice for a thesis topic. You want to hit that middle ground, where sources exist in enough quantity to be helpful, but not to give the impression that your topic has been over-worked by previous researchers.
- Review your course papers. Look at your current graduate and even undergraduate research papers for topics that might mesh with your thesis topic. If you’ve been wise and had the opportunity in your graduate courses, many of your present papers should be in the same general area as that of your thesis topic. It’s not too difficult to revise a stand-alone paper on the Lend-Lease Act and make it a chapter in a thesis on American foreign policy during World War II. For that matter, perhaps one of your graduate papers could be expanded into a full-blown thesis.
- Break down your work into manageable chunks. Start with a very general outline, or maybe a short essay describing what you plan to do. It is for your reference, so it doesn’t have to be perfect or even grammatically correct—free-associate. Scribble, doodle—whatever helps you focus on the direction you want your research to go. Then work on a chapter at a time, possibly following the same process for each section before you begin writing the final product.
Steps To Writing Your Thesis
4. Don’t procrastinate. While many passable undergrad—and maybe even some decent graduate-level—research papers have been written in the wee hours of the morning on the day the paper was due, this is not an advisable approach with something as major as your thesis. If you know the thesis committee wants to see a reasonably polished draft in three months, take the time to sit down. Figure out how to have that thesis written in two and a half months. That way, if something comes up at the last minute, you’ve got a little time to spare.
5. Back that sucker up in several places! Don’t rely on your hard drive alone: what if it crashes and takes two months’ worth of work down with it? Copy everything you do, every day, to a flash drive, a CD, an external hard drive, etc. Some backup source that will protect your work. In fact, there are those paranoid souls (and I’m one of them) who even suggest keeping a copy of your work in a safety deposit box at your local bank. Hey, a little paranoia is a good thing when it comes to protecting months of hard work!
6. Hire a professional editing firm such as FirstEditing.com (first editing) to give your thesis a final review before you turn it over to the committee. Professional editing can save you much embarrassment by catching silly slip-ups that your spell/grammar checker missed. It can also ensure that your citations and references are in the correct format, as set forth by your committee.
These steps won’t guarantee a painless thesis experience or the instant approval of the committee. However, they can certainly make the entire process less daunting, and improve your chances of approval for your completed thesis.
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Originally Posted 3/18/2010 and happily updated 10/29/2017. Thanks for reading!