Start as early as possible. It is advisable to begin thinking about your thesis topic and commence researching before the term or semester begins. This strategy will prepare you for writing and help ensure that you are ready with an idea for a specific topic. It can also be a good idea to expand on earlier essays, which will not only give you a head start, but also develop your expertise on a specialized aspect of your field of study.
Another way to go is to work on an issue or related topic that a faculty member, professor or supervisor is also working on. This can help with research material and towards making sure that you have a genuinely interested tutor. Of course, the academic world can at times be rough, so there is always the risk of disagreement or even falling out. If you are dead set on a topic, stand your ground, but keep an open mind and try not to step on anyone’s toes if you are not prepared to deal with their reactions.
Part of the planning process was already covered in the previous section, “Getting Started”. Naturally, there are different approaches to writing a thesis and different orders of attack (the Russian doll examples). These can also greatly depend on what you are using for source material.
Here is a good order of writing that will work for most theses.
- Start with a summation – Begin by writing about why you want to research your topic. Sum up what you already know about it based on previous papers by yourself or other researchers. This will serve as the basis of the introduction to your final thesis.
- Research – Proceed by conducting your research, gathering information, reading and examining your source material. Use your chosen methodology; keeping alternate methods and theories in mind while you write and take notes.
- Analyze – This is where you methodically and critically review your research. Your analysis may be to compare and contrast, evaluate, examine and explore your primary and secondary sources. This is where you put your main personal stamp on your work.
- Write your introduction – This may closely resemble the first step (summation) where you described your motivations for choosing your thesis topic and what you knew prior to conducting your research. Whether you include any results obtained during your research or analysis, hint at possible conclusions, etc., depends on your own personal style of writing.
- Write your abstract last – Since an abstract is essentially a distillation of your entire thesis in a concise and clear format, leave it until you are finished with the rest of your writing. It will contain a summary your motivations, objectives, methodology, results and conclusions, and should crystallize your work in a no-nonsense style designed to impact your readers.
This order of approach at times sound backwards in some ways, but it can be a useful, scientific procedure for writing a thesis.
How to manage the work without burning out
If you have a lot of novels to read or films to watch, take notes while watching them and mark places that you will return to when composing the body of your thesis. Alternately, you may prefer to write about each piece of source material after you read or gather it, returning to compare and contrast it with others later.
Most people find it hard to just sit down and write pages and pages of academic work. Inspiration, discipline and hard work pay off in different ways. It may sound silly, but make sure you get plenty of rest, exercise and eat properly. If you’re feeling burned out or experiencing writer’s block, have a snack or take a walk or bike ride around the neighborhood. Watch a bit of TV or go to a café with a friend in order to clear your head and refresh your mind.
If you’re like me, you can’t afford to let any inspiration pass you by. If I feel like writing, I’ll do it as long as my ideas keep flowing. Writing about history or literature at 2 a.m. doesn’t seem weird to me at all. Alternately, if you are one of those pedantic people who work better by drawing up a schedule and meticulously sticking to it, then by all means do so!
Coming up with a thesis outline
A thesis outline will resemble the thesis proposal outline that we discussed in the previous section. It may simply be a more specific version of a standard thesis blueprint, filled in a bit and tailored to your particular subject, methods and field of study. It is important that you draw up an outline so you can use your time as efficiently as possible while you’re writing and minimize the grueling process of editing, which is to come.
You want your final thesis to be clear and as easy to read as possible. Plan your thesis in a manner so that its main points will be understood by “skimming” as opposed to only if read with attention. Imagine how many theses have to be read by professors, fellow students and advisors. While your topic may be the most interesting thing in the world to you, there is a good chance it’s pretty boring to most other people out there.
For that reason, you should also have an abstract that is to the point, comprehensive and as attention grabbing as possible. Same goes for your conclusion and any captions, graphics, tables, statistics or other supplemental material you use. These should provide a good overview of your thesis, with the bulk of the text filling in the details. In this way the main thrust of your work will be understood by skimming the text rather than attentively reading the entire 40 to 250-page thesis.
Consider these points when making your outline in addition to the standard format of title page, table of contents, abstract, introduction, body, conclusion and bibliography.
Coming up with a timeline
Once you know the length requirements of your thesis you can come up with a work schedule that suits your lifestyle. This will naturally differ in relation to your amount of free time, work conditions and the demands and nature of your research. No one knows your life better than you do. Just make sure you prioritize your time so that you are able to give yourself more than enough time to research and write your thesis. No offense, but you will probably underestimate the time required.
Write up a schedule with specific time estimates. Consult experienced students or others in your class and compare your estimates with theirs. Adjust your estimates as you progress in your writing. Also make sure you consult your advisor so you both have mutually agreeable meeting times (this can be tricky). Take notes at all your meetings so you remember what was said and stick to your commitments! Also politely confirm all times with your tutor before each meeting takes place.
Between meetings, regularly correspond with your supervisor and send material for him or her to read so that you are both prepared for those precious rendezvous. Be sure that what you send makes sense – it should be clear and include notes explaining what is just an idea or unfinished and provide proper context.
If you have travel or other expenses, draw up a budget and make sure you set aside more than enough funds to cover it. You don’t want to be caught short at a crucial point in your research because you just “had” to have a new mp3 player or a cool new pair of sneakers.
What the rough draft should look like
Your rough draft should begin with your thesis statement and a basic introduction which summarizes your work or your reasons for choosing your topic, encapsulating previous research, etc. Don’t worry about your table of contents, title and conclusion until you are working on or have nearly finished your final draft.
A rough draft will concentrate on individual sections rather than the entire thesis. It is more important to have your sections be cohesive and make sense on their own at this stage. Edit your rough draft so that each of these sections makes sense to your supervisor and worry about the totality, flow and connectivity of your entire thesis later. Don’t submit an unstructured mess of ideas for feedback – or you won’t like what you hear back from your supervisor.
Make sure your sections are separated logically: by idea, subtopic, method, etc. A rough draft should still be readable and understandable, if not polished. It is also OK to include less formal notes and ideas in the text and margin. Place them in brackets or a different colored font so they can be differentiated from the rest of the text.
Don’t be afraid to include whatever research and ideas you have in your first rough draft. It needn’t be a bare bones outline, only to be filled in at a later time. Showcase what you have so far, but just do so in a clear and organized way as best possible – editing is an ongoing process!
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