How to write a thesis
You have already sacrificed a lot for graduate school. While many of your friends are out in the world earing a paycheck, you took the road a bit less traveled and decided that getting a Master’s would be more important in the long run. So, you gave up at least one-and-a-half years of earnings, took out more loans, and here you are about to finish your coursework.
Just one more pesky “hoop” to jump through – that thesis. You probably already know how to write a thesis. After all, you’ve read some while you have done research for papers you have written. The key is how to write a good thesis – one that is going to get approved and earn you that degree. It’s a big project. And it will take time, persistence, and a good dose of motivation. What follows here are some strategies and tips that make your thesis writing move along a bit better. Taking these steps, in sequence, will bring you success.
Getting to that Hypothesis. Think of your hypothesis as you would a thesis statement for an essay or paper. It is the point you are going to prove, and it’s far less scary if you think of it this way.
You begin, of course, with a general topic area that you have some passion about. You will never write a good thesis on a topic that doesn’t motivate you, no matter what some professor or advisor may suggest. So, do a little brainstorming about the stuff that has excited you along the way and a little research to boot, to see what others have studied and reported on. Think about questions they answered and what questions might still be out there.
A good hypothesis always begins with a question. So, for example, you might ask yourself, “Are there ways to teach algebra so that middle school kids who are still concrete learners can master it?” Actually, there are many studies that have addressed this issue, and you can then do the research and find out what they have shown. Perhaps some studies have pointed to the use of manipulatives. Others may have demonstrated that certain software programs involving games have been beneficial.
Your hypothesis does not have to be original. It may be designed to replicate what others have already done. The point is to write it up in a scholarly way so that your advisor will approve it. If you read the hypotheses of other researchers, you will be able to use those as models as you write your own.
Understanding the Sections and Crafting that Plan. A big part of understanding how to write a Master’s thesis is understanding how you develop a plan for producing it. There are specific sections, and you should have at least a cursory timeline for completing each one of them – your advisor will want to see that.
As you develop your schedule, take into account your other obligations. You may have a course or two still to take; you may have a part-time job; you may have some family responsibilities; and you need to keep up with some social life, not to mention sleep, exercise, and any other activities you cherish.
Get a calendar. You will want one that will give you a visual of the next 5-6 months. That’s a general time frame for a thesis. Set a deadline for each section, and work backwards from there. If, for example, you are giving yourself a month for your literature review (and it may be more than that), then block out the amount of time you will spend each day on research. Give yourself a day or two off each week – you will not be able to tolerate 7 days a week for research – it can get pretty dull, and you will need breaks.
How long will your own research project take? Be realistic. If, for example, you are going to conduct some research on an algebra program with a low-achieving middle school population, then it will take a period of time to determine the results. Many thesis students begin their research projects while they are working on their literature reviews.
- Introduction: Your introduction section will include a statement of your hypothesis and a brief description of your research project. The important goal I to whet the appetite of your reader without giving ay the results of your research. This section is best left for last.
- Literature Review: This is the tedious part. You will spend a lot of time reviewing abstracts and studies that others have done before you. This section is really just like a research paper, and you have done these before. Take good notes, synthesize them, and write it up in a scholarly manner. Take it to your advisor as soon as you are finished, so that you have approval asap.
- Your Research Design: In this section, you will explain your own research project and methodology. Is your study qualitative or quantitative? What are the details of your population, what data are you collecting, etc.?
- Your Research Results: Here you will report on the data you collected. You will need to present it both visually and verbally.
- Your Analysis of the Results: this will involve statistical analysis to show the significance of your research. This may be a bit tough, but get some professional help if you need to.
- Discussion and Conclusion: So, did you prove your hypothesis? And was your study perfect? No, it probably was not. Address the constraints and the nuisance factors and give future researchers something to “chew on.”
Find the right environment for your work. The right environment is both physical and mental. If you need absolute quiet, and your household, apartment, or dorm is too busy, then get thee to a quiet place – a library or a café perhaps. In terms of mental environment, this relates to distractions you face with a computer screen in front of you. If you lack self-control, get a blocker that will not allow you to get on social media while you are working.
Find a support group. There are lots of people working on theses. Find a few and set up a schedule of meeting up to work. Misery loves company, but you will also motivate one another to stay at it.
If you struggle with scholarly writing (many of us do), then get some professional help with editing. Nothing is more irritating to an advisor than to have to read through a section that has lots of grammatical errors.
In some schools, terminology is different. What in the U.S. is a Master’s thesis may be called a Master’s dissertation, and what might be called a Ph.D. dissertation is called a doctoral thesis elsewhere. If you are producing a Ph.D. thesis, then you should access our “How to Write a Ph.D. Thesis (Dissertation) guide.
- Stay fit. Eat right, get enough sleep, and do something physical a few times a week.
- Give yourself breaks and rewards.
- Maintain a social life too. You are not a machine.
- Break the larger goal (completion) down into smaller ones, maybe each section
- Don’t ignore your advisor. She/he needs to know that you are making progress, and will want to give advice and suggestions. At least acknowledge them even if you don’t follow them.
- Don’t schedule research/writing sessions for more than 3-4 hours at a time. You will not be able to focus.
- Don’t edit your own work. Get a trusted peer or professional editor to do it.
- Be careful with your hypothesis. Many students fashion one that is too broad. Usually, this means that your research question is too broad too. Usually, you can fix this by discussing it with your advisor and getting some initial research done before you some up with your question and hypothesis.
- Students often give away too much in the introduction. This ruins the “suspense.” Your introduction should state your question and hypothesis and why you believe it is important to your field. Then briefly describe your research project – that’s all.
- Another mistake that many thesis writers make is trying to slug though something they obviously need help with. It is not shameful to get help when you need it.