WRITING A THESIS
Updated: Aug 22
Does the thought of writing a thesis make you break out in a cold sweat and hit the panic button? I am sure you are not alone. Writing a thesis can be daunting. It is a huge and time-consuming task, but certainly not impossible to complete. With a good dose of self-belief, a well-structured plan, valuable advice from your supervisor, and lots of hard work, you too can achieve that Masters or PhD you thought was completely out of your reach.
I have put together some valuable advice that will hopefully get you into gear.
This may sound a bit simplistic, but like with any goal you want to achieve, simply starting off is all you may need to find that inner motivation.
Come up with a thesis idea and take it to your supervisor, but prepare yourself for some criticism. A common mistake is coming up with a thesis idea that is too broad, so expect having to tweak it. But don’t get discouraged. A well-polished statement is an important step towards the successful completion of your thesis, so it is worth spending some time on it.
The due date may still be years away, but start reading widely, and make notes along the way. This is also the time when you should start building your list of references. By the time you come to the end of your thesis, your bibliography should also be pretty much done and dusted. Be organised because a thesis can typically contain 50+ references to books, articles or other sources of information. If you don’t keep track of them while you read and write your thesis, the reference list will become a serious nightmare.
Talk to people that have successfully completed a thesis. They will most certainly have practical advice your supervisor hasn’t thought of. It may save you valuable time and energy. No matter how far away the deadline is, near the end you will most certainly be strapped for time.
Take the time to study your university’s guidelines for thesis submission and publishing. I know you will be eager to get into the actual work, but getting it right from the start will save you time and frustration in the end.
DO NOT PROCRASTINATE
Thesis writing is a huge task and takes years to complete, so don’t be fooled by the due date that is years away. Writing a paragraph each day will eventually get you to the finish line without having to do all-nighters three weeks before you have to hand in the product of your hard work. On the other hand, don’t rush it either. A rushed job will lead to errors and in the end you will have to redo it all, wasting valuable time.
BACK-UP YOUR WORK
I am not a paranoid person, but I am talking from experience. Save your thesis on a USB stick and guard it with your life. You only have to have your laptop stolen and you can kiss your thesis goodbye. I would even suggest you copy your thesis onto more than one device, just in case you lose your USB, or your car with your precious USB device in it gets stolen. Better safe than sorry.
BEWARE OF PLAGIARISM
Let’s face it, the Internet consists of 4.73 billion pages, making it a lot more challenging to write an original work than when the internet was not around. But a thesis is a thesis and plagiarism is a serious offence. Acknowledging the work and ideas of others is an absolute must. There are of course only that many ways to describe a method, but simply cutting and pasting from other sources is not the way to go about it. There are plenty of plagiarism checking tools on the internet. Some are free, some are not, but even if your thesis is 100% your own work, it may be worth checking your paper before submitting it to make sure there is no relationship between your work and that of others.
PROOFREAD! PROOFREAD! PROOFREAD!
This step is dreaded by most students, but its importance can’t be over-emphasised. Proofreading is an absolute must if you want to avoid rejection by your supervisor. Do it systematically and slowly. Rushing to get it over and done with will most definitely result in an untidy thesis riddled with multiple important errors. References need to be checked too. You may want to consider the help of a third party. If you do so, make sure your chose a qualified proofreader who knows something about your discipline. The proofreader’s expertise in referencing is also important.
Writing a thesis is like climbing a mountain. Sir Hillary conquered Mt Everest by putting one foot in front of the other, one slow step at a time. He did not make a U-turn when it became too tough, and he never took his eyes off his goal.
Slow and steady wins the race!