If you feel nervous or anxious about writing your thesis, you are not alone. The good news is that you have already tackled this daunting task by researching ways to write a thesis. You can clear the hurdles and reach the finishing line with a concrete goal, a structured process, and discipline.
The following framework will show you how to plan, write, and finalize a thesis that includes:
Writing a Thesis
Like other forms of writing, completing a thesis is a personal process, of which approaches vary among researchers. What can be agreed upon is the importance of proper planning before you start writing. Once the groundwork is done, it is time to begin drafting your five main chapters. A crucial last step will be to leave yourself enough time to create additional pages and conduct final reviews and edits.
Do The Groundwork
The difference between an enjoyable thesis-writing experience and one that leaves you anxious is project management. Before you even start thinking about writing the first chapter (i.e., introduction) of your thesis, there is much ground to cover, including
Plan Your Project
Start by breaking down your research into manageable parts and listing the various tasks you must accomplish for each component. Once done, link these tasks to a timeline (e.g., a Gantt chart). Deadlines will help you pace yourself and finish the thesis by the relevant submission date rather than frantically pulling all-nighters toward the end.
A good idea is to
Choose Your Topics
The topic is the specific subject or focus of your thesis. It describes the context of your study amidst other secondary literature. You can write about almost anything, but you must decide what topic has a related problem that will allow you to write a good thesis.
Make a list of potential topics that interest you and assess each based on the following criteria (starting with the most important factor):
The most vital criterion is asking yourself: is there a researchable problem linked to this focused topic?
Still, your supervisor’s knowledge and experience, as well as your passion for a particular field of study, shouldn’t be underestimated. You will be working on this thesis for months, and the topic should keep you engaged rather than allow you to lose interest.
In making your decision, you must review a substantial amount of secondary literature sources to see if your study has any place within the field. This process of elimination can take a few days or weeks since it requires much reading. A good tip is to keep track of all the sources you read, either through a reference list or by saving articles in a folder on your computer for later use.
Write a Thesis Statement
A thesis statement will guide the rest of your thesis. It is thus a central part of the groundwork you’ll have to do before writing your thesis. It is not factual, nor is it a generalization or opinion. Instead, it is a statement that
To help you write a thesis statement, complete the following two sentences:
Once done, change the “I” statements into a workable thesis statement and test to see if it answers a WHY or HOW question about the topic.
Work Out Your Thesis Structure
More than likely, the main chapters of your thesis will be structured as follow:
Additional content pages get added toward the end when you finalize your thesis. Yet, most of your time and effort will be focused on writing these five chapters. There are exceptions where your specific study might require an alternative structure, like addressing all five components in each chapter for multiple sections.
Before proceeding, ensure you understand what will be required under each section for your thesis. Then, create six folders on your laptop or PC – one folder for each chapter and an extra one titled ‘Unsure.’ You will understand the importance of this in the next step.
Constantly save your work using cloud storage, like Google Drive, Dropbox, or Microsoft OneDrive. Do not save your folders (and all the work you’ll do from here on out) only on a flash drive. Many of these gadgets are known to fail, and you could lose them, putting you back to square one.
Save Literature For Each Chapter
You’ll cover a plethora of reading material before you put pen to paper for your thesis. The best thing is to save each relevant publication into the digital folders you created in the previous step, provided they fit within a specific chapter.
For example, you read about a related study with the same context. In that case, you could reference it in your literature review. You will thus save the publication in the ‘Literature Review’ folder. If you come across an interesting method that could suit your research, save the document under ‘Methodology.’ If a source relates, but you’re not sure where you want to reference it, save it to your ‘Unsure’ folder.
These folders will make your life a lot easier once you start writing. All the related information will be grouped, allowing you to hit the ground running on each chapter.
Write Your Thesis
The second phase of the process requires you to put your head down and draft your thesis, starting with the first chapter and making your way through to the end:
Remember to start building a bibliography while progressing through the chapters. Make sure not to leave this part for last! You will regret having to look up every single source you accessed throughout your thesis at the end, as it will be very time-consuming to list them from scratch.
The following steps will focus on writing each main chapter of the thesis.
Start with the Introduction
Your thesis introduction must outline your study to a reader, so they know what to expect. Each piece of information adds to the framework you’re presenting that explains your study’s purpose, context, and outcome. It should make up about 10% of your total thesis word count.
It is best to include the following information in your thesis introduction:
You must merely draft an introduction at this stage, so don’t be too concerned if it’s rough around the edges. It is good to organize your thoughts before proceeding. Once you have completed the thesis, you should return to the introduction to finalize it.
Write the Literature Review
The literature review aptly follows the introduction. Here, you start elaborating on your study and placing your thesis in the context of other secondary literature on related topics. It’s called a literature review since you need to analyze other published studies to determine their relevance to your work. It should comprise roughly 20% of your thesis word count.
A good literature review must show the following:
For your thesis to be successful, you need to convince readers that your study is worth taking seriously. This chapter should show that you are a credible researcher, that your work has a legitimate purpose, and that your contribution is original and significant in the field of study.
Writing a literature review takes some planning and consideration.
Firstly, you will need to group the related secondary literature you want to include in your review according to commonalities. This categorization helps to structure your literature review and will often become sub-headings in your chapter.
Include at least one or two publications that don’t necessarily align with your position. Doing this shows that you’re aware of counterarguments and can contend with them objectively. It also adds academic rigor to your work.
Start writing your review by exploring generally relevant works that touch broadly on a similar theory base to yours. Once done, move on to a second section focusing on literature with some ties to your work. Follow this part up with a review of studies directly relevant to your idea. The process is like a funnel effect, starting with the broadest links and ending with the most focused literature.
Finally, end your chapter with a conclusion.
Explain Your Methods
The research methodology section is arguably one of the more challenging chapters to write, yet it is the most important. Your thesis can be accepted or rejected purely based on this chapter.
It is best to think about methodology as math calculations: you already stated you have a problem to which you have an answer. All you’re doing is showing your readers how you reached that conclusion.
This chapter typically takes up 15% of your word count and has the following structure:
Note the difference between research design and methodology.
When you write the research design, you should give the reader an overall plan. Research design examples include case studies, content analysis, ethnographic research, etc. The methodology is a more detailed account of how you employed these specific methods in the context of your research.
Another vital point to remember is to describe each research instrument’s design, purpose, reliability, and validity. Your readers must be able to see that your chosen research instruments are reliable. Otherwise, they will question your results and subsequent analysis and conclusion.
Finally, don’t avoid the limitations section. It would be best if you showed that your research methods have limitations, which all research does. It is not a way to diminish your study. It is an inherent part of any academic work that shows transparency and will give your readers greater confidence and trust in your credibility as a researcher.
Sometimes there will be quite a considerable time lapse between writing this chapter and the next one since you must conduct the research (if you haven’t done so already). Ensure to review and revise this methodology section once you’ve completed the fieldwork, experiments, focus group sessions, etc., to make any amendments that occurred during the process before writing the body.
Compose the Body
The body of a thesis makes up roughly 45% of your total word count and brings all your previous chapters together. It includes your:
A thesis body is typically more challenging for readers to understand than other parts of a thesis. Reasons include their lack of subject knowledge or the fact that the body lacks any set structure since this could vary significantly between subjects.
You can write one chapter on the research findings, followed by multiple chapters representing analysis and sub-conclusions. Or you can write one chapter for every research finding, analysis, and sub-conclusion. Whichever you prefer, make sure you group your text into logical sections, each representing a significant facet of your work. This will ensure your readers stay engaged.
Another essential point to remember is to match your sub-conclusions with your research findings and data analysis exactly. Don’t assume, make a moral judgment, or add anything to your conclusions that the data cannot prove. Your readers should thus have confidence in your interpretations based on how you reached them.
Lastly, check this chapter of your thesis multiple times. Your evidence and analysis must be appropriate and of sufficient quality (i.e., reliable). Even if opposing evidence exists, you should include this in your discussion – don’t only rely on data that is in favor of your thesis.
Write the Conclusion
The conclusion chapter should mirror the introduction to your thesis. It is a rundown of your research findings, final thoughts and interpretations, and their academic significance. A conclusion typically makes up only 10% of your total word count and includes the following:
Since the conclusion chapter takes up a small percentage of your thesis, you must write concisely. For example, only recap the main findings and sub-conclusions to avoid repeating your previous chapter entirely.
This chapter should also remain focused on what has already been presented to the reader. Resist the temptation to add new data or interpretations. Everything you state here should link back to your previous chapters.
Finalizing Your Thesis
Now that you’ve written the five main chapters, you can celebrate completing most of the work. You will draft and add some additional pages to your thesis in the next few steps. You will also give it a final review to correct any minor errors before you submit your work.
Appendices are additional information to explain or support the main points of your research. It is often information that is too detailed to include in the five main chapters and is presented at the end of your thesis. If used, appendices can make your arguments more convincing and thus add legitimacy to your work.
It would be best if you used appendices when you want to:
Review and Edit Your Work
The importance of this part of the thesis-writing process shouldn’t be underestimated. You must go through your thesis with a fine-tooth comb and make necessary amendments. It is also at this stage that you return to your introduction and finalize the writing of it now that you have a complete overview of your thesis.
Some points to consider:
Write an Abstract
The abstract is one of the last things you write, besides creating a contents list, acknowledgments, and so forth. Yet it is usually the first thing you see when you access a publication. This part is an overview (150-250 words) of your thesis. It briefly describes your study, highlighting key points, methods, and implications.
Start your abstract with your thesis statement so that the reader is immediately aware of the issue you’re addressing. Then describe the research design and methodology, primary findings, and conclusions. End your abstract with 3-5 keywords related to your thesis.
Format and Prepare the Thesis
The final step in the thesis-writing process is to adhere to the formalities of academic work according to your institution’s published guidelines, which include (but are not limited to) the following:
You must also add the last few pages to your thesis during this stage to prepare it for submission. These sections will also have to follow your institution’s guidelines, so make sure you create the following as required:
Remember that your contents page needs to list every section, including figures and tables you have in your thesis.
Also, depending on your institution’s requirements, you may be asked to submit a reference list or a bibliography. The former is a list of only the references you made in your thesis. A bibliography includes all the sources you accessed to be able to write this thesis, even the background reading.
Once you’re happy with your compilation, you will need to have your thesis printed as stipulated by your institution. Typically, they will require multiple printed copies, either ring bound or hardcover, and an electronic version of your work.
How To Write an Excellent Thesis
The elusive cum laude pass (i.e., with distinction) doesn’t have to be out of reach. To ‘pass with praise,’ your thesis must:
Achieving a cum laude pass starts with doing the groundwork well. Set yourself up for success by preparing correctly and committing enough time daily to your research. It is also vital to look after yourself in between writing sessions (e.g., exercising, eating healthily, drinking lots of water, meditating, etc.). Finally, keep reminding yourself – when you’re feeling wary – why your study is noteworthy.
Another step worth considering is accessing marking sheets and theses written by past students from your institution. Many universities keep copies of all the submissions that receive cum laude passes. It is simply a matter of requesting time to read them, usually from the institution’s library or online. After seeing it first-hand, you’ll better understand the institution’s expectations and research standards.
This article’s approach should not be seen as a hard-and-fast rule or considered in a linear sense. The advice should be considered alongside your process and working methods. You may, therefore, find it more effective to swap some steps around or add additional tasks to ensure your success. Conduct your thesis writing in whichever way works best for you.
Hofstee, E. (2006). Constructing a good dissertation: A practical guide to finishing a Master’s, MBA or Ph.D. on schedule. EPE.