22 Quick and Useful Tips To Tackle Your Thesis (Part 2)

Welcome to the second part of my series 22 Quick and Useful Tips For Tackling Your Thesis. Can you believe that I sat out to write a 10 tip post when I thought of this topic? After doing a bit of soul searching, writing, and reading my post aloud I came up with even more tips. Y'all know I don't like to hold out on y'all, so here we go.

22 Quick and Useful Tips To Tackle Your Thesis (Part 2) | Tackling your thesis is pretty difficult. For many, the thesis is the first major paper they will create. Check out part two of this two part series for 11 great tips on how to tackle your thesis successfully whether you are working on your undergraduate or master's level thesis.

12. Look At Other Papers For Inspiration (But Not Too Much)

I looked at a lot of papers for inspiration while I was writing my thesis. At the end of the day though, I think you have to be clear about where your abilities end. You cannot compare yourself too heavily to dissertations or academic papers in your field. You are still learning and it takes years of hard work, publications, and everything in between to get your content to the level that it needs to be at.

Don't worry if your papers aren't 100% from the start. This takes time. So when you are looking at other people's papers for inspiration step back and think about if your thesis committee would expect you to do that in your paper. Overall, your professors understand that you cannot do it all. They understand that you are getting a BA or an MA. This is not dissertation or peer-reviewed academic paper level work. Yes, it needs to be cohesive and good, but they don't expect you to be perfect.

Talk with your thesis committee (specifically your chair) and let them see where you are going. Keeping them in the loop will help you so you can understand where their head is. It is important to understand the level they want you to write at. They will let you know if they feel that you are not going deep enough, but you need to keep them updated so they can tell you this before it's too late.

13. Take Care Of Yourself (& Only Cry A Little Bit)

To get to the health side of things a bit, freaking take care of yourself. This time will be mega-stressful. I know that the thesis process compounded with all the things happening with my research assistantship through everything off for me. I was having major issues with my period (TMI, but important) and it was causing issues in other avenues of my life. I started feeling extra weak and I ended up putting myself on a mixture of daily vitamins (I ended up getting these Women's Vitamins from Vitafusion and these Iron pills from NatureMade.) I wasn't eating the right food so I ended up supplementing my diet with vitamins, but you may also just want to cook food rich in what you need.

Recognize when your body is out of sync with where it needs to be, and don't wait. I know that vitamins have a bit of a negative rep because they basically pump you with way more of these vitamins that you need, but for me they have helped so much. I am not sure if this is an actual positive or if I just feel that it is a positive, but since taking my vitamins I feel that I have gotten better and my period has straightened out and it has not been so insane.

My thesis and graduate school in general caused some huge changes to my body. You need to be in tune with your body during this time so that you can make sure you are able to get it back to where it needs to be. Even if you have to do a mental check in with how you are feeling each day, do it. Graduate school is not worth risking your health over!

22 Quick and Useful Tips To Tackle Your Thesis

Now let's chat about crying

I cried A LOT during graduate school. I was an emotional person before graduate school, but the nerves of graduate school definitely didn't help. Especially when it came to working on my thesis, I have probably cried for at least a little bit during most of my writing sessions (if not all of my writing sessions.)

Sad, I know.

The biggest thing about crying when it comes to writing your thesis is that you have to learn to suck it up a bit. Crying can really get in the way of your sanity. For example, while I was submitting my paper to ProQuest my internet on my Mac decided to basically go out. This was hella difficult for me because:

  1. I needed to log on to the internet to upload my article to ProQuest.
  2. Microsoft Word is basically attached to the cloud now, so if you don't have internet access, you don't have Word.

I was in a conundrum, and my first instinct was to break down in tears. I worked on it a bit from school, I worked on it a bit from Microsoft Word Online from a Chromebook, etc. Ultimately, those weren't sustainable options really for the back and forth I needed to have. 

You want to know what saved the day?

Microsoft Word for my iPad. Crazy, right?! It has just enough functionality to basically be Microsoft Word for your Mac, which made making a few tiny adjustments to my thesis pretty easy. If I hadn't stopped crying to think about downloading Microsoft Word on my iPad, I would still be sobbing right now.

Yes, crying is necessary, but don't cry so much that you overpower all the important thoughts that need to come into your mind with tears.

14. Don't Lose Sight Of Your Passions

It's so easy to get lost in the rat race of completing your thesis that you lose sight of yourself. There are so many memes out there reminding you that you should probably be working on your thesis every hour of every single day. While you definitely need to make progress on your thesis, this is not a healthy sentiment for most people. You need to strike a balance between being a thesis workaholic and never working on your thesis. There is a happy middle ground.

Don't let people shame you from taking time for yourself. Working 24/7 on your thesis won't help you be a better writer. Instead, take your time, and find a few passions outside of writing. Maybe like you young adult fiction or creating your very own website where you can share your passions outside of writing your paper. Whatever that passion is, make room for it. You need it more than anything during this time.

15. Work Smarter, Not Harder

Y'all know my obsession with the pomodoro technique by now, and I have to say that this was such a beneficial technique for me while writing my thesis. I love the pomodoro technique because it gives you time to take a break, re-evaluate your focus, and more.

Without taking mandatory breaks it's easy to stare at a screen for hours looking at a blinking cursor. Instead, use the pomodoro technique so you are forced to really battle with the fact that you may not be as productive as you think you are being.

The pomodoro technique snaps me back into reality and gives me time to take a break and refocus. If you are not using this technique I really encourage you to try it out during one of your writing sessions.

16. Set Deadlines For Yourself

It is so easy to fall prey to the "I'll totally do that later" bug. Set deadlines for yourself, put them in your planner and on your wall, really let yourself know exactly what you need to be doing.

What I found more than anything is that writing a thesis is really freaking hard. No duh, Amanda, but seriously. More than likely a thesis is not something you take a ton of class credit for. It's probably going to be something that you do outside of class. When push comes to shove, it's really easy to push working on your thesis to the side because you want to focus on things like working on class projects; staying afloat with your job if you have one; participating in student organizations; and just procrastinating by doing things that are a million times more fun.

There are probably more reasons to not work on your thesis than there are to work on your thesis. As sad as that fact is, it's true.

So set major and minor deadlines. Give yourself time to create and revise your work. Really take the time necessary to create pages that you are proud of and that can stand up to your thesis committee.

17. Be Prepared For Some Publishing Expenses

Let's chat about this. For my undergraduate thesis, I just had to create a thesis for my class. For my graduate school thesis, I had to publish this thing on ProQuest for the school to have. I paid almost $140 for the bare minimum. I didn't copyright my thesis, I chose the free publishing option, etc. I ended up paying that money because the school required me to pay for 3 hardbound copies for the school. 

Ultimately, I haven't even paid for a copy for myself yet. I am not sure if that is in the cards to be honest. That wasn't exactly what I wanted to spend my money on, if I am being completely honest.

You will probably have some publishing expenses though, especially at the graduate level, and maybe even at the undergraduate level depending on your school. This is an added expense around the time you will already be graduating. Make sure you know the exact cost of publishing your thesis at your school.

22 Quick and Useful Tips To Tackle Your Thesis

18. Follow Your School's Thesis Guide To A T

One of the hardest parts for me when publishing my thesis was following the thesis guide my school set up. As I talked about in the last point, we had to publish our thesis to ProQuest which meant that we had to use a specific guide that made our content ProQuest ready. This guide was quite difficult, and totally nitpick-y to get through. We had a checklist which was helpful, but there was still a bunch of stuff that was up in the air while I was doing this.

Don't be surprised if there are a ton of rules and regulations that you need to follow that are totally different than a regular paper. I have written a ton of papers in my lifetime, but none of the rules for those papers came anywhere close to the rules I had to follow for my thesis. Overall, it's important to know that because writing a thesis is difficult. Your thesis is a mammoth of a document so you really need to follow those guidelines so you don't mess up your document. Always save a copy of your work before you start formatting just in case you mess something up.

19. Keep Your Committee Updated (Specifically Your Chair)

I worked with my committee chair a lot during the writing process for my thesis. I didn't bug my entire committee a ton, but I worked closely with my chair and he looked at multiple versions of my thesis. 

Having your committee chair look through your document as you are writing it is really helpful. Be sure that you are sending as many updates to them as possible. This will really help you avoid any issues during your thesis defense. If they are left in the dark, chances are you will feel left in the dark when it comes time for you to turn your final versions of your paper in.

Since I had kept my chair up to date I really didn't have that many suggestions to perfect my paper from my committee. My defense went really smoothly because my professors had ample time to go over everything. Since my chair had seen many versions of my thesis he was able to help me avoid sending some of the worst versions of my thesis to my committee. 

20. Don't Take Breaks For Granted

I basically started my thesis process during Summer of 2016. I definitely didn't write on my thesis as much as I should have during that year. I took my breaks for granted, and you definitely should not do that.

In my opinion, breaks go by so much faster than the school year goes. I wrote a good portion of my thesis this summer, and before I knew it we were in June and I was freaking out trying to make sure my paper was finished in time to be submitted. Don't be like me, y'all.

When you have a long break like winter, summer, and spring break--work on your freaking thesis. Yes, you will be stressed out during those breaks, but those breaks are prime time writing time. You should be taking all the time you can to write and handle research for your thesis then.

21. Understand That Theses Have Limitations

You cannot do everything for your thesis. You really need to narrow down on a topic and cover a very slim piece of research. I only had one year to work on my thesis, which isn't a small time frame, but it's just not possible for me to tackle my entire idea notebook.

One of my professors who is a qualitative sociologist was really interested in social movements, and eventually particularly how religion fit into it. For his MA thesis he didn't set out to tackle his entire story. In fact, for his MA thesis he didn't interview that many people. With his Ph.D he interviewed way more people and even hung out with various religious groups for extended periods of time by going to their services and going to various outside of service events. He didn't try to tackle his entire research plan as a Master's level student.

I think that you have to understand that you will not be able to tackle everything right away. Depending on how much money, time, and staff your department has you may not even be able to conduct much of your own research. For example, I used a survey that was already done to conduct my research. Using a secondary data set has a lot of positives for you as a student that should be noted. Doing your own research is difficult after all. The survey that I used had over 1,000 respondents which was a much better sample than I would ever be able to create on my own.

At the end of the day it's important to know that you  won't be able to tackle all your research goals in one fell swoop. Instead, create a slice of something you would like to accomplish in the long run. Then once it's time for you to pick a dissertation topic for a PhD program (if you plan to continue) you can be well on your way to doing so.

22 Quick and Useful Tips To Tackle Your Thesis

22. Don't Forget Your Ethics

Last, but certainly not least, it's important that you remember ethics. This goes for things like cheating, but it also goes for researching and mishaps that may happen. If your research requires that you submit something to the Institutional Review Board (IRB), do so. If after you set up your protocol with the IRB ,something happens, you need to alert the IRB immediately.

The IRB sounds really difficult, but it is really there for your protection. If you don't follow the rules and guidelines of the IRB (or let them know immediately when something changes) you could put your entire thesis in jeopardy. The IRB wants the best for you as a student, your research participants, and the college as a whole so follow their directions. Plus, if something was to go wrong, you can only truly get help from the IRB if you were following all of the protocol they set in place.

If you think about doing something and you have to pause (for even a second) to wonder if this is going against your IRB approval, don't do it. It's not worth jeopardizing your research.


Writing a thesis is draining but at the end of the day you will be so happy knowing you have completed the document. There were obviously times throughout my graduate career where I regretted the decision and wish I had taken a comprehensive exam instead, but I think that is a totally normal thing to think when you are in the thick of creating your thesis and you aren't sure that you will ever finish it. 

At the end of the day my thesis is definitely one of my crowning achievements. I wasn't sure if I would ever complete it, but it's done. Writing your thesis will be difficult no matter what topic you choose, but it's important to not give up. If you ever any questions or concerns about tackling your thesis contact me. I am always here to answer your questions and talk about my personal experience writing my thesis with you.

Are you currently writing a thesis? What was your favorite part about this series?

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Amanda Cross

My name is Amanda Cross and I am the blogger behind The Happy Arkansan. I am a 20 something college graduate, graduate student, and all around awesome person.

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22 Quick and Useful Tips to Tackle Your Thesis (Part 1)

If you have been following me on social media, you know that I recently submitted my thesis Who Steps In To Defend Online. This has been a long time in the making, and I am so glad to have officially successfully defended my thesis. Today I wanted to offer some quick and useful tips that I feel will be really beneficial for you as you tackle your own thesis.

This post was supposed to be just 10 points, but that didn't quite happen the way I was expecting it to. Turns out I have a lot of advice to offer you from all of the mistakes I made while writing my own thesis.

Let's get started.

22 Quick and Useful Tips To Tackle Your Thesis (Part 1) | Tackling your thesis is pretty difficult. For many, the thesis is the first major paper they will create. Check out part one of this two part series for 11 great tips on how to tackle your thesis successfully whether you are working on your undergraduate or master's level thesis.

1. Pick A Topic You LOVE.

I cannot stress this enough, y'all. A thesis is a difficult paper to tackle and you will spend hours upon hours outside of class researching this topic, performing your own research, and writing your paper.

This is not something that should be taken lightly.

Since you will be doing this for so long, it's important you love the topic you are discussing. Writing a thesis is already super difficult, so you don't want to pick a topic you hate which will make the process of writing your paper even more difficult. Instead, take your time and pick a topic that you are actually interested in.

How To Pick The Best Topic

There are SO many things that you could potentially write about for your thesis. I would suggest that you carry around a small notebook or even just use your notes app on your phone so you can write down potential ideas as they come to you. I would often get tons of ideas for papers just by sitting in class and listening to my classmates discuss topics covered in the class. Sometimes it would be an opposing argument or an expansion of their argument. I would often write these down in my phone, in the margins of articles, or even in an idea notebook.

You also want to always keep your idea notebook or phone nearby when you are reading articles and books for class. Part of your job as a student is to critique and understand that learning is a continuous process. Just because someone who is popular in your discipline said something, doesn't mean you can't disagree with it. So when you are skimming the articles or skimming books for class be sure to take note of the arguments they make. These can easily be the basis of a thesis where you try to share an opposite opinion, expand upon the opinions they express in their paper, or try to retest the conclusions they had in their academic work in the current times.

2. Pick A Reliable Committee

Graduate school has a TON of politics that you may not see as an undergraduate student. I had to change my thesis committee around quite a bit during my time due to picking some less than reliable people. I may get more into that at a later date, but I think the most important thing is to realize that you can't depend on everyone. Once they show that they can't be depended on, you have to let them go, even if it is painful.

For me, removing this person from my committee was the most painful thing I probably had to endure as a student, but you need a reliable committee while writing your thesis. You need people who you are able to contact at a moment's notice for things such as meetings to go over your paper, random questions you have about the process, as well as all setting up the defenses that you have to do with your proposal and final paper.

Even if you really adore someone it has to go past that. Many professors are a bit scattered, but you need a committee who is there for you despite being scattered. When creating your committee you have to be a little emotionally detached because at the end of the day you need a committee who can help you when you need it most. Writing your thesis is an emotional process, so you have to be a little emotionless during the process of finding your perfect committee, so you know you can depend on them when thesis tensions are at their highest.

22 Quick Useful Tips To Tackle Your Thesis

3. Have A Variety Of Perspectives On Your Committee

You need to include a number of different individuals on your thesis. For me, I mainly needed someone who was strong when it came to statistics. I am somewhat knowledgeable on the numbers side of things, but not the most knowledgeable. Having a thesis chair who was able to help me understand the numbers side of my thesis was really helpful for me.

If you are a bit rusty on various parts of your thesis add people to your committee who are great in the parts you are not so great at. This will really help you as you are writing your thesis so you have various people to go to for those problems. Understand where you may need some support in writing your thesis so you can pick an awesome committee and write the best thesis.

If you are unsure which parts of your thesis you may need help with, consult other papers that you have written. Is there a part of that paper you didn't do so hot on? That may be a part of writing you need extra support on. If you have a professor that you are really close with ask them about your writing weaknesses so you can come up with a committee that makes those weaknesses not so weak.

4. Research Your Heart Out

Research is really the cornerstone of a good thesis. You need to have solid research for pretty much every section to back up your thoughts and opinions in your introduction, literature review, and even when you begin discussing your own research and findings from that research.

You are in a great place as a student because you have access to all sorts of amazing information. You can really immerse yourself in the research process because of all the amazing content you have at your disposal. Your school probably has access to tons of databases. Databases are my favorite way to do research and I have even written a lengthy post all about using research databases. This a great post for everyone to check out if you aren't sure how to use databases to their full capacity. 

Related Reading: Your Ultimate Guide To Using Research Databases

I love this piece because I really break down how to use databases to your advantage and I even take you behind the scenes of some of my own research and show you how I do research for my writing. If you are new to using databases this article is a great starting point for figuring out how to make the most of the research databases you have at your disposal.

22 Quick Useful Tips To Tackle Your Thesis

5. Outline Your Content

One of the biggest things you can do to really get the ball rolling is to create a rough outline of the different pieces and parts of your thesis draft. It's so easy to run into issues because you don't know where to go with each section of your paper. Overall there will be a few sections in every research paper:

  • Introduction
  • Literature Review/Theory
  • Methods/Data
  • Discussions
  • Conclusion

It is your job as a researcher to take those sections and try to break it down for yourself. Give yourself a few different things that you want to see from each section on that outline. What are you trying to accomplish with each section?

You may want this outline to be specific, but I feel as though you can add to your outline over time. I encourage you to make your outline digitally or make each section and subsection a separate sheet of paper. If you do it in a row on one sheet it will really stifle your creativity as things ultimately get moved around a lot. You may even want to do your planning on an app like Evernote or Microsoft OneNote so you can really plan your outline, move things around, and include various external items near your outline.

If you want to create more formal outline, a few months back Adria published a great post on my site all about how to use outlines for your essays. Some of the tips she offers can easily be transformed and used for your thesis.

6. Do A Little Bit Every Day

One of the hardest parts for me when I was writing my paper was constantly having to get back into the swing of things. I took many breaks throughout writing my thesis and I probably shouldn't have. Ultimately, I was able to finish writing my paper, but it took a really long time to be able to do so.

My suggestion, keep your thesis open as much as possible on your desktop. Work on a few pieces of your paper here and there to make sure that you are consistently progressing on your paper. You never want to fall behind because you are not taking the time to progress.

Do something every day whether it's editing a section, writing a paragraph, or doing some research on your topic. You want to make sure that you are making strides every day because that will make the process smoother for you, and create better content in the long run.

Make writing your thesis a habit.

22 Quick and Useful Tips To Tackle Your Thesis

7. Use Grammarly To Edit Your Paper

I am a huge proponent of using Grammarly to edit your papers. I adore Grammarly as an editor because it goes more in depth than any other spelling/grammar checker on the market. You can also spring for Grammarly Premium which I think is a good investment while you are in college to edit your papers. It goes deeper than Grammarly does and helps you fix things like passive voice or just giving you ideas for other words to use to enhance the vocabulary of your paper.

One of my favorite features of Grammarly Premium is the plagiarism checker. Plagiarism is a BIG no-no in college and graduate school so you want to make sure that you are covering all your bases. Sometimes it's not totally your fault as you are going through your paper and you may forget to cite something. The plagiarism checker really helps you combat that, and sometimes it's a false alarm, but just running it to make sure that everything is good is a great thing to do in academia.

The #1 Writing Tool

Grammarly catches so many mistakes that regular spelling and grammar checkers just don't catch because they don't consider errors contextually. Grammarly is definitely my secret weapon when it comes to editing my papers and getting in depth with my editing.

8. Take Citations Seriously

As we chatted about in the last section on Grammarly, plagiarism is no joke. If you are caught plagiarizing you could have some serious consequences. It can cause you to be kicked out of school for academic dishonesty, and that's just not cool.

Citing as you go is probably the easiest way to stop this from happening. Also, going back after you have cited to make sure that your content matches your citations page and vice versa.

Grammarly has a great plagiarism checker, but it should not be the end all be all of your citation checking. Grammarly can't catch it all, and you won't be able to blame Grammarly if you are caught not citing something. Technology is awesome but ultimately your paper needs a set of human eyes to comb through it and make sure that things are cited properly.

Everyone has issues with citations, even professors. I was a graduate assistant during Summer 2016 and one of my jobs was to comb through a professors paper with various highlighters and make sure that her citations matched. I was also looking for rogue citations on the citations page that didn't appear in the paper at all (that happens sometimes too.) You are not alone in the fact that you need to look through your citations.

9. Don't Hire Someone TO Write Your Thesis

I am not going to lie to you. The thought to do this will probably cross your mind a million times when you are in the thick of writing your thesis. Ignore those feelings. Writing your thesis is stressful, but don't let the stress cause you to hire this out. This paper is the culmination of the skills that you have learned and perfected during graduate school.

You will be much prouder knowing that you wrote your amazing paper. Hearing the people on my committee liked my paper was so much sweeter because I knew I penned it.

Essay writing services are still a murky territory in academia as far as I can tell. It's not technically plagiarism because usually the papers aren't copied from the internet and are written specifically for you. At the end of the day, this practice is very dishonest, and it robs you of one of the most satisfying parts of the graduate school experience (finally finishing your freaking thesis.)

It is also important to note that you can't trust every online essay writer. Sometimes they do engage in murky business practices and sell multiples of the same essay. This is obviously not every essay writer, but it is possible to be dinged with plagiarism even when you use an essay writing service.

I hope that I encourage you to take the time to write your thesis with my articles on creating your thesis this week. This is something you should take pride in. I couldn't possibly imagine going through with hiring someone to write my work. I'd feel guilty and like I truly didn't earn my degree.

If writing a thesis is scary to you and you want to end at a Master's degree ask if your school offers a comprehensive exam instead. Comprehensive exams really only work if you don't ever plan on going past a Master's degree though, so be sure that is something you want, otherwise there is a chance you will have to complete a Master's thesis before you get into your PhD program.

10. Have more than your own eyes on your thesis

While your committee and Grammarly is awesome, you should also have other eyes on your thesis if possible. There are many resources and people you can turn to for eyes on your thesis. You may want to consider having your family, friends, department colleagues, etc. read your paper and mark things that are unclear or grammar/misspellings.

Another great option is taking your paper to the Writing Center on your college's campus to be worked on. Your Writing Center will probably have some great people for you. They may not understand some of the more technical things (that's why you turn to your committee and people in your department) but they will be able to understand when things don't sound right or when you have used the same word too many times.

Either way you go, make sure that you are sharing your work with different students, professors, and tutors to make sure that your paper is awesome.

11. Work On The Pieces That Excite You First

When writing any piece of content whether it's a blog post or a paper for a class I always write what excites me first. Papers are all about momentum in my opinion. It's so easy to want to write a paper in order, but that doesn't give you the peace of mind that you truly need. It's really difficult to write a paper in order, even if we were always taught that we should.

Instead, take the rough outline that you created before and start with that. What part of that rough outline excites you the most? Start writing that content. Then once you start feeling yourself and your writing style, you can move on to other parts of your paper that you really don't like that much.

Doing this saves any piece of writing that I ever do to be honest. Writing in a straightforward way is boring AF and it stifles your creativity as a writer. Sure, you are writing an academic paper, but you don't have to write a paper from start to finish. Use that outline to help you jump around so you can finish faster because you aren't stuck writing a piece of the paper that you hate.

Until Next Time...

I am so excited to continue the conversation for this in a few days on Thursday. This post has turned into a beast for sure but I am so happy to offer y'all even more advice on how to rock your thesis in just a couple of days.

Until then, what was your favorite tip we discussed in part 1? Have you ever written a thesis?

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Amanda Cross

My name is Amanda Cross and I am the blogger behind The Happy Arkansan. I am a 20 something college graduate, graduate student, and all around awesome person.

12 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Went To College


Subscribe to get instant access to my masterclass 12 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Went To College so that you can create the best college life by learning from all the mistakes I made as a college student.

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