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.
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 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.
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 about 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're 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.
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:
- Literature Review/Theory
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 a 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.
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.
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 Ph.D. 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. 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?