From the moment you begin your graduate programme, you might feel like the shadow of your thesis is hanging over your head. This is not surprising. After all, this is arguably one of the most important papers you will write in your academic life. There’s no wonder that you might feel intimated. However be comforted in the thought that hundreds of thesis students get through this experience relatively unscathed every year, and thankfully there are a huge number of resources available to you.
I had a chat with Lleuella Morris, Masters Research Consultant & Coach who has helped many students with her knowledge, experience and her insightful thesis workshops. Based on her expertise, my research and my own experience, I’ve compiled some helpful tips that might allay your fears.
Don’t Wait Too Long to Ask For Help
You should start planning for your thesis as early as possible. You will feel glad you did and greatly reduce stress at the eleventh hour. Talk with your advisors about your timeline, so you have a good idea of what you should have accomplished at each stage. As Morris says, “Let the department handbook be your best friend.”
If you think you will need professional help, start examining options as soon as possible. If you think you may become overwhelmed, start accessing resources to help you before you go too far.
Make Use of Available Resources
Your graduate programme will undoubtedly have resources available that you can access. You might be surprised to learn certain tips that never occurred to you. Online resources can also be very useful. You’ve probably used many of them for your research, but why not look for advice on actually getting the thesis done. *
Work on Improving your Writing Style
Morris observes that one of the issues she sees the most are students who write in a style which doesn’t suit an academic paper. She suggests reading scholarly work to absorb the style of writing. Your whole university life and your research will provide you with lots of material to emulate. Take note of the standard language in your field and continuously try to mimic the turns of phrase. Of course DO NOT plagiarize. It’s better that you write in your own words, review later and make edits to reflect scholarly language.
According to Morris, a poor literature review style is another regular problem among students. This summary of your resources is an important part of your research papers. Find out what your department requires in a literary review, have a look at samples of various studies and take note of their approach. Also have a look at how other works deal with sections. Make sure yours are not all similar to each other.
Clearly Outline Your Research Issue
Morris also notes a recurrent problem of students neglecting to clearly outline their research issue. Think about it. Can you clearly state yours? Morris suggests, “Work backward from your topic and ask yourself, ‘What is the observed problem that prompted this topic?’ ”
Use the Right Methodology
Imagine that you’ve completed a considerable portion of your thesis, and you discover that you have been using the wrong methodology! According to Morris, there is no need to create your own ground work when formulating the methods for your research. “I highly recommend that students at master’s level as far as possible do not reinvent the wheel,” she advises. “In quantitative studies, use a reliable and valid survey instrument – do not create one. it’s time-consuming to create and test instruments for reliability and validity, and students are not trained at this level to create instruments, neither is it required of them.”
So what should you do instead?
Morris advises looking up research methods. Find studies similar to your topic and examine the methodology. She explains that depending on the objectives of your study you may be able to use the same methodology with only minor adjustments”.
Don’t Hesitate to Attend that Thesis Workshop!
Thesis workshops are excellent opportunities to get hands-on advice on important aspects related to your thesis like formatting and submitting. Attending workshops also affords you the advantage of meeting others who are going through the same journey. It could be heartening to be reminded that there are others like you labouring to achieve your goal.
Hire Someone to Proofread Your Work**
All thesis students should have reached the level where they can express their ideas clearly and cohesively, but it’s a very rare phenomena if you don’t have the need for at least a little proofreading and editing assistance. All that time going over the material can leave you blind to mistakes because of your familiarity with the text. Some important points to remember:
1) Contact proofreaders before you need them. Don’t wait until the last minute. They might not be available at short notice. Even if they are, a short time frame might not be enough for them to give your work the careful review it deserves
2) Hiring someone early will also give you time to get a quote and see if it suits your budget. Keep in mind that a good proofreader is not necessarily going to be the cheapest one you find. Ask around for recommendations.
3) Be available if they have questions. You’ve hired an expert, but in the end you’re the one who knows the most about your topic. Sometimes your proofreader will need your input to know how best to handle your work.
Hire a Thesis Coach***
Working with a thesis coach can be an invaluable option. Find a very experienced coach like Morris who has worked with many students over the years and who has probably seen or heard of every hurdle that might seem insurmountable to you.
“I’ve helped scores of students even at Ph.D level,” Morris explains. “I have created my own thesis writing frameworks and processes to help students wrap their heads around their topic and what the department requires of them and write a robust and successful thesis.”
There are other advantages of having thesis coaching. “It provides a sounding board for the difficult aspects of writing,” says Morris. She also explains, “It’s designed to ask all the right ‘what if?’ Questions, to create the scope of your thesis and ensure your topic and arguments are sound and flow in logical sequence.”
In addition she observes, “It provides advising accompanied by tools and frameworks to clarify what’s required and support them to develop the competency to produce it.”
In short don’t let the task of writing your thesis overpower you. With careful planning, research and valuable resources, the fearful student can avoid feeling overburdened and have a very educational and fulfilling experience. You can do this!
*Some resources suggested by Lleuella Morris
1. Research Design (International Student Edition): Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches by Creswell, John W. 4th (fourth) Edition.
2. Using SPSS for Windows and Macintosh by Green and Salkind 7th ed.
3. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th Edition
4. The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition
5. Respective university department style guides (as these have unique requirements aside from the general style manuals and are updated quite often)
7. SPSS (quantitative)
8. Nvivo (qualitative)
9. Fill out the form at this link to get a special PDF created by Morris herself sent straight to your inbox! It’s called “Stop Pulling Your Hair Out and Write Your Thesis” and features advice she’s put together based on her experiences working with master’s students.
** I have over a decade of experience in proofreading and editing. I’ve done considerable work proofreading theses and helping thesis students properly format their references. Find out more about me, my work, and how I can help you best present your research right here at my website or on my Facebook page. You can also e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
***Lleuella Morris has been helping thesis students for eight years. She has held free thesis workshops in the past, and she has prepared valuable frameworks and chapter blueprints that can help you on your thesis journey. Learn more about how she can help you. E-mail her at email@example.com or check her Facebook page.