23 June, 2020

17 minutes read

Author:  Mathieu Johnson

Conquering the Master’s Thesis: A Guide That Works

So, you've spent years at college obtaining a degree of your dream. And now comes the time to write a Master's thesis that will prove that you have gained enough knowledge and are a qualified specialist of the chosen field. And even though you really want to prove both these points, you have no clue on where to start and how to write your Master's thesis, right? If so, then this guide is for you. We'll walk you through the process step by step. So, let's roll!

Master's thesis guide

So, you've spent years at college obtaining a degree of your dream. And now comes the time to write a Master's thesis that will prove that you have gained enough knowledge and are a qualified specialist of the chosen field. And even though you really want to prove both these points, you have no clue on where to start and how to write your Master's thesis, right? If so, then this guide is for you. We'll walk you through the process step by step. So, let's roll!

At some point in your academic career, your professor will require you to write a thesis paper on a topic of your choice. Most people become lost at this stage, and a lot of questions start flying around in their heads:

  • What’s the difference between a thesis and any other kind of academic writing?
  • What’s the best way to prepare before you even start writing?
  • How can you make the writing process fast and exciting?
  • How can you make the structure shine?

In this article, we will examine these questions and others, and we will offer you the advice of different students who have already written many theses.

What is a Thesis?

When getting a Master’s Degree

A thesis paper is a theoretical and experimental investigation of some or other problem, theory, or proposition, and it is usually written as an academic requirement. Thesis assignments appear in a student’s curriculum when they are getting a Master’s degree.

Master’s thesis is a creative work that demonstrates a student’s unique and original investigation into a particular subject using the correct scientific methodology. It often takes the form of a term paper, which is (as the name suggests) usually due at the end of the academic term.

A thesis should be crafted to demonstrate your original thinking on one problem (and only one!) based on data researched from other scientific works. A proper master’s thesis will show your ability to analyze material, think critically, and present your findings coherently. From an academic perspective, a thesis gives you the opportunity to prove that you can develop strong and logical arguments about your chosen topic.

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How to Prepare Beforehand

Before you begin, think twice of the subject you are going to investigate. The most important thing to remember is that if you choose a question that does not appeal to you, you will waste a lot of time for nothing. It is a fact that students who choose topics they care about usually get better results. The reason for this is simple: if you are interested in the topic and you enjoy the subject matter, you will be motivated to produce a better thesis, and you will do a thorough, well-researched job of it.

Ask the Right Question

Choosing your thesis question is one of the critical aspects of the project, but we do not suggest that you formalize a specific question until you have written about 20-30% of the master’s thesis. Although this may sound unusual, there are a few excellent reasons for doing it this way.

Formulate your thesis question

Firstly, until you have actually started researching the subject and getting your information in order, you won’t know whether anyone has investigated this particular aspect of your field before. Furthermore, you may find that a lack of literature forces you to consider an alternative approach. Finally, during the research and writing process, you might find that the thesis question you are contemplating has become uninteresting, irrelevant, or impossible to investigate.

You must have some idea of the question you want to address, but remember to remain flexible and open to new ideas. Once you have begun your research and have a good idea of how your master’s thesis will develop, you can create a thesis question that will provide an original perspective on the body of the paper.

Whether it is a dissertation or a master’s thesis – it goes without saying that you will have to conduct extensive research before you begin writing. This will include reading texts, watching videos, and analyzing a variety of data from a bunch of sources. The research stage is partly integrated into the writing process. During your research, write down every single thought you have on the topic.  To your amazement, you will find that you are almost ready in no time!

Write down every single thought

How to Create a Thesis Outline

Similar to the thesis question, creating a master’s thesis outline means having some structure from which you can work. Writing down your arguments is usually not the biggest challenge: the process of structuring your thoughts can be the most demanding part of your thesis.

Trying to create a structured master’s thesis from the first draft is often not the best way to approach the problem. After you have started your research and you have enough notes to start working with, construct your paper in the same way that you write a term paper or any other course-wide assignment.

Here is the correct structure for an effective master’s thesis, with explanations of the various sections:

Thesis Outline

1. Introduction

In the introduction, state the goal of the paper and pose the thesis question, provide sufficient background information to put the scope of your work in context, and offer a written ‘road map’ of how your argument will develop.  In other words, the introduction demonstrates that you are familiar with the subject matter, have mastered the literature, and can distinguish between the information you have researched and the statements you produce.

2. Methods

This section provides an overview of the techniques, calculations, procedures, theories, and analytical methods that you will use to prove your thesis. All scientific works require a specific and repeatable chain of investigation, and this section allows you to explain to your reader how you intend to structure your study.

3. Results

The results section is where you will present your observations using tables, graphs, and statistics. Remember to avoid inserting your opinion at this stage – just record all the data extracted from the investigation. To make your master’s thesis more structured, use sub-headings and state the key results at the beginning of each paragraph.

4. Discussion

This is the most important part of your thesis. State whatever significant patterns, relationships, or trends you discovered during your research (including any exceptions that you noted), then interpret your results. Show multiple hypotheses wherever possible. Explain why these results are important for future investigations in your chosen field.

5. Conclusion

In conclusion, state the most important aspect of your research findings. An easy way to do this is to ask yourself the question: what do I want the reader to remember or think about? Refer to the problem and the thesis question stated in the introduction, then express your opinion or proposed solutions. Don’t just rewrite the introduction or the discussion word for word: the conclusion should pull your arguments together and answer the thesis question. A good conclusion will often suggest other avenues for future investigation.

How to Seek for Literature?

How to find literature

When you are finished with your outline, try to find the literature best suited to the needs of your master’s thesis. It can be quite difficult for you to find the best sources. You will spend hours trying to find appropriate authors, but it is worthwhile spending time on this – simply by looking at the names and works you use as references, your professor will be able to get an idea of your background knowledge level. And, from a practical point of view, how can you be sure that your thesis is unique if you haven’t researched the topic thoroughly?

Once you are familiar with the literature (don’t forget to record all the authors you use!), distinguish the primary sources of information. The fewer primary sources you have, the easier it will be to structure your paper. You will usually have between two to four books as your main sources; the other books are just there to help you with ideas, some quotes, or to supply the results of other author’s investigations.

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How to Plan Your Work?

To ensure that your work is logical and meets all the requirements, you need to make an outline for it, which you can do in one of two ways. Your first option is to make a comprehensive draft and then structure your thesis directly from this. This method is suitable for students who are thoroughly familiar with the subject and have the ability to construct the entire complicated master’s thesis in their heads.

The other option is to make various drafts of whatever thoughts you have on the topic, then structure them into an outline for your thesis. This method is usually used when the student is not exactly sure what he or she will be writing about.

Remember that the thesis is all about your ideas, and you can change it can at any time. Even experienced researchers sometimes start out with one topic then find during their investigations another, more interesting subject.  And, very often, they change it.

Don't limit to one idea

How to Write Efficiently?

One of the most important aspects of writing is your schedule. Without one, you will probably end up in trouble. Think of the thesis as a commercial project that you are doing for a client (where it is understood that the university is your client, not vice versa). You must try to satisfy your customer by providing professional work on time. If you don’t make the deadline, the client may get angry, but if you complete the work early, your client will be delighted.

If you can start working on your master’s thesis four or five weeks before the deadline, do it! When your colleagues are under stress, you will be able to relax and enjoy yourself. That helps for all the big writing projects, like coursework or term paper.

Making a schedule is not that difficult, but making an efficient and workable schedule is much more challenging. You should be familiar with your writing ability, and make sure that you don’t overestimate your skills.

Don't procrastinate

Experience has shown that the biggest problem most students face is procrastination. They can’t get started, and they struggle with the first 30% of the work. The beginning is one of the most problematic stages of the process, and every word seems to come with a big struggle. In this situation, we recommend that you start writing without any specific thoughts or intentions.

If it helps, begin writing in an informal or nonacademic style: something like, “I agree with Ms. White’s statement about weapons, but I’ve got questions about her opinions on page 65.” This gives you something to work from, and in the future, this sentence could expand to fill a couple of pages.

Finalizing Your First Draft

When you are ready with the paper, dedicate some time to rearranging the structure. Only the nimble folks out there can write a complete master’s thesis, structure it wisely and follow all the criteria on the first attempt! So, re-read what the professor/faculty wanted you to do, then read your paper from beginning to end. You are likely to see some gaps or faults in the meaning, data, or structure of your work.

Now that you know the mistakes, you can start fixing them. At times like this, using the ‘comments’ tool in the program you are working with is a good idea. You can correct small mistakes (grammar and spelling errors) immediately, but faults or gaps in logic or meaning are harder to solve.

The most important thing to look out for is a weak argument. If the main argument in the thesis is not persuasive, none of the other information will make sense. Try to improve it, and if you still can’t get it right, talk to your supervisor–he or she will give you advice on how to proceed.

Review your drafted thesis

Remember to check all your university’s requirements regarding the final presentation.

Your list should probably look something like this: Title Page, Signature Page, Abstract, Table of Contents, Introduction, Body of Paper (Methods, Results, Discussion), Conclusion, Bibliography, Endnotes.

We highly recommend that you check it a couple of times. Be aware that the requirements might be different for online courses. And remember to give your “client” exactly what he or she is looking for.

Redrafting/Editing With a Fresh View

Ask a professor to review your draft

After your first self-edit, give the paper to a friend. Let him or her read it and comment on the structure, overall impressions, and grammar or spelling. A dedicated editor (whether with advanced education or not) cares about every single detail. That will provide your thesis with an upgrade – from spelling errors to the overall impact of the work.

And please take your use of language into account! If your master’s thesis is full of mistakes, even your good ideas will not be recognized. We recommend that you get your friends to check your work. This will ensure that the most obvious faults are corrected. The more people have had a look at it – the lower is a probability of spilling a mistake somewhere in the text.

Also, consider your syntax and vocabulary. Don’t flood your text with those complicated academic sentence structures exclusively. Mix them up with concrete and simple statements to emphasize main ideas and arguments.

Finally, take care to use the appropriate level of academic language. Using words without knowing what they mean is usually a mistake. Remember that language is similar to Math: every word has a specific meaning that you must be aware of!

Final Advice and Common Mistakes, Gathered by Our Team

Do’s: Don’ts:
  • Try to rewrite the parts of the thesis that need restructuring. The best way to do this is on paper without referencing the original draft. After reading the parts you are not sure about, try to rephrase them in your own words. With careful rephrasing, those parts should become well-structured and more logical.
  • Manage your citations appropriately. Make sure you are familiar with your university’s requirements in this regard. If you want to do it on a computer, use programs like EndNote, Mendeley, or Zotero.
  • Don’t think you are not ready to write! Even if you don’t have any ideas about how you will write your paper, make notes about everything you can on the topic or other authors in the field.
  • Don’t underestimate the benefits of a thesis paper. The ability to gather, structure, and analyze data will be sure to benefit you in your future business. Apart from letting you see a problem from a different perspective, a good thesis might profit you in the future if you do enough in-depth research.

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