Are you currently writing your thesis? Then you will surely have noticed that strategies that may have worked for shorter papers do not work for theses. The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) has compiled tips that you can easily put into practice and that will help you plan your bachelor’s or master’s thesis.
Spending a few days (and nights) in the library or your room, doing a rapid literature search and ‘just quickly writing off the text’ does not work for a 30 to 80-page thesis. A paper in the scope of a bachelor’s or master’s thesis requires planning, time management and a detailed examination of the writing project. Sometimes, it also requires self-reflection in your capacity as the author. After all, academic writing is a form of professional writing, and you will inevitably grow with the challenge. But do not panic. The following tips and recommendations are easily put into practice and will help you write your thesis.
Consider the different stages in a writing project
An academic writing project consists of different stages: The first stage includes finding a topic and the orientation phase. This is where you think about the following question: What do I want to write about? Often, this stage transitions smoothly into the second stage of literature review (What literature exists on the topic?) and the structuring of the available literature (What will I use for my paper and what will I not include?). During these first two stages, you develop and refine your research question and discuss it with your supervisor. Do not hesitate to talk to your teachers during this stage.
During the third stage, you write the first version of your thesis, which is also called ‘raw text’. Your text does not have to be perfect at this point, as you will have time to refine it during the editing stage. While writing, you will probably skip back and forth between structuring your literature, drafting the raw text and editing it. This is perfectly okay. Finally, the last and fifth stage includes the finalisation, revision and submission of your thesis.
Work on your thesis begins long before the actual writing process
Writing a thesis does not only begin with the creation of a text document but much earlier. Finding a topic for your thesis, searching for literature, reading and examining the available literature as well as defining a research question pertaining to the topic are part of ‘writing’ a thesis, even if you might not actually produce much continuous text during these phases. These first steps on your way to the final text are crucial to the successful completion of your writing project. They represent about 40 % of the amount of work involved in writing a thesis.
A research proposal is often the visible result of this process. You do not know what a research proposal is? Do not worry: You are not the only one. The Bachelor Thesis Survival Guide (in German) provides answers to many questions that students do not dare ask. Of course, you can also use it if you are not writing your bachelor’s thesis.
Stages of a writing project, adapted by K. Dreo, according to Wolfsberger (2007) and Girgensohn & Sennewald (2012).
For good planning, you need a realistic assessment of your project. However, many writers overestimate their capabilities. You may once have written 10 pages of a seminar essay in one stressful night, but that does not mean that you will be able to write 80 pages of a master’s thesis in eight nights. All necessary breaks included, most writers manage to write two pages of ‘good’ raw text per day. You can accomplish these two pages more easily if you know yourself as a writer: Do you prefer to write in the morning or in the evening? Do you need much time to write the first version? Are you quick when it comes to editing? Do you need to schedule some extra time because you want someone to proofread your thesis? The more you know about your own writing habits, the more realistic your time schedule can be. Remember: Make plans for who you are, not for who you want to be.
To assist you in planning your written papers, the “Wissenschaftliches Arbeiten und Peer-Learning” (academic research and writing and peer learning) team of the CTL has developed a planner for theses (in German). It includes plenty of tips and tricks from years of writing consultation and workshops. You can download the Word file and print it or use it on your computer.
We wish you every success for your thesis.