A Masters student just starting to write her thesis reached out to me for advice on how to go about it. I am always impressed with students who are desirous to learn the most efficient way of getting things done and who take the initiative to ask questions. In response to this request, I shared 10 thesis writing tips. I am also posting these tips here for the benefit of those who might find them helpful (Bachelors, Masters, and PhD students). I initially shared this on LinkedIn, and a good number of people found it useful. I am reposting it here for a wider reach.
1. Have dedicated time for thesis writing. Identify how much time you can (practically) devote to writing your thesis every day, and protect that time at all costs. During your dedicated thesis writing hours, focus on your thesis without distractions.
2. Identify what is required of you by your institution. Each institution has its own requirements, so you want to familiarize yourself with that. You can find it in your university’s handbook. I’d also recommend you go to your departmental library and borrow 2-3 theses you can use as a guide for structuring yours.
3. Leverage tools to make the work easier for you. For instance, you do not need to collate your references manually. You can use a freely available reference management software like Mendeley, Zotero, etc. Also, your table of contents can be automatically compiled if you correctly set up your MS Word document. The same applies to the table of figures and the list of tables. You can learn how to do this using YouTube videos.
4. You might not feel inspired to write every day, and that’s fine. On the days you can’t write, focus on other thesis-related things you can do: creating tables/figures, writing captions or even editing whatever you have already written. Make each day count.
5. Don’t work in isolation. Communicate with your supervisors what you expect of them and how often you will send them drafts. After you have agreed on this, send them drafts as you work (ideally, at the end of each chapter). It’s easier for them to read small chunks of the thesis than a whole thesis. Also, they can easily spot errors and correct them early enough.
6. Keep an annotated bibliography. That is a document where you keep track of the papers you read (summaries of the key points in the paper organized into themes). That way, information retrieval as you write your thesis is much easier. You do not have to search for a paper you read a few weeks ago that speaks to an aspect of your thesis when you need it or have to re-read a paper repeatedly when you want to reference it.
7. Consider forming a thesis-writing support group. You can do this with friends in your department or even other departments. The aim is to support each other through accountability and help you gain clarity when you are feeling stuck. It would amaze you how talking through a problem with peers can point you in the right direction or give you fresh ideas to tackle the problem.
8. Start with an outline. It always helps to start with an outline (especially when working on the literature review section); for the results chapters, the outline is pretty straightforward). This enables you to streamline what is essential and what isn’t, so you don’t waste time writing things that do not count toward your thesis while leaving out important things.
9. The first draft of anything, including your thesis, is crappy. A perfect write-up is a product of good editing. However, you cannot edit a blank page – so you need that first draft. Get your first draft done, no matter how bad it seems to you. You can always refine it later. Just get it done first.
10. Let go of perfection when it comes to thesis writing. A good thesis is not a perfect one, but a completed one. As a perfectionist, I had to tell myself at some point that no matter how hard I tried, my thesis would never be perfect; there would always be something I could improve here and there.
I hope this helps someone. You can read more PhD-related posts here.
Categories: My PhD Experience
This is concise and useful for all levels of researchers who must write up their work.
Please keep this up — mentoring, in your little way, budding scholars.
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Thanks for your kind words. Very well appreciated, Niyi 😊