It is easy to be intimidated by the prospect of writing a thesis, a project that is the culmination of studies and an achievement that reflects enormous effort, creativity and experience. The process of finding a tutor to guide you, asking the right questions, coming up with a thesis topic, doing the research, and putting all of this in writing can be overwhelming. Let’s explain why students should be brave and embrace this experience.
What should you know about finishing your thesis?
Your tutor is there to guide you
He will be happy to help you. Your thesis will allow you to forge a close and meaningful relationship with a mentor, a person who not only guides the thesis writing process, but can also direct you to other opportunities such as conference presentations, graduate programs, prestigious scholarships, or employment connections (and can also provide you with a great letter of recommendation).
Try to choose a tutor who has a research experience that matches the topic of your thesis. If you want to write a thesis on corporate social responsibility and communication, try to find a professor who has experience in corporate social responsibility. If you’re not sure who to ask, talk to your faculty director.
It’s a great opportunity to develop transferable skills for graduate and your career as a professional.
Not only is the thesis a great opportunity to prepare for graduate school, but it prepares you for a career as a professional. Writing a thesis is a transformative experience that allows students to become mini-experts in their chosen field. The process sharpens students’ written and oral communication skills and develops students’ critical thinking, synthesis, and analysis skills.
The thesis is the student’s way of demonstrating to employers that they have the motivation and determination to complete an important project, as well as the practical skills that employers want from their employees.
Researching should be fun
By researching you are expanding on what you have learned in the classroom. You will be able to explore the topics that interest you and become a mini-expert in your field. If you’re having trouble finding a topic, see if something piques your interest in the class.
If you don’t come up with a topic, you shouldn’t be distressed
This is probably the biggest concern expressed by undergraduate students: the fear of having nothing to investigate. Talk to your professors, review some academic articles in your discipline, meet with professors in your discipline who regularly mentor students’ research projects, and meet with the principal or assistant principal. This is supposed to be a challenge. Don’t be discouraged.
You can work on your thesis for two semesters
Most students work on their thesis throughout their senior year, giving them more time to explore their topic, collect data, and build a relationship with their tutor. The distribution of the workload makes the process much less intimidating.
How should I get started?
Have a very clear vision of what is expected of you
It’s impossible to reach a goal you don’t have, and yet that’s what many graduate students try to do. They plan to graduate in 6 or 12 months, but are asked what they have to do to finish their thesis they answer something like: “I’m not entirely sure…” or “I haven’t raised it with my committee…” We know how intimidating it can be to have the “talk” with your tutor or get in front of a committee. How can you plan the completion of your thesis if you don’t know what to do?
By definition, research is uncertain, and the requirements of your thesis will change as you collect and analyze the data. However, you can only adjust your trajectory when you are on the move. It can’t make adjustments if you’re standing. You need a vision, a starting point, to help you gain momentum in your thesis, but what if your thesis tutor or committee is evasive and you don’t get a clear answer?
Don’t accept a “not now” as an answer from your thesis tutor or committee
It is never too early to be clear about the requirements to finish the thesis. You may feel guilty about taking time away from a teacher, especially if they are very busy. But keep in mind that they are also interested in you doing a good job and producing publishable research. You can be “politely persistent” until you get the answer, opinion, or mentorship you need.
There is no substitute for daily action. If you work full-time or if you have a family, working on your thesis on a daily basis may seem impossible. But it’s not. So what is a “little” of time you need to devote to your thesis on a daily basis? It depends: the closer you are to finishing it, the more time you should devote to it. However, there is something magical about dedicating at least 15 minutes a day to your thesis. No matter how busy you are, you can always find 15 minutes at some point in the day. It can be first thing in the morning, during lunchtime at work, or in the evening (rather than TV or social media).
Fifteen minutes is long enough that, if you’re focused, you can make measurable progress (write several paragraphs), but it’s a short amount of time, so it seems feasible each day. The goal of daily commitment is continuity. Continuity helps you pick up where you left off, so you don’t have to spend 15-30 minutes trying to figure out what you need to do. When you dedicate at least a little time to your thesis every day, you get to be more creative, have more ideas and more knowledge that will help you solve problems that previously seemed impossible.
Focus on results, not to-dos
Most students, and people in general, operate from a to-do list. They write down all the work and unrelated things they should do, but they think little about the tangible outcome they want to see. When you let a “to do” list run your life, you’ll always feel exhausted and playing catch-up. In fact, the more things you cross off your list, the more things you realize you have to do.
As long as you live your life according to a to-do list, you won’t be able to earn, no matter how efficient you are. It’s time to try something new. Instead of following a to-do list and gorging each day as much as possible, write down what the end result you want is. For example: instead of writing on your calendar “Work on the slides for the jury meeting” write “Create an outstanding presentation for the jury meeting to show them that my data is solid and that I am prepared to move on to the next phase of my research.” Below, you can list the actions needed to achieve that result.
An action plan with a well-defined goal to finish your thesis is much more motivating than a random to-do list. With a results-oriented action plan you can prioritize better and perform the actions that most help you advance your thesis.
Soak up the energy you need from a support group
Students’ number one complaint is that they feel isolated and lose motivation to do the job. At the university there are support groups in the form of study groups, office hours and the community at large.
Freshmen usually start with enthusiasm, but due to lack of responsibility they lose track of time and fall behind in their milestones. Instead, students who did join a support group thought that being part of a community was one of the best ways to stay motivated. There is no shame in receiving support, whether academic or emotional, to focus on finishing the thesis. The more people who care about you, the more perspectives you’ll have and the smaller your problems will seem. When you live in your own head you can exaggerate a minor problem.
Suddenly, missing two days of work because you’re not feeling well can seem like a big setback until you hear from others that what you’re going through is normal for a student. There will be times when you feel so exhausted that you won’t want to work for weeks. Or you may start to doubt the point of college when you don’t know what you’ll do next. Without context, these situations can rob you of self-confidence and motivation. How are you going to be motivated when you identify as “irresponsible” and think that it doesn’t make sense to finish the thesis anyway?
What if I lose important information?
The fear of missing important articles or blibliography can be crippling, and can lead to a vicious cycle of guilt and procrastination. The requirements of each thesis are different and this can lead to doubts such as:
When are you ready to stop reading and start writing?
When do you have enough data to start your analysis?
How do you know when the thesis is “good enough”?
There is no recipe for knowing for sure the answer to any of these questions, but there are some guidelines that will help you reduce the anxiety resulting from perfectionism. If you constantly notice perfectionism in the writing of your thesis, this will lead you to procrastinate and perform low-quality work. Unfortunately, perfectionism can cost you months or even years of extra work because of the anxiety and fear it generates: fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, or fear of being judged. But what if you could substitute your fear for a more empowering mindset?
Producing higher quality work and reducing perfectionism in your thesis
The following 5 steps will help you produce higher quality work, while eliminating (or at least reducing) perfectionism:
Clarify your purpose and the question(s) you need to answer
Can you summarize your manuscript in one sentence? Do you know which question or questions your thesis should answer? If you are not clear about the purpose of your thesis, your work and your time will be lost.
Everything you include in your thesis has to contribute to your central argument or the question you need to answer. What if you don’t have a clear research goal yet? Start by creating a schema or index and fill in as many sections as you can.
Don’t wait until you have everything ready
Ideas are born through writing, and to enter the creative flow you have to allow yourself to make mistakes. You can start creating a structure for your literature review and thesis and alternate writing with reading. In fact, you’ll absorb more of your readings if you’ve already written some, and this in turn will make the rest of the writing easier.
Replacing fear with a sense of contribution
The truth is, no matter how many articles you gather, or how many times you review your thesis, you’ll always discover areas for improvement. The goal of going to college is not to create a perfect thesis. Your goal is to make a unique contribution to your area of research. You don’t have to cover all the articles in the literature or have a perfect style to meet the requirements of your thesis. Your first draft will have many repetitive phrases, but your manuscript will improve with each round of corrections.
Commitment to contribution is the best antidote to the anxiety that results from perfectionism in writing your thesis. Instead of aspiring to a perfect thesis, ask yourself what you need to add to your manuscript to make the most meaningful contribution to your area of research. Don’t let word choice, table formatting, and other details stop you from completing your thesis. Instead, focus on whether your main argument is clearly conveyed. You can always add more details and embellish your thesis to support your main argument.
No matter how many times you review your thesis, you will always notice areas for improvement. Fortunately, if your purpose is clear, the number of corrections will decrease over time. Once you feel you are at 95%, your thesis will be ready to be delivered.
Take frequent breaks to distance yourself from your job
One of the dangers of perfectionism in thesis writing is that it leads to tunnel vision. You may exaggerate the small details or overanalyze details that others wouldn’t notice. Anxiety, exhaustion and physical pains are just some of the consequences of perfectionism. The fastest way to break this cycle is to take a distance from your work:
Take frequent breaks while you work.
Set a structured writing schedule, such as alternating 25 minutes of writing with 5-minute breaks or 45 minutes of writing with 15-minute breaks.
Be sure to get up and walk away from your desk during breaks.
Drink water, stretch your back and arms and take a short walk.
Take longer breaks over the weekend so you can recharge.
There won’t be many people telling you this, but being kind to yourself is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress. It’s impossible to maintain your productivity if you never take a day off. Experiencing perfectionism in thesis writing is often accompanied by perfectionism in other areas of your life. Perfectionism can develop from years of self-doubt in ultra-competitive environments.
Spend at least a few hours a day each week socializing with friends and other positive people who support you. Establishing a support network is the number one way to reduce anxiety and get the motivation and energy you need to finish your thesis. Also, make your health your number one priority, developing a regular exercise routine and eating the highest quality foods available to you.
Use similar works and theses as templates
It’s hard to know how much to write if no one gives you guidelines. How do you know when you’ve collected enough articles for your literature review? How exhaustive do your statistical analyses have to be? If your tutor or jury doesn’t give you specific requirements, read their department’s recent theses. Students’ theses can serve as templates to give you an idea of the structure that your thesis should have, such as:
Approximate number of references
Length of the literature review
Data types and statistical analysis
Details of the results and discussion section.
Most students are relieved when they look at their faculty’s recent theses, because they realize how much work they already have prepared for a thesis. If there are no recent thesis topics similar to yours, look for review articles in your area. In a novel field, a review article may have only a few key references, while more established fields may have hundreds of references. Review articles and recent theses can also inspire you with new ideas and point you in the right direction for other articles you can use.
Respect your time by setting specific goals for each block of time
Have you ever written “Working on the thesis” on your calendar? Such a vague plan will lead you to take a nap or spend a few minutes at work and then surf the Internet. The best way to stay focused without falling into the trap of perfectionism in writing your thesis is to be very intentional with your time. Have a specific result for each block of time, such as:
Complete a figure
Type a certain number of words
Review specific sections of your thesis or data analysis.
Define in advance what to achieve
When you define in advance what you want to achieve during each block of time, you will find an efficient way to make it happen. If you fall prey to perfectionism in writing your thesis, you may spend days in a section because it never seems good enough. It’s hard to meet a goal if you haven’t defined it well. However, if you plan to spend an hour completing a figure, you’ll find a way to finish it. Similarly, you can set goals for a certain number of words you want to write each day.
If you focus on the goals you want to achieve each day, you’ll feel more efficient and less focused. If you resist planning for fear of not complying, keep in mind that no one is perfect. Life goes by and most of the time writing, researching and analyzing data takes much longer than anticipated.
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Yuan, Yanyue (2014). ‘Thesis-phobia’ and ‘Thesis-mania’. In: https://selenayuan.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/thesis-phobia-and-thesis-mania/
Thesis-phobia: Why Fear Shouldn’t Stop You from Getting Your Master’s Degree. In: https://www.worldwidelearn.com/articles/masters-thesis-fear/
Write the Thesis/Dissertation with Less Stress and Anxiety. In: https://www.cultivatethewriter.com/post/write-the-thesis-dissertation-with-less-stress-and-anxiety
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