The objective of the dissertation or thesis is to develop an original research paper on a clearly defined topic.
Generally, the thesis is the most important independent work of the bachelor’s degree program, while the thesis is usually associated with master’s degrees, although these terms may be interchangeable and may vary between countries and universities.
A dissertation or thesis is probably the longest and most difficult job a student has ever done. However, it can also be a very rewarding job since, unlike essays and other assignments, the student can choose a topic of special interest and work on their own initiative.
How to start your thesis
Writing a thesis requires a number of planning and research skills that will be of great value in your future career and within organizations.
The topic and the thesis question should be focused enough to be able to collect all the necessary data in a relatively short period of time, which is usually about six weeks in undergraduate programs.
You should also choose a topic that you already know something about, so that you already have a frame of reference for your literature search and some understanding and interest in the theory that underlies your topic.
There are many ways to write a dissertation or thesis.
Most universities and institutes provide very specific guidance to their students about their preferred approach.
Choose your research topic well
It is essential that your research topic is something that you find attractive and meaningful, perhaps a topic that fits your career aspirations and is important to the academic community at large, says the Dr Alex Patel, learning development advisor at the Learning Institute at the University of Leicester.
The thesis is an opportunity to showcase your thoughts and ideas, investigate an area in greater depth and consolidate previous knowledge, adds Michelle Schneider, learning advisor at the University of Leeds. Choosing something that really interests you will keep you motivated.
In addition, Alex recommends that you work with your supervisor to agree on a clear approach or research question, benefiting from their knowledge of the research area, the appropriate methods, and what can be accomplished within your time frame.
Think about why it’s important to address the topic you’ve chosen, he says. Once you’ve summarized your conclusions, think about how they relate to your justification of why it’s an important issue or topic.
Check what’s being asked of you
Christie Pritchard, learning development advisor at the University of Plymouth,recommends that you familiarize yourself with your faculty’s ethics protocols, module manuals, and reference style guides to avoid silly and costly mistakes. Before you start planning, make sure you understand what’s expected of you. You should find out:
- What academic writing looks like in your discipline
- The number of words
- When and where you should submit your thesis
Alex advises students to ask questions about other dissertations or academic writings in the discipline they have chosen, for example
- How is a thesis structured?
- What kind of fonts are used?
- How are these fonts used?
- What forms of analysis are considered appropriate?
Finally, Alex points out that one can consider developing a shared understanding of what a dissertation is, through discussion with his supervisor.
Have a clear objective and structure in your thesis
Christie suggests that, once you have chosen the topic, you are ready to write the thesis proposal. If you demonstrate the relevance of your research area, the introduction, literature review and methodology will be easier to address. Your proposal describes the objective of your thesis and how you plan to carry out your research.
Christie recommends that you consider the time for
- Read and research
- Collect and analyze data
- Structure and restructure
- Write and redraft
- Print and bind.
This careful approach may be rewarded by the end result, suggests Alex, who also recommends Gantt charts as a useful tool for planning the research and writing process for some writers.
Write your thesis on the fly
When you’re ready to start writing, set yourself a suitable goal, for example 1,000 words a week, as this can be motivating and productive. Can you use a meeting with your supervisor as a useful deadline, alex asks.
Start writing right away and use the writing process as a tool to help you better understand the topic. Check that you’ve addressed everything you want to cover after a section is complete. Each of them must fulfill its particular function, linking well with the rest of the content.
Writing helps you better understand the topic as you try to develop the narrative, and as you understand it better, your analysis, interpretation, and emphasis will change. Editing may be the beginning, not the end, of your writing, Alex says.
You have to make frequent backups, take research notes and keep an exhaustive list of sources. Keeping track of what you’ve read and where it comes from will save you hours of work later, Christie says. He also points out that it can be very difficult to remember where ideas come from, especially when you have stacked books and folders full of magazine articles.
Theses and academic articles used to be written in the third person and in a passive voice; for example, one could write “An experiment was carried out to test…”.
However, many magazines have moved away from this convention and ask for the first person and the active voice, so you would have to write “I have done an experiment to check…”.
Before you start writing, inform your university of the requirements they demand.
If you don’t find any guidelines, ask your director and/or the person who will rate your thesis about their preferences. Make sure the voice and person are consistent at all times.
Whatever the preferred style, try to keep language simple and jargon-free. Use shorter, simpler words and phrases whenever possible. Short sentences are good because they are easier to follow. Any sentence that exceeds three lines should be reduced or split.
The role of your academic supervisor
Your supervisor’s role is to oversee your work. It’s not about doing it for you, or telling you how you should do it.
However, his academic reputation is tied to the results of the students he supervises, so he has a keen interest in helping you get the best possible grades. Therefore, you should not feel shy or ashamed to ask them for help if you have difficulties or if you need any advice.
Academics tend to take a very personal approach to supervision. Some will be willing to spend a lot of time with you, talking about what you are planning to do through the research and your emerging findings. Others will have very little contact with you, other than being willing to read a draft of your thesis.
Establishing a relationship with your supervisor
It’s worth spending a little time establishing a relationship with your supervisor. It is also worth discussing and clarifying with him exactly what he is willing to do to support you, and in particular practical details such as:
How quickly will they respond to emails asking for advice or guidance?
Or how long do you need to review the drafts of the paper?
How many drafts of your work are you willing to read? University guidelines often say “a first draft,” but many academics are willing to read a preliminary draft to see that you’re on the right track, and then a more polished version.
Once the draft is reviewed, will they email you comments or prefer to meet to discuss it?
One last tip about your supervisor: if you don’t get along, change supervisors. But do it as soon as possible. No one wants you or your supervisor to have problems with the relationship, but they won’t be very understanding if you ask for a change a month before the deadline.
Thesis format and templates
If your university has a mandatory format for your thesis, and especially if it provides you with a template, use it. Start typing directly into the template, or format your work correctly from the beginning. There’s nothing worse than frantically cutting and pasting your work into a template 10 minutes before the submission deadline. Templates are designed to make your life easier, not to complicate it.
You will also have to format the references in the style preferred by the university. It’s easier to do it on the fly. If the format is MLA, APA, or Chicago, you can use Google Scholar to format it: find the title of the article and click “cite”. This will save you from having to type in all the names, and can also be used, with small tweaks, for other formats. But beware: it’s not always right! If it seems strange to you, check the original source.
Correction of texts
You’ll have to spend a lot of time correcting your work to make sure you haven’t made any stupid mistakes and that everything is flowing correctly. This is likely to take longer than you think. Also, you’ll have to do it when you’re cool, not late at night, when you’re tired.
If possible, try to find a friend or fellow student in the same situation with whom you can exchange dissertations to correct them. Fresh eyes are likely to detect errors much more effectively than those who already know what to say.
Draw a conclusion and discuss the implications
Last but not least, you’ll have to conclude your research with the conclusions chapter. In this chapter, you will close the circle of your research by highlighting the key results of your study and explaining what the implications of these results are.
What exactly are the key results?
The key findings are those that relate directly to the original research questions and the overall objectives of the research (which were discussed in the introductory chapter). The implications, on the other hand, explain what the results mean for industry or for research in the area.
Following the example of the issue of consumer confidence, the conclusion could be something like this:
This study aimed to identify the factors that influence consumer confidence in UK low-cost stock brokerage firms. The results suggest that the following factors have a major impact on consumer confidence:
While the following factors have a very limited impact on consumer confidence:
In particular, within the 25-30 age groups, E factors had a significantly greater impact, which can be explained by…
The results have notable implications for British low-cost online stockbrokers. specifically:
Or the large impact of factors X and Y implies that brokers must consider…
The limited impact of Factor E means that brokers need…
As you can see, the conclusions chapter is basically about explaining the “what” (what your study found) and the “and what?” (what the results mean for the sector or research). This closes the study and the document.
Ask your tutor for their opinions and suggestions for improvement. Next, discuss the project with your mentor. Face the project stage by stage and soon you will complete the most important work of your entire educational career.
Alex’s colleague, Marta Ulanicka, also a learning development consultant at Leicester,stresses the importance of maintaining a critical and questioning mindset throughout the thesis writing process, both in relation to one’s own work and results and those of others.
Remember to ask yourself to what extent you are convinced by a certain explanation or interpretation and why, and if there are potentially valid alternatives, says Marta.
You will also have to explain your reasoning to the reader. As an author, you may think that the justification for a particular point is obvious, but it may not be obvious to someone who encounters the concept for the first time. The evaluator will not be able to give merit to a sound argument if he does not provide evidence of how he has reached a particular conclusion.”
In addition to making sure your bibliography contains many references, make sure you’ve paid attention to the correct spelling of names and theories.
Enjoy the achievements. You have finished your thesis
Your thesis is an opportunity to research, create knowledge and address an important topic within your discipline,” says Alex, so stay focused on your goal and you can be satisfied with your efforts.
In the end, your thesis will become one of your greatest achievements. Completing your thesis will be difficult at times, but make the most of it and you’ll look back with pride,” adds Christie.
The process of writing a dissertation is a great challenge that not all students are able to face. You must keep in mind that you have come this far in your studies, so there is no other way than to move forward. Face the project stage by stage and soon you will complete the most important work of your entire educational career.
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This article was made with excerpts from various interviews conducted with the advisors mentioned below.
Dr Alex Patel, Learning Development Advisor at the Learning Institute at the University of Leicester https://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/lli/recognition-for-teaching/teaching-excellence-microsite/people-involved-in-sotl-research-1/dr-alexandra-patel
Michelle Schneider, Learning Advisor, University of Leeds https://cclinnovation.org/team/michelle-schneider/
Christie Pritchard, Learning Development Advisor at the University of Plymouth https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/staff/christie-pritchard
Marta Ulanicka, Learning Development Advisor at Leicester https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Marta-Ulanicka
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