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Writing a Thesis_Now

Writing a Thesis_Now

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Published by Carline Romain
A quick resource for thesis writing in grad school which also can be used as a guideline to write a solid college paper.
A quick resource for thesis writing in grad school which also can be used as a guideline to write a solid college paper.

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Published by: Carline Romain on Oct 19, 2008
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05/09/2014

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Writing a Thesis
On this page:
In some ways, writing a thesis is no different than writing other academic papers,and much of the advice that appears elsewhere in this site will be relevant to thethesis writer. Still, as any thesis writer will tell you, there are some importantdifferences between writing a thesis and writing a course paper. Moreover, because we feel that the best advice comes from those who've actually "beenthere," the advice we offer here is gleaned from Dartmouth students involved inthe thesis-writing process.
SIZING UP YOUR TOPIC
Most thesis writers caution that topics are almost always initially too big and try to include too much. Some tips to remember:
Make your topic broad enough to address an important issue, yetnarrow enough to address that issue thoroughly in the timeallotted.
You will want, in six months' time, to feel as if you know just abouteverything about your topic.
 
Understand the limitations of your particular situation.
For instance,if your project requires lab work, know how much you can reasonably expectto accomplish in the time you have.
Understand that your topic will only seem bigger once you get into your research.
If your topic is interesting and rich, new issues and new ideas will always emerge, so, focus your ideas tightly as soon as you are able. If  you can't summarize your argument in a single paragraph, your topic is too big.
Think about pertinent classes you have taken or may want toconsider taking while you are working on your thesis.
Theses are very time-consuming, so you may appreciate being able to tie it into your otheracademic work (both because of the light your research may shed on yourother classes and because of the light your classes may shed on your research).
CREATING A TIMETABLE
Most students agree that you should begin your preliminary reading during thesummer before your senior year, and that you should count on reading right upuntil the time you finish your thesis. You obviously will want to get a good senseof the context for your thesis early on, but know that you will continue to findpertinent material throughout the entire time you are working on your thesis.Most students reported doing the majority of their focused reading and researchduring their senior fall. As to how many hours you might budget for this research:one science student estimated that he put in as many as 25 hours a week.If you are writing a thesis that depends on physical research and analysis,thoroughly discuss your timetable with your advisor. Things you may notconsider, like equipment availability, may be out of your control and may dictate your timetable. As to the actual writing of the thesis: while most thesis writers were writing asthey read (at least to take notes or to write short summaries of existingscholarship), they found that they did the majority of their writing during the winter term. Spring term is best reserved for editing and touching-up - thingsthat take much longer for a thesis than they do for a regular research paper.
 
READING STRATEGIES
It's important to understand and accept that you are not going to know exactly  what you are looking for in the beginning.Initially, you should read to explore. As you read, you will find that certainaspects of your topic interest you more than others, and that certain approachesoffer more opportunities for new scholarly work.Even if you are doing scientific experimentation, you need to be flexible in the beginning and willing to modify the initial question you're trying to answer. Asone science major told us, "I had specific questions to answer when I started. As Igot further, those questions were refined and others evolved." When it comes to secondary sources, pay attention to the footnotes. This strategy  will help you to contextualize your ideas. It will also tip you off to marginal issuesin the field that have not been overly explored.
WRITING AS YOU RESEARCH
Perhaps the most useful tip we can give you is to
write all through the research process.
As you read, take notes. Write summaries or short reactions toeverything you read. It's also a good idea to keep a journal. Not only will you findthat you can cut and paste some of these notes and summaries into your finalproject, but you'll also find that you've kept track of where your information camefrom. If you have a good sense of what sources provided you with whatinformation, you can save yourself a lot of time.In short, don't view the research process as entirely separate from the writingprocess. Whether you are writing in the Humanities, Social Sciences, or Sciences, you should begin drafting perhaps even before you finish your preliminary research. Granted, much will have to be changed down the road, but the writingprocess itself will help you to answer some of your questions and figure out where you need to do more research. One student notes that "Most ideas won't coalesce just by reading without writing." Writing throughout the research process keeps your thought process active and records your responses to new ideas as you'rehaving them.

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