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Writing a master’s thesis

A manual for students:
Human Geography
Urban and Regional Planning


Urban and Regional Planning:
- Dr. Bas Hissink Muller (
Human Geography:
- Dr. Inge van der Welle (
Last update: 5 December 2017

Table of Contents

1. The master’s thesis ................................................................................................................................... 4

2. Choosing a topic ....................................................................................................................................... 5

2.1 HOW TO CHOOSE A TOPIC .............................................................................................................. 5
2.2 PRACTICAL CONSTRAINTS AND OPPORTUNITIES ............................................................................ 6

3. The Process and Formalities ................................................................................................................. 7

3.1 FORMAL STEPS AND DEADLINES .................................................................................................... 7
3.2 RESEARCH ABROAD....................................................................................................................... 8

4. Supervision ......................................................................................................................................... 10
4.1 WHAT TO EXPECT OF YOUR SUPERVISOR ..................................................................................... 10
4.2 SUPERVISION AGREEMENT .......................................................................................................... 11

5. The research proposal ......................................................................................................................... 12

5.1 THE RESEARCH PROPOSAL ........................................................................................................... 12
5.2 CLEARLY DEFINING A TOPIC ........................................................................................................ 14
5.3 WORKING SCHEDULE .................................................................................................................. 15

6. Conducting the research ..................................................................................................................... 16

6.1 WHAT IS EXPECTED OF YOU ........................................................................................................ 16
6.2 AN OVERLOAD OF DATA: KEEP YOUR FOCUS ............................................................................... 17

7. Writing your thesis ............................................................................................................................. 18

7.1 LANGUAGE CHOICE ..................................................................................................................... 18
7.2 HOW TO HANDLE YOUR DATA ..................................................................................................... 18
7.3 PRACTICAL MATTERS CONCERNING THE THESIS .......................................................................... 18
7.4 FINAL ASSESSMENT ..................................................................................................................... 19

Appendices 21

1. Norms and requirements for a thesis 23

2. GSSS fieldwork form 24
3. Guidelines for writing academic papers 24
4. Extra reading and courses about writing 25
5. Important Contacts 27
6. Assessment Form Master’s Thesis Human Geography and Planning 30

NB for Urban and Regional Planning students

Please consult the Course Manual of your Master Thesis Project

NB for Human Geography students

Please consult the Course Manual Literature Course
Please consult the Couse Manual Research Proposal & Master Thesis Project

1. The master’s thesis

The last part of the master’s programme consists of writing a thesis. This thesis manual contains tips for writing the
thesis. It also includes the formalities that students should take into account. In a course manual the practicalities
and specific requirements will be outlined with respect to the particular thesis-project. In this chapter, the purpose of
writing a master’s thesis is explained as well as the process and planning of writing a thesis.

The master’s thesis is an independent research project conducted by a master’s student in a thesis project group as a
proof of competence after four years of studying (3 years Ba and 1 year Ma). Its goal is to prove that the student has
acquired sufficient academic knowledge, skills and insights at the end of his/her study. In most cases, the master’s
thesis is an individual project situated within a group format and guided by a supervisor.

In a way, the master’s thesis is comparable with a large paper of 40 to 50 pages (about 15,000 to 20,000 words), in
which you, in a thesis group, examine a problem in line with your specialization/track. The aim of the thesis is not to
make striking academic discoveries – instead, it is meant to show that you are capable of conducting research
independently. When choosing a topic, keep in mind what you want to do after your graduation, as your thesis might
become a relevant point of discussion in future job interviews.

According to the programme, you will write your master’s thesis in the second semester. It is important to start
thinking about your thesis much earlier, to make sure you can complete the master’s programme in the summer of
When working on your Research Proposal (period 4) you can also be in contact with your supervisor from
time to time. Once your research proposal is approved, you can begin to carry out your research plans as soon as
possible. You’ll find more details about the precise time schedule in Chapter 3 of this manual.

2. Choosing a topic

The process of writing a thesis starts with choosing a topic within a theme of one of the project groups. This chapter
describes how to select a topic and other choices that you will need to make.

2.1 How to choose a topic

The master thesis project group helps you to make a decision by providing a framework. Still, selecting a specific
topic that fits within that frame and accords with your interests and narrowing it down to a specific research question
can be a challenge. You might primarily follow your own research interests, ambitions and plans for the future after
academia. It is important though that the topic links with the expertise and knowledge present in our department as
brought forward in the Master Thesis Topic Guide. This way your thesis will be more strongly embedded in current
research and you can benefit from the expertise of staff members.

You can also consult the website of the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)
( Furthermore, you can find additional ideas by browsing through the catalogue of the Pierson
Révész Library or looking at, a database in which most theses completed after 1 September 2005
have been filed.

It is important that you choose a topic that is of interest to you, because you will be dealing with the topic for several
months. If you are not motivated, you face the risk of having a hard time writing and completing your thesis.

In the beginning of the master thesis project group, you will work systematically from a global research theme
towards a well-defined and well-argued research proposal.
To inspire you, below you will find a few examples of research conducted by students in the past academic years.
 A Human Geography student specializing in cultural geography analysed the consequences of the fall of
the Berlin wall in an outskirt of Berlin. She specifically focused on employment biographies of 50- to 55-
year old citizens and conducted a series of in-depth interviews. Based on these interviews, she tried to
indicate factors that lead to successful or less successful integration in the labour market.
 An Urban and Regional Planning student specializing in housing and real estate examined the planning
process of regeneration. He examined the process through the perspectives of the municipality, social
housing associations, citizens and market parties. Focusing on The Hague as a case study, he looked at how
these different parties interact with each other.
A Human Geography student specializing in political geography examined the spatial manifestations of the
Moria refugee camp on Levbos, Greece. She used observations and interviews to show different
perspectives and experiences of the camp.
 An Urban and Regional Planning student wrote about contest in London between keeping brutalist
architecture or redeveloping the site. He looked at the relations between discourse and decision-making,
first for London in general, and then specifically at the case of Robin Hood Gardens to find out how both
relate in a concrete instance
You can consult (recently) defended master’s theses in the thesis database of the UvA.

2.2 Practical constraints and opportunities
In the starting phase of your research, you will not only have to find and define your topic, but you will also need to
think about the practical side of doing your research. Having a job or a family can be a reason to choose a topic that
allows you to do field work in a city or town close to home. In some cases, your network of colleagues within the
company you work for can help you in finding a relevant and accessible topic for your research. Other common
practical considerations pertain to language skills and methodological skills. Make sure that your plans are
compatible with skills you have or you want to develop. It is not a good idea to plan a content analysis of Spanish
languages policy documents if your Spanish is non-existent or to apply elaborate spatial statistics if you do not want
to make time to master them.
More in general, you might want to give your thesis a strong theoretical content, prefer to stress the methodological
dimension, or choose an issue with high societal relevance with a clear stakeholder.

3. The Process and Formalities

The Master’s thesis is the largest piece of work you will have to carry in your studies. It is a big project stretched
over a semester. It is particularly important to keep in mind what your time planning is.

In the first six weeks of period 4 students start with their research proposal, parallel to Planning Research (for
planners) and Thesis Seminar + Literature Study (for geographers) (Both take two thirds of the 6 weeks). After this 6
week period the thesis project becomes a full time activity. Considering that the research proposal has to be
submitted after six weeks, students have one third of the six week period to write a proposal (that is 3 EC or 84
hours ).

3.1 Formal steps and deadlines

The following formal steps should be taken into consideration

 Applying for a research project in Mid-November 2016

Register for a Master thesis project Human Geography:
Register for a Master thesis project Urban and Regional planning:

 Research proposal
Submit your Research proposal to your supervisor and upload the proposal to the blackboard-site of the course
‘Master Thesis Urban and Regional Planning’ or ‘Master Thesis Human Geography before Monday 5 March, 2018,
10 am.

 Handing in final version to supervisor and second reader

Two hard copies of your thesis should be handed in to your supervisor before the 11 June 2018, 10 am. Two hard
copies, because it will always be read by both your supervisor and second reader. You should also hand in your
thesis on the blackboard-site of the course ‘Master Thesis Urban and Regional Planning’ or ‘Master Thesis Human
Geography, in the dropbox on your Master Thesis Project group’s page, also before the 11 June 2018, 10 am. Do
note that this dropbox will be closed after the deadline, when you do not hand in your thesis here in time, the thesis
is therefore considered as not handed in at all!
If you do not submit your thesis at the first opportunity, this implies you waive this option and the second chance for
submission will be your last chance. Theses that are submitted after the deadline or not handed in are marked NAV
(meaning: Not completed) and the candidate rests only one chance to submit their thesis (i.e. the second chance, see
below: Reparation). Going for the second chance has no consequences for your grade or cum laude. Students are not
obliged to hand in the thesis in for the first chance (June). In case of no submission at the first deadline this means
the student waives his/her first chance and is allowed to continue directly to re-submission.
When you hand in your thesis in time, the final meeting with your supervisor and the second reader and the grading
should be done within two weeks after submission (i.e. 22 June 2018). A candidate is only admitted to a final

meeting when the supervisor and the second reader assume that the thesis can be defended successfully. (Admittance
to the defence is no guarantee that the thesis will be judged sufficient.)
Note that with every grade for the thesis the student receives a filled in Master’s Thesis Assessment Form (i.e. also if
assessed as insufficient or if marked 0 when not handed in or not handed before the deadline).

 Reparation
If the thesis was not deemed sufficient or not submitted (in time) before the deadline of 11 June, 2018, 10 am,
students have the opportunity to retake in August, and students will get one feedback meeting with his supervisor. In
case the thesis was not deemed sufficient after the final meeting, this defence is considered to be that one feedback
meeting. In case the thesis was not deemed sufficient enough for the final meeting, that one feedback meeting takes
place instead of a defence. Please note that students are not entitled to supervision in July and August, that is, after
the time for first chance defences.
For the second chance the thesis should be handed in in the same way as described above for the first chance, but
now before 15 August, 2018, 10 am. The final meeting will take place on or before ultimately 30 August, 2018.
Again, do note that the dropbox on blackboard, for handing in your thesis, will be closed after the deadline as well,
therefore again, when you do not hand in your thesis in time, the thesis is considered as not handed in at all! Also
this time this means it is given the grade of 0.
Students who failed to complete their thesis in August, or stopped before that, have to start a new project in the
second semester of 2018-2019. They can however file a motivated request to the Exam Committee (EC) with the
support of their supervisor and the student counsellor, to be allowed to complete their on-going project, if there are
important reasons for delay beyond control of the student. In the case of an extension students have to re-enrol at
UvA for 2018-2019 to complete their thesis (and to terminate your inscription as soon as possible thereafter, when
you have passed for the thesis).

3.2 Research abroad

Students of Human Geography and Urban and Regional Planning can write a thesis based on fieldwork abroad. You
will need to think about this in a timely manner and start to take the required steps at an early stage. Keep in mind
that doing research abroad usually takes more time than doing fieldwork in the Netherlands, and that it might cause
some delay. Please note that in general you are not allowed to conduct fieldwork in regions that have been given a
negative travel advice by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (‘avoid non-essential trips). It is your own
responsibility to monitor the situation and travel advice for the region of your choice. The master’s programmes
themselves do not provide funding for fieldwork abroad. In addition you do not qualify for a UvA STUNT beurs,
because the fieldwork is not obligatory.

Before you make any travel arrangements, please discuss your (provisional) research proposal and, especially, the
fieldwork you want to do with your supervisor). When you go on fieldwork abroad you also need to submit the
(digital) GSSS form for that (see Appendix 2). The costs of fieldwork differ, depending on the country you go to and
the type of research you will be conducting. Key costs to keep in mind include:

- Flight ticket
- Insurance

- Vaccinations
- Visa
- Transport costs in fieldwork country
- Housing costs
- Costs of living
- Research assistance on location (such as interpreters)

To get a better understanding of the costs, we recommend getting in touch with someone who has already conducted
research in the country you are planning to go to (e.g. a supervisor or a fellow student).

4. Supervision

During the process of writing your thesis, you will have intensive contact with your supervisor. In this chapter, you
will find information about what to expect of your supervisor (4.1) and what agreements to make with your
supervisor (4.2).

4.1 What to expect of your supervisor

It is important to keep in mind that you will have 31 hours of supervision allocated to your individual project,
including reading time, group meetings, the final assessment, and your thesis defence. You can expect your
supervisor to give you advice, for example about the relevant literature you need to consult, about defining your
topic or analyzing your data. His/her most important job is to guide, motivate and inspire you. He/she will assess
whether the research proposal is realistic and solid. He/she will also make sure that you make continuous progress. If
you are not progressing, your supervisor will need to point you in the right direction and talk to you about how to
prevent further delay. You can also expect your supervisor to detect unrealistic or incorrect parts in your research
proposal, during your fieldwork, and in your analysis.

There will be frequent meetings between you and your supervisor, depending on how much time you spend on your
thesis (approximately one appointment every two or three weeks when you are working on your thesis full time).
This corresponds to approximately 10 meetings (including group meetings). Discuss with your supervisor in
advance how you will plan these encounters (see 4.2.). Some prefer shorter and frequenter meetings, other sparser
but longer ones. During a meeting, you and your supervisor will talk about a specific stage of your research project
or a specific chapter. Always take the initiative yourself and ask questions if things are not clear. Keep yourself and
your supervisor motivated, not only by talking about problems, but also about interesting outcomes. Usually the
supervisor will review your chapters separately as you write them. It is wise to plan time to hand in a draft version of
your thesis at the end of the process. Your supervisor can detect mistakes, inconsistencies, or incoherent parts in
your thesis and you can improve the final version before you submit it to the supervisor and the second reader for
the final assessment.
Make sure your supervisor is able to prepare for the meetings by handing in your written work on time. Indicate
which parts are new or revised, so that your supervisor does not need to read your work all over again. This prevents
inefficiency and ensures that you talk about relevant matters during your meeting. Accordingly, you should also
prepare yourself for the meetings, for instance by making a list of things you want to discuss. The work that you
hand in for these meetings does not need to be perfect, but do make sure that the spelling, style, and grammar are

If you are unsatisfied with the way the process is going or the supervision you get, it is important to talk to your
supervisor about it. If you do not manage to solve the problems with your supervisor, contact the master thesis
project coordinator, the programme director or the student counsellor. Serious complaints should be dealt with
through the university complaints procedure and the Board of Examiners (Examencommissie, or EC). You can also
contact the student members of the Programme Committee (Opleidingscommissie, or OC).

4.2 Supervision agreement
It is important to openly discuss with your supervisor your expectations about the thesis supervision. Would you
rather have supervision concerning the process or the content of your thesis? How often will (s)he read your
preliminary chapters and what kind of comments will (s)he give you? When do you hand in these preliminary
chapters? Do you always need to make an appointment or can you stop by unannounced? Can you e-mail or phone
him/her if you are stuck? Remember to ask for his/her schedule, especially if (s)he is planning to travel during the
time you will be working on your thesis.

To prevent disappointment, talk about your ambitions with your supervisor during your first bilateral meeting. It is
important that you stay in contact with your supervisor as you are writing your thesis. After each appointment, set a
date and time for the next appointment. Take into account that for each hour you meet with your supervisor, he/she
will need time to read your work and think about it. This is an important consideration as your supervisor has been
allocated 31 hours for your thesis supervision (and research proposal), of which up to 5 hours may be required for
the final assessment and meeting. Thus, you should consider that you have enough time for approximately 6
individual meetings with your supervisor during the whole process. During your fieldwork, you will meet less
frequently with your supervisor; during the writing process you will meet more frequently. Nowadays
communication during fieldwork abroad is usually uninterrupted thanks to email and skype.

5. The research proposal

After you have chosen a topic, the next step is to write the research proposal. This chapter describes how to create
such a research proposal (5.1), how to clearly define your topic (5.2) and why it is so important to make a proper
timetable to plan your reading, research and writing work (5.3).

5.1 The research proposal

The thesis-project starts (after a kick-off meeting) with writing a research proposal. The research proposal is very
important for the further progress of your research. Elaborating the proposal forces you to think thoroughly about
your topic. In your research proposal you will determine which problem you will investigate, which theories you
will use, which research questions are relevant, which methods you will use, and what you want to accomplish or
add to the current debate on the topic you have chosen. Try to establish at that stage if you have access to relevant
sources and if your plan is feasible.

As you write your research proposal, your topic will become more clearly defined. Writing a good research proposal
takes time; it requires a great deal of revising and rethinking to make sure that you have made the appropriate
choices. Your research proposal is also needed in order to receive research permits, when applicable.

What does a research proposal look like?

In your research proposal, you will specify the problem definition and related research questions, the theoretical and
analytical framework, the purpose of data collection and how you plan to accomplish it. You will need to think
about getting useful and reliable information, your schedule, and possibly funding. (The exact requirements will be
formulated in the course manual.) The following elements should be a part of your research proposal:

In the introduction, you write what your thesis is about and what gave rise to your interest in this subject. What is the
academic and societal relevance of your topic and why?

Theoretical framework
In the theoretical framework, you describe the theoretical background of your topic and review relevant academic
frameworks. You define the key concepts and provide an overview of the most important literature on the subject.
The framework will logically evolve into a problem statement. Do not describe all kinds of different theories and
literatures just for the sake of reviewing the literature – the theoretical framework should have a clear function in
your argumentation.

In a later stage of your thesis writing, you will revisit and extend this framework. Still, it is important to start writing
it in this earlier stage to stay abreast of what is going on in the field of your topic and have a sense of which matters
are important. It will help and guide you when you need to make important decisions. Try to elaborate your
theoretical framework as far as possible during the thesis preparation stage.

Research questions
The research question or problem statement should capture the whole research in one question. It should evolve in a
logical way from the theoretical framework. In formulating your research question, you will usually start with a
vague idea, making it more concrete as you read further about your topic and relevant research. It is thus expected
that your research question will continue to change as you gain more knowledge about your topic and your case.
You may also want to formulate separate sub-questions that need to be answered first in different chapters, in order
to address the core research question in the concluding chapter.

Research design and methods

The research design is arguably the most important part of your research proposal. It explains how you want to
answer your research questions. It features a statement on what kind of research you conduct, why you use a certain
research design, why you will use which methods to collect empirical data and to analyse them. In the thesis you
demonstrate the methodological skills you have learned during your studies. Do not hesitate to consult the books and
notes you have taken in previous courses in your bachelor’s programme and in this master’s programme. This
includes evidently Planning Methodologies and Planning Research (for planners) and Geoskills: Research Methods
& Techniques but also methodological insights from the academic literature under scrutiny in your
specialisation/thematic courses.

Methods: data collection and analysis

To answer your research questions, you will need to collect data. There are many ways to do that, depending on your
topic and type of research. You can analyze existing data, make and analyze GIS maps, analyze written sources
(newspaper articles, websites, reports, annual reports, speeches, policy documents, plans, etc.), conduct surveys or
in-depth interviews, or use your observations. Think of the different methods that you came across during your
methodology classes or browse through a methodology book for inspiration. Based on your methodological skills
and practical constraints (time, access etc) you need to choose the right balance between quantitative and qualitative
methods to answer your research question.

The concepts that you use in your problem statement should be translated into concrete variables and indicators. By
doing this, you get an idea of what exactly you mean by a certain concept and what you want to find out. To do this,
you must first clearly define the concept. You then transform it into a researchable variable. This step will
unavoidably mean that you will have to make choices about what to include and exclude from your research.
Provide a clear argumentation in your research proposal about the choices you have made.

Structure and analytical framework

In your research proposal, you can include a (preliminary) table of contents of your thesis. This will remind you of
the fact that you will need to write a structured story based on your data. The sequence and organisation of your
chapters will depend on the type of research that you have chosen. In many cases, it will be dependent on your
research questions.

An example of a conventional structure

- Introduction
- Theoretical framework
- Problem statement, analytical framework and methods
- Data analysis (several chapters depending on your subquestions)
- Conclusions and recommendations
- Bibliography
- Appendices (such as maps, survey questions, list of interviewees or sites of observations, and letters)

Having a table of content from the start makes the work more manageable, as you can conceive of each chapter as an
academic paper (something you are experienced at doing).

In your timetable, you will indicate when you will carry out the tasks and when you will write each of the chapters.
How much time will you spend on each part of your research? If you are doing fieldwork abroad, you might need
more time than usual, depending on the length of stay and the complexity of the situation in the fieldwork location.

5.2 Clearly defining a topic

Do not choose a topic that is too broad. Remember that you have one semester to complete your thesis. Many
students find it hard to clearly define their topic and to exclude certain aspects from their research. They find
themselves spending a great deal of time on gathering and reading literature, which can lead to a problem statement
that is hard to investigate. Do not take too much time for gathering background information; it is more important to
make choices early and move forward.

If you have a vague or broad problem statement, clearly defining the concepts can help. You can also make a
conceptual scheme to give you a clear idea about which relationships you want to investigate. Remember that you
will need to collect the data on your own. A survey of hundreds of people will only be possible if you can hand out
surveys on paper, via the internet or in groups (classes or companies). If you use in-depth interviews, conducting 10-
15 interviews is usual.

Tame your ambitions

In writing the master’s thesis, students usually ask a lot of themselves. They want to get a high grade, make an
original contribution to the academic literature, solve a societal problem, or, more down to earth, produce a report
they can be proud of and they can show during future job interviews. These are of course good motivations, but it
can lead to frustrations. We therefore recommend you to tame your ambitions and to focus on writing a clear
analysis of a less ambitious research. The scope of your master’s thesis can be modest, it is your first step as a

You should always explain and justify the choices you make during the process of transforming your topic into a
definitive problem statement. Why did you choose to investigate aspect A, but not B or C? Why did you do

fieldwork in area A when you could have gone to area B? Your argumentation can be based on your theoretical and
analytical framework, your problem statements or practical matters.

To elaborate upon your theoretical framework, problem statement and research questions and to provide
argumentation, you can use the following questions:
- What is the research problem? What is the societal problem?
- Why is it a problem?
- For whom is it a problem? For which persons or institutions is it a problem? Is the problem definition the
same for everyone?
- What do you want to accomplish? Who can make use of your results and how?
- What is the societal and academic relevance of your project?
- What knowledge about possible causes of this problem is already available? And why has the problem not
yet been solved?
- Can your problem be analytically reduced to a series of smaller problems?
- What steps do you need to follow to answer your research question?

5.3 Working schedule

It is important for you and your supervisor to make a schedule. The first phase is to write your research proposal and
review the literature for your theoretical framework; much of this will be done before the bilateral supervision starts.
The second phase is data collection and analysis.

Be realistic about your timeline; do not make it too tight but set yourself a number of deadlines. Usually a thesis will
take more time than planned. Keep in mind that you will need time to revise your work. You will also be dependent
on others, which can make it harder to work according to your schedule. If you have experienced a number of
delays, make an agreement with your supervisor about which part of your thesis to give priority to, or determine if it
is possible for you to complete your thesis later than planned.

If you are not sure about the amount of time that you need for certain phases, ask your supervisor or another expert.
Keep in mind that even if you have thought of everything, there will always be unexpected obstacles, for example
computers that break down, library books that are in use by others, difficulties to reach interviewees or respondents
or to obtain documents, or personal problems.

6. Conducting the research

This chapter is about collecting data, what is expected of you and how to deal with an overload of information .

6.1 What is expected of you

Conducting research is also about collecting data independently, locating the right sources, formulating adequate
research questions, etc. An important part of this phase is to show that you are able to make sound choices
concerning your research. To be focused, our advice is to start writing tentative conclusions already in this stage.

If you choose to conduct interviews or surveys, make sure that you are well prepared – otherwise you are unlikely to
get the necessary information from your respondents. Reading about interview techniques and fieldwork is
recommended. Look back at the textbooks and notes you used in methodological classes. Consult general
methodological introductions for social science and/or geography, for example:
 Bryman, A. 2008/2012/2016: Social research methods. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
 Clifford, N.J. and Valentine, G., editors 2003: Key methods in geography. London: Sage.
 Ragin, C.C. 1987: The comparative method: moving beyond qualitative and quantitative strategies London:
University of California Press.
 Yin, R.K. 2002: Case study research: Design and methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

It is important to think your plans through. Do not hesitate too long between different options but make decisions
and complete your project. Some insights will only come to you when you are carrying out your plans. It is wise to
analyse and interpret your material as soon as possible. This enables you to change direction if needed, to add or
delete a subproject during the process in reaction to unexpected difficulties or outcomes. Your research proposal
should be a guiding principle in these decisions, but it might be necessary to take more drastic steps and amend your
research proposal, in consultation with your supervisor and with his or her agreement.

Always keep track of who you have spoken with and when. Bear in mind that processing and analyzing your surveys
and interviews and observations takes a lot of time. One hour of interviewing will take you at least three hours of
transcribing and analysis. Before for instance the coding can begin, think of how you want to use the data. This takes
time, but not doing so is penny-wise but pound-foolish, as it might take you much more time at a later stage of the

In addition to data collection and analysis, you might think of appropriate figures to use in your thesis – for instance,
photos, illustrations, charts or graphs that help to support your statements or conclusions. Maps are particularly
welcome in a geography or a planning thesis.

When conducting your research, you should behave according to ethical principles. The VSNU (Association of
Dutch Universities) has a behavioural code (see; only
in Dutch). The most important points to keep in mind are carefulness, accuracy, verifiability, impartiality and

independence. Behave responsibly when dealing with respondents and data. Behave according to the rules of
‘informed consent’, avoiding risks to respondents and protecting their privacy. Respondents should be informed
about the goal of the research and should be able to freely decide whether or not to cooperate. Extra care is needed
when dealing with vulnerable groups, such as minorities. If you cannot guarantee anonymity (for example, when
dealing with key informants), respondents have to agree explicitly with the use of their quotations in your thesis.
When conducting research, bear in mind that it is a learning process and that you can make mistakes. Try to be
creative in solving problems and make sure you have enough data to write your thesis. Ask your supervisor for
advice when needed.

6.2 An overload of data: keep your focus

When you are doing your research, you will probably collect lots of interesting data and develop interesting insights.
Usually this is more than you will need for your research. Be careful with this: you will be tempted to include extra
information in your thesis, to add new research questions, but this might have negative effects on your structure and
delay the process.

During data collection, keep in mind why you are doing something and ask yourself if and how you can use the data.
Use your structure, problem statement, and research question as a guideline. Try to separate useful information from
unnecessary information. Work according to your working schedule and do not continually collect more data. A
thesis is never finished, but the time you have is limited. Collecting data is a not a goal in and of itself, but a means
to answer your research question.

7. Writing your thesis

In this chapter, information is provided about the actual process of writing. In which language do you want to write
your thesis? How do you handle the material? What difficulties will you encounter and how can you solve
problems? How does the assessment work (7.4)?

7.1 Language choice

You can write your thesis in English or in Dutch. (Note that in some cases supervisors are not able to read Dutch
well enough and written pieces must be in English.) Take the time to make your decision about this choice, as your
fluency in the two languages might highly differ. Think also of practical issues (is your supervisor fluent in the
language you want to use?). Consider your topic. It might be fit to write in Dutch about an empirical case in The
Netherlands or in Suriname, much less if you report about fieldwork in Nicaragua or India. It also depends on your
ambition for later. If you want to have an international career, it would be a pity not to use the opportunity to
demonstrate your writing skills in English, but if you want to work in a Dutch municipality it might be a better idea
to demonstrate your writing skills in Dutch.

7.2 How to handle your data

Writing up the analysis is not easy for everyone. Take enough time to write your thesis and keep in mind that you
will probably have to revise your work several times. Writing your thesis does not only start after you have collected
your data – as mentioned earlier, you should have already written your theoretical chapters and research proposal.

Make sure to organize your material so that you can easily find information and prevent false statements in your
thesis. If you want to use quotations in your thesis, choose appropriate examples. Make sure quotations support your
argumentation. Indicate sources of the quote (but keep it anonymous): “A 56-year old woman from village A,” etc.
Always write down your source – this will make it easier to look it up later and ensures that you have a complete
reference list. If you are using many bibliographic sources, you might consider using the computer program
EndNote ( or RefWorks
faq.html) to document your bibliography. These databases make it easier to keep track of the books and articles you
consult, to cite from your sources properly and to generate lists of references.

Make sure you use the software available to you (e.g. SPSS, ArcGIS, ATLAS-ti) when relevant for your data

7.3 Practical matters concerning the thesis

The exact content of your thesis and its structure depend on your research project. There is not a single proper way
to do it but you should use chapters, paragraphs and sub-paragraphs to structure your argument. Take as a starting
point that the readers of your thesis will be students of your own field and interested academics. This means that you
are expected to write an academic text, and to position your work in the existing academic literature on your topic.
You are also expected to write critically about published research.

A good method for creating a logical and coherent structure is to start with your table of contents and briefly
summarize the purpose of each of the chapters and sections. Chapters often correspond to sub questions. Keep into
focus how each section will connect to the others.

The length of the thesis should be about 40-50 pages this means with an average of 400 words per page, the thesis
should be between 15,000 to 20,000 words (excluding references and appendices); supervisors have room for
discretion: if they have good argumentation for that a thesis should be allowed to have more than 20.000 words, they
can may allow a higher word count. Please consider that longer theses are not necessarily better. Consult with your
supervisor in advance in case your thesis deviates substantially from the above proposed word counts.

Writing problems: writer’s block and language deficiencies

Writing a thesis can be a painful process. When you have writing difficulties, you should seek help. Talk to your
supervisor about it, consult the many books and websites available about writing a paper or a thesis, and enrol in a
writing course. If you are really stuck during the thesis writing process, you can also go to the master thesis project
coordinator, the student counsellor, or the programme director (see Appendix 5). Talk to your fellow students as
well; they might be having similar problems and discussing these with each other can be helpful.
In Appendix 4 you will find an overview of sources about academic (thesis) writing in English and Dutch.

7.4 Final assessment

When your thesis is finished, your supervisor and a second reader (assigned by the thesis coordinator) will assess it.
When you hand in your thesis during the first or second chance, the second reader will always read your thesis. Take
into account that your readers need time to read your thesis.

The final assessment will take place after a discussion (‘defence’) of your thesis with your supervisor and the second
reader. This defence will take about an hour. The lecturers will ask questions about your thesis and ask you to
defend your choices. You will probably receive more critical comments than compliments. You do not need to
prepare much for the defence, because you are now an expert on the topic and you will easily be able to convince the
assessors of your expertise. Still try to be reflective and to think about possible critical comments beforehand, so that
you will be prepared for that discussion. Don’t forget to bring your own copy to the defence!
In exceptional cases (e.g. supervisor, second reader or candidate cannot be there in person due to personal
circumstances) , the defence can also take place from a distance using technologies such as Skype.

After this final meeting, you will receive an assessment form with comments and your grade (see Appendix 6). The
form is for the programme administration, a copy is for your own administration.


1. Norms and requirements for a thesis 21

2. Thesis contract for fieldwork abroad 23
3. Guidelines for writing academic papers 24
4. Extra reading and courses about writing 25
5. Important Contacts 27
6. Assessment Form Master’s Thesis Human Geography and Planning 29

NB: The appendices will be available as separate forms on Blackboard.

Appendix 1
Norms and requirements for the master’s thesis

1. 24 ECTS (672 hours) is assigned to the master’s thesis, including a 3 ECT (84 hours) research proposal.
2. Students have to be enrolled in the course Master Thesis Project
3. Students have a right to 31 hours of supervision (including groups sessions, reading time, assessment and the
final thesis defence). Supervision will generally consist of a meeting once every two or three weeks while you
are working full time on your thesis. Ask whether and when your supervisor will be out of office for a long
period of time (fieldwork, sabbatical and other stays abroad) during your project, so that you can take that into
consideration in your time schedule. If you don’t find a workable arrangement for that period contact the thesis
4. Students should submit their Research proposal to their supervisor and upload the proposal to blackboard before
5 March, 2018, 10 am.
5. After the student received ‘green light’/pass on the basis of his/her Research Proposal and will conduct
fieldwork abroad, the student has to submit the GSSS form for fieldwork abroad (see Section 3.2 for details and
Appendix 2).
6. If a supervisor is ill for a long time, the student will be assigned to a new supervisor. Inform the master thesis
project coordinator as soon as possible when such a problem has emerged.
7. Two hard copies of the final version of the thesis should be handed in for the supervisor and the second reader,
which both always read the thesis during this first chance, and the student should hand in his or her thesis on the
blackboard-site of the course Master Thesis Project, in the dropbox on their Master Thesis Project group’s page.
Theses that are submitted after the deadline or not handed in are marked NAV (meaning: Not completed) and
the candidate rests only one chance to submit their thesis, namely before the second chance deadline.
8. The thesis should be between 15,000 and 20,000 words.
9. With every grade for the thesis at the first opportunity the student receives a filled in Master’s Thesis
Assessment Form (i.e. also if assessed as insufficient or if marked NAV when not handed in or not handed
before the deadline). The student always gets more elaborate feedback as well, either during the defence or a
meeting with only his or her supervisor if it was not deemed sufficient enough for this final meeting.
10. If the thesis is assessed with an insufficient mark at the first opportunity (end of June), the student will have the
possibility to revise and resubmit it within a given time frame (before 15 August 2018, 10hr). If the student
misses the first opportunity for submission, it implies waiving this option. As a result the second chance for
submission is the last chance; waiving the first option has no consequences for the grade of the thesis or a cum
laude. Students are not entitled to supervision in July and August.
11. If you have complaints about your supervision that you could not resolve with your supervisor, you can contact
the master thesis project coordinator or student advisor (see Appendix 5 for contact information). Formal
objections and complaints can be lodged with the Board of Examiners EC (see Appendix 5 for contact
information) until at least 14 days after the final assessment. Complaints concerning the assessment of the thesis
will be dealt with in accordance with your department’s ‘Rules and regulations for taking exams’. Complaints
should be made as soon as possible. The Board of Examiners will search for a solution in consultation with
those responsible for the assessment. If you are not satisfied with the settlement, you can lodge an appeal with

the Examination Appeals Board within four weeks after being notified of the decision. See the chapter
‘Complaints, objections and appeals’ of the Student Charter (online at the UvA website) for the procedure.

Formal rules for the two master’s programmes are based on the ‘Onderwijs- en Examenregeling’ (OER) of the
programmes, that you can find in the course catalogue, and- or the Department’s most recent “rules and
regulations for exams”.

Appendix 2
Thesis form for fieldwork abroad

All students conducting fieldwork abroad for their thesis (e.g. not in the Netherlands) need to fill in
an online form available through this link:

The provided contact details and fieldwork specifics will be used in case of emergencies.

Appendix 3
Guidelines for writing academic papers

Guidelines for writing an academic paper

In English:

Appendix 4
Extra reading and courses about writing
A. Literature
Becker, H.S., 2007: Writing for Social Scientists. How to start and finish your thesis, book, or article. Second
edition . Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Brungs, E., 2005: Zinvol zoeken, stijlvol schrijven: Handleiding voor het schrijven van wetenschappelijke teksten in
de sociale wetenschappen. Leuven: Acco.
Bui, Y.N., 2009: How to write a master's thesis. Los Angeles: Sage.
Burrough-Boenisch, J., 2004: Righting English that's gone Dutch, Second Edition, Voorburg: Kemper Conseil.
Clifford, N. J. and Valentine, G. (eds), 2010: Key Methods in Geography. Second edition. London: Sage.
Eco, U., 2010: Hoe schrijf ik een scriptie. 13de druk. Amsterdam: Bakker. [1977: Come si fa una tesi di laurea.
Milano : Fabbri-Bompiani Sonzogno, Etas. Vertaald uit het Italiaans door Yond Boeke en Patty Krone].
Eemeren, F.H. van, & Snoeck Henkemans, A.F., 2011: Argumentatie: inleiding in het identificeren van
meningsverschillen en het analyseren, beoordelen en houden van betogen. Vierde herziene druk. Groningen:
Elbow, P., 1998: Writing with power. Techniques for mastering the writing process. Second edition. New York:
Oxford University Press.
Hannay, M. & J. L. Mackenzie, 2009: Effective writing in English, A source book. Bussum: Coutinho.
Harvey, G., 1998: Writing with sources: A guide for students..Indianapolis: Hackett.
Heerink, M., 2010: Praktische schrijfgids, Amsterdam: Pearson Education.
Horst, Peter J. van den, 1999: Stijlwijzer: praktische handleiding voor leesbaar schrijven, tweede druk. Den Haag
/Antwerpen: SDU / Standaard.
Koenen, L. & Smits, R. ,2000: Basishandleiding Nederlands, Utrecht: Bijleveld.
Kneale, P. E., 2003: Study skills for geography students, A practical guide. Second edition. London: Arnold.
Lamers, H.A.J.M., 1993: Hoe schrijf ik een wetenschappelijke tekst? : een handleiding om scripties,
onderzoeksverslagen, dissertaties en literatuurrapporten te schrijven Zesde druk Bussum: Coutinho.
Mirande, M.J.A. & Wardenaar, E., 1997: Scriptieproblemen. derde druk. Groningen: Wolters-Noordhoff.
Murray, R. ,2006: How to write a thesis. Second edition Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Oosterbaan, W. 2009: Een leesbare scriptie : gids voor het schrijven van scripties, essays en papers . Tiende druk.
Amsterdam/Rotterdam: Prometheus/NRC Handelsblad.
Renkema, J. ,2005: Schrijfwijzer Compact, Den Haag: Sdu Uitgevers.
Renkema, J. ,2005: Schrijfwijzer, Vierde aangepaste druk. Den Haag: Sdu Uitgevers.
Schultz, John, 1982: Writing from start to finish. Upper Montclaire NJ: Boynton/Cook Pub.

B. Online Sources
Online in Dutch
Language store (Taalwinkel) of the Uva and the HvA , contains tips, tricks and video’s:
Thesis tips
Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen:

Online in English
Thinking straight (van Webdesigner Lee J Ballard) With an overview of wrongly stated arguments (fallacies):

Online course and quizzes over the Internet

You can check sources for other disciplines like: Development, European Studies, Sociologist, Anthropologist,
Town and Country Planner, Women’s Studies, enz. The splash page for all tutorials is at
Texas Information Literacy Tutorial (TITT) University of Texas:
Also available in Dutch on the University Library website:

C. Courses and Information

Courses geared towards thesis writing are frequently announced and may be advertised around the university
buildings. Please note that some of these courses will require a fee.
The Student Career Centre (SCC) provides additional support to students. They can answer questions about making
study choices, planning your career and entering the labour market. Apart from individual support, the SCC
organizes special workshops and job application training. The SCC also has a large database of information
about the labour market and can provide information about international job openings and acquiring an

Appendix 5
Important Contacts

Dr. Inge van der Welle (Human Geography)
Nieuwe Achtergracht 166, room: C4.11
Dr. Bas Hissink Muller (Urban and Regional Planning)
Tel: 020-525-1448
Nieuwe Achtergracht 166, room: C4.02


Jeroen van Pelt MSc
Tel 020-525-4093

EXAMINATION COMMITTEE Master’s Programmes Human Geography and Urban and Regional Planning
Secretary: Dr. Marco Bontje
Tel: 020-525-5240 (b.g.g 020-525-4063)
If you have a request which is not urgent, please fill in this form instead:


Appointments can be made via Student Service Desk
Roeterseilandcampus - building E
Consulting hours by telephone: Tuesday till Friday 9-10 am.
Telephone: 020-525 8080
For support in making choices concerning career planning and workshops.


Roeterseilandcampus - building E
Roetersstraat 11
1018 WB Amsterdam
T: +31 (0)20 525 5387

Appointments can be made via Student Service Desk
Roeterseilandcampus - building E
Consulting hours by telephone: Tuesday till Friday 9 – 10 am.,
telephone: 020-525 8080
Appointments and information: 9 - 10 am. ,
Telephone: 020-525 8080
Roeterseilandcampus - building E


Appointments can be made via Trainingcentrum Studenten Services

Roeterseilandcampus - building E
Tel: 020-525 2595 (information


Appointments can be made via Student Service Desk

Roeterseilandcampus - building E
Consulting hours by telephone: Tuesday through Thursday 9 am.-5 pm.
tel: 020-525 8080
Office hours: Tuesday through Thursday 10 am. – 5 pm.
Information on scholarships:

mw. dr. H. (Hendrien) Duijnhouwer
Nieuwe Achtergracht 127
1018 WS Amsterdam
Kamernummer: D7.07
T: +31 (0)20 525 1361


Nieuwe Achtergracht 100
Tel: 020 555-5101 / 020-555-5911

Appendix 6
Urban and Regional Planning & Human Geography Master’s Thesis
Assessment Form

Student’s name: Student ID number:

Study programme/Specialisation: Date:

Thesis title: Mark:

This form was completed by:

Supervisor’s name: Second assessor’s name:

Signature: Signature:

Plagiarism check: yes, score:

(Scale 1=insufficient; 2=modest; 3= sufficient; 4=quite good; 5=extremely good)

1. Content and theory 1 2 3 4 5

A. Has the research question been clearly defined, sufficiently delimited and worked out
B. Has the student applied scientific insights adequately and correctly?

2. Data, methods and techniques 1 2 3 4 5

A. Has the student applied relevant and adequate empirical data (statistical data, interviews,
survey data, policy documents, GIS data etc.)?
B. Are the analytical methods used suited to the purpose, and have they been applied correctly?
C. Is there sufficient substantiation for the choice of data and analytical methods used?

3. Argumentation 1 2 3 4 5
A. Does the line of argumentation follow logical, justifiable and verifiable steps?
B. Do the conclusions address the problem and do they tie in with the theory?
C. If applicable: has the student formulated relevant and substantiated recommendations for policy
and/or further research?

4. Presentation 1 2 3 4 5
A. Does the thesis have a logical structure?
B. Are empirical elements correctly illustrated using tables, figures, maps and quotes?
C. Have all information sources been properly cited?
D. Is the writing lucid, grammatically correct and free of spelling errors?
E. Has the student taken care in the presentation and layout?

5. Process 1 2 3 4 5
A. Did the student show a high degree of independence from the supervisor in setting up and
carrying out the research?
B. Did the student approach the thesis process with a reflective mindset?
C. Is the student capable of defending his or her work?

6. Weak/strong points

Pursuant to Section 7.61 of the WHW, students may lodge an appeal against this
decision by an Examinations Board or examiner within 30 days after the day on which
the decision was sent with the Examination Appeals Board, Spui 21, 1012 WX

Explanation of assessment forms

Minimum requirements

Theses that have not been written in conformance with the Rules and Regulations for papers (correct
grammar, reference to sources, etc.) will not be accepted. See

The scores in the assessment form are not equally weighted. Category 1 (Content and Theory) and
Category 2 (Use of Methods and Techniques) will be weighted more heavily and a score of 1 or 2 will
lead to an unsatisfactory grade. The weight assigned to each category will differ depending on the type of

Distinction between master’s and bachelor’s theses

The master’s thesis is usually of a higher level than the bachelor thesis. Research questions are more
complex and more abstract. The master’s thesis is always embedded in international literature, whereas
the bachelor’s thesis is not necessarily so. Students are expected to use more advanced research methods
and techniques than in their bachelor thesis. Students are also expected to work more independently.
The supervision scheme is adapted to this expectation.

Additional Information

The grading for each category is on a scale from 1 – 5, where 1 is considered unsatisfactory and 5
excellent. The criteria that each sub-category will be tested against can be found in the following section.

Question 1: With respect to contents / theory

A. Is the problem statement clearly defined and well formulated?

B. Have scientific insights been sufficiently and correctly used?

A1. No clear (theoretical or empirical) problem statement, ambiguous problem statement, and the
research sub-questions do not contribute to answering the research question.
A3. Clear (theoretical or empirical) problem statement, unambiguous problem statement, and the
research sub-questions help to answer the research question and give structure to the research and
reporting. The problem statement fits within existing research and is for a large part formulated by
the teacher or another source.
A5. In addition to meeting the criteria for A3, the student also showed originality and creativity in
formulating the problem statement, for instance by combining different scientific insights or
connecting different fields. The problem statement illustrates a new approach to existing research
questions in the programme group. Research is focused on answering the sub-questions (no
unnecessary information).

B1. Academic references to international literature are missing or limited to literature provided by the
supervisor. Theory is used insufficiently in the argumentation about the problem statement or to
define central concepts.
B3. Academic references to international literature are present and the student has independently located
sources relevant to the subject. Theories, concepts and other insights from literature have been used
in the argumentation about the problem statement or to define central concepts.
B5. In addition to meeting the criteria for B3, the student has shown originality and creativity in applying
particular literature, for instance by combining in a novel way different types of scientific insights
(e.g. empirical and theoretical insights). Differing insights are well synthesized and translated into
concepts that give a clear direction to the research.

Question 2: Use of Methods and Techniques

A. Did the student use relevant and empirical data (Statistical data, interviews, surveys, policy
documents, GIS data etc.)?
B. Do the methods fit the subject and have they been correctly applied?
C. Did the student give an argumentation for the choices that he/she made concerning analysis?

A1. The data does not fit to the problem statement.

A3. The data fits to the problem statement.
A5. The data is exceptionally good. For instance, the student may have created exceptionally good
surveys, found creative ways of collecting data from a difficult target group, worked with complex
databases or created advanced GIS data.

B1. The method of analysis does not fit the data and/or the problem statement.
B3. The method of analysis fits the data and/or the problem statement.
B5. The method of analysis fits exceptionally well the data and/or the problem statement. For instance,
the student may have used advanced methods or independently devised a method or creative

C1. The choice of data and the method of analysis is not justified or supported with the wrong
C3. There is adequate argumentation of choices.
C5. The student shows exceptional in-depth knowledge of the data and the applied method of analysis.

Question 3: Argumentation

A. Are the steps in the story logical, sound and verifiable?

B. Did the conclusions fit the problem and are they connected to the theory?
C. If applicable: does the student make relevant and well-argued recommendations for policy and/or

A1. The argumentation does not correspond to the data results or the literature. The argumentation is
missing or contains wrong arguments.
A3. The argumentation is correct, but is not coherent.
A5. The argumentation is logically structured and is a sound interpretation and reflection of the data.

B1. The conclusions do not/hardly refer to the problem statement or conclusions are missing.
B3. The conclusions refer to the problem statement, but are poorly linked to the theory.
B5. The student makes logical conclusions in reference to the problem statement and gives theoretical

C1. The thesis does not contain recommendations for policy or future research.
C3. The student provides recommendations, but does not give argumentation.
C5. The student gives logical recommendations for policy or future research with good argumentation.

Question 4: Presentation

A. Is the thesis logically structured?

B. Did the student illustrate the empirical data using tables, figures, maps and citations?
C. Did the student refer to the literature correctly?
D. Did the student use clear formulations, correct grammar and spelling?
E. Does the thesis look carefully edited?

A1. The thesis is not logically structured, there is no distinction between main aspects and less important
issues, the report is too short or too long-winded.
A3. The thesis has more or less a logical structure, but there is a mixed use of main aspects and less
important issues.
A5. The thesis is logically structured, main aspects and less important issues are distinguished and the
length is appropriate.

B1. The figures were not made by the student but come from the internet or from books.
B3. The figures were made by the student but were not carefully edited: SPSS figures are copied without
any editing; important facts such as the number of units are missing, etc.
B5. The student has provided correct figures using his own empirical data.

C1. References are missing or incorrect.

C3. References are sometimes inadequate.
C5. All sources have been carefully and correctly referenced.

D1. The thesis contains many mistakes in spelling or grammar and is written with poor Dutch or English
D3. The thesis contains some mistakes in spelling.
D5. It is a pleasure to read the thesis; no mistakes in spelling or grammar are found and it is well and
clearly written.

E1. No effort has been put into the layout of the thesis. Figures are not readable or not carefully copied
and pasted.
E3. The thesis is sufficiently edited, but not publishable; for example, it contains unnecessary sections.
E5. The thesis is carefully and exceptionally edited. A great deal of effort has been put into the layout of
the pages, etc.

Question 5: Process

A. Has the student shown that he/she worked independently while making the research design and
while conducting research?
B. Was the student self-reflexive during the process of writing the thesis?
C. Can the student defend his/her work?

A1. The student was passive and used only literature, methods and data provided by the supervisor.
A3. The student carried out what was proposed by the supervisor.
A5. The student worked independently and incorporated literature, information, structure and data
without the teacher’s help.

B1. The student did not ask questions about the progress of writing the thesis and was unable to
incorporate critical comments adequately in his/her work.
B3. The student asked some questions about the progress of writing the thesis and incorporated critical
comments adequately in his/her work.
B5. The student asked many questions about the progress and content of the thesis. He/she and worked
out critical comments him/herself and incorporated this adequately in his/her work.

C1. The student is not able to defend his/her own work.

C3. The student is able to sufficiently defend his/her own work.
C5. The student is able to defend his/her own work excellently.