Thesis writing

Nor Aishah Buang UKM 13 June 2009

Types of papers
‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ Essays Research papers Term papers Thesis Dissertations

Problems .
Problems of: 1. getting started, 2. getting organized, 3. dividing the huge task into less formidable pieces and working on those pieces. 4. the practicalities of surviving the ordeal.

Preamble to getting started
‡ Get yourself clear with the problem statement first . ‡ Get yourself more or less clear of the MAIN question/s to answer . ‡ Get yourself some keywords . ‡ Get yourself clear with the tentative topic THEN .

Getting started
1. First make up a thesis outline: 2. several pages containing chapter headings, sub-headings, some figure titles (to indicate which results go where) and perhaps some other notes and comments. 3. Once you have an outline, discuss it with your adviser.

Organization
‡ Divide your paper layout into TWO-one for the contents and one for the references ‡ For every chapter headings and subheadings, write key words or key contents ‡ Create a TIMETABLE for targeting the deadlines

Writing and writing ..
‡ Whenever you sit down to write, it is very important to write something. ‡ So write something, even if it is just a set of notes or a few paragraphs of text that you would never show to anyone else.

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, yet narrow enough to address that issue thoroughly in the time allotted. You will want, in six months' time, to feel as if you know just about everything about your topic. ‡ Understand the limitations of your particular situation. For instance, if your project requires lab work, know how much you can reasonably expect to accomplish in the time you have.

Sizing Up Your Topic
‡ 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 to consider taking while you are working on your thesis. Theses are very time-consuming, so you may appreciate being able to tie it into your other academic work (both because of the light your research may shed on your other classes and because of the light your classes may shed on your research).

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 certain aspects of your topic interest you more than others, and that certain approaches offer more opportunities for new scholarly work.

Reading Strategies
‡ 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. As one science major told us, "I had specific questions to answer when I started. As I got 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 issues in the field that have not been overly explored.

riting 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 to everything you read. ‡ It's also a good idea to keep a journal. Not only will you find that you can cut and paste some of these notes and summaries into your final project, ‡ but you'll also find that you've kept track of where your information came from. If you have a good sense of what sources provided you with what information, you can save yourself a lot of time.

riting as You Research
‡ IN SHORT, DON'T VIEW THE RESEARCH PROCESS AS ENTIRELY SEPARATE FROM THE WRITING PROCESS. ‡ Whether you are writing in the Humanities, Social Sciences, or Sciences, you should begin drafting perhaps even before you finish your preliminary research. ‡ Accept much will have to be changed down the road, but the writing process 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're having them.

Taming "The Beast"
‡ Before they begin to research and to write, many students think of a thesis as just a really big paper. It is indeed usually much larger in size than anything you will have tackled before. ‡ But while the sheer bulk of the project is overwhelming, the nature of the thesis is actually more complex than a matter of size. ‡ As one student put it, "There is absolutely no comparison at all between even a 30 page research paper and 'The Beast.' It's just not in any way comparable."

Taming "The Beast"
‡ There are few "tricks" to tame the "thesis beast," but what students recommend over and over is starting early and having a structured work plan. ‡ Breaking your thesis up into smaller components of things "to do" and things "to say" is the easiest way to make the project more manageable. ‡ Your "to do" plan is your list of tasks: meetings with professors, due dates, books you need to read, articles you need to find, and so on. ‡ Your "to say" plan is your list of argumentative goals for your thesis - what your points are and how you plan to make them.

Taming "The Beast"
‡ If your "to say" plan starts to look unwieldy, think of each chapter of your thesis as a course paper with its own discreet argument. ‡ But give yourself enough time in the drafting process to make sure that your chapters are connected by good, strong transition paragraphs, and that each chapter contributes clearly and coherently to your larger argument. ‡ Remember to work closely with your advisor at every step of the process. You can make an appointment to talk through your ideas at any point.

riting Your Thesis Sentence
‡ Like all papers, your senior thesis needs to have a strong thesis sentence. Look at advice on Developing Your Ideas and Finding a Thesis for good, basic information. Also make sure that your thesis: ‡ Is a complete, declarative, beautifully written sentence. Don't express your thesis as a question, and don't merely state your topic.

riting Your Thesis Sentence
‡ Is an arguable point. If your thesis sentence doesn't have controversy attached to it, then your thesis project will not be very interesting. ‡ Is well focused - not too big, and not too small. ‡ Is relevant to your research. ‡ Points to what's original, interesting, or unusual about your particular argument or research. The reader should want to read your work.

So what makes a good thesis sentence?
‡ Despite the differences from discipline to discipline, a good thesis will generally have the following characteristics: 1. A good thesis sentence will make a claim. ‡ This doesn't mean that you have to reduce an idea to an "either/or" proposition and then take a stand. Rather, you need to develop an interesting perspective that you can support and defend. ‡ Put another way, a good thesis sentence will inspire (rather than quiet) other points of view.

2. A good thesis sentences will control the entire argument. ‡ Your thesis sentence determines what you are required to say in a paper. It also determines what you cannot say. Every paragraph in your paper exists in order to support your thesis. A

3. A good thesis will provide a structure for your argument. ‡ A good thesis not only signals to the reader what your argument is, but how your argument will be presented. In other words, your thesis sentence should either directly or indirectly suggest the structure of your argument to your reader.

‡ Alternatives to the Thesis Sentence ‡ Sometimes, the purpose of a piece of writing is not to make a claim but to raise questions. Other times, a writer wants to leave a matter unresolved, inspiring the reader to create his or her own position. In these cases, the thesis sentence might take other forms: the thesis question or the implied thesis.

‡ It permits the writer to pursue all ideas, without committing to any. ‡ the lack of a declarative thesis statement requires more work: you need to tighten your internal structure and your transitions from paragraph to paragraph so that the essay is clear and the reader can easily follow your line of inquiry.

ill This Thesis Sentence Make the Grade? (A Check List)
In the end, you may have spent a good deal of time writing your thesis and still not know if it's a good one. Here are some questions to ask yourself. 1. Does my thesis sentence attempt to answer (or at least to explore) a challenging intellectual question? 2. Is the point I'm making one that would generate discussion and argument, or is it one that would leave people asking, "So what? 3. Is my thesis too vague? Too general? Should I focus on some more specific aspect of my topic?

4. Does my thesis deal directly with the topic at hand, or is it a declaration of my personal feelings? 5. Does my thesis indicate the direction of my argument? Does it suggest a structure for my paper? 6. Does my introductory paragraph define terms important to my thesis? If I am writing a research paper, does my introduction "place" my thesis within the larger, ongoing scholarly discussion about my topic?

7. Is the language in my thesis vivid and clear? i. Have I structured my sentence so that the important information is in the main clause? Ii. Have I used subordinate clauses to house less important information? iii. Have I used parallelism to show the relationship between parts of my thesis? In short, is this thesis the very best sentence that it can be?

hat else do you need to know about thesis sentences?

‡ A good thesis usually relies on a strong introduction, sharing the work. ‡ As your writing becomes more sophisticated, you will find that a one-sentence thesis statement cannot bear the burden of your entire argument. ‡ Therefore, you will find yourself relying increasingly on your introduction to lay the groundwork. ‡ Use your introduction to explain some of your argument's points and/or to define its terms. Save the "punch" for your thesis. For more information about creating good introductions that can support your thesis sentences, see Introductions and Conclusions

2. The structure of your thesis, along with its introduction, should in some way reflect the logic that brought you to your argument. ‡ It's helpful when structuring your thesis sentence to consider for a moment how it was that you came to your argument in the first place.

‡ A good working thesis is your best friend. ‡ Those writers who understand the concept of "working thesis" are way ahead of the game. A "working thesis" is a thesis that works for you, helping you to see where your ideas are going. Many students keep their thesis sentence in front of them at all times to help them to control the direction of their argument. But what happens when you stumble onto an idea that your thesis isn't prepared for?

Introductions and Conclusions
‡ Introductions and conclusions are among the most challenging of all paragraphs. ‡ Why? ‡ Because introductions and conclusions must do more than simply state a topic sentence and offer support. ‡ Introductions and conclusions must synthesize and provide context for your entire argument, and they must also make the proper impression on your reader.

Introductions
‡ Your introduction is your chance to get your reader interested in your subject. ‡ Accordingly, the tone of the paragraph has to be just right. You want to inform, but not to the point of being dull; ‡ you want to intrigue, but not to the point of being vague; ‡ you want to take a strong stance, but not to the point of alienating your reader. ‡ Pay attention to the nuances of your tone.

‡ Equally important to the tone of the introduction is that your introduction needs to "place" your argument into some larger context. Some strategies follow: ‡ Announce your topic broadly, then declare your particular take. ‡ For example, if you are interested in talking about the narrator in Virginia Woolf's novels, you might 1) begin by saying that Woolf's narrator has posed a problem for many of her critics; 2) provide a quick definition of the problem, as others have defined it; and 3) declare your thesis (which states your own position on the matter).

‡ Provide any background material important to your argument. ‡ If you are interested in exploring how turn of the century Viennese morality influenced the work of Sigmund Freud, you will in your introduction want to provide the reader, in broad strokes, a description of Vienna circa 1900. ‡ Don't include irrelevant details in your description; instead, emphasize those aspects of Viennese society (such as sexual mores) that might have most influenced Freud.

‡ Define key terms, as you intend to make use of them in your argument. ‡ If, for example, you are writing a philosophy paper on the nature of reality, it is absolutely essential that you define the term for your reader. How do you understand the term "reality," in the context of this paper? Empirically? Rationally? Begin with a definition of terms, and from there work towards the declaration of your argument.

‡ Use an anecdote or quotation. ‡ Sometimes you will find a terrific story or quotation that seems to reflect the main point of your paper. Don't be afraid to begin with it. Be sure, however, that you tie that story or quotation clearly and immediately to the main argument of your paper.

‡ Acknowledge your opponents. ‡ When you are writing a paper about a matter that is controversial, you might wish to begin by summarizing the point of view of your adversaries. Then state your own position in opposition to theirs. In this way you place yourself clearly in the ongoing conversation. Be careful, though: you don't want to make too convincing a case for the other side.

‡ Remember: your introduction is the first impression your argument will make on your reader. ‡ Take special care with your sentences so that they will be interesting. ‡ Also, take the time to consider who your readers are and what background they will bring with them to their reading. ‡ If your readers are very knowledgeable about the subject, you will not need to provide a lot of background information. ‡ If your readers are less knowledgeable, you will need to be more careful about defining your terms.

‡ Finally, you might want to consider writing your introduction AFTER you've written the rest of your paper. Many writers find that they have a better grip on their subject once they've done their first draft.

Conclusions
‡ Conclusions are also difficult to write. How do you manage to make the reader feel persuaded by what you've said? Even if the points of your paper are strong, the overall effect of your argument might fall to pieces if the paper as a whole is badly concluded.

‡ Many students end their papers by simply summarizing what has come before. A summary of what the reader has just read is important to the conclusion - particularly if your argument has been complicated or has covered a lot of ground. ‡ But a good conclusion will do more. Just as the introduction sought to place the paper in the larger, ongoing conversation about the topic, so should the conclusion insist on returning the reader to that ongoing conversation, ‡ but with the feeling that they have learned something more. You don't want your reader to finish your paper and say, "So what?" Admittedly, writing a conclusion isn't easy to do.

Many of the strategies we've listed for improving your introductions can help you to improve your conclusions as well. In your conclusion you might: 1. Return to the ongoing conversation, emphasizing the importance of your own contribution to it. 2. Consider again the background information with which you began, and illustrate how your argument has shed new light on that information. 3. Return to the key terms and point out how your essay has added some new dimension to their meanings.

4. Use an anecdote or quotation that summarizes or reflects your main idea. 5. Acknowledge your opponents - if only to emphasize that you've beaten them. 6. Remember: language is especially important to a conclusion. Your goal in your final sentences is to leave your ideas resounding in your reader's mind. Give her something to think about. Make your language ring.

Considering Structure
‡ When considering a structure for your thesis, be sure to outline, outline, outline. ‡ As you do your reading, you'll begin to see relationships between ideas. ‡ Note those connections as you go, and attempt your first outline as soon as you think you begin to glimpse even the vaguest form for your paper. ‡ Of course these outlines will change as your thinking evolves - but each outline you create will be helpful in keeping track of the evolution of your ideas, and in determining the shape of the argument you eventually settle on.

‡ Questions to Guide You in the Revision Process ‡ Most students who we talked to recommended at least two full drafts of your thesis, as well as numerous complex revisions of problem spots and individual chapters. Here we provide a number of questions you might ask yourself as you revise, to ensure that your revision process is thorough and effective: ‡ Do your argument and purpose remain clear throughout the paper? ‡ Is your tone appropriate? ‡ Are you considerate to your reader? Appreciative of her level of knowledge/familiarity with your topic?

‡ Have you given your reader a sense of the current views on your topic so that he has a context in which to consider your argument? ‡ Does your paper's introduction clearly introduce your idea? Explain its significance? Provide background information? Attract the interest of your audience? Provide a clear plan for the paper? Present your thesis clearly? ‡ Does the body of your paper cover your major points in a logical order?

‡ Is each of your major points supported by the appropriate amount of evidence and analysis? ‡ Do you make clear transitions as you move from point to point? ‡ Does your conclusion follow logically from your introduction and body?

The Worst Part About Writing a Thesis
‡ In general, students complain that thesis writing is time consuming and frustrating: ‡ "I'm sure you'll have a moment when you're editing one small part of one chapter and you'll stop and can't even remember what you thesis is, and you'll realize that you're so up to your neck in the grindstone (excuse the mixed metaphor) that you've lost the big picture. It can be real drudgery at times." ‡ "The time. There's not enough of it, and the added burden of classes etc ‡ "It's hanging over you all senior year. Even if you are right on schedule, the thesis is not like an exam or a paper that is over and done with at the end of the term. Until you turn it in, it's always there waiting for you."

The Best Part About Writing a Thesis
‡ While writing a thesis can be frustrating, it's also a very rewarding experience. ‡ First, writing a thesis presents you the challenge and the opportunity of pursuing a an intriguing intellectual question. ‡ Second, they allow you to work in close proximity with an advisor. ‡ And finally, there's that great feeling of satisfaction when the job is done.

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