Photographer:Fotograaf: Simone Golob
Ten tips for writing a thesis
Writing a thesis: don’t let it be your Waterloo! Take a few breaths and read these tips from people who have already walked that path and carried on.
Don’t download every article you find
Faced with an overwhelming range of sources in the library’s database, it can be hard to see the forest for the trees. Go on a PDF-downloading spree and you’ll just accumulate a mountain of sources it’s not clear you’ll be able to get to. Instead, read the abstract and skim through the article before clicking the download button. Once you’ve found a number of articles you feel comfortable with, try to label them from most to least relevant. If you’re having trouble finding sources on your topic, don’t panic. Look at the articles you have and search their reference lists for potential sources. Normally, when you download an article from a journal database, other articles are suggested that might be of relevance.
Don’t assume your professors don’t have lives
Professors are people too and they look forward to the holidays just like the rest of us. The thesis process can make you self-absorbed—try to remember that not everything revolves around acing it. Be sure to set up a schedule with your supervisor, taking into account their holidays and work-related trips as well as the amount of time they need to grade your thesis.
Don’t take citations for granted
APA? MLA? TGIF? What do these abbreviations even mean? Proper sourcing and referencing is as important as the content of your thesis itself. No citations? No valid thesis. Giving references proves that you haven’t plagiarised work and that you have sources to back up your arguments. Learn everything you need to know about citations on owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/.
Don’t rely on your hard drive
On the off chance that the machines rise against us, be sure that your thesis draft, notes and articles are backed up and saved in more than one location. Technology is not always reliable and if your hard drive had never crashed before, you don’t want to find out it can after a month’s worth of work. The best measure to prevent the loss of your thesis is to constantly save as you’re typing. Have several draft versions saved, and don’t give in to laziness when labelling them—you need to develop a system for naming your drafts in an organised way. And rather than relying on your hard drive, invest in a cloud. Dropbox, box and Microsoft all offer reliable cloud options and, once downloaded to your (or any) computer, can sync your work as you write. Emailing versions to yourself isn’t a bad idea either.
Don’t compare your thesis-writing process to that of others
It’s natural to exchange war stories on the ongoing process of your thesis with the rest of your platoon, but it’s important to remember that your thesis will be your fingerprint. It’s a unique experience to every student and it would be unfair to couple someone else’s progress with your own. Don’t feel intimidated if a classmate has already finished their analysis and is halfway through the writing process. Everyone writes, studies and organises themselves at their own pace.
Don’t be swayed or deterred, either, when you hear of the different approaches taken by supervisors. One supervisor developed a system of green, yellow and red lights. Halfway through the writing process she would assess whether or not the student could continue. Green meant a clear go-ahead, yellow meant there were some issues to be fixed and red meant stop and reassess. But another supervisor might have an entirely different style of giving feedback—and that’s okay too.
Don’t be afraid of criticism
If you’re the type that tenses up at peer reviews and has their ego dented by blunt feedback, that attitude is about to be put to the test. You’ll come to realise that the feedback you receive will help you in the long term. Even if you find it brutal, don’t be afraid to ask for further clarification. The same applies if the opposite occurs: some students find that their supervisors give only minimal or vague feedback. Make a point of establishing an open communication channel with your supervisor if something is unclear or if you’re having difficulties.
Proofreading—proceed with caution!
That said, more feedback isn’t always better. Although your insecurities may be running high, especially if you’re not writing in your native tongue, asking everyone around you to proofread your thesis may end up in disaster. The last thing you need is a flood of conflicting and overwhelming feedback that even the strongest dyke can’t hold back. Limit the number of people you ask for feedback and ask yourself why you want each person to read your thesis.
Don’t panic in the event of conflicting advice
It’s not unknown for students to find themselves dealing with opposing recommendations. You may find yourself in a situation where your thesis supervisor and other coordinators, professors or internship supervisors are contradicting one another, making it hard for you to move forward. Stop. Take a step back and have a serious talk with your thesis supervisor—the one who is overseeing your research. Your supervisor should know the guidelines you need to adhere to and should be advising you in your best interests. Don’t shy away from having this discussion in order to clarify what the next step is.
Don’t be too informal in your writing
One thing students always wish they had practised more is their academic writing. Try reading academic texts and doing some of your own research on how to structure your writing in an academic style. You can also consult platforms like Thesis SupportAll and The Writing Studio for all your academic writing and argumentation needs.
Don’t stress about the title early on
The cover page, the title, the font—all these details come together towards the end of the project. While having a title feels like a good place to start, it’s okay if it doesn’t occur to you within the first few chapters. The title will most likely shift and change anyway, right up until your last draft when you’re best placed to come up with a heading that really encompasses your research. Down to your last words and still no inspiration in sight? Any title is better than no title. ‘Article 4.1-12: An analysis’ may not win any catchy title prizes, but who cares? You’re not selling books here—you’re finishing your studies.
Ana Da Silva