5 Tips for Writing the Master's Thesis
Congratulations, soon-to-be graduate! Your years of graduate-level research are drawing to a close and it is time to plan your exit. The only obstacle standing in your way is that Master's thesis. You have made notes on your theories, crafted the thesis statement, assembled your sources and notecards, and you've written the draft mostly in your head. Now what?
Students tell us horror stories: academic departments that do not provide adequate information about writing the thesis, or their professors have essentially tossed them into the deep end of the pool, assuming they will sink or swim.
We also have clients who have been waiting years to finish their Master's theses and finally get the degree they started. For whatever reason, these clients left academia to pursue full time jobs, and raise families and come to us when they are ready to start their first thesis semester. They know that they have been outside the academe long enough to be a little rusty when it comes to recalling things like style and format.
So whether you are simply rusty, or are saddled with a MP or committee chair who is just too busy to offer some basic advice, here are five tips to help keep your thesis writing process running smoothly:
It is always a good idea to check with your school's department of graduate studies to find out their exact requirements for submitting your thesis. American and European universities, for the most part, follow Electronic Thesis and Dissertation submission guidelines, developed by the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD), and each university
Make sure you are intimate with Microsoft Word's functions, especially when it comes to creating section breaks and, subsequently, tables of contents, and customizing styles.
Save, save, save! Since you will write multiple versions of your original draft, make sure you save your work often. Never assume that you will dodge a power outage, surge, or lightning strike, even if it's a cloudless day and your electric bill is paid up. Also, create a system for saving successive drafts: use a number sequence for each file name. For example: "Mfarquahar_Thesis_v1.1," "Mfarquahar_Thesis_v1.2," etc. This will help immensely if you need to go retrieve something you removed in editing, only to discover later that you needed it after all.
Absolutely keep copies of your drafts in more than one place. Keeping all your work on one hard drive, whether it be PC or laptop, is foolhardy. Murphy's Law requires a hard drive to fail moments before the final draft is finished and if you are not working in the Cloud, you will have lost all that work
Finally, utilize a Cloud-based retrieval service like Google Docs or Dropbox or Microsoft's OneDrive so you can share and edit no matter where you may find yourself. Editing on your tablet or phone may not be optimum, but if you are pressed for time with a deadline looming, you can make good use of time spent waiting for auto service or in a physician's office.
Pro tip: Procrastination is a graduate student's worst enemy and having a plan that you can stick with will help eliminate panic and stress. Consider creating a task schedule, with your defense date as the goal. Mark important dates for completing chapters, editing, and submitting to your committee in time for them to review and suggest changes. Some items you should consider for the task schedule include deadlines for the rough draft, as well as however many drafts as your committee requires. Make sure you have blocked enough time to recover from disasters like lost files, disappearing footnotes, lost revisions, etc. You should discuss a timeline with your major professor or committee chair at your first meeting and be guided by their suggestions.