On these pages you can read about the thesis process. The text is written by Maja Lucas, external lecturer and project coordinator for Academic Literacy.
The interesting research question
The first thing you must do is find an interesting subject. It must be something you think is innovative and exciting to research. Ideally, there are some unexplored areas or interesting problems.
It is good to consider straight away what issues the subject throws up – and what possibilities they allow you to find your independent way forward. Because independent, problem-orientated work is the most highly regarded.
It is also important to begin to write as soon as possible. All of the research on writing shows that the main part of your concept development happens when you sit down and formulate it in writing. You cannot see the whole thing in your head but writing lets you clarify your ideas.
This is because for most of us, our unconscious is ‘cleverer’ than our conscious mind – we simply know much more than we think we know! In other words, we have an intuitive feeling for the subject and the issues involved.
It is just as important to be flexible in your writing – to draft different parts of your thesis and write different kinds of text. Perhaps you are working on the section about theory and suddenly you have an idea for the conclusion or for an analysis.
Often the right thing to do is to start writing about that or at the very least write down your new thoughts, instead of slavishly carrying on writing one section after another. As a general rule, you should write the chapter you feel you're capable of writing. Force is never conducive to writing.
To write is to rewrite
This also includes distinguishing between “process writing” and “product writing”. Process writing is the writing addressed to yourself and your concept work. Product writing is about the finished text and how you present your material to your readers. It is a good idea to switch between these two forms of writing – alternate your work between writing the final formulation and writing drafts, outlines, notes and rough ideas.
You will learn that everything you write does not have to be polished and fully-articulated. Revision is unavoidable and, in fact, is a huge part of the writing process of your academic paper. In a nutshell: to write is to rewrite. Especially in a thesis, whose the length makes its impossible to write a finished text immediately.
Your thesis supervisor is your partner not your judge.
You must see your thesis supervisor as a project partner who can improve your text. He or she is not just someone who must correct, praise, downgrade - in short, judge you! You must involve your thesis supervisor as early as possible in the process and use your thesis supervisor regularly, not just when you have a brand-new chapter finished. Remember that the thesis supervisor is there for you and not the other way around.
If you have problems during the writing process or come to a standstill, it is a good idea to tell your thesis supervisor. Arrange a meeting so that your adviser can help you. Experiencing problems with a thesis is nothing to be embarrassed about – it is quite normal.
Good advice when choosing your thesis supervisor.
Small bites – and breathers in between!
You can also agree to meet regularly with your thesis supervisor, e.g. once every four weeks. This can be a good way to stay engaged. In any case, you should set intermediate goals along the way rather than think that in six months you have to have 90 written pages. Plan how much time you must spend on an individual chapter and when it should be finished. This will make the process more manageable.
And remember: better two hours of work a day than two months working around the clock. It is the slow, methodical path that provides the best process and the best result.
Remember to take breaks from your thesis and do something else. Doing so will strengthen your concentration and motivation. A lot of students benefit working in the library reading room or in a thesis study room. Doing this means that when you come home you are finished for the day – and you can work with greater focus when you do work!
Good handbooks about the thesis process and thesis writing.