Researching and Writing the Thesis

  • A thesis is based on original research done according to the standards of your discipline—standards that you have been learning as you progressed through the coursework in your major. But within the larger field represented by your major, every little sub-specialty has its own quirks and tricks of the trade. This is the guidance that you should expect from your thesis director and why it is important that this professor's expertise be as close as possible to your research topic.

    Your thesis should also reflect your discipline's standards for written prose. Although every academic department values logical argument and persuasive evidence, disciplines do have different standards of evidence, and they organize their arguments differently. You will want your thesis to follow the models of scholarly discourse commonly used in your field.

    Much of the best advice about research and writing is therefore discipline specific. But there is some handy advice that is generally applicable. Here are several good rules to remember:

    • Research and writing will take more time than you expect. Be very certain that you save enough time in the semester for writing and revising. There is a great temptation to think that you can never have enough research—there's always one more book you can read, one more person you could interview, one more sample you could analyze. Your director will help you recognize when "enough is enough" and it's time to write it up.
    • As you are doing your research, find a friend who is interested enough in what you are doing (or polite enough) to let you talk out loud about what you are finding. Talking is often a good way of beginning to make sense of what you are discovering. Your thesis director will be a good listener, too.
    • Set up regular meetings with your thesis director. Keep talking about how things are going. When you have a week in which you haven't made much headway, it may be even more important to talk than when you are bursting with excitement and can't wait to tell your director what you've accomplished.
    • Block out time in your weekly schedule for work on your thesis. Your thesis can't survive on bits and pieces of spare time. This is particularly important if you are prone to procrastination.
    • It's a rare project that is lucky enough to escape having something go wrong—a piece of equipment decides to be temperamental, the interlibrary loan is slow in arriving, the person you most wanted to interview decides to take an extended vacation in Australia. Scream if you must, then take a deep breath, and move on. It happens to the best, most seasoned researchers, too.
    • Just as with the smaller thesis papers in core, this paper is going to need to go through multiple drafts. Having one or two trusted peer editors, as well as your professor, can help, too. You want this to be your best work—allow time for polishing the prose for grammar and style.
    • If writing forty pages seems too daunting, think in smaller, manageable sections. Authors never say, "I'm going to sit down this morning and write a book." Rather, they say, "This morning, I'm going to write the first section of chapter one."

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