Tips for Writing Your Thesis

Tips for Writing Your Thesis

All it takes is one word to increase the stress levels of every Bachelor’s student: the dreaded thesis. “What are you thinking of doing for your thesis?” or “How’s the writing going?” is enough to make your heart practically stop. Though embarking on your thesis can be intimidating, it is also a very rewarding and fulfilling process. Here are my best practical tips and mindset changes for writing your thesis:

Go to your thesis seminar and do the assignments!!

This one should be self-explanatory, but I have seen many students skip out more often than they should. The thesis seminar is held usually once every two or three weeks for about four hours. They vary in size as all of the graduating students in your major that are doing their thesis in the spring are registered. For example, mine is 30+ students, whereas a friend of mine has only 4 students in hers. Mine is far more formal and organized, whereas hers is more of a lengthy group discussion.

The seminar is led by a professor from your major, not necessarily your supervisor. They are there to give you advice about time management, topics, structure, and writing, as well as check in on your progress periodically. In my IRPH thesis seminar, there are also assignments like writing a thesis proposal, making a preliminary bibliography, or writing the first page of your thesis. Then, these assignments are randomly distributed throughout the class for review. It is crucial to both do the assignments and support your classmates by also reviewing theirs. I know others who choose to prioritize other things (e.g. graduate school applications, entrance exams, other classes) instead of doing these assignments. I completely understand that but it certainly will not help with writing your thesis. I have received a lot of valuable feedback from my professor and classmates after they review assignments that I spent a lot of time on. 

Don’t worry too much… but definitely worry a little

This one is a direct quote from my thesis supervisor and I have to agree wholeheartedly. There is no use in worrying too much because you have done papers like this before in your degree. In fact, this is even better because you now have months to just focus on this one paper. Your thesis supervisor and seminar leader can answer any questions you have and guide you through this process. However, you should definitely worry a little because this is the most important paper of your degree and it is worth 15 credits! Some students lose sight of this importance during the process as they focus on other things and slowly but surely, they fall behind. You have to dedicate time to writing even when there are no upcoming deadlines or anybody there beside you. Though if you choose a topic you are really passionate about, this should come naturally to you.

Find a supervisor early 

Your supervisor is your thesis lifeline, so it is important to choose a professor who you work well with and who might be knowledgeable about your topic. Even if they do not know a lot (or anything) about your topic specifically, it would at least be good to find a professor who works in your field of study (e.g. asking a history professor to help you with a history paper.) You have to submit a form fairly early in the process sometime in February to declare your thesis supervisor. So, I would recommend asking the professors you are thinking about sometime in the fall. I asked my thesis supervisor in October and told her about my preliminary topic. She agreed and gave me some literature recommendations, allowing me to already start brainstorming further on my topic. Then, when February rolled around, I was already prepared and able to start my thesis right away.

Start your thought process early too

On that note, you should try to have a few rough ideas for a topic in the fall before you begin writing. I know some people who kept a list throughout their degree of each time a concept was mentioned that they were interested in but didn’t have time to really research. Then they had about ten to fifteen potential topics or ideas to work with. I started out with one very broad idea in my second year and continued to narrow it down as I gained more knowledge on the topic until the spring of my third year. My seminar professor asked us in our first class to explain what our topic was, what our research question was, and its significance. So, those can be some guiding questions for you to consider early on. 

Have a clear goal in mind of what you want to contribute to your field with this paper

This is fairly important in picking a topic and to motivate your writing process. In picking a topic, you don’t need to feel pressured to write the groundbreaking paper of the century for your field, but it should at least be somewhat original. Maybe there are ten papers out there on your topic or maybe you are filling a research gap, but make sure it contributes something new. This is also your driving purpose for writing and it is very encouraging for me to envision accomplishing my goal. To learn about my topic, I had to scour for information from very few yet very diverse sources, as this topic is not as often written about especially in English. I often would finish an article with more questions than I had at the beginning. So, my goal is to write the brief yet explanatory source that I was looking for when I first learned about my topic. The idea of someone else, even just in my thesis seminar, hearing about my topic for the first time and gaining a new awareness and perspective is what keeps me focused and writing.

Consistency is key! Find an environment and time schedule that works for you

My thesis seminar professor gave us this advice in our first lesson and even said we could just start out with something small like fifteen or twenty minutes of working on it each day. The important thing is just to have a consistent yet reasonable time schedule. It can be easy in February to hear about a deadline in distant mid-May and think you have plenty of time. However, once you write down everything you need to do before then, you’ll realize that deadline is coming up sooner than you thought. It is also good to set personal boundaries. For example, my topic is quite heartbreaking so I set the boundary that I will not work on it at night. This allows me to psychologically compartmentalize and lets me spend my evenings fully relaxed, instead of upset about what I have just read. Maybe you have a boundary that you won’t work on it on the weekends so you can enjoy your last semester. It just depends on your own needs and goals. The environment is also key to getting you focused. I choose to go to a cafe with my friends to write my paper as I like feeling life all around me and having people to ask questions to or review work with as I write. Others prefer a completely quiet environment like their room. You will definitely know what works best for you by your third year.

Everyone before you has done it too!

This are my final words of encouragement, as this is basically the common mantra among third years. Just remember that everyone before you, who has ever finished your degree, good or bad or just fine students, have all managed to complete their thesis successfully. So no matter how unprepared or nervous you may feel, we as third years are all in this together! You can do it! And hopefully some of these tips will help you out too :)


Tips for Writing Your Thesis