In academic writing, there is one thing that is critical to your graduation. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a student of an undergraduate program or a graduate program.
Which requirement am I talking about? The requirement of writing a thesis / dissertation (for graduate students) or a final year project (for undergraduate students).
For some reason or other, a thesis scares students unlike other subjects. They think they won’t be able to write it. They think they won’t be able to do a good job in it. That they will lose their marks, and their grade point average will decrease.
Why do they think like that?
It’s because they don’t know the contents of a thesis and the procedure of writing a thesis.
It’s because nobody taught them how to write a thesis in the most efficient way possible.
It’s because they were pressured by knowledge from seniors, well-meaning professors, and others that doing a thesis is tough.
But I say: it’s not that tough. So here is the Writers’ Treasure article designed to bust the myths and impart real knowledge about the basics of thesis or dissertation writing. Grab some tea / coffee, and meet me after the break…
Meaning of thesis
Now, a thesis can be slightly different from a dissertation. Also, thesis and dissertation as terms are different from a final year project. But for the purpose of this article, which covers both undergraduate and graduate theses, I’m going to use these terms interchangeably.
So what does a thesis mean?
A thesis is a document which you submit in order to fulfill the requirements of an academic degree. The academic degree can offered at an undergraduate, a graduate or even at a doctorate level.
A thesis is written for the purpose of graduation. If you don’t submit it on time, you will not be able to graduate. It is a mandatory subject. So from the beginning, students have to take it seriously.
A thesis consists of a study of a topic or case, which includes data collection with the proper methodology, findings, analysis of findings, and the conclusion along with the respective references. This is the skeleton of practically every thesis out there.
Let us discuss these constituents of a thesis in more depth.
Content of a thesis
Before the introduction chapter, most theses contain an abstract, or an executive summary, or some other variation of these terms.
An abstract is a 1 or 2-pages long summary of the entire thesis. It should quickly give the examiner quick facts about the topic, the basic case, the research methodology, the type of data collected, the findings and analysis, the recommendations and the conclusion.
A thesis, as a study based on research, contains an Introduction chapter, which contains the introduction of the specific topic or case on which the thesis is based on. It also contains Literature Review, which is an important part of the thesis, as it summarises past literature in the form of books, journal articles, online articles, etc.
Having a Methodology section, where you explain the type of research methodology used in the thesis, is vital too. This is the basic format which universities all over the world expect you to follow. In the research methodology section, you as the author will clarify the data collection method, the hypothesis (if any), the sample set, etc.
You will also need to describe the scope of the thesis study and its limitations (if any).
After that, theses have to contain the collection of data chapter. It’s because it applies to most research topics that you’re likely to be asked. You have to collect data, whether it is quantitative data or qualitative data. You have to specify the method of data collection: primary data (from original sources) or secondary data (from secondary sources such as books, blogs, journal articles, etc).
Next comes the pivotal component of a thesis. The analysis.
The analysis of data chapter is the most important because it’s here that you will show the examiner what you have contributed to the topic. What are your findings? What inferences did you draw from the data did you collect? How did you analyse the data, via statistical software, or via analysis of observation or of interviews?
All this forms the analysis chapter. Make sure to back up your information by plenty of visual elements such as graphs, charts, tablets, etc, in order to get the point across. Make the data and your analysis simple to understand instead of the other way around.
After that we have recommendations and the conclusion. The recommendations is what you recommend to the industry (related to the topic on which your thesis is based on) after analysing the findings of your report. The conclusion is an overall summary of the findings and the recommendations.
Make sure that you have an effective conclusion. You may have a well-written thesis with plenty of data to back up your arguments, and you may have presented it well too. But if in the end, you have no meaningful conclusion to say, you’re in trouble.
Finally, ensure that you have a well-formatted Bibliography (or References) section where you credit all the sources of your work. Be aware that if you omit this step, you may be found guilty of plagiarism.
So these were the contents of a thesis. Now, how do you format the content to match university guidelines?
Format of a thesis
You can’t just write a thesis like any other cookie-cutter Microsoft Word document and submit it without formatting it correctly. It’s a sure-shot recipe to rejection and thesis failure. So what do you do instead? It’s simple: you follow the guidelines to the letter.
This normally includes:
- Use of Times New Roman as the main body font
- Justified text
- Line spacing of 1.5 or 2 (depends on university style guidelines)
- Appropriate margins (specified by the university)
- Headers and page numbers, including section headers
- Table of Contents (automatically generated by most word processors after using the Styles and Formatting feature)
- List of Figures and List of Tables
- Bibliography format using reputed styles such as APA style, MLA style, etc.
Generally speaking, these guidelines aren’t difficult to follow. Word processors now have built-in thesis or dissertation word templates, saving you from the hassle of developing your own styles for a normal document.
But that’s not enough. You have to deal with thesis defence as well (also called as a viva examination in India)…
Thesis defence or viva examination
It’s not enough to merely write the thesis. You have to defend it as well, before a thesis committee in Western countries or a viva external examiner in countries such as India.
In my own experience, I had to give a viva examination for my written final year project (undergraduate thesis) which was titled ‘The Marketing and Sales Analysis of Samsung Mobile’ for my management undergraduate course.
This is an example of how thesis defence is handled differently in different parts of the world. In India for example, there is no thesis committee. Instead, evaluation is done on the basis of external evaluation (via viva examination) and internal evaluation (assessment by the project guide).
Guidelines for writing a thesis
- Choose a topic on which you can actually do research on. It shouldn’t be either too broad or too narrow.
- Choose a topic which can and which will probably be approved by the thesis / project / dissertation guide.
- Clarify your research methodology and type of study at the beginning of the project to avoid confusion.
- Ensure that you are thorough in the literature review section. Make sure to summarise their points and explain how their research contributed to your case.
- Ensure accuracy of data collection.
- Ensure accuracy in analysis of findings from data.
- Use images, charts, graphs, and tables.
- Use statistical calculations if necessary.
- Give well-defined, meaningful and achievable recommendations.
- Wrap-up your thesis with an effective conclusion.
- Don’t forget to credit each and every source of your work in the bibliography. Credit all online articles, blog posts, journal articles, books, etc.
- Use a built-in template in a word processor using the appropriate academic formatting style to make dissertation formatting easier.
Resources for thesis / dissertation writing
Here are some resources for thesis / dissertation writing:
- Dissertationhelp.com‘s services.
- Harvard College Writing Center’s article on developing a thesis.
- The Writing Center UNC’s article on thesis statements.
- Writing a Dissertation article by skillsyouneed.com.
- How to write a thesis by Columbia.edu.
This was a long article, but it only managed to cover the basics of thesis writing. Make no mistake, a thesis is definitely not easy to do well and its importance shouldn’t be understated. Students with graduation in their sights can’t afford to take it easy here, but the thing is they shouldn’t get unduly stressed either.
A simple procedure of research on thesis or dissertation writing, topic approval techniques, the required formatting know-how and the topic structure will make students’ lives easier.
What do you think? Was this article conforming to the latest thesis guidelines or is it hopelessly inadequate if you want to learn more about theses and how to write them? Be sure to let me know in the comments below, and subscribe to Writers’ Treasure here.
Disclosure: This article contains a sponsored link to dissertationhelp.com.