A 101 Guide to Writing a Thesis

Writing a thesis is no walk in the park – it takes months of hard work, extensive research, and careful attention to detail.

But don’t let that discourage you! With the right guidance and approach, you can conquer any thesis, whether it’s a master’s thesis, a PhD thesis, or any other iteration of this classic genre.

But first things first, let’s go back to basics.

Picture of a student thinking about writing a thesis

What is a Thesis?

A thesis is not just any old research report – it’s a specialized piece of work that delves deep into a very specific problem.

Your job as the writer is to become an expert on the subject matter, studying the background of the problem and exploring various perspectives. And let’s face it – if you’re going about it the right way, the topic will be so specialized that you might be the only one in the world (besides your thesis advisor) who’s considered an expert on it.

But don’t let that intimidate you – your thesis will be your unique contribution to your field of study and to the greater body of human knowledge. It should be so original that it stands out from any research report you may have written during your undergraduate degree.

What is the Difference Between a Thesis and a Research Report?

Thesis Research Report
Purpose To contribute new knowledge to the field through original research and analysis To summarize existing knowledge on a topic and/or present new findings
Length Generally longer, often spanning 100+ pages Usually shorter, ranging from a few pages to 50 pages
Depth of Analysis Requires extensive research, in-depth analysis, and original contributions to the field May involve some research and analysis, but typically focuses on summarizing and presenting existing information
Audience Typically written for academic or professional audiences, such as professors or peers in the field May be written for a wider audience, such as the general public or stakeholders in a particular industry
Structure Often follows a strict format, including an introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion Can be structured in a variety of ways, depending on the purpose and audience
Originality Requires original research and analysis, with the goal of contributing new knowledge to the field May involve original research or analysis, but can also be a synthesis of existing knowledge
Significance A successful thesis can have a significant impact on the field, potentially leading to new theories, methodologies, or applications May be significant in its own right, but typically does not have the same level of impact as a thesis


How Specific Should a Thesis Be?

When it comes to writing a thesis, attention to detail is key. Keep in mind that your audience will likely be limited to your thesis advisor and other researchers working on the same topic. However, don’t let this discourage you – your thesis can still have a significant impact on your field of study.

With this in mind, don’t be afraid to dive deep into your topic, exploring every nook and cranny of the subject matter.

In addition to the written content of your thesis, it’s important to include visual aids such as diagrams, charts, tables, and images to illustrate your findings and support your arguments. These graphical elements can help make your thesis more accessible and engaging to your readers.

Examples of Specific Thesis Topics

Some broad examples of specific thesis topics are as follows:

  1. Sociology: An Examination of the Effects of Social Media on Adolescent Self-Esteem
  2. Environmental Science: Investigating the Relationship between Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning in Coastal Wetlands
  3. Psychology: The Role of Mindfulness in Improving Cognitive Control and Decision Making in Older Adults
  4. Education: The Effectiveness of Blended Learning on Student Achievement in High School Mathematics Education
  5. Political Science: Exploring the Factors that Influence Voter Turnout Among Young Adults in Urban Areas
  6. Linguistics: A Comparative Study of Word Order in English and Chinese Complex Sentences
  7. Computer Science: Developing a Predictive Model for Detecting Fraudulent Financial Transactions using Machine Learning Techniques
  8. History: A Social and Cultural Analysis of the Emergence of Hip Hop Music in the United States in the Late 1970s and Early 1980s
  9. Business: Investigating the Impact of Corporate Social Responsibility on Consumer Purchase Intentions in the Fashion Industry
  10. Engineering: Design and Implementation of an Autonomous Agricultural Robot for Sustainable Farming Practices

For ideas on thesis statements for your thesis, take a look at our comprehensive list of thesis statement examples. If you’re ready to start writing your thesis statement, our free thesis statement generator will help.

For the rest of this guide, we will provide working examples of a thesis about the effects of social media on adolescent self-esteem.

Approach and Format for Writing Your Thesis

When writing your thesis, it’s crucial to maintain a clear and concise structure with a well-defined thesis statement and thesis structure. Your writing should be straightforward, using a clear and active voice that is easy for your intended audience to understand. While using industry-specific terminology is important, it’s equally essential to avoid jargon or slang that might be unfamiliar to researchers from different countries.

Using academic language is essential when writing your thesis, but it’s equally important to avoid wordiness and grammatical errors. Proofreading your thesis is a must! Remember that the primary goal of your thesis is to communicate your research findings and conclusions effectively to your intended audience. If you are not comfortable proofreading your own thesis, look for reputable dissertation proofreading services.

In terms of formatting, focus primarily on the content of your thesis rather than the presentation. If hand-drawn diagrams are more effective for presenting your results than computer-generated graphics, then use them. However, ensure that you follow academic conventions for the layout and structure of your thesis, including 12-point Times New Roman font, 1-inch margins, and double spacing.

Make sure to follow your advisor’s instructions for formatting the title page, table of contents, and other components of your thesis. By maintaining a clear structure and following academic conventions, such as the APA format or MLA format, you can ensure that your thesis is easy to read and understand for your advisor and other researchers in your field.

Will it Take me a Long Time to Write My Thesis?

Yep… writing your thesis will take up a significant portion of your time in the couple of months leading up to the deadline for your project. The process of writing a thesis can be time-consuming. Having said that, the effort that you put into it is at least comparable to the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing your thesis and earning your degree.

Everyone who has ever been a part of the process of writing a thesis will never forget the experience for the rest of their lives. It also helps you to establish yourself as an expert in a field of specialism, which can set you apart on the job market.

Before you Start Writing a Thesis

Before embarking on the writing process of writing your thesis, it is crucial to engage yourself on a mental level. Rather than focusing on the daunting task of having to write seventy-five pages, try to approach it gradually. Think of it as a long-distance run; just as you wouldn’t expect to complete five miles at once, don’t expect to write your entire thesis in one sitting.

Instead, start with smaller writing goals and work your way up to longer writing sessions. As you write, you will find that you get into a “stride” and the process becomes more manageable. Even if you feel intimidated at first, I assure you that as your confidence will grow, and you will feel less overwhelmed.

Remember, writing a thesis is a significant accomplishment, and the sense of achievement you will feel upon completion will be immense. So, take it step by step, celebrate small milestones, and keep pushing yourself forward.

A Step-by-step Guide to Writing a Thesis

Step One: Develop an Outline

Before starting to write your thesis, it’s essential to generate a well-structured outline. If you’ve considered skipping this step and writing your thesis directly, I urge you to reconsider. Writing a thesis without an outline takes nearly twice as long as writing one with an outline. By creating an outline, you can break down the project into manageable parts and visualize its component elements, making it less intimidating.

Instead of diving into a topic like “The link between social media and self-esteem: Go!” try starting with a more focused and structured approach. For example, begin by examining the theoretical frameworks on self-esteem and social media use and progress to consider studies on the effects of social media on adolescent self-esteem. This approach allows you to organize your thoughts and research more effectively, resulting in a more polished and cohesive final product.

So, take the time to create an outline for your thesis. Break it down into smaller sections, and don’t be afraid to refine and adjust it as you go. You’ll find that by starting with a clear plan in place, the writing process will be smoother and more efficient.

Here’s a sample outline template to get you started.

A template containing a sample thesis outline

How to Develop Your Thesis Outline

An outline is an essential tool for organizing your thesis effectively. To create a useful and structured outline, you should include suggestions for graphs, figures, and tables, along with the names of the chapters, headings, and subheadings. If you are struggling to structure your thesis, try breaking it down into smaller, manageable steps.

Begin by outlining your chapters and rearranging their order until you are satisfied with the overall flow of your thesis. Once you have determined the chapter order, create headings for each chapter, followed by subheadings. This step-by-step approach will make arranging and writing your thesis less daunting and more manageable.

Different universities may have different approaches to outlining the chapters of a thesis. However, a helpful approach is to first identify the results you will chart, which graphs you will utilize, and which findings you will report for each chapter. Then, organize these elements in a way that makes sense to you, and list them out on a piece of paper. Imagine explaining your findings or conclusions to a colleague. Take notes on the significant points or keywords that emerge from that conversation. Use these keywords to construct headings and subheadings in your thesis outline.

By following these steps, you can create a clear and structured outline for your thesis, which will help you write with more focus and efficiency. Remember to review and refine your outline as you progress through the writing process, and don’t hesitate to make adjustments if necessary.

Think you’ve finished?

The Importance of Reviewing and Sharing Your Thesis Outline

Once you have a general outline drawn up for your thesis, it’s important to take a step back and let it sit for a night. This will allow you to approach it with a fresh perspective and make any necessary changes with a clear mind. Don’t be afraid to spend as much as a week outlining your project if it means creating a flawless and comprehensive plan. As you continue to compose your thesis, new headings and subheadings may naturally emerge, causing your original outline to differ from your final outline. However, this should not be a reason to procrastinate or leave your outline unfinished.

To overcome writer’s block and stay on track, it’s helpful to start with the Materials and Methods chapter, as it is often the easiest to outline. Once you have completed your outline, it is crucial to share it with your advisor or mentor for feedback and guidance. They can help ensure that you are heading in the right direction and make suggestions for any necessary adjustments. Sharing your outline also demonstrates to your advisor that you are making progress in the writing process.

Once your outline is approved, be sure to give a copy to your advisor for reference as you write your thesis. This will help them follow your thought process and ensure that you are following the established structure. With a solid outline in place, you can feel confident and motivated as you begin to write your thesis.

Should Your Thesis Adopt a Specific Stance?

A thesis can adopt either a specific stance or remain open, depending on the research question and purpose of the study. In some cases, the research question may require the author to take a specific stance or hypothesis and gather evidence to support it. In other cases, the research question may be more open-ended, and the thesis statement may reflect this by presenting the main focus of the study without taking a particular stance.

In the case of our research topic, “An Examination of the Effects of Social Media on Adolescent Self-Esteem,” both a specific stance and an open approach could be appropriate. A specific stance could help you focus your research and analysis in a particular direction, while an open approach could help you explore different perspectives and findings in the literature. Ultimately, the decision to adopt a specific stance or remain open depends on the research question and purpose of your study, as well as your personal preference as a researcher.

Step Two: Create Systems for Storing Your Thesis Progress

Storing Your Thesis Electronically

To ensure that you keep your thesis work organized and safe, it is essential to use electronic folders and backups. Here are some tips to follow:

  1. Create a folder structure: Start by creating a main folder for your thesis and subfolders for each chapter, references, and general notes. Keep everything related to your thesis in these folders, so you know where to find it later. Preferably, save this work on a cloud-based platform.
  2. Use colors and reminders: To make it easier to find specific notes or sections, use different colors and reminders within each folder. This will help you quickly locate important information and stay on track.
  3. Back up your work: Back up your thesis files daily to avoid losing any work due to computer errors, viruses, or crashes. You can do this by transferring your files to a CD or external hard drive and storing it in a secure location. Alternatively, you can use cloud storage or other online backup services to keep your work safe.

Storing a Physical Copy of Your Thesis

In addition to electronic backups, physical folders can be used to get your thesis organized. Print off your progress and store it in real notebooks, and use physical folders to store notes, bits of paper, scribbles, letters, and other artifacts related to the process of writing your thesis. Keep all of these folders in a fireproof filing cabinet with at least one drawer’s worth of space set aside just for your thesis materials. To prevent any loss of your valuable thesis writing notes, make a second copy of each of your chapters, notes, and findings and keep them stashed away in a distinct location from the one you regularly visit.

By utilizing both electronic and physical backups, you can ensure you don’t run the risk of losing all your work due to an unexpected catastrophe.

Step Three: Create a Timetable for Yourself

To ensure that you stay on track with your thesis, it’s crucial to create a realistic and achievable timetable for yourself. Sit down with your advisor and discuss a sensible timeline for the production of chapters and the completion of your thesis. Break down the timetable into different chapters, and assign deadlines that are both challenging and achievable. Make sure to take your advisor’s suggestions seriously, as they are experienced in guiding students through the thesis writing process.

To make the most of your timetable, consider using project management tools such as Trello or Asana to track your progress and manage your deadlines. These tools allow you to break down your tasks into manageable chunks, set deadlines, and track your progress.

Remember that your timetable is a guide and can be changed as needed. If you find that you need more time to complete a particular chapter or task, adjust your timetable accordingly. Stay focused, and use each deadline as a motivator to inch closer to the finish line. With a well-planned timetable, you will stay on track and produce a high-quality thesis within your set timeframe.

Let’s say we are producing our thesis between January 2023 and November 2023. A typical timetable could be as follows:

A sample timetable for a thesis

Please note that this is just a sample outline and that the specific timeline for your thesis may vary depending on your individual circumstances, including the availability of participants, data quality and completeness, and your personal work style and schedule. It’s important to set realistic goals and milestones and to communicate regularly with your thesis advisor or committee to ensure that you stay on track and receive feedback and support along the way.

Step Four: Start Writing Your Thesis

Writing a thesis is a time-consuming and demanding task, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of procrastination. To avoid this, it’s crucial to make writing a priority and commit to completing at least one task every time you sit down to work on your thesis. Even if the work seems disconnected from the final draft, don’t discard it, as you may find that it contains ideas that can be used later on. Furthermore, don’t be afraid to submit drafts of your work to your advisor. It’s unrealistic to expect to produce a flawless thesis on your first attempt, and your advisor is there to provide feedback and help you improve.

When you receive feedback on your work, be prepared to make revisions. Receiving constructive criticism can be challenging, but it’s an essential part of the writing process. It’s also essential to keep in mind that your preliminary work will not be graded, and only the final product will be evaluated. As you continue to work on your thesis, you’ll gain experience and improve your writing skills, and the final chapter will have significantly fewer errors than the first one. Remember that the goal is to produce a high-quality thesis, and the effort you put into it will be reflected in the final result.

How to Organize Your Thesis

The structure of a thesis can vary depending on the requirements set by your university and advisor. However, there are several sections that are commonly included in a thesis project. Here is a breakdown of the most frequently utilized sections:

  1. Introduction – The introduction should provide an overview of the research problem, its significance, and the objectives of the study. This section should present your thesis statement and also give the reader an idea of the research methodology used in the study.
  2. Literature Review – The literature review provides a comprehensive summary and evaluation of the existing research and literature related to your topic. This section should help establish the gap in the literature that your research aims to fill.
  3. Methodology – The thesis methodology section outlines the research methods and procedures that were used to gather data and analyze the results. This section should also include a description of the study population and sample, as well as the data collection tools and techniques utilized.
  4. Results – This section should present the findings of the research, including any statistical analyses and visual representations of the data.
  5. Discussion – The discussion section interprets the results and explains their significance in relation to the research question and objectives. This section should also address any limitations of the study and provide recommendations for future research.
  6. Conclusion – The conclusion should summarize the main findings of the study and restate the research question and objectives. This section should also emphasize the significance of the research and its potential impact on the field.
  7. References – The references section lists all of the sources cited throughout the thesis in a consistent citation style.

Finding More Help With Your Thesis

Congratulations! By following the steps outlined above, you should now have a good understanding of the process involved in creating a thesis. However, if you are struggling to get started, feeling stuck in the middle, or need help with editing, there are several options available to you. Before we review these, a word of caution. Do not be tempted to get someone else to write your thesis for you. It is a very bad idea and could damage your future. You can read more here: why you should never hire a dissertation writing service.

  1. Consult with your advisor: Your advisor is there to help you throughout the process. If you are struggling with a particular section or need guidance on how to proceed, don’t hesitate to reach out to them for assistance.
  2. Seek feedback from peers: It can be helpful to get feedback from other students who are also working on their theses. They may be able to offer suggestions or share techniques that have worked well for them.
  3. Utilize writing resources: Many universities offer writing centers or resources specifically geared towards thesis writing. Take advantage of these resources to improve your writing skills and get additional support.
  4. Hire a professional editor: If you are struggling with grammar, syntax, or organization, hiring a professional editor can be a good option. They can help you polish your work and ensure that it meets the necessary standards.

Remember, creating a thesis is a challenging but rewarding process. With dedication, perseverance, and the right resources, you can produce a high-quality thesis that demonstrates your knowledge and expertise in your field of study.