How to Write a Masters Thesis: Top Tips
When students start looking at the different Masters’ degree programs in the discipline of their choice, they often find that a lot of programs require them to write a master's thesis. This applies especially in fields that are known to be research-intensive. Although the world ‘thesis’ is used a lot in the academic world, it is likely that some students need to know more about what this paper entails before they can make an informed choice.
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What Is a Master’s Thesis?
A relatively large and original paper, a master’s thesis is a project that requires its creator to delve deep into a particular topic to the extent they become something of an expert on that topic. The paper that results from their exploration should clearly demonstrate how the student’s knowledge has developed during the course of their studies. Papers of this type require a large amount of independently-undertaken research using primary sources and secondary sources. Surveys and/or interviews may be used to support central argument(s) with much dependant on the topic of subject matter.
Dissertation vs Thesis Writing
It is usual for graduate-level students to mistake or interchangeably use the term “thesis” with the term “dissertation” and to struggle to understand the thesis statement formula. However, these two papers are (generally) different. A thesis is a research-based paper using the investigate work of other scholars and is written as the finale to a lot of Master's degree programs with the writer developing his or her own points for analysis. A dissertation is a much more detailed academic paper, also of the research variety, written in most cases by doctoral-level or PhD students. A dissertation means undertaking one’s own independent research, creating a hypothesis, and conducting a detailed study. A thesis is generally about a100-page document while a dissertation is often twice that length (at least).
What Is the Purpose of a Thesis Statement?
A thesis paper is a critical component of a graduate degree program. It is a chance for the student to put into practise the writing and research skills they developed over the course of their studies. A thesis provides proof that the students has acquired significant knowledge in a given field. It shows the student is aware of and familiar with other voices of authority on the topic of their thesis and it displays their ability to think in a meaningful and original way. Thesis defense is a rigorous exercise wherein the student addresses questions from their peers and professors to show they have mastered their topic while simultaneously showcasing their thinking and speaking skills. After completing a working thesis, it is common for students to publish their final papers in order to establish themselves in their chosen field.
How Long Is a Master’s Thesis?
Generally speaking, once the student has mastered the thesis formula, these papers are 40 to 80-page documents, not including the paper’s bibliography. Much depends on the topic and type of study. Length is usually measured in terms of number of pages and according to different faculties and/or the field of study.
Helpful Guide to Writing a Master's Thesis
First, what is a working thesis? Most students have their own way of completing a project, but a large project like a Master’s thesis cannot be completed in a matter of days. Until it is, it is a work in progress or a working thesis. Nonetheless, if you start early, are well- organized, read abundantly, and make good reference notes, you can take a lot of the pain out of actually writing this paper. Our experts have provided this valuable advice to help you get to the end of your project.
- Understand the purpose of your thesis paper: Approach the project in an informed manner. Know your paper's actual aim and purpose and know how to how to cite a thesis. A thesis is an opportunity for you to develop a deep understanding and knowledge (and to prove it) in a specific field of study. A thesis also demonstrates your ability to research a topic, that you know how to cite thesis sources, and that you are able to write effectively. A thesis paper is usually a project completed at the end of or close to the end of a study program. It allows the student to focus on a certain aspect of their course that interests them and one they wish to gain further knowledge of. A thesis demonstrates the student's ability to work independently and usually, though not in every case, can act as preparation for a doctoral degree.
- Start early. It should not surprise you to learn you have to complete a thesis or dissertation in order to be awarded your Master’s degree. Even though you probably realized this in your first lecture or class, though the the exact details would have been unknown then, you possibly got the idea it would be relatively soon. You will find many easy-to-read, tutorial-style books explaining the specifics of thesis vs dissertation and about how to research/write these papers, and it may prove motivational to try reading some of these 6 or 12 months prior to beginning. Also, speak to your course instructor and ask them to recommend useful sources – normally, every field of study has its own expectations, toolkit and/or advice on how to approach a significant research/writing project.
- Choosing a suitable topic. Apart from actually completing a thesis project, students may also feel anxiety when it comes to choosing a good topic. This needs to be interesting, not too narrow that it is impossible to write about, yet not too broad that it leaves you looking like an amateur.
- Read constantly. We recommend the following formula to help you plan and complete your thesis project: read a bit each day and write a bit each day; read (and read) constantly in the beginning/planning stages. Read all the important works that have been published in your field of study and don't be afraid to expand beyond your immediate area. Many good ideas are generated from cross-reading and from thinking in an interdisciplinary way. Read, at minimum, one scholarly article or one chapter of an academic book every day during the 6 or 12-month period before beginning. This reading need not be totally specific, think of it as a fertilizing or enriching exercise.
- Begin compiling your paper’s bibliography. While reading, it is critical to develop the habit of note-taking along with the skills to build a bibliography. It can be agonizing not to remember something or to not be able to find some critical information to make or support a point or idea. Worse still, is remembering something incorrectly. Of the numerous tools available to make this task easy, identify one that suits you and stick with that.
- The actual writing of your paper. One misconception that is common among students is the idea that a Master's thesis is simply something that is written once and done with. Instead, think of this paper as a document that requires constant rewriting. The days where you churned a paper out in a night are well past. By this stage, is expected that you are able to identify any illogical reasoning and/or errors in your own arguments and thinking. If you cannot, your course supervisor is likely to draw your attention to them. So, it is wise to develop a solid relationship with your course advisor and be ready to graciously accept feedback and criticism. This should ultimately help you to complete a better project.
- Look after your own health. A final point to keep in mind throughout is your own health. A thesis project is stressful. Students often do not pay enough attention to their mental and/or physical health when pursuing academic goals. Do not fall into this trap. Think of this project as merely another job, something that becomes part of your daily schedule. Sleep for eight hours every night, eat well, engage in physical activities, and make sure you maintain a positive and active social life. Ultimately, looking after yourself will contribute to a better paper.
Parts of a Thesis Paper
What we are providing here is a type of thesis template with the aim of giving you helpful information that you can use when trying to decide whether or not to go the Master’s route and write a thesis paper. Nonetheless, please remember that the particular requirements and components of a Master's thesis may vary depending on university, department and discipline. That said, however, there are some parts of a thesis that are common in all of these papers, particularly with regards to what should be included in the end product.
- Introductory chapter. Because this is the first chapter your reader(s) will come across once they have viewed the table of content and any other preliminary pages, the introduction is the writer’s opportunity to set out firmly what their paper intends to achieve. On a side note, you may be wondering “can a thesis be a question?” This confusion can arise because the introductory chapter is sometimes referred to as the “research question.” Either way, here the writer needs to state very clearly the paper’s aims and the overall hypothesis that will guide future argument. This section needs to be both accessible and professional so that people who are not specialists in the writer’s field are able to understand it.
- Literature review. This chapter allows the student to showcase their extensive subject knowledge by describing existing works in this discipline and giving those works context. Review all important works in the field and draw attention to specific issues in each one. Criticism of such works when done in a constructive way, often involves pointing to shortcomings, superseded hypotheses and/or any blind spots.
- Methodologies. This chapter explains how the student approached their research work. The aim here is to describe the thinking the student used on their journey of discovery i.e. to obtain their findings or results.
- Results chapter. Here, the student describes in an unbiased manner what it is they have learned from doing this research. Describe results in simple terms and what information they collected using a particular methodology or framework. Arrange these findings in a manner that is easy to read and without any interpretation.
- Discussion chapter. The discussion chapter is where the student interprets any raw data and explains how their work helped them to view the topic in a new light or how it provided another perspective in this field of study. Connect this chapter directly to the introductory chapter by reiterating the main hypothesis and demonstrating how the research question was addressed.
What is Normally Contained in a Master's Thesis?
Typically, a Master’s thesis has the following structure, as well as all the component parts of a thesis statement, even though the nature and length of these parts can vary depending on the field of study:
- An abstract: A short summary sentence or statement that gives the research work context, outlines the methodology used, and sums-up any findings.
- Review of literature: Sum-up the paper’s most significant philosophies and theories as these relate to the research.
- Methodology: A chapter or just a statement that describes the methods used to carry out the research as well as the writer’s justification for the choice.
- Analyses chapters: The paper's main body, it is here the writer critically analyzes their chosen topic and research materials.
- Concluding chapter: Sums-up the research findings and makes suggestions about future direction and/or the possible need for further research.
- Reference pages/bibliography: In a paper like this, these pages tend to be quite long and should adhere to the style rules that are normal for the given discipline.
General Requirements of a Master’s Thesis and Assessment Criteria
- Word Count: Most theses range from 15,000-word documents to 50,000-word documents. However, word count may vary quite significantly based on the topic or subject matter. The number of words usually excludes front page matter, endnotes/footnotes, reference lists and/or appendices.
- Length of study: In the UK, most Master's degree programs take one year to complete and the student is expected to submit their thesis or dissertation when the year comes to an end. However, some degree programs are longer or sometimes the student is given an extra year for writing their paper.
- Deadlines for submission: Deadlines for submitting end-of-program papers can vary from one university to another. Check the exact details with your institution. After submission, examiners then assess the submitted paper and the university’s examination board must certify the results. This process is undertaken twice per year, usually in July and again in September. Therefore, a dissertation should usually be submitted by the end of June or end of August, allowing enough time for assessment and marking before it goes to the examinations board. Occasionally, a student can ask to have the deadline extended provided they are able to show a genuine reason for delaying the submission date. Clarify the exact rules for extensions and submissions with your university.
- Grading: In the UK, it is normal practise to apply the same numeric grading system that is used in other academic assessments to mark a Master’s thesis paper. The pass mark is usually 40 but most students will aim for a higher score. A grading of 60 to 69 earns a B or 2.1 classification, more than 70 marks is designated the classification of ‘A’ or a First.
Advice on Writing a Good Thesis Introduction
Whether a student already knows how to write a thesis introduction or not, beginning this chapter is something they often fear the most. The introduction can indeed feel daunting. The majority of your preparatory and research work should be completed by now. Too often, the student is not sure what to include in their introduction or how to create a solid first impression on their readers. Other common questions among students are “how long should a thesis be?” and “How long should a thesis statement be?” This article is designed to help you should you get stuck here.
Make absolutely sure you really do begin with the introductory chapter. Should you find you aren't able to write a good thesis introduction at this stage, begin with a marker or placeholder. This need not be as good as it could be, but it can always be revised and edited later. The following steps should assist you in the process of writing an effective introduction:
- Identify who your readers are: Before you even write the first word, make sure you know who will be reading your paper. The most important person will be the college professor who is grading your effort and everyone else who will be involved in awarding your degree. Consider, aslo, any readers who are not experts in the field. Keeping them in mind should help you write clearly and this has the potential to make your paper more enjoyable and understandable in an overall sense.
- Grab the attention of readers and get them hooked: Your opening sentence is critical. Think back to the number of papers you discarded while you were doing your research because the first sentences did not get your attention! The use of quotations or questions is a common way to begin but hooks like these are overused. Begin with an opening sentence that is interesting, broad-ranging and transitions seamlessly into the paper’s main arguments. Additionally, a more broad-ranging statement should appeal to a greater number of readers. Think about who you are aiming your paper at and look for something that is likely to get their full attention. Create a list of interesting things regarding your paper’s topic. Is it connected to some current controversy or event that could be interesting to write about in the introduction? Begin with broad statements and go on to narrow your topic and central thesis statement down.
- Provide background information where this is relevant: An effective introductory paragraph has a sufficient amount of background information to enable readers to better understand the central thesis statement and the paper’s argument(s). How much background information you need will be determined by your topic. It should be sufficient to save you having to spend a lot of time on it in the main body of your thesis but there should not be such an amount to render it uninteresting or tedious.
- Provide readers with a general overview of your paper’s content: What is the reason for your study? Explain its purpose. Here are some things you should include:
- Brief description of what motivated this research (if not already conveyed in the opening sentence).
- Describe your research topic and the scope of the work.
- Explain how your research is relevant in a practical sense.
- Describe the scientific circumstances concerning your chosen topic - this may include articles of the most scientific importance with a short explanation about them and their relevance to your project.
- Preview of main points before going on to the thesis statement: This is essentially a peek at the upcoming paper where you get readers sufficiently interested by giving them a good understanding of all the main points while leaving the most interesting information to the main body. Although the paper’s main body will outline your central argument(s), you should take readers into your thesis statement in this part of the introduction. You can do this by outlining some of the most interesting support material. Note: Make sure you can answer this question: “how long is a thesis statement?” Get advice on this from your course supervisor.
Tips on How to Cite a Master's Thesis
If you are wondering how to cite a master’s thesis APA style, here are some of the elements that need to be included:
- Name of the person(s) who wrote the thesis: Provide surname and first name initials (for example, Jones, A. M.). You may inlude a maximum of seven writers’ names. Precede the final name with the symbol & (ampersand). If a paper has been written by eight people or more, you should include the names of six of these and follow this with … (an ellipsis) and then add the name of the last thesis author.
- Publication Year: Year of publication should appear in brackets, ending with a period/.
- Thesis Title: Include only the initial letter from the first title word. Capitalize all proper nouns.
- Include the URL: This should be given in full URL to enable the paper to be retrieved.
Here is how to cite a master’s thesis according to APA (6th edition):
Thesis Author(s). (Publication Year).
Title of thesis (Master's thesis). Retrieved from website (provide URL)
The ficticious examples below show how the APA citation style works in practise.
A thesis found on a website
Grayson, B. (2016). Passion personability and psysical well-being in Young American athletes (Master's Thesis). Retrieved from website (provide URL details)
A master's thesis not published
Dillon, G. R. (2015). A study of unexplained electrical failures in New York (Unpublished master's thesis). Stanford University, CA.
Excellent Master’s Thesis Examples
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