Suppose you are a graduate student studying for your Master's Degree, and you have chosen to write a thesis for it, but you are uncertain about where to start. You have never even encountered the word "thesis" before except in terms of writing a thesis statement for your class papers, and you need help.
A master's thesis is like any academic paper with one exception - a Master's thesis is much longer (in some cases between 80-90 pages long). It can be as long as some books are, depending on your major.
The first step in writing your master's thesis is to select a subject for it. The subject must be something you care about strongly, and want to learn more about, or you will not want to write it at all. Your subject will also depend on your major. For example, if you are a library and information science major, and you have an interest in library user needs, you may want to write your thesis on how libraries should be and are responding to user needs in the information age.
This first step will help you when you sit down and actually start to write your thesis. It will also help you when you do the required research and gather the materials needed to help you write it, and to support what you are saying. This leads us to the next step, which is gathering the research materials for your thesis. You need outside sources to back up your thoughts and words on your subject. Your sources will also back up your main points throughout the thesis. Before you start gathering your research materials, first you need to know what types of sources are out there.
Research sources are gathered into four groups: scholarly, popular, primary, and secondary. Scholarly sources are sources produced as a result of research by scholars on various subjects, and consist of books and articles in scholarly journals. They provide in-depth analysis of a subject. They are the first sources you should turn to for your subject, and are preferable to popular sources in research.
Popular sources consist of such media as magazines and newspapers, and only provide a general introduction to a subject. They also provide only general coverage of a subject. As mentioned before, scholarly sources are preferable to popular sources in research.
Primary sources are sources produced by the actual people whose work you are researching and writing about, or by people who experienced an event about which you are conducting research and writing. Examples of primary sources include personal accounts of a historical event, such as a battle, and literary works. For example, if you are an English major, and you are writing on D.H. Lawrence and his works for your thesis, primary sources for it would be Lawrence's novels and other works.
Secondary sources are sources produced by people about primary sources, or by people who did not personally experience an event you are researching and writing about. For example, secondary sources include literary criticism of literary works, and a historian's account of the Civil War or other historical events. In your thesis, primary sources will be foremost because they deal directly with the subject about which you are writing. Secondary sources will be secondary in your research because they do not deal directly with your subject, and do not have direct experience with it. This is true even though they may provide commentary which you find useful.
Now that you have an idea of what sources you need, you need to find them. Places to find research sources are your college or university's library, its catalog, and the article databases on its website. All of these carry high-quality, well-researched sources that have been fact-checked and screened to ensure accuracy before being put into the collection. These are the first places you must look to for research sources. You can also use your library's Interlibrary Loan services to obtain research materials you need but that are not available at your library. Interlibrary Loan lends research sources from other libraries and make these available to your library for you and other people to use.
Once you have your sources gathered, write the thesis. Read and follow your university's or department's guidelines. When writing your thesis, as with your other academic work, always cite your sources with both in-text citations within your thesis, where you quote, paraphrase, or summarize each source you are using; and every time you use an outside source. All of your sources should be listed in your bibliography at the end of your thesis. Follow your discipline's citation and documentation style in your thesis; for example, if you are a psychology major, follow APA (American Psychological Association) style in your thesis to cite and document your sources and to format the thesis.
When preparing to write your thesis, get your thesis committee together. A thesis committee consists of three people: the chair, who is the head of the committee, and who is the most important force in the writing and defense of your thesis, and two readers, who play secondary roles in its writing and defense, but can provide important suggestions for revision if you need them.
When getting your thesis committee together, be sure to get professors with whom you have worked, who are interested in your subject, who have time to help you complete your thesis, and who believe in you and your vision. If you do not have your thesis committee behind you and your vision for the thesis, or if they do not have time to help you complete it, or have no interest in your subject, your work will be more difficult. Be certain that the members of your thesis committee are behind you all the way.
When you have finished writing your thesis, read through it to edit, proofread and/or revise it. If you do find errors (for example, you may come across one or two misspelled words), correct your typos and mistakes, and make your thesis stronger. It also helps to ask a friend or someone else close to you to read through it and check it for mistakes so that you can correct them.
After editing, proofreading, and/or revising your thesis, schedule its defense and show up for it, your thesis in hand, introduce it to your department, be prepared to defend it and to answer any questions that may be presented. All of this contributes to scholarly discussion on your subject, and you are presenting what may be new ideas in its defense.
When you have successfully passed your thesis defense, prepare it for publication. Your thesis may be published by your university in a print format (the traditional format for thesis publication), or it may be published in electronic format for everyone to access on the university's theses and dissertations website. It will also be put into ProQuest's dissertations and theses databases for electronic access by academic libraries which subscribe to them. For more information, visit ProQuest.
For more information on different aspects of writing a master's thesis, visit Caltech Library's Caltech Theses LibGuides and the University of California's Merced Library's LibGuides Thesis/Dissertation Support Guide. For a general look at what a master's thesis should look like, and for a general introduction to it, visit Marshall University's Electronic Theses & Dissertations page, and the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD).
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