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December 11, 2019, 10:40:54 pm

Author Topic: Tips for writing a university thesis  (Read 1079 times)  Share 

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Joseph41

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Tips for writing a university thesis
« on: December 21, 2017, 11:49:37 am »
+18
Spoiler
A bit of a disclaimer to begin proceedings. All of this is based purely on my own experiences, so certainly isnít foolproof or like, objective truth. A lot of this will change from faculty to faculty, and from university to university. I studied Arts at Monash University in Melbourne, and this is where I completed my Honours thesis. To this time, I havenít studied after that, but I know we have some current ATAR Notes users who have written or are writing theses at higher levels. As always, their input would be appreciated!

Howdy!

The other day, I was reflecting on the fact that itís not been more than a year since I submitted my Honours thesis. As such, I thought it might be time to share a couple of tips based on my own thesis-writing experience. Please read the spoiler above; I just want to emphasise that a lot of this is faculty and university-specific. But with that in mind:

Benefits of writing a thesis
ONE: You become a subject expert.
Spoiler
For context, I wrote my thesis in the area of sociolinguistics. At the start, I was a bit hesistant Ė my confidence wasnít that high. But something my supervisor said to me will stick with me for a long time. To paraphrase, she said that nobody else in the world would know my particular thesis topic as well as I would by the end of the year. Out of the billions of people in the world, I would be the one who best knew this particular issue. I laughed, and basically thought, ďthatís niceĒ, but then I started thinking about it, and realised she was actually right. Whilst I know for a fact there are many, many people more knowledgeable about linguistics, sociolinguistics, media discourses, gender discourses, political discourses and so on, thereís probably nobody as knowledgeable as I am on my very specific topic.

I like that thought, and it motivated me to do well. If your thesis is a good one, it can genuinely made a pretty big contribution to a gap in literature.

TWO: You improve your communication skills.
Spoiler
Writing a thesis is a big project. Realistically, you canít get away with poor communication and still receive a high mark. The thesis gives you a really great opportunity to build on your current skills.

Donít worry: if you feel your communication skills arenít 10/10 before starting, thatís sweet. They donít need to be. During the year (or however long your Honours program is), you will pick up some really great pointers. Just by virtue of all the reading you will do, your communication skills will improve. This really is a hugely transferrable skill that you can take into the workforce, irrespective of your field.

THREE: It opens up new networks and opportunities.
Spoiler
Collectively, my Honours cohort was involved in international conferences, editing journals and other employment all through the Honours program. We met some pretty big figures in our fields (which was exciting for us, but probably less so for the broader population haha), and had the chance to really get involved with the Linguistics program.

I canít emphasise this bit enough: you become more like a staff member than a student Ė at least to a degree. I caught up with one of my supervisors the other day for coffee. If all goes well (which they may or may not do), we may co-author a journal article in the next year or two. These are the sort of connections and stuff itíd be very difficult to establish otherwise.

FOUR: Friends!
Spoiler
Those who know me will probably read this and be like, ď???Ē I quite regularly note that I made basically no friends through uni, but I donít really include Honours in that. My cohort was small (like 6-7 or so students), and we became pretty tight. It was huge for me to have that support network throughout the year, comprised of those going through similar things. So that was nice.

FIVE: Personal satisfaction.
Spoiler
Self-explanatory, but itís just nice to have a finished project Ė something of which youíre genuinely proud.

General advice
ONE: Choose your supervisor(s) early.
Spoiler
Iíll just briefly note the role of the supervisor(s) here. Again, the relationship/responsibilities may change depending on your area of study, but these are my experiences. I approached my eventual supervisor probably May or so of 2015 (my Honours was in 2016), so quite early. This isnít strictly necessary, but I was going on exchange in Semester 2, and wanted to have something sorted before then. Basically, I told her I was interested in undertaking Honours the next year, and asked if sheíd be willing to supervise. She accepted, even though I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to study specifically haha.

For the next six months or so, I narrowed down potential topics until I found one I was relatively happy with. We made the supervision official, and everything was sweet. Early in 2016, though, I sort of acquired a second, unofficial supervisor. The reason for this is that my initial supervisor, though an absolute expert in linguistics in general, didnít have the recent experience of my second supervisor in the specific field. So in the end, I was extremely lucky; I had Supervisor #1, who is honestly a huge academic hero of mine, and I had Supervisor #2, who was so, so valuable to untold levels with her knowledge of the specific field. It was an amazing combination for me.

However, had Supervisor #1 not had the foresight to introduce Supervisor #2, things might have been a little different. I initially approached the former to supervise me simply because she was my favourite lecturer/tutor, but if you have an idea of what you want to write about specifically, itís really, really worth thinking about who might be most appropriate to supervise. If you have no idea, thatís sweet Ė itís very likely that somebody from your faculty will be happy to sit down and chat to you about it. Go to your favourite teaching staff member, book in an appointment with them, and just chat about who might be best for you and your potential project.

I was ridiculously lucky Ė twice. The experience would have been a lot worse if the supervisor-supervisor-student relationship werenít so strong.

Meet with them as often as theyíre willing. Take their advice.

TWO: Start writing early.
Spoiler
In some Honours programs, you start writing your thesis essentially from day one. In others (like mine), you technically donít start until mid-year. (To clarify this, I had two research units across Semester 1, and a single unit called ďArts Honours ThesisĒ or similar in Semester 2.)

It wouldnít make sense to try to cram writing your entire thesis into that small period of time, however.

As such, I really highly recommend starting to write as soon as you can. It doesnít matter if itís shit Ė seriously. It doesnít matter if youíre rambling. It doesnít matter if youíre going on tangents. Just write. Youíll thank me later.

If nothing else, getting your thoughts onto the page can help clarify the direction of your project. At best, though, you get a nice chunk of writing out of the way, and thatís pretty neat. For me, this initially involved running through my literature review. Iíd read an article and, if, relevant, then re-read it and make summary notes. I had a Word document summarising all of these relevant past studies, and this made compiling the lit review so much easier when the time came.

The other thing is that if you start early, you have more time to edit. And trust me: the majority of my time was spent editing Ė not writing. My thesis was meant to be 15,000 Ė 18,000 words in length; my first complete draft was more than 37,000 words. So yeah, that meant I had to get rid of the majority (literally) of what Iíd written, but no matter Ė doing so (even though it was very difficult) just made my eventual submission stronger.

Imagine starting the writing process later, and then hitting the conundrum I did. I would have had to either submit something way over the word limit, rush the editing process, or take our slabs of text that were actually pretty important. So yeah, start early, even if you think what youíre writing is terrible.

THREE: Be stringent on faculty specifications.
Spoiler
Stuff like referencing guidelines (huge), formatting requirements (huge), word limits (huge) and so on. It might not seem like much of a difference if you underline something or bold it for emphasis, but if your faculty/field has specific requirements for doing so, not following them makes your project seem unprofessional.

Before your assessors read a single word of your thesis, theyíll see your thesis Ė how itís formatted, set out and so on. I donít know how big an impact this will have, but I promise you it will have an impact of some description, conscious or otherwise.

FOUR: Read often.
Spoiler
Read your own work, and read it out loud. This helped me so much, particularly for sentence structure. Iím writing this post pretty quickly and with no editing whatsoever, but if I were to read this aloud, Iím sure Iíd change a lot of things.

If youíre reading a sentence out loud and struggle to finish it, itís probably too long. Split it. Long, highfalutin sentences honestly wonít get you anywhere. The end goal is to be as accurate, concise and easily understandable as possible Ė not to use as many fancy words as you know.

FIVE: Have faith.
Spoiler
Honestly, every single student Iíve spoken to who has written a thesis (of any description) has found it a stressful process at times. I know that my experience was certainly consistent with that. I doubted myself often, and panicked regularly (as an aside, this is where you should use your supervisors Ė they can be quite calming). But like, it all comes together in the end. Itíll be sweet.

I am very happy to field any questions, and I trust others would be, too. :)

Coffee

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Re: Tips for writing a university thesis
« Reply #1 on: December 21, 2017, 12:37:31 pm »
+4
Great thread!

Obviously incredibly early days but Iíve been interested in doing honours well before I even started university. Some of the questions I have are:
- How do you go about finding a supervisor? Especially if you havenít met them before?
- Something that worries me is that I want to do it but I wouldnít know what I would want to write about. What if I get the okay and I canít think of anything? What if my ideas arenít original enough? Did you ever have these fears, and how did you approach them? If not, what advice would you give to someone worried about this kind of thing?
- This is probably a matter of personal opinion, but do you think itís worth doing honours if you donít intend to pursue a Masters or PhD in your area of study?

Sorry for all the questions, Iím sure I have more but Iíll leave it at this for now.

Cheers. :)

meganrobyn

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Re: Tips for writing a university thesis
« Reply #2 on: December 23, 2017, 12:08:39 am »
+5
I'm submitting my PhD next year (knock on wood).

- Re the supervisor: you research your area, and see who works in it. Also, you just go talk to a couple of lecturers you like. It's a combination of word-of-mouth and Google. Then you email for a meeting.

- You need to know what you're going to research. You don't need your final thesis statement or question, but you need to know what you're interested in asking and trying to answer. It can be refined or altered later. And if you realise halfway through that your question has disappeared, you work with your supervisor on a new angle.

- I do. I love doing long-term research, so it's worth it intrinsically if you enjoy it. Also, you never know what you might decide to do in the future...
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Good luck!

Joseph41

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Re: Tips for writing a university thesis
« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2018, 03:54:27 pm »
+2
Great thread!

Obviously incredibly early days but Iíve been interested in doing honours well before I even started university. Some of the questions I have are:
- How do you go about finding a supervisor? Especially if you havenít met them before?
- Something that worries me is that I want to do it but I wouldnít know what I would want to write about. What if I get the okay and I canít think of anything? What if my ideas arenít original enough? Did you ever have these fears, and how did you approach them? If not, what advice would you give to someone worried about this kind of thing?
- This is probably a matter of personal opinion, but do you think itís worth doing honours if you donít intend to pursue a Masters or PhD in your area of study?

Sorry for all the questions, Iím sure I have more but Iíll leave it at this for now.

Cheers. :)


How do you go about finding a supervisor? Basically, I emailed my favourite lecturer just noting that I was interested in Honours and would love to chat about it. When there, I asked if she'd be willing to supervise - or if she could recommend somebody more suitable. If you have no idea, there are usually Honours Coordinators for various disciplines; they might be a good place to start.

Did you ever get these fears? Yeah, certainly. I honestly still didn't have my topic nailed until like halfway through my Honours year. I don't think any of my cohort members did, either. That's where your supervisor (or supervisors) comes in; they'll help you. I think these fears would be awfully common. There's no rush.

Is it worth doing Honours? Yes, I think so. I learnt a lot from it.

I'm submitting my PhD next year (knock on wood).

- Re the supervisor: you research your area, and see who works in it. Also, you just go talk to a couple of lecturers you like. It's a combination of word-of-mouth and Google. Then you email for a meeting.

- You need to know what you're going to research. You don't need your final thesis statement or question, but you need to know what you're interested in asking and trying to answer. It can be refined or altered later. And if you realise halfway through that your question has disappeared, you work with your supervisor on a new angle.

- I do. I love doing long-term research, so it's worth it intrinsically if you enjoy it. Also, you never know what you might decide to do in the future...

Thank you so much for this!