Strategy Makes all the Difference
An academic thesis is the basis for an academic degree. Its aim is to demonstrate the expertise of its author by presenting the results of a scientific study conducted by the author. It must be written in a language that meets scientific conventions, i.e., it must be precise, factual, and correct. An experienced writer will write a thesis in no time; however, given that most authors are rather unexperienced writers, the process of writing a thesis is likely to be rocky. The present article offers an overview of the thesis writing process in three steps.
Step 1: Structure the Content
In order to write a good thesis, you need to know what you’re doing. This sounds obvious, but in actual fact, it isn’t. Because in general, it’s difficult to know what value a thesis adds to its field, and “just to write a thesis” or “because the supervisor told me so” aren’t good reasons to put there. So, before you start, elaborate a substantiated research question.
The research question is the backbone of your thesis. It determines how long the thesis will be, what secondary research should be considered, what data could be used, and whether the thesis needs a hypothesis or not. A good academic paper only contains the information that contributes to answering the research question. It may take time to word an accurate research question, and that’s important, as the research question sets the overall direction of the project. Minor adjustments may be made at a later stage.
Once the research question is defined, you need to identify the data that allow you to answer it. The kind of data you work with and the method of data collection and analysis you use determine how the thesis will be structured.
The structure of the argument varies depending on the data set and method. Most academic theses consist of five larger sections:
Literature Review / Background Research
Method and Data
Discussion / Conclusion
Sections 2, 3, and 4 contain the core of your thesis. They describe the analysis of the problem, the data, and the results, i.e., they contain the contribution of your thesis to the field. Sections 1 and 5 embed the project within the larger context of current research in this field.
Step 2: Write the Paper
One frequently asked question concerns the moment when each individual section should be written. For example, should the introduction really be written first? Yes, it should be written in the very early stages. The earlier, the better. Because if you can’t write your introduction, you don’t know what you’re doing and what for. The introduction doesn’t have to be written in its final form right at the outset, and it may still contain a few gaps or even dummy words. Still, write that introduction early because it will guide you, and you can always make amendments to it. Also the other parts should be written in their respective order, as their order represents the common chronological procedure of most research projects.
Academic theses are written in academic language. Academic language is precise, unequivocal, and factual. Ideally, academic language is clear to the point of not allowing any doubts on what is meant. This requires the use of full sentences and the avoidance of synonyms, as well as faultless spelling and punctuation.
Sometimes, academic language is said to be imprecise rather than precise. For example, a sentence like “these results depend to a large extent on social determinants” seems imprecise. However, note that the lack of specification happens on the level of content only and not language, because what is blurry is the category it refers to (i.e., “how and on what do they depend?”) and the statement it makes (i.e., “does it even make a point at all?”). Such vague statements express that no conclusive statement is made. They are more common in non-technical disciplines, highly conventionalized, and they take practice.
Once the final draft is written, professional text revision is crucial. Text revision requires skills that differ from writing skills and often requires a substantial effort. It includes the following tasks:
Now, is it smart to exclusively rely on a spell-check software or AI tool? No. A software will spot common typos, yet many words are spelt similarly (like “price” and “prize”) and often not detected as mistakes by the software. Accordingly, the software cannot check whether the content is connected logically, which, at times, depends on nothing but setting commas in the right place, particularly in technical texts.
It may also fail at detecting inconsistencies or inappropriate academic terminology. In case of highly specialized vocabulary, the software may not know the terms, so autocorrection will change your referents. A “creole” and a “Creole”, for example, refer to two different things, i.e., the former is a normal adjective while the latter is a special kind of language. In other words, it is crucial to pay attention to the text format in academic theses, like capitals and italics. It is thus smarter to rely on a professional proofreader for the revision of the thesis, as they will do a better job than a software.
Step 3: Add Metatexts
Most theses need metatexts, i.e., texts that surround the thesis. The most important type of metatext is the abstract or management summary. An abstract is a succinct summary of the entire thesis written in a format that is adjusted to the interests of the target audience. The abstract is always written after finishing the thesis and may contain sentences that were copied from the main text. When the thesis isn’t in English, it makes sense to also provide an English-language abstract because it will make the paper accessible to a wider community.
Other optional metatexts are prefaces, blurbs, personal statements, and the closing remarks. And if you wish to publish your thesis, you need to add a market analysis for the editor to know why they should publish your thesis. Be aware that even if you may copy the wording from the main text into your metatexts, writing them usually takes longer than expected, which is likely to delay the submission of the thesis. Proper planning will thus pay off.