Suggestions Regarding the Thesis

Dr. C. George Boeree                      C.George Boeree

Writing a thesis is a challenging and potentially rewarding undertaking.  On the other hand, it can be the most miserable time of your life.  To help you make it the former rather than the latter, here are a few suggestions...

Plan on working on your thesis for one full year (presumably after one full year of classes).  And keep your work load as low as possible--theses take time!

Choose your thesis advisor (committee chair) prior to beginning your thesis year, and discuss with him or her the general nature of your thesis.  Choose someone you like and who is interested in your interests.

Pick a manageable project.  Decide ahead of time the phenomena or variables you wish to investigate.  Search the literature for model studies upon which to base your methodology.  If you intend to use tests, check to see if instruments are available for your variables--developing your own instruments will take considerable extra effort.

Write a one page description of your project, duplicate it, and give copies to your advisor and the other professors you are considering for your committee.  If they do not show interest in the project, find other committee members.  A complete lack of interest, on the other hand, may be a good sign that your ideas leave something to be desired!

Only then begin your year of literature review and actual implementation of your study!  You will be asked to have your literature review and methods sections completed for a grade in Thesis I.  The rest of the study -- results, discussion, and abstract -- are to be completed for a grade in Thesis II.

Although strictly speaking the actual study follows Thesis I, you should begin earlier.  Collecting data is very time-consuming!

As major portions of your study are done, make copies for your committee members to comment on.  Write as if it were the final draft:  Make sure spelling, punctuation, grammar, and style are "graduate level."  Your committee is not there to edit your paper.

But expect major rewriting!  Do your best to satisfy all your committee members.  If you find conflicts and strong disagreements, your advisor is your "court of appeals."  The other committee members will respect this.

Budget your time carefully.  Leave plenty of time before you plan to graduate: You will need that time for rewriting, computation, and your final defense of your thesis.

Your final defense is not a meeting to go over last minute changes.  It is essentially an oral exam to determine your understanding of what you have done in your thesis.  It is also, you will be pleased to know, the last "rite of passage" before you graduate.

A thesis is not the same as a class project or even a journal article:  The background work (literature review) should be more thorough and include philosophical and historical thought on the matter and "old" as well as more recent relevant research.  It is a display of your understanding of your topic.

I would say a short thesis runs about 25 pages (including tables, charts, endnotes, bibliography, etc.); a long thesis about 100 pages. You may write more or less, but there should be a reason!

You may do a traditional experiment, a correlational or factor analysis study, a naturalistic or participant observation, or a phenomenological study.  It should, however, be original--i.e. not a rehash of someone else's work.  With permission, you may do a replication of a study that merits replication.

Please note:  Plagiarism is taboo and will lead to a rejection of your thesis and denial of your degree.  You may summarize or restate others; you may quote, even at length; but you must give credit where credit is due!

The Parts of the Thesis

Signature page:  The Graduate School has a specific format for a signature page.  You bring this page with you to your final defense, at the end of which your committee will indicate their approval by signing the page.

Abstract:  One page (double spaced), half being a statement of the problem, the other half a statement of results.

Introduction:  One or two pages.  First half, general introduction to area or areas of study.  Second half, more specific introduction to your study.

Literature review:  Five to 20 pages.  Go from general to specific, philosophical to experimental, etc., for each of the areas you'll be investigating, ending with any research similar to your study.

Methods:  One to five pages.  First portion, an overview of the method to be used.  Second portion, more specific:  what people (participants or individuals, men or women, boys or girls, NOT subjects, males, females, etc.), what you'll be asking them to do for you (experimental procedure, test taking, interviewing...), what kind of analysis you'll be doing, etc.  Reference study or studies whose methods you'll be using.

Results:  One to five pages.  Includes the results of your analysis, of course.  Should end with a relatively concise summary of analysis. Should refer to more complete tables of data in the appendix.

Discussion:  Five to ten pages.  Relate your analysis back to the literature review.  How do they support each other or differ?  End with "what's next?" or “what needs to be done?"


Appendices:  Tables, charts, and occasionally raw data.

(Note:  All page lengths are flexible!  Rely on your thesis advisor for details)

General suggestions

Work from an outline.  Use plenty of headings and subheadings in the actual work.

Short sentences are better than long ones.  Active, straight forward sentences are better than passive, indirect ones.  Nouns and verbs are better than adjectives and adverbs.

Refer to yourself as "I," NOT "we," "the author," or "it is believed...."

Even when dealing with highly abstract, theoretical, or technical matters, keep referring back to the concrete, to what was actually done, or to real life.

Try to imagine your audience, perhaps a specific person you know.

Write like you speak.  Ordinary language is better than professional jargon.  Read what you've written outloud and listen to the sound of it.

However, avoid slang and dialect, and use colloquialisms and cliches with restraint -- these, like spelling and grammatical mistakes, hamper communications.

Proof read.  Have someone else proof read.

Forget about getting it right in the first draft.  Rewrite.  Rewrite again.  Even the best writers do.

Hard as it may be, resist cynicism.  Take pride in what you're doing.  Even if no one ever reads it, it is an expression of who you are.

And try to have fun!  :-)

Copyright 1999, C. George Boeree