I have finalized and defended my Master thesis in December 2015. For the most part, I wrote it while having a full-time job but I still managed to get a good grade without burning from stress. Since then, a lot of my friends have asked me for advice or support. Throughout the process of assisting my friends in their thesis writing, I realized that there are several rules that I followed that helped me to avoid nerve-wracking situations and successfully pass the exam.
Rule #1: Set the ambition level
Before you even start thinking about the topic, ask yourself what is it you want to achieve with your thesis. Is that the grade you are after? Or do you aim at getting a job in the case company? Or maybe you already have a job and all you want is to finish your thesis as soon as possible? Once you decide on this, it will be much easier for you to plan the process. Also, I suggest you being open about your ambitions with your supervisor. You will be surprised how much he or she will be willing to help you to achieve your goals.
Rule #2: Choose the topic you like that is easy to write about
University guidelines, professors and your supervisor will probably advise you to pick the area of your interest when selecting a topic of your thesis. The truth is, at the end of the day you will be evaluated based on how well you formulated a problem and how you analyzed it by using the existent theory and methods. I have often seen people picking very interesting topics for their thesis and then struggling to find relevant theory or not being able to collect primary data to support their research. So if you want to have a smooth and pleasant thesis writing process, my suggestion would be to choose a topic according to these two parameters:
- Existence of theory/research on the topic and its relevance to your study program
- Accessibility to primary data
Rule #3: Choose a case company wisely
Whereas most of us want to write our thesis with one of the TOP 20 companies, experience taught me that it is not always the best idea. First, it is very difficult to get access to one unless you are working there already. So you might waste a lot of time writing your proposals to company representatives without getting any responses. Second, even if they allow you to write your thesis with them, they might not have time to provide you full access to the information resources which may complicate the data collection process. So when it comes to choosing the company, my advice would be to think outside of the box and consider writing a thesis with a start-up, local medium sized company where your neighbor is working or a non-profit. Even though these companies might not be the most exciting ones, they will most likely be more open and supportive throughout the process.
Rule #4: Do not wait for inspiration
As it may never come! Very few of us are naturally good at writing. For the rest, writing is a hard work and we tend to postpone it with the excuse of not having inspiration. So what I did was I booked two 3-hour sessions a week with the goal of generating content. I just wrote everything I could think of at that point in time based on the notes I made during different research phases without paying much attention to grammar or punctuation. I realized, and this was something that worked really well for me, it is always easier to change and improve existent text than to write something nice from scratch.
Rule #5: Always carry a notebook with you
Because inspiration may come when you least expect it. I got a lot of nice ideas during the times I was in the gym or in the train on my way to work and those would have been lost if I didn’t note them down immediately.
Rule #6: Structure is a key to success
Nothing can be worse than an unstructured project. It makes it very difficult for your supervisors to follow your thoughts and they can easily miss out something very important. So I suggest you help them on the way. A few simple advices that will help you to shape your thesis:
- Use headings, subheading and sub-subheadings (if relevant)
- Always start a chapter with an introduction of what it will cover
- End each chapter with a summary of the key messages
- Use transition words whenever relevant. For more information on what they are go here
- Invest time in writing introduction and conclusion sections. Just by reading these two sections, the reader should get a full overview of your project
Rule #7: Ask somebody you trust to proofread your thesis
While professional proofreading services might be rather expensive, I would suggest you search for a volunteer (or a victim!) among your fellow students to proofread your thesis before submission. I cannot stress more how important it is that you make sure your project has a good flow and there are no spelling mistakes as those may reduce the overall value of your thesis.
Rule #8: Enjoy your defense
This is the most difficult rule as most of us get extremely nervous during oral defenses. But you have to realize that the supervisors are not there to fail you. They are as much interested as you are in giving you a chance to show your knowledge and have a fruitful discussion based on your research. Also, you need to realize it is primarily your written project that determines your grade and you know it better than anyone else. So now you just need to take a deep breath, smile and present it with all the confidence and pride you have. It is your time to shine and be recognized for the amazing work that you have done.
I wish good luck to all of you who are in the process of writing your thesis and I hope you will find my tips relevant.
Work and progress,