Writing a thesis is a big undertaking, but using the right tools can make it a far less stressful process. Here is a list of some key items you’ll want to have in your arsenal.
Tool #1 – The Right Style Guide
Every discipline has a preferred style for citations, such as APA or Chicago Manual of Style. Once you find out which one is used in your field, buy a copy for yourself. That might sound like old-fashioned advice since some of this information can be found online today, but the print versions are usually more comprehensive than online versions. And, if you have your own copy, you can earmark frequently used pages, take notes in the margins, and reduce the amount of time you spend clicking through open browser windows on your computer.
Tool #2 – Examples of Writing in your Field
Articles, books, and previously written theses in your area of study can be very useful to you as you develop your thesis. You will naturally want to look at the ones that pertain to your particular topic for their content, but you may also want to consider some purely for the value of their writing. Studying a couple of examples written in the kind of language that speaks to you can help you find your own voice.
Tool #3 – A Writing Handbook
Writing handbooks can also be excellent tools, especially if writing is not one of your favorite tasks. Discipline-specific ones are the best, as they offer tips to handle the unique challenges you face. Maybe you need some key terms and expressions to explain the methodology of your experiment, or perhaps you are struggling to describe the artistic qualities of a sculpture. If so, try one or two of these manuals.
Tool #4 – Your Adviser
Your adviser is not just someone who reads your thesis once you have it completed; he or she is there to help you along the way. This person can help you brainstorm ideas, decipher information, find resources, edit your writing, and much more. You might not want assistance on every step, but don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Tool #5 – Other People
Friends and family members can be great at offering feedback on your writing. Sometimes it is tremendously helpful to have someone not overly conversant in the topic read your work; he or she can (a) focus on language issues that might slip by someone reading primarily for content and (b) let you know if something does not make sense to an average reader. To be sure, not every detail in your document needs to be readily comprehensible to those outside your field, but you probably do not want to alienate a reader for an entire section either. Remember, you may seek readers in related areas of study who might not be familiar with some of the more nuanced language and concepts in yours.
Ann van der Merwe is a singer and music historian based in southwest Ohio. She holds a B.M. in music performance and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in music history.