The time has finally come to write up your thesis? Congratulations! However, if your experience is anything like most others, you may be wondering where to turn first. Let me walk you through the most important components of thesis writing, whether it is at the graduate or undergraduate level, with the following ten steps to thesis writing. The first place to turn is your institution’s library. They usually have excellent resources, including templates, how-to-guides, and advice on editing and proofreading. Eventually, you will want to use a reputable proofreader or proofreading service to make sure your final document is perfect before submission, but first you will need to do the writing! You will need to edit your thesis over and over, producing numerous drafts that will all need to be carefully proofread. Your institution will likely have a downloadable template that has already undergone careful proofreading, and your job will be to populate the various sections with your writing. Step 1 is to find out if you can access such a document through your institutional website. Step 2 is to use all the resources available to you! Libraries, particularly university libraries, are often packed full of resources you didn’t even know were there. Try looking for thesis writing help on the library website to get the ball rolling. Once you have assessed and accessed your starting materials it’s time to get writing…almost! Step 3 is to ensure you are familiar with citation software. Seriously, take the time to teach yourself how to use citation software before you start writing, it will make writing, editing and proofreading so much easier later. Do not rely on the software embedded in your word processor, take the time to ask around, what do your colleagues use? EndNote, Mendeley and Zotero are popular options that are often recommended (1). Whatever citation software you choose, be sure that you learn how to use it before you get going, and save yourself from doing triple the work later. Cite and reference as you go, and use citation software to help you proofread. They aren’t perfect, but they do a great job organizing and proofreading your references!
Once you are set up with your template and citation software you can look forward to a lot of reading and writing! Keep your source material organized (using your citation software) and all in one place. Step 4 is to generate a summary, a thesis plan of action. How many chapters will your thesis contain? A typical number is five, with an introduction, methods section, results section, discussion section and summary section; while this is a good rule of thumb, requirements can certainly can vary between fields and the level (i.e. graduate or undergraduate, Masters versus Doctoral). What are you going to discuss in each chapter your thesis? An introduction is probably a good idea for chapter 1, but you might not want to write the introduction first. Don’t try to write the abstract first either, your abstract should be written last once the body of your thesis is complete. A good place to start writing might the chapters where you discuss your research or thesis topic and your methods. Whatever you choose to start with, use a summary-style approach to organize your thoughts before you start writing. This will make the process of editing and proofreading much easier when you get to the later stages of your writing.
Step 5 is to get going with writing! Regardless of the chapter you decide to write first, gather all your sources (you should already have done so back in Step 3! Then, get going, writing directly into the template you hopefully located back in Step 1. I am not going to kid you, writing will be a lot of work regardless of the length of your thesis, or the topic. But, you can certainly make your life easier by keeping a well-formatted document right from the start. If you are lucky, the template document will already be styled in the required format. Maybe you are submitting your thesis to a journal, but, in any case, it will eventually be a published and accessible document so you will want to ensure the formatting style matches the required format. Set up your formatting right from the start to make things easier later; you don’t want to have to worry about formatting when you get to the stage of editing and proofreading. You will write and rewrite, and that is part of the writing process. Try to get a single draft before you start editing and proofreading any individual section or chapter, editing and proofreading will come later.
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Once you have each chapter complete, check in with your supervisor or instructor to make sure you are on the right track (you don’t want to make even more rewriting for yourself than necessary). Your supervisor will likely give you some advice for changes, and maybe even help with some basic proofing. By the end of Step 5, you should have a complete draft of all your chapters and they should be coherent if not perfect. You can also bring in an editor or proofreader to go over your draft and look for anything obvious in structure or organization, but you probably don’t want to do a word by word edit and proofread at this point, as you will probably just end up having to do it again at a later step.
Step 6 is to pause with the writing and work on your figures (2). Any thesis will likely have multiple figures, either embedded within the body of the text or in an appendix at the end of manuscript. Perhaps you assembled some of your figures before you started writing, and that’s great! Step 6 is the time to spend a probably enormous amount of time perfecting your figures and getting them into a format that can be inserted into your document. (Play around with this to make sure you know how to do so). This could be PNG, JPEG, PDF, or another specific format depending on your field. Figures take a long time, and deservedly so, as they tell the story of your work. All figures need a legend (usually at the bottom) and all tables need a title (usually at the top). Make sure you take the time to read and re-read your titles and legends and make sure they are proofread to perfection! Take time to carefully proofread your legends and titles and make sure your tables and figures are numbered and are referenced in sequence in the body of the text (you’d never, say, bring up Fig. 7, before you discuss and refer to Fig. 6).
Once your figures are assembled and formatted and edited, it is time to move on to Step 7, which consists of mapping where you want your figures and tables to go in your document. Figures and tables should be numbered and sub-numbered within each Chapter (for example, Figure 1.1, 1.2 in chapter 1, and Figure 5.1 and 5.2 in chapter 5). In Step 7, you should go back to your document and figure out where in the text each figure comes up and thus should be inserted (don’t insert them yet, but leave a note as to where they will be inserted later). No figure or table should ever appear in the body of the text before it has been mentioned in the text. If you are able to put all your figures in an appendix at the end of the manuscript, you are lucky, as that will be much less work. They still, of course, need to be formatted and assembled and proofread and then the place where you will refer to them mapped into the body of the text. To recap, by the end of Step 7, you should have a complete draft of your thesis document, a file with your fully formatted and proofread figures, and a specific location within the body of the text where each figure (or table) will be referred to, in numerical order. Double-check and proofread titles, numbering and legends, or have a proofreader or proofreading service help you finalize your figures.
Step 9 is where you put it all together! You’ve worked with your figures and had them proofread, and you have mapped where you are going to reference them and insert them. This will take longer than expected, because text will probably jump around on you and you might encounter other obstacles. Stick with it! If you’ve been using good formatting skills along the way, you shouldn’t need to do much more than insert your figures and ensure they don’t jump across pages. Be sure that the figure legend is on the same page as the figure (rather than being on the next page). You might need to play around with the sizing of your figures too. Again, if you just need to assemble your figures into an appendix, consider yourself envied! Be sure to check with your institution or supervisor so you know the expectations for figures and tables. Most often, especially at the graduate level (i.e. Masters and Doctoral), figures must be embedded in the body of the text. By the time you finish step 9, you should have a clean draft that you are happy with, and that contains all of your figures where you want them to be. You are getting close, but there are a few more critical things to do before you submit your thesis. Congratulations on getting this far!
Step 10 is the final push to proof and perfect your thesis prior to submission. You’ll need to proofread everything, from start to finish, as many times as you think you have already done so. At this point, you have read your thesis and edited your thesis so many dozens or hundreds of times that it will be hard for you to spot any errors. The best thing you can do in Step 10 is have someone else proofread your thesis; ideally, an editor, proofreader or professional editing service (3). There are a number of services out there, and it is worth every penny to have them find the grammatical and wording errors that might take away from your thesis. Remember, your thesis will be published and archived and will live on in the literature, the worst thing is to come across typos or things you wish you’d changed months or years later! Proofread the body of the text, proofread your figures, proofread your legends and don’t forget to proofread your citations and list of references! A good proofreading service will do all of this for you. Finally, at last, you are ready to submit! Now, knowing your thesis is perfect and ready to bind, print and submit, you can move on to preparing for your thesis defense!
- University of Toronto, 2019. Citation Management. Retrieved from: https://guides.library.utoronto.ca/c.php?g=250610&p=1671260
- University of Las Vegas, n.d. Manual for Formatting the Figures and the List of Figures in the Thesis or Dissertation. Retrieved from: https://www.unlv.edu/sites/default/files/page_files/3/10_FormatfoListofFiguresandFiguresManual.pdf
- Edit My Paper. Retrieved from: https://editmypaper.ca/