Your Thesis: All You Need To Know

What makes a thesis? It takes a lot of planning, research, writing, refining and editing. postgradasia takes you through what you need to know to produce and submit your thesis.
Jacie Tan
Writer, postgradasia.com
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Your thesis is the presentation of your postgraduate research in written format. As your work will be based on answering your main research question, you may think of your thesis as the compiled answer to your research question. It should set out the evidence you have found, either through your own methodology, what you have gathered and analysed from existing sources, or both.

The bare bones

As you know, your postgraduate journey hardly begins at the writing of your thesis. If you’ve laid down the foundations by choosing your research topic wisely and forming a dependable research proposal, this will be of infinite help to you when it comes to writing your thesis. A huge mistake would be to blindly carry out your research without having any idea how you wish you present it in written form.

This is because you should start your thesis-writing with a clear goal and direction as well as a basic outline. Keep your eye on the aim; always focus on your research question and frame the contents of your thesis as an evidenced response to it. Sketch out a skeleton with chapter headings and begin writing your thesis based on it.

Research data

You will spend months or years researching the contents on your thesis – it only makes sense that you will amass a sizeable amount of research data during that period. What is the key to being able to transmute all of that data into your thesis? Be organised from the very start.

Keep a database of all your readings with the full names, titles and page numbers of the material you want to put in your thesis. Doing so would really help with compiling your bibliography later on. You should also make notes or short summaries of the content you want to include. This would avoid the situation where you are left with a long list of page numbers with no memory of what it was you wanted to cite from them.

Remember, another reason why this step is important is because of a little something called plagiarism! If you don’t attribute your quotes, paraphrased sentences, summaries and statistical data to the original source, you will run afoul of plagiarism. It could get your whole thesis rejected and your name blacklisted. Proper citations allow the reader to trace the ideas that lead up to your research and show that you aren’t trying to pass off someone else’s points as your own.

An ongoing process

Your thesis isn’t going to be perfect from the get-go. Once you have everything written down, you will have to refine it over and over again in multiple drafts. A thesis is meant to be an organised presentation of your data in a coherent manner. It should have a logical flow that allows readers to follow your train of thought and understand your arguments and supporting evidence, so keep on editing to get it that way.

Don’t be afraid to make the most of your supervisor during your thesis-writing process. Meet with your supervisor and ask them for feedback that could advance your thesis. At the same time, constructively assess your thesis on your own. Are there any areas that could be explored further or backed up with more concrete research? While it’s good to look for ways to improve your work, do be wary of losing focus and straying too far away from your research topic.

Submission and assessment

Yes, writing your thesis will take up the bulk of your time, but the journey is not over simply when you’re done writing it. Don’t let your work be penalised for mistakes you make when handing it in, so check your university’s guidelines for thesis submission and adhere to them religiously. Take note of the required format, such as font, spacing and required information. Read up on submission procedures and timelines in advance, as well as how many hard copies to print or whether a soft copy submission is needed.

Once submitted, your thesis will be reviewed by a board of examiners. The examiners are usually recommended by your supervisor as he or she would be the best person to know who is suitable to examine your thesis. The examination process can take around three to six months.

Depending on your course (most common for a PhD), you may be required to undergo a viva voce to defend your thesis to a committee in person. This session is a form of examination in itself, and can be thought of as the verbal counterpart of your thesis. It is your chance to show the examiners the true extent of your understanding and clarify any queries they may have about your thesis.

There are a number of possible outcomes from your thesis examination. Of course, this varies between institutions, but the most common possibilities are:

  • Award of degree with a thesis of distinction
  • Award of degree without amendments to the thesis
  • Award of degree subject to minor corrections to be made to the thesis
  • Award of degree subject to major corrections to be made to the thesis
  • Required to undertake further work and submit thesis for re-examination
  • Failure to be awarded degree with no option for re-submission of thesis