Turning out a major paper is, for most college students, a daunting task well before word one is written. It’s lurking out there at the end of the semester; eventually it’s going to be a title over a lot of white space on your computer screen. What follows here is some suggestions that a) may help you “right-size” the assignment; and b) select a topic that works for you and for the class.
1. Develop your Topic
The classic format for a thesis is beginning with a question or a proposition, and then writing a document that either answers the question or fleshes out the proposition. You’ll feel a lot more comfortable writing about an issue that has developed as a result of your academic work, rather than something that you’ve pulled out of the air because it meets the assignment requirements and no one else is doing it. In other words, massage the class material and extract a question you’d like to see answered or posit a theory that your studies have created in your mind.
It’s just a lot easier writing about something you are interested in rather than a contrived topic where you feel like you need an instruction manual. If you get half way through your research and decide that your thesis proposal is wrong, don’t abandon the concept – change the theory you’ve put forward. You don’t need to be defeated by your own research; you simply need to create a thesis body and a thesis proposal that match.
2. Build your Thesis with a Structure that Works
This one is obvious, maybe too obvious to be worthy of discussion. Personally I am unaccustomed to working with an outline, never have been good at following one. But working with a series of section titles is a little different; it allows you to insert facts or observations into relevant sections as they come up, rather than structuring your document around an outline that may prove to be inaccurate or inadequate once you’re into the research.
For me big presentations like a thesis has always been a process of bringing order out chaos, rather than beginning with an orderly frame and filling out the pieces. Just as a thesis topic might morph somewhat during the research and writing process, so too will the sections that you’re using to construct the document. If those sections are subject to a little shifting, that’s okay too.
3. Consider the Source…
The internet makes research a lot easier than working your way through the library stacks, but online research can be limiting. You’re at the mercy of the search engines for one thing, and information that you’re seeking may not be on a website that’s designed to be on the front page of Google or Yahoo or any of the others. Mixing time in the library and time online during the research process will give you a more solid base of material and a much better list of citations.
The internet is great for contemporary information on a topic; the library for material that was not only developed on your topic but published. That’s credibility you won’t get from many web sources. What you will get online is contemporary thought and opinion on your subject which will give your thesis some immediacy.
4. Some Suggestions for Editing
Even if you’re a “first and final” type of writer, for major papers editing is a necessary evil. One of the keys to this process is leaving the time to do it thoughtfully; that’s not easy for those of us who are used pushing deadlines. But editing will make your work better. Sometimes your first draft doesn’t get from A to Z as you expected it to working from your thesis proposition. The editing process can make your work more accurate, but more importantly it can bring the content of your paper into line with the subdivisions you’ve created.
If the result of that process is a conclusion that varies from your original, you can rewrite both the “A” and the “Z” to match up with all of the information in between. Remember, you’re working towards producing a piece that is coherent as a whole, not a piece that relentlessly pursues a posited set of assumptions that have proven to be off track.
About the Author: Bob Hartzell has been writing for five years about education, business, budgets, and other life essentials on a variety of websites including Master-Degree-Online.com. He writes steadily on the changes in collegiate goals, having published multiple articles on undergraduate education and online graduate programs.