Tips for the ThM – Part 12 (writing a big thesis)
One of the comments that I often hear from Th.M. students is that the prospect of writing something as large as a thesis is pretty intimidating. And, you’re right. If staring at a blank screen is scary when you’re writing a 15 page research paper, it’s much worse at the beginning of a 150 page thesis. So, what do you do? I’m thinking about blogging some other time on some tips for productive writing, so I’ll focus here on what I think are the three most important tips for facing something as big as a thesis.
- Don’t think of it as one huge project. Think of it instead as five smaller project that revolve around a common theme. You’ve written research papers before. Writing a thesis is basically the same process. Only, instead of writing five unrelated research papers, you’re writing five research papers that work together to accomplish a single goal. So, when you sit down to work, don’t stress about the whole project, just focus on the piece that you’re working on now.
- Establish a writing schedule and stick to it. Treat your thesis like you would any other class that you’re taking. You wouldn’t skip one of your Th.M. classes just because you didn’t feel like going to class that day (humor me here). So, don’t skip working on your thesis just because you don’t feel like it. Establish a writing schedule and treat those writing times just like you would class time. Don’t schedule other activities during those times, you’re busy.
- Write a little every day. Not everyone is going to agree with this one. Some people prefer blocking off large chunks of time and getting a lot of writing done then. I think a more effective approach is to establish a daily writing goal and make sure that you hit it every working day (say, five days a week). That makes your goals much more tangible, trackable, and attainable. For example, if you decided that you wanted to knock out a rough draft of your thesis in one semester, your goal would look something like this: 500 words a day, five days a week, for fifteen weeks. That would give you approximately 37,500 words at the end of the semester, right in the range for a Th.M. thesis. And, 500 words a day is a very attainable goal.
So, although a thesis is a large project that will consume a significant chunk of your life, it does not have to become that insurmountable obstacle many people make it out to be. I think that many of those students who get stuck at the thesis or dissertation stage are there because they neglected one of these three tips.