Writing a Thesis

At some point, most university students will encounter writing a thesis. These long research essays are increasingly being called on at the undergraduate level, and are just about mandatory at the graduate level. With a bit of planning, a thesis paper doesn't have to be stressful.

1. Pick a Topic: Undergrad theses, sometimes called honor's theses, answer a question and range from 25 to 75 pages. Picking the right question to ask—and the right way of framing it—is half the battle. For example, asking, "What was the cause of World War One?" would take thousands of pages to tackle, whereas, "Why did General Haig think a decisive victory over the Germans was possible at the Battle of the Somme, and how did that factor into his military decisions?" would be far more adequate.

2. Abstract: It's extremely difficult to distill an entire thesis into one sentence, which is where the abstract comes in handy (or introduction, if you're using MLA style.) Generally, an abstract is about 10% of the paper's length or roughly a page, and an introduction is half a page to two-thirds of a page. In this section, summarize what your paper is about, how you went about answering your question, and what the findings were.

3. Review: Probably the easiest part of the thesis, here's where you give a synopsis of the topic you're writing about. Using the WWI example, spend a few pages writing about exactly what happened without providing too much analysis (that'll come later.) Two common mistakes are to be factually inaccurate and biased. You'll have plenty of time to argue your case later on but for now, just stick to the facts.

4. Writing Style: Keep in mind that your professor will be reading this and assigning a grade, and that you're not submitting your paper to a pop culture website. The tone should be formal and academic in nature, cite frequently (but not after every sentence or so), and use "good" references (e.g. you can use Wikipedia, but don't consider it 100% authentic and never list it in your references list.) Some professors allow contractions and first person voice and some don't, but it can be a good way to make your paper more readable.

5. Take a Break: After you've just finished writing thousands and thousands of words…go and do something fun. You've just spent so much time on your thesis that your brain has temporarily lost the ability to look at it objectively, so you need to hit the reset button. And with all the hard work you put in, take a few days to reward yourself by completing ignoring your thesis. You've earned it.