Masters ThesisUpdated: Nov 9, 2016
The Master's thesis is designed as practice for the PhD thesis. The essential requirement of a Master's thesis is that it literally demonstrate mastery: that you have fully understood the state of the art in your subfield and that you are capable of operating at that level. The hardest part is figuring out how to cut your problem down to a solvable size while keeping it big enough to be interesting. Choosing a topic is a gradual process, not a discrete event, and will continue up to the moment you declare the thesis finished. Actually solving the problem is often easy in comparison to figuring out what exactly it is.
Master’s Thesis: Background Information
Educational institutions throughout the world are generally using words ‘thesis’ and ‘dissertation’ interchangeably. However, an educational tradition in some countries has firmly fixed the use of these terms. For instance, colleges and universities within the US use the term ‘thesis’ to denote a final project done at bachelor’s and/or master’s level, while the term ‘dissertation’ is used to signify a PhD level research project.
Master’s Thesis: General Tips
Writing a master’s thesis and its subsequent defense at viva voce is a mandatory requirement for obtaining master’s degree at the majority of degree awarding institutions. By completing your master’s thesis you are required to gain mastery in the chosen subfield and demonstrate your knowledge and competence in it. Working on a project of such scale is by no means an easy task. Many researchers agree that writing a masters’ thesis is more difficult than PhD because a student attempts to become an expert in a field which she or he hasn’t dealt with previously. They argue that work on a PhD is normally done by a researcher who already possesses expert-level knowledge in the field, is aware of the most recent research and is actively involved in the research process within this field. The main purpose of PhD-level writing is making a unique contribution to the existing body of knowledge. Master’s thesis doesn’t demand unique research; however, its successful completion will require its author to demonstrate mastery within a given topic. While working on a thesis one will need to cover a considerable number of resources (books, journals, periodicals, sites, databases etc), analyze them carefully, pick out the ones that are most relevant to the topic, and write, write, write.
Writing a master’s thesis might seem a daunting task because of the scale of work and the amount of research that has to be done. When you take another look at it and try to break the writing process into smaller assignments, it won’t appear intimidating anymore. To better organize the process and facilitate a better understanding of the goals and tasks of master thesis writing, let’s take a closer look at the steps one has to take while working on the project.
Master's Thesis: Selecting a Topic
Selecting a topic for your master’s thesis lays the foundation of the entire project. The choice of the topic for their masters’ theses is generally left to students. As a result, topic selection becomes the first challenge in the course of writing. It is always a difficult task to achieve because students are new to the topic, have little knowledge on the subject and can easily make a mistake. Choosing a topic that is too general, for example, is one of the common mistakes. Another pitfall is selecting a topic that has not yet been researched. Despite all these academic traps, the general recommendation remains invariable: students need to choose topics they feel most interested in. As it has been previously said, writing a master’s thesis is a lengthy and a difficult process, and only your interest in the topic, as well as your academic curiosity and enthusiasm, will give you the energy to complete the project.
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Master's Thesis: Finding an Advisor
Once the topic is chosen and before the actual writing, students are required to find a research advisor who would direct the writing process and work together with the student to strengthen the paper. Many institutions require their students to draft a plan of their thesis with a brief explanation of the issues that will be researched, abstract, bibliography and outline. Research advisors for master’s level these are usually PhD holders in their respective fields and they know immediately whether the topic is too broad or too narrow and will be able to break down the entire project into smaller bits. You will be required to see your advisor three-four times during the time you work on the paper. This is generally to discuss the thesis topic and then to review your first, second and third draft.
Depending on the institution, the topic for your thesis may be approved by either your advisor personally or by the board of advisors. In case the topic gets approved by your advisor only, this is an easier case. Simply work on the topic together with him/her, and once it has been approved, proceed to research. If, however, you master’s thesis needs to be reviewed by the advisory board, you will be required to come up with a research proposal – a short extract of your future thesis. It will contain most of the sections of your actual thesis, and will briefly explain the editorial team what you are going to do your research. Once you submit the research proposal and it gets approved, you are free to proceed with further research. If the research proposal is found to be irrelevant or inadequate, the student will be required to start over: pick a new topic and come up with a new research proposal. This is normally a rare case because research advisors immediately spot topics that will not pass.
Working on a Master’s Thesis: Structure
Masters’ theses vary in structure depending on the field of study: a thesis in Arts, Economics, and Mathematics will be different. However, generally world institutions require the thesis to take five chapters. The first chapter is the thesis introduction, where the research topic and methodology are explained; the second chapter is a review of the literature, containing the analysis of the literature on a given problem. The third chapter is the methodology section of the master’s thesis, explaining the methods utilized, data collected and approaches used. The ‘findings’ section is another major part of the paper presenting the reader with the results of the research. The fifth chapter of the master’s thesis should interpret the search findings and discuss them within the framework of the lit review. The final section of the paper is the conclusion, summing up the research and stating whether results have proven the hypothesis.
Many institutions require candidates to go through the so-called ‘thesis defense’, where students are required to present results of their research to an examining committee, consisting of senior scholars who are experts in the field. This examination, often called “viva voce” is generally done after the thesis has been completed, but before it gets submitted to the university. The committee reviews it and then makes a decision if the thesis is written at a decent academic quality level. There are four possible ‘verdicts’ a committee can come to:
• Accepted without any corrections. This is rarely the case, as most theses will need a revision or a minor tuning;
• Must be revised. In this case, the thesis is found to contain grammar and spelling errors that require correction. Most theses fall into this category;
• Extensive revision needed. The thesis contains a series of other mistakes, including issues with methodology, literature, and some theoretical concepts;
• Unacceptable. This is rarely the case in practice because academic advisors spot theses of unacceptable quality and failing a thesis at a viva voce will put his/her reputation at risk.
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