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What is a Master’s Thesis Paper?

thesis writing

To quickly summarize, a master thesis paper is the culmination of your whole master period. It’s where you showcase that you’ve learned what you were supposed to learn and that you can produce a high-quality piece of work that follows that can make use of the knowledge that has been collected in the field that you’re currently doing your studies.

Of course, what you study has a big impact on what kind of master thesis you will write. For example, if you’re writing a paper in physics that will be a very different master thesis than you will write if you write one in – say – literature. Nonetheless, they have some common themes that generally span across all master thesis papers that you’re likely to encounter.

They synthesize a broad range of knowledge

Generally, a master thesis will require that you do a lot of reading in your field. Often, you’ll be expected to read the actual research papers of your field as this is as close as you can get to the actual science that’s going on in your area of expertise. Of course, academic textbooks will also serve well – particularly if they’re written by people who have done a lot of research into the area you’re writing about.

It’s a good idea to stay away from more popular science books as often these books will cut corners and over-simplify things in order to make the subject matter accessible to a lay audience who may not necessarily be familiar with the ins and outs of your academic area. Of course, there are exceptions. Some popular science books are both academically sound and broadly accessible. If you’re not sure whether a book is academically rigorous enough, you should consider asking your professor. They’ll be able to tell you (and often will even appreciate your thoughtfulness).

At its heart, a thesis is an essay

With that, I mean that the same rules apply. You write an introduction, forward a broad set of arguments that support the thesis you’ve written, and then offer a conclusion. The nature of those arguments can take very different forms, of course. In some cases, it’s your own field research that you’re presenting, while at other time you’ll be relying exclusively on the research of others.

That does not take away from the basic structure, however.

What’s vitally important though is that because these essays are so long you have a clear red line that runs throughout your text which you follow at all times. Don’t be afraid to signpost. This is where you explain what you’ve just covered. Bring it back to what your overall thesis is. And then dive into the next topic.

It’s all about the outline

Because the thesis is longer than any text you’ve probably written, you have to have an outline. For that reason, draw one up before you start writing seriously. Also, constantly refer back to it. Of course, outlines can change as your writing progresses. That does not mean they should be abandoned, however. For when that happens, you’re straying from the known path and into the deep forest. And once there, you’ll lose your way and your audience.

The best idea is to write up an intricate outline with all the arguments that you’d like to cover. Then, go see your supervisor and discuss the outline with them. They’ll appreciate it as this is the easiest stage to make suggestions. And you’ll appreciate it as those suggestions can turn your essay from something okay into something fantastic.

How Long Should a Master’s Thesis Be

The short answer is ‘it depends’. But of course you didn’t open this link to get that answer, now did you? If you’re looking for some kind of more particular number, I’d love to help you out. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to be more precise. After all, different fields have entirely different expectations. For example, if you’re writing a political science master thesis, then you have to write about 80 to 90 pages. No, you can’t use tricks like pushing in the margins and increasing the letter type to get to that length. Your teachers will notice. In other places, they expect you to write about 20,000 words.

Of course, it can be shorter. For example, my personal thesis only came in at 14,000 words. Yeah, you might think I got a good deal there. The thing is before I could write that thesis I had to conduct multiple lab studies, analyze the data that came from them and report on them in the correct style.

So yeah, ‘it depends’ does stay a very attractive answer. Another good one is ‘look at the specifications made by your professor’. That’s probably a far more useful one!

Will this article actually tell me something I need to know?

Yes, it will. For instead of focusing on how long it will be, you should spend your time focusing on the different sections and seeing how long those will need to be. For example, how long does your abstract need to be? How many words will you need for your introduction? How much space will your conclusion take up? Generally, those will range anywhere from 100 to about 500 words each. More than that and you’re really stretching it (and probably annoying your supervisor).

Once you’ve got those down, then it’s time to list your arguments and divide them by the words you’ve got left over. Perhaps try writing one out. This will give you an idea if this is a realistic number of words to expect to fill with the arguments you have. If it turns out that it’s not realistic, well then you’ll need to go back and read more articles in order to find more arguments to fill the body of your essay with.

Generally, it’s a good idea to gather your arguments before you start writing. In this way, you can foreshadow what you’re going to talk about in your introduction – which both lets you use a few more words and makes it easier for your audience to understand where your essay is going to go.

Another good thing to do is to signpost. This is where you explain how what you have just explained or will explain fits into your overarching argument. In this way, your audience will find it easier to follow along and you’ll be a little closer to fulfilling the word limit that has been imposed.

If you break it up beforehand you’ll not have to waffle on at the end

Too often students will find that they’ve said all they can but that they’re still a thousand words short of where they’re supposed to go. They solve this problem by tagging fluff on the end. Don’t do that. The ending of your thesis is the last thing that your supervisor will remember. They’ll notice if it’s empty fluff. And that will obviously affect your grade. Don’t sell yourself short.

Instead, make sure you know approximately how long your sections need to be beforehand. In that way, you’ll be able to finish strong and if you need to do any padding you can do it all the way through – which will be a whole lot less noticeable.

Master’s Thesis Defense

Scared of your master thesis defense? I hear you. I have terrified myself. Fortunately, it didn’t turn out to be half as hard as I thought it would be. That’s because I got some really sound advice from some of my friends who went through it before me. And because I found that all so very useful, I thought I’d write some of the ideas out here so that you’ve got access to them too!

Sound good? Then let’s begin!

Know the format

There is no one fixed format for how to do your defense. Instead, it can change from country to country and state to state. For that reason, make sure you know how it will actually work. How many questions will people ask? Who will ask them? What kind of questions can you expect and which ones are off limit?

This is a very important thing to explore, as fear becomes a whole lot more manageable if you can define it.

Do a test run

Get together with a couple of other people who are going to go through the same thing, read each other’s paper and then actually go through the format. Make sure you don’t hold back. Yes, it might be annoying to get asked sharp questions by fellow classmates. Nonetheless, you’d rather they do it so that you’re prepared than have something come out of left field that you completely didn’t expect on the day of your actual defense.

Also, take notes of the questions asked and then do the research so that you know how to defend against them. This can give you the ammunition to come out from under a difficult query.

Slow down

It’s okay to take a bit of time to answer a question. Learn to take a sip of water to collect your thoughts. Take a look at your papers (even if the answer isn’t to be found there). And then answer. Don’t worry, as long as it doesn’t turn into a dead pause where it’s clear to people that you don’t actually know the answer, nobody will mind. After all, everybody understands these aren’t the easiest of times for you.

As an extra bonus, often defenses are timed. That means that every pause brings you closer to surviving the ordeal!

Happy thoughts

There is a lot of research that shows that if you can avoid thinking highly negative thoughts, you’ll broaden your perspective and be able to take in more and think of more. For that reason, instead of furiously shuffling through your notes at the time of your defense, take a moment to look at something light-hearted. It doesn’t matter if it’s cat videos, or talking to your friends, or hugging your partner. Whatever makes you feel good is going to help you do better.

So focus on that and before you know, it will all be over and behind you.

How to Site a Master’s Thesis Paper: MLA, APA, Chicago

The only way you’re going to pass your master thesis is if you know how to site properly. There are a lot of different ways to cite a paper. Three of the most common ones are Modern Language Association (MLA), American Psychological Association (APA) and Chicago style.

Each of these has is used in a slightly different field. Obviously, the APA is meant meanly for citing in the field of psychology. The Chicago NB style, in the meantime, finds its home largely in the humanities. And finally, the MLA is used more broadly. Its creators have tried to create a system that is easy to adapt to different situations.

If you want to learn how to use each of these styles then you should definitely look into getting their handbooks or at least a summary thereof. You can find them in many different places. For example, here are three guides for MLA, APA, and the Chicago style. Even better, get one of the many citation programs out there as they’ll do it for you automatically! Here is a list of options that you can check out. As an extra bonus, each of the programs on the list is free!

When to cite

What no program can teach you, however, is when you have to site things. So that’s what I’m going to spend the rest of the article on. To make a long story short, you cite anything that you claim which isn’t common knowledge and can be disputed.

So, you could, for example, say that the US has 50 states without needing to cite any source. After all, that’s pretty common knowledge and not something anybody is going to dispute. Similarly, if you say ‘I suspect that we might be in for some years of division and conflict’ you don’t have to offer a source for that either. That’s just what you suspect.

If it isn’t in one of those two camps, however, then it needs to be cited – that is, unless that is the claim you’re going to spend the rest of the article actually demonstrating that this claim is true.

When in doubt

Now, do note something. Just because you think something is indisputable doesn’t mean other people will agree with you. For example, you might argue that our current age of innovation is faster than any we’ve previously seen before. A lot of people would agree with you. The eminent scholar Robert J. Gordon who wrote about how innovation was greater at the beginning of the 20th century would not. And as that book is pretty convincing, you’d, therefore, need to find a citation to defend your position.

For that reason, follow the rule ‘when in doubt, cite’ as that will save you a lot of trouble in the long run. Besides, that way you’ll get up to the minimum citations you’ll need for your paper in no time flat!