How to Write a Thesis When You’re Short on Time


The first time I began worrying about quitting graduate school was when my sixth year of studying has begun. I started a few unsuccessful projects and found out that most of the gathered data was supportive for none of my hypotheses. Those attempts made me feel depressed. Eventually, I decided to meet my supervisor to clarify what was necessary for me to graduate.

It turned out that I could use just a little bit of all the collected data for my thesis. My supervisor suggested me a new topic, and I needed to make that project work so that I could graduate in a year.

With an aim to complete the project on time I extended my 10-hour days to 15-hour days. After several months, I finally generated some genuine data. However, I still had to check multiple samples to get the work done. The main problem was the project deadline was just four months away and I did not know where to start, how to organize the data and which section to write first.

Finally, I had 18-hour days fueled by fast food. But I still had no idea about how to write the paper. Furthermore, I was a perfectionist and I spent a lot of time rewriting sentences and jumping back and forth between chapters as none of them felt good enough. As a result, I was spinning into hopelessness and depression, but I finished that project somehow. I was constantly thinking that there must be a better way. Over a couple of next years, I was studying the process of writing theses and working on a more effective system for writing large projects. Since that time, I have helped hundreds of students with problems on how to write a thesis.

Here are some useful tips on writing an outstanding thesis.

Understand the Question You Are Asking

It seems obvious, but a lot of students cannot clearly define their overall hypothesis before they start working on the project. You must be able to summarize the entire paper in one clear sentence. If you still cannot determine your hypothesis, you should have a meeting with your supervisor.

Break the Work on Your Project into Several Stages

Working on a thesis is a process that has defined stages. The details of these stages vary slightly depending on the topic, but usually, they include such steps as idea collection, data analysis, and editing, and polishing.

First, it is vital to gather as many ideas as you can on paper. You should not judge, edit or format your project at this stage. Just let yourself gather the information without criticism. This will help you spark your creativity and let go the fear of imperfection which slows down the process.

On the second stage, when all the ideas are written down on paper, you have to rigorously analyze and edit the data. Eventually, you must complete a manuscript with a clear structure.

On the final stage, you have to ask your supervisor for a review and fill in any gaps in the paper. Polish your project until both you and your supervisor consider it perfect.

Do not Rely on Your Supervisor

The academic advisor will not provide you with all the answers. Remember that completing this project is your job only. Your supervisor only has to mentor you and help you become an independent researcher.

He or she may be a good mentor or not very good one, but you have to come to a certain agreement regarding the direction of your research. If there are any disagreements between you and your advisor, you may need a couple of meetings to determine the overall direction of the project you are working on.

The best and most efficient way to meet with the supervisor is to schedule your meetings far in advance and be well-prepared for every meeting. Those graduate students who plan proactively before meetings with their advisors have more effective meetings than those who do not prepare. You should always take the initiative about planning meetings and offering solutions to every problem that arises.

Get Inspired

You must realize that you will not ever feel like you are actually working on a thesis. Do not give up. Just start typing anything – sentence fragments, thoughts, and ideas. Do not wait for inspiration. Instead, go out and look for it. Watch videos which motivate you, listen to music which puts you in the right mood. Imagine what you will be doing as soon as your project is ready. Once you are inspired and warmed up, you will see that words flow easier and more naturally and even form cohesive sentences.

Do not Try to Write the Entire Paper in Order

If you are wondering how to write a proper thesis, remember that there is actually no necessity to begin with an abstract, then write the introduction, look for literature, then write chapter one, two and so on to the conclusion. In reality, this one is the worst way to write such a large project. It can even lead to a few months of an agonizing particular chapter.

Instead of trying to write the abstract first, remember that it should be the last section to think about. It has to be a summary of all the highlights of the thesis, thus you can be able to write a cohesive abstract only when the rest of the paper is ready.

Also, it is a bad idea to begin your writing with the most complicated chapter. It is like attempting to deadlift a 300-pound weight right away, with no prior training. Rather than doing so, start with the easiest section, for example, the methods section. It is the easiest part of writing to start with and the quickest to finish. One more good reason to start with this section is to get a couple of pages under your belt and increase your confidence before writing more complicated chapters.

Do Your Writing in Very Short Bursts

It might seem weird, but writing in a few short bursts is more effective than writing in one extended period. Almost every student tried to write for a couple of hours in a row, so we all know that the concentration becomes weaker after about an hour. Writing a good thesis, just like any other academic paper, requires creativity, and it is very hard to sustain the concentration for several hours in a row during many months until the large project is finally completed.

If you have 3-4 free hours, do not try to glue yourself to the writing for the entire period. You are only fooling yourself when you think that more continued time of writing will lead to better results. Rather than spend the entire time writing, break up this period into several blocks with rest periods in between. A good option is to alternate 50 minutes of working with 10 minutes of rest. Such pauses are essential for your brain as they can greatly boost your creativity. Most students get sudden insights when they take 10-20-minutes rest and they become more productive when they get back to work.

One more important advice is to turn off your phone alerts when working on the project. Resist the temptation to check any updates even during the rest periods. Even one update can easily distract you from writing and derail the next working period.

Most students know that bad writing habits are hard to break. It is not the best idea to try to eliminate all the bad habits at once, as your brain will probably rebel against you. The much better option is to change bad habits gradually. So do not try to take on all six of the above guidelines at once. Rather than doing so, take one, complete it, and then move to the next one. And remember that the most difficult part is the beginning. The sooner you start, the easier the process will be.