By the time I (hopefully eventually) graduate I will have written one BA thesis and two MA theses, so I like to consider myself a bit of an expert on this process. This final project is where even the most academically gifted of students suddenly find themselves stumbling. Everything depends on you and your ability to just sit down and write. It’s probably best to accept the fact that you will have a nervous breakdown at some point now and embrace it.
To take some of the pressure off, here are ten tips to make the process a bit easier on yourself.
Here we go.
1. Find a topic that will hold your interest over a longer period of time.
Thesis writing is a marathon, not a sprint, and there will be times when you get really sick of your topic. Pick something that you love!
2. Find an advisor who is familiar with both you and your topic and has a way of working that suits yours.
This is an option that will probably not be available to all of you, but if you have that luxury, use it to your advantage. Even though you will have to do the work yourself, a supervisor can make or break you. Choose wisely.
3. Set clear, regular deadlines (multiple ones, not just one big one at the end).
Not only is it a way to force yourself to keep writing (see tip 4), but it will also allow your supervisor to detect any major problems before it’s too late.
4. Work continuously.
You don’t have to write something every single day, but make sure that you keep a rhythm going. Before you know it you’re a week behind on your schedule and that way madness lies.
5. Write down new ideas immediately.
Sometimes you will have a genius insight while waiting for the bus or grocery shopping and by the time you get home and whip out your laptop, it will have vanished into thin air. Scribble your thoughts on a piece of paper, save them on your phone, as long as you can find it again later.
6. Keep detailed notes on your resources and page numbers from the very beginning.
That works cited list is going to be a long one and you will not remember where you read what.
7. Talk to a friend or family member about your topic.
Trying to explain what you’re working on to a layman forces you to take off those academia goggles and see if your idea actually makes any sense, and going through your argument out loud can really help when you’re stuck.
8. Try not to compare your process to other people’s work.
Talking to your peers about how everybody’s doing on their thesis can be helpful, but is often a great source of stress. Suddenly you find yourself panicking because your idea is nowhere near as clever as theirs and you are so far behind compared to the others. Remind yourself that everyone’s got their own system; know what your own strengths and weaknesses are and try to focus on those instead. You’ve written essays before. You can do this.
9. Accept that the final product is never going to be flawless.
You will keep discovering little mistakes until the end of time, so at some point, you need to let go of perfectionism and just hand it in already.
10. Don’t go crazy.
I have students that let the stress get to them and were so hard on themselves that they only made it worse. Locking yourself in the library and living on Mars bars and energy drinks for weeks at a time is no way to overcome that final academic hurdle. Make sure that you get enough sleep and exercise, eat well, and take some time to relax and see your friends and family.