Home » Resources » The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Master’s Thesis
Derick de Souza
Derick de Souza
Derick is a business and education consultant working on various projects and scopes. With about 25 years of experience in different settings, he loves to tell others about "how not to be a failure" rather than "how to be successful." Derick writes and edits articles on online learning, business, employment, and skill development, among others. His hobbies include photography, web design and development, and traveling.
Degree: Master of Social Work, Master of Health Psychology
Areas of Expertise & Credentials: None to disclose in particular; the basics are covered in the short bio.
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If you are considering a master’s degree, you need to understand what a master’s thesis is and if you are required to write one. Most graduate programs give you the option of thesis and non-thesis tracks.
The thesis is considered a summation of learned knowledge, allowing you to work on the challenges of your field. Depending on your chosen subject, it generally requires a good amount of research; you may need to conduct a primary or secondary study, conduct surveys and interviews, and meet other requirements.
Most graduates are expected to spend much of their master’s program developing and writing their thesis.
Table Of Contents
What is a Master’s Thesis?
A master’s thesis is a written document highlighting knowledge gathered throughout the graduate degree, a unique perspective into the domain of study, an understanding of scientific and research methodology, and one’s ability to analyze and interpret research outcomes.
It is a culmination of your work as a graduate student and demonstrates your expertise and caliber within your field of study. The specific requirements for your program’s thesis will depend on your school and departmental guidelines.
A thesis could consist of an average of 70 to 100 pages, including a bibliography, citations, and various sections. It is written under the guidance of a faculty advisor and should be publishable as an article.
Your master’s thesis reflects the literature in your field, challenges, evidence, and arguments around your writing topics.
A thesis statement reflects what your paper represents and can help you summarize the main point of your research papers and essay. It can be articulated in one sentence and highlighted in the paper somewhere.
To develop a good thesis statement, you must ask questions about your topic, write an answer befitting your initial thought process, build your solution through evidence, and refine the answer based on the findings and interpretation. It should guide the reader in following the idea of the paper.
How Long Does It Take?
A graduate thesis typically comprises 70 to 100 pages, excluding the bibliography. The length of your thesis could vary depending on your chosen topic, the statistical methods used for analysis, and the length determined by you and your guide or committee.
You can expect to write a master’s thesis typically over two semesters when completing a full-time program.
Components of a Master’s Thesis
A master’s thesis comprises various components. Understanding the required elements of a thesis can help you structure your thesis content well and make writing more accessible.
The details might typically differ from institution to institution. Still, the following order is generally required for details of your thesis:
Title Page – This consists of your thesis title and the month and year of your graduation. Be careful to keep this page unnumbered.
Copyright Page – This page mentions you as the author, offering additional protection against copyright infringement.
Committee or Faculty Page – This lists the names and titles of faculty members approving your work.
Abstract or Summary – This generally includes a summary of your study, methods, and techniques used for research, and a brief description of your findings or conclusions.
Table of Contents – This page compiles all the section headings and subsequent page numbers. It includes one double-spaced line between the first entry and the heading.
Lists of Tables, Maps, Figures, Illustrations, symbols, and other abbreviations – This is where you need to list all the following, like figures, maps, etc., along with their captions and page numbers.
Preface – This page is generally optional; however, if you want to explain the origin of your work or the author’s or authors’ contribution, it needs to be added to this page.
Dedication – This includes a message from the author in tribute to a particular individual, group, or cause. It can begin with “To…”, like “To my parents…”
Main Content – This typically includes an Introduction, Findings, Results, Discussion, Conclusion, etc.
Acknowledgment – If you have used copyrighted materials with granted permission, you can mention them here. Additionally, the source of your grant(s) must be acknowledged, including federal funds. You must add a disclaimer reflecting that the findings of your thesis are only yours and not that of the funding agency.
Bibliography or references – This page consists of all your works referred to in the thesis.
Appendices – This section contains relevant materials tangential of detail, like raw data, questionnaire, procedural explanation, etc., that should be labeled as A, B, C, and so on, not 1,2,3 or I, II, III.
Format of a Master’s Thesis
While writing your thesis, you need to be careful about formatting as it takes care of the presentation part.
As important as the content you write, your thesis formatting makes your ideas articulate and straightforward for others to read. Each school or program has its requirements for writing a thesis.
Here is an example of how your master’s thesis should look:
Title Page: The name of your major should be mentioned here correctly; the title must be in CAPITAL and double-spaced. The date mentioned on this page should be the month and year of graduation.
Front Matter: The numbering should be in lowercase Roman numerals. It should include the table of contents, with a list of all the sections of your thesis. The chapter titles must correspond correctly to your original chapter titles and should be numbered consistently.
Page Numbers: Page numbering should start from the first page of your thesis, continue until the end without a break, and not be embellished (for example, Page 7, -7). You should carefully avoid running headers.
Fonts, Margins, and Spacing: All fonts must be standardized, and all headings should have a consistent font. You must limit italic texts to foreign words, journals, book titles, etc. Keep your line spacing consistent, at around 1.5 pts, and equal margins, preferably 0.75 or 1 inch on all sides.
Generic Points: Each chapter needs to begin on a new page with no blank pages in the document. When submitting the soft copy of your thesis, you should use a Portable Document Format or PDF, and your file name must be simple without special characters.
To help you do a run-through of the formatting guidelines, we have listed a checklist for you to quickly run over and reflect on the formatting you have done for your thesis:
Font Types and Sizes
Indentations and Spacing
Tables, Figures, and Illustrations
Top 10 Tips to Write Your Thesis
Once you have understood the basic requirements of how to write your thesis, including how to format and add content, your next step will be to get started with the thesis.
This step is nerve-breaking for beginners trying to put all their ideas together as a thesis. Here are some tips to help you get started on your writing:
Locating challenging areas or problems: This could include looking for current trends in your domain and checking how you can best describe them. You should generally avoid complex topics for a thesis as it is hard to research.
Ask essential questions: You need to understand some basic questions like what your research problem can be, its importance, comparative works, what others have found, comparisons to be made, and study methods.
Structure your ideas: You can design a concept map to help you brainstorm ideas. It will help you put your ideas logically and legibly.
Write your ideas spontaneously: You often think of something and lose track of it. Therefore, writing down your ideas and points as and when you find them in free writing will be easier.
Keep the examiner’s expectations in check: You must try to foresee the examiner’s expectations from your coherent arguments, understanding of theory, creative and novel ideas, confidence in the domain, and good linkage between different theoretical perspectives.
Check for clarity of ideas: Make sure you have a clear outline and plan out your paragraphs logically regarding problems that need to be addressed.
Get feedback: You must check with others if your structure and explanations are legible. Feedback from others will help you realize whether your thesis portrays your arguments clearly or not.
Analyze and conclude: Your results should be justified, and you should mention conclusions on how your study is impactful. Potentially, you must also list any implications of your study.
Writing draft: You must compile all critical components and read the first draft to see what changes you must include. Once your first draft is ready, you should ask your faculty members or seniors to review it and provide feedback.
Proofread: You must always proofread your thesis, as it helps find errors and look out for sentences that may be incomplete or have grammatical errors.
8 Steps to Finding Your Thesis Topic
Choosing a topic for your master’s thesis can be hectic and laborious. However, the process can be made exciting and will be rewardable.
By finding your thesis topics, you will get a chance to explore your area of study, find out what interests you, and how you can contribute to your field.
To effectively pick the right topic, you need to go through different topic ideas and then narrow them down based on your potential and ease of writing the thesis.
Here are some tips on how to go about finding a good thesis topic:
Brainstorm potential ideas This is not a process of one day; from the time you begin working on your master’s, you can list down topics that interest you. You must generate a list of topics from the classes you have taken, your reason for getting into the field of study, what areas you like to study, potential areas you might want to pursue after graduation, and so on.
Talk about your interests Sometimes, when we just list ideas by ourselves, we may not be able to think much about our interests. However, when you discuss your interests with peers, teachers, or family, they may ask you questions that will help you gauge your interest area and direct you toward finding possible gaps or questions in your field of study.
Go through your coursework and materials from classes taken When you go over your coursework, you can reflect on which topics intrigued you in the past. You can reflect on the knowledge you have gained and think of new ways to expand on the information learned before. Even something like your previous class assignments can help you explore different interest areas.
Research current events You can also read the news, explore academic databases, and check prominent research journals in your field. One smart way could be to list keywords of up-and-coming topics as and when you research them so that you can look up information later.
Speak to your faculty members Your faculty members will have a lot of insight into prior research and current research that you can do. They can help you evaluate the different avenues to be studied and brainstorm ideas.
Exploring gaps in recent studies This can be done when you are writing your literature thesis by checking the implications mentioned in those studies. You can combine several similar implications to come up with a new topic.
Think about your prospective area of work Through your thesis, you can try and understand which fields you want to work in. If you develop your thesis on an area you are interested in pursuing employment, you can develop better knowledge in that topic, leading to good research opportunities. Thinking about the work you want to do can help you plan your thesis better.
Narrow your focus After you have found out the potentially different areas you may want to study, you can narrow down those areas. Further, you can streamline the topics that come under that area. By reducing your list of topics, you can critically evaluate which will best suit your personal and professional strengths.
Are Thesis and Dissertation the Same?
Many people use the terms thesis and dissertation interchangeably; however, there is a considerable difference between them.
Fundamentally, students enrolled in a master’s degree write a thesis, and those pursuing a doctoral program complete dissertation requirements.
A dissertation also requires you to conduct an oral defense, but a thesis is not mandated.
Here is a summary to give you an idea of the differences between both:
It is generally shorter than a dissertation, involving preliminary research
Includes original research projects
Helps you earn a master’s degree
Helps you earn a doctorate
Adds new and upcoming information to add value to a particular topic
Is a write-up showing new information to conclude the respective discipline/subject
Generally based on hypothesis and reflecting your knowledge of the subject
Demonstrates your scientific ability to expand and prove your original idea or thesis.
What is a Thesis and Non-Thesis Master’s?
Many universities offer master’s degree programs in thesis and non-thesis tracks. The thesis track generally has more research work and more coursework to be completed along with the regular curriculum.
In contrast, the non-thesis track does not have research coursework; instead, you will need more classes. However, students of both tracks must often conduct some kind of project or research.
Students opting for a thesis track must conduct a comprehensive research project that will include completing more semester coursework.
Graduates will need to write a thesis, a considerably large document, that can be published later. It is mostly for those who want to get knowledge and expertise in conducting intense research.
The thesis track will also benefit those who want to pursue a Ph.D. or work in some aspects of research.
The non-thesis track is more flexible and designed for those who do not want training in research components. Even though these students will take less research credit, they will need more elective hours.
Depending on your chosen program, you may be required to create learning modules, work as an intern, perform small research projects, etc.
Which Track is Better for You?
It can be difficult to understand which of these two tracks is better suited for you, as one must consider many factors.
To understand which type of master’s is more suitable for you, you should ask yourself what kind of academic skills you want to acquire, your academic needs and professional objectives, and which classroom environment is better for learning.
We have listed some key differences between both tracks to help you decide which one will suit you more:
Want to pursue doctoral studies
Not interested in pursuing doctoral study or conducting research at length
Want to publish a thesis in academic publications
Want to pursue the degree with more assignments, coursework, and exams instead of conducting research
Want to acquire skills for research-intensive domains
Want to gain exposure with faculty on a practical and real-world project, than spending time on research
Want to build logical, analytical, and critical skills to infer, and argue efficiently
Take up additional courses to get in-depth knowledge and gain hands-on skills
FAQs About Master’s Theses
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it worth doing a master’s thesis?
By completing your master’s thesis, you develop good critical thinking, written, and research skills that help you effectively communicate your views and knowledge of the subject. A graduate thesis makes you a suitable candidate to enter a doctoral degree and seek employment in research-related areas.
Can a master’s thesis be rejected?
Most departments from where you are pursuing your master’s will review your thesis and recommend changes. It is generally unheard of that a thesis be rejected, but if so, one can implement the suggestions provided and send it back for review. As long as you follow the requirements prescribed by your college for writing and submission of a thesis, there should not be any major challenges or a rejection.
What to do if my master’s thesis is incorrect?
One of the first steps to take if your master’s thesis is incorrect is to talk to your advisor and understand the further changes to be made. You can evaluate your research and get it peer-reviewed before submission to faculty members, as it will help you foresee challenges. However, in cases where your hypothesis or premise is proved wrong or there are other issues, you can still publish the thesis. Still, you will need to represent your data and make interpretations and analyses well.
What should I avoid in a thesis?
Your graduate thesis should communicate the ideas you want to represent precisely. Therefore, you should avoid being vague. You must articulate your thoughts well in the written form, but be careful not to combine many ideas. One must also follow university or departmental requirements for writing a thesis.
What happens if you fail your thesis?
Generally, if one or more examiner gives you an outcome of “not passing” for the thesis on the final examination report, you will not be able to pass your program. You have the option to resubmit or revise your failed thesis. Those who have failed typically see the status of “Failed, entitled to resubmit” on their report, indicating that they can resubmit their thesis.
Can a thesis affect a student’s GPA?
For required readings and research, capstone project, and thesis, you would generally receive a letter grade of U-Unsatisfactory, SP-Satisfactory Progress, and S-Satisfactory Completion. Therefore such grades will not affect the final GPA that you receive.
You can use many resources to write a master’s thesis; however, these must only be used as a guide and not to plagiarise content, as one of the more crucial aspects of writing a thesis is creating novel work and contributing to your discipline. Here are a few that will help you with your thesis writing:
Rutgers University Libraries Rutgers University Libraries has many online resources to support graduate students in writing their thesis. They provide a brief overview of many topics related to completing the dissertation.
The Thesis Whisperer The Thesis Whisperer contains various online resources that can be helpful for both students and supervisors. You can find many workshops and resources to teach you about research techniques and tips.
Auraria Library Auraria Library is a great resource for students to see a list of databases, journals, and research guides. You can also learn to visualize your data, design, and work with qualitative and quantitative data.
Patter Patter is a resource that engages individuals and recommends how to conduct academic writing. It suggests how to write your thesis, what kind of writing is engaging, how to refresh your writing, and more.
WikiHow WikiHow orients readers on how to write a master’s thesis that helps them get an overview of the whole thesis process, making it more seamless.
Sage Publishing Sage Publishing is a comprehensive resource that allows educators, researchers, and institutions to teach and learn, understand research methods, and make an impact in social and behavioral science.
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