So you’re writing a thesis…

Because this blog deals with all matters pertaining to writing, I’m sharing the following piece with any graduate students out there who could use a little encouragement in the thesis-writing process.
~ Mark Tucker

No one said writing a thesis is easy, and it’s not. After all, you’ve never done this before. So it’s natural to have questions or even doubts about the process. Consider the following points of advice …

Write and rewrite.
Don’t obsess over all the rules on “thesis writing.” Good writing is good writing and, most of all, it depends on good ideas. Granted, even good ideas must be packaged and polished – this is the writing process. Craft your prose into coherent, readable sentences. Be picky when it comes to wording and phrasing. I like to use strong verbs and active voice when possible. I try to avoid vague words like it, this and there to start sentences. If I must use technical terms, I explain them and provide a citation. Remember that developing a final draft is going to take time – several drafts may be necessary. This is normal, so don’t get discouraged.

Wash your car!
Good writing elevates me. Whether from the New York Times, Sports Illustrated or even a creative e-mail, good writing momentarily whisks me away from my routine daily chores – like charging from dead stop in a powerful muscle car…. Sadly, we must acknowledge that your master’s thesis is neither Mustang nor Maserati. Maybe it’s more like your grandfather’s 1965 Cadillac – big, slow and hard to maneuver. So what? It’s your Cadillac! Air up the tires! Shine up the chrome! Fuss over the tailfins! (Lose the fuzzy dice, though.) Take pride in your wheels – they’re yours and no one else’s! Your thesis can (and must!) sparkle with creative ideas, read well and make a compelling, compassionate case for your study. It can stir imagination – don’t let stuffy “thesis writing experts” tell you it can’t.

Take control.
Even the most capable professionals can become overwhelmed during the writing of a thesis. You may well be developing a literature review, applying theory, and wrestling with methodological details while you are writing. Multi-tasking is one thing, but all this is really more than anyone can accomplish at once. I find it useful to break larger tasks into manageable “chunks.” Then, identify the steps needed to accomplish each chunk. Work with your advisor to develop realistic timelines. The process may at times be manic, but it can be managed if you take control. Lean on your graduate committee to help you. They want you to succeed, but it’s up to you to make the first move.

Demand an explanation.
Master’s theses in agricultural communication typically deal with human perceptions, behaviors and interactions – abstract and complex phenomena indeed! Social science methods are similarly complex, and require important decisions about the literature, theory and methods you will use in your research. As questions arise, ask them at once! We all may worry at times about showing our ignorance. In such cases, we should remember the advice that E.B. White offered to aspiring writers: “If you don’t know how to pronounce a word, say it loudly! Why compound ignorance with inaudibility?” Speak up, social scientists! Demand discussion on important decisions, and don’t leave till you get an answer that you understand.

Now, please, resume writing!


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