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The Mayfield Handbook of Technical & Scientific Writing
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Section 2.9.1

The Thesis-Writing Process

Thesis research and writing need to satisfy several different institutional expectations, so planning is important. Here are the main phases of the process:

  1. Finding a good advisor and research problem. One critical part of the thesis is the setup, wherein you find an advisor, identify a problem, work out a project plan, and have the plan accepted. The situation is helped considerably if you establish a connection with a potential advisor a year or so before you start on a thesis--by taking a course, working in a laboratory, or helping as a teaching assistant.
  2. Developing a plan. Planning can compensate for lack of research and writing experience. By identifying the tasks and working out a realistic schedule--using suggestions from your advisor--you can see how phases of the research process fit together and you can anticipate problems before they get out of control.
  3. Carrying out the research. Part of the time may be devoted to literature research as a way of getting a good grasp of the problem and your methodology. A big part of the research time, especially for less experienced students, will often be given to project design and setup. It may take two months to design, construct, and calibrate an apparatus and only two weeks to run the key experiments. Learning how to manipulate new instruments and statistical packages can take a great deal of time, so try to factor that into your initial plans.
  4. Writing. The writing aspect of research is easily underestimated. It takes place through the entire project, from the initial proposal, through the keeping of a laboratory notebook, to the initial and final drafts of the thesis itself. Writing is part of the conceptualizing and analysis of subject matter.
  5. Packaging. Packaging the thesis takes time. Normally, a format printed by your department will specify title page and other manuscript conventions. In addition, you need to fill out the required forms for filing the manuscript, pay any necessary fees, and submit the required number of copies.
  6. Defense. The thesis defense for undergraduate work is often an informal ten-to-twenty minute oral presentation of your results, followed by questions and answers on the research write-up. For a master's or a Ph.D. thesis, a committee reads the final manuscript and then meets with the candidate for a more extended oral presentation, followed by questions and answers. Thesis defense takes a chunk of time at the end of the term when time is short, so make plans for it.

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