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How to make the Master’s Thesis Project process a success

There is no universal solution to an optimal thesis process. It depends on how you work, your chosen subject area and whether you work alone or as part of a group. However, you should consider how you want to approach the process. Below you’ll find good advice and inspiration that, hopefully, will get you off to a good start:

A quick and precise identification of a subject area is vital to an effective thesis process. But how do you identify the right subject area?  You may get inspiration for your subject area in various places – find some of them in the list below:

  • Get inspiration from the literature you have read during your course of study – what did you find the most exciting or interesting? And what would you have liked to delve into, if you had had the chance?
  • Visit SDU jobbank (Choose ’Studieprojekter’) and find bulletins from businesses and organizations that are looking for students to help shed light on a certain area or problem. If you find a subject area, remember to take into consideration if it is relevant to your professional profile and whether it will be possible to work with in an academic context.
  • Get inspiration by looking at thesis projects from SDU and other universities – you may e.g. borrow thesis projects at SDU's library.
  • Consider what your interests might be after the thesis project. Perhaps it’ll be possible to write the thesis project in cooperation with a business or organization that matches your future career plans – both when it comes to sector, tasks or a certain discipline.

Having identified your subject area, the next step is to draw up the project description. The project description is a short presentation with important information about your subject or the empirical research you are going to do. It must also list the theories and methods that you intend to apply. In other words, it forces you to find the focus of your thesis project and to make important choices about theory, methodology and perhaps empiricism.

What is my subject = what’s missing?
When you draw up your project description, it may be a good idea to ask yourself: what’s missing? You see, your project description must be addressing a shortcoming or an intellectual curiosity. It may be a description, categorization, assessment, qualification, interpretation or documentation that’s missing.

How to work with your project description
On the Studypedia you’ll find good advice on how to draw up a good project description. However, keep in mind that the early project description is only indicative – it may be adjusted up till the day you submit the thesis. As long as you bear in mind that your conclusion must answer your research question(s) – i.e. it must be meaningful to read the project description and the conclusion without having read the text in between.

Good habits and routines are essential for experiencing a good thesis process and thus avoiding developing a guilty conscience and stress.  Work to create good habits and settings from the get go by considering how and when you work best.

Below we have listed some good routines that other students have found very useful during their thesis project process.

1. Make a project timeline with objectives
Plan the entire thesis project process by making a project timeline with objectives for your own personal use alongside the working plan which is part of your project description. Drawing up objectives requires that you clarify what overall parts you divide the thesis project into: preliminary preparations, literature searching, reading, data collection, analysis, writing, feedback, proofreading and so on.

Having done that, you need to think the process through backwards and ask yourself: If I must submit my thesis on June 1st, when do I need to have e.g. my proofreading, my analysis ready? And continue until you have worked out an overall timeline.

Weekly objectives
The process of dividing the timeline into objectives also requires dividing the main tasks into smaller parts. Ask yourself e.g.: If I must begin my analysis in April, when do I need to have my interviews ready? Continue dividing the main tasks into objectives until you have a concrete objective for approximately each week.

Try to be as concrete as possible, to make sure that it is possible for you to know when each task is completed. It's more motivating to have clear smaller objectives than a large objective lying e.g. 4 months in the future.

 2. Highlight your progress and celebrate your successes

When you have defined clear, concrete objectives you can use them to highlight your progress throughout the thesis process. By focusing on your progress you can achieve a sense of accomplishment, thereby improving and strengthening your own effort to reach your goals.

Highlight your thesis progress e.g. by writing your concrete tasks on post-its. One task for each post-it, that you hang on a wall, put on your desk or somewhere similar. You can then remove or curl up your post-its as you complete each task. Using this method will give you a sense that you have achieved something, combined with the fact that your process will be more visible. 

Another method is to use a log book, where you can reflect on and track your process, e.g. what did I do today? What am I doing tomorrow? What is going well? What am I having doubts about? In doing this it will become clear how you are progressing in the process. 

And remember to celebrate your successes and your pile of post-its by doing something good for yourself or doing activities you care about, e.g. coffee with Jonas, a trip to the movie theatre or going for a run. By celebrating your successes you create a positive working environment, that will help push you forward one step at a time.

3. A weekly timetable for thesis, work and leisure
Another practical exercise could be to every Sunday evening draw up a timetable for the following week, dividing your time into time devoted to the thesis, leisure and e.g. work, if you have a student job. The advantage of having a timetable is motivation, because you know exactly when to work on your thesis and when you can do other things. It also ensures that when you spend time on other activities, you can do it with a good conscience.

4. Find a good setting for working on your thesis
It may be a good idea to work on your thesis away from home. That way your time is divided into time working with the thesis and leisure time. Being away from your private sphere where you perhaps both eat, hang out and sleep, could make it easier for you to manage your time working on the thesis. The study area may be somewhere on SDU, e.g. a group study area or a silent study seat at the library or in a reading room. It may also be outside of SDU, e.g. your local library or at the business or organization that you cooperate with on your thesis.

5. Clear your mental desk and avoid procrastination
It's impossible to concentrate, when you mental desk is messy: 'buy a gift for mom', 'trade the shift at work', 'call Line'. Therefore it's a good idea to park that mental noise. And a genius place to park it is on a to-do list. When you have written everything down your brain will have the feeling that you have taken care of it and you will be able to focus better.

It's a good idea to remove potential triggers of procrastination that might disturb you. I may be that you put your phone away. Different studies show that after a disturbance, e.g. a text or snapchat, it can take up to 15 minutes to return to your work and continue where you left off.

If you have a hard time putting your phone or social media away when you're working on your thesis, try the app Forrest to keep focused. Trees grow on your screen until a whole forest emerges if you can keep your focus.

6. Face the challenges!
If you find yourself faced with challenges during the thesis process, act on them straight away and talk to someone who may help you. Once you get trapped in a vicious cycle, it is very difficult to break it.

Get ideas on what to do, if you get stuck in the thesis project process.
And check the General Student Counselling's offer of individual thesis project coaching.

There are many ways to get help during the thesis project process:

  • Your thesis project supervisor
    Get academic supervision and guidance concerning your thesis project – be it identifying or defining the subject area, the research question, empirical data, theories and methods, or your thesis project’s structure. Read more on how to use your supervisor under Stage 3 on the page about the Stages of the Mster's Thesis Project.
  • The Studypedia
    Get good advice on how to write an academic paper – such as defining a subject, literature search and how to organize the writing process.
    Visit Studypedia.
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Last Updated 09.11.2023