When I officially started the processing period of my Master’s thesis, I soon thought the six months ahead of me were so intangible and unstructured that I tried to set up a schedule. As I couldn’t find a sufficient tool online, I decided to create one myself. In this blog post, I try to put together all the To-Do’s, not only for the writing process, but for the whole working time. At the end, you can moreover find a self-made printable with all the To-Do’s and time estimates.
As a little life update, I officially started the processing period of my Master’s thesis, which will take six months. Beforehand, I already did some research to define my topic, but soon after, I made a schedule with To-Do’s and time estimates. This schedule isn’t meant to be the only way how to schedule the processing period of your thesis, but I wanted to show how I did it to give some reference I myself couldn’t find anywhere when I searched for it on the internet.
This instruction is intended for Master’s theses, but with a little alteration it might also be usable for Bachelor’s theses. The schedule might need some alterations anyways, as the schedule I outlined is directed towards an empirical, quantitative research thesis. Moreover, the processing period at my university is six months. So the printable I offer might need some adjustments to your own requirements.
First Steps: External Deadlines
The first and most important step is to find out and mark the external deadlines to your calendar. These external deadlines depend on your university and your supervisor, of course. The institution’s department where I write my Master’s only requires the presentation and the thesis itself, but I want to give some — hopefully helpful — tipps on the two other kinds of deadlines as well.
Some departments require an exposé of your thesis. Most of the time, the exposé consists of a teaser to your topic or why you picked it, the theoretical background and your idea and outline for your empirical research. As you can see, the components of the exposé equal the components of the first chapter(s) of your thesis. Even though it needs a lot of work in the beginning, you might use your exposé for the first chapter(s) of your thesis later, or at least use it to shape the direction and reasoning for your research.
My department requires a presentation of the status quo of the thesis. In my case, I want to hand in the presentation when I finished my literature research and set up the methodological approach. When you get feedback on your presentation by your peers, keep in mind that some feedback might be helpful, but you’re in no way obliged to implement all the feedback given. The presentation is a short insight into the work you’ve done so far. Even if your peers mean well, they might make proposals you already sorted out in a process of exclusion during your literature and methodology approaches.
The most important deadline is, of course, the deadline of your thesis itself. When I handed in my Bachelor’s thesis on the same day of the deadline, I promised myself to do better next time. Almost all schedules for scientific papers recommend to have some time buffers in the end (e.g. Dahinden et al., 2014). Moreover, I consider to have my thesis professionally proof-read this time. Therefore, I planned to finish the writing process of my thesis a few weeks before the thesis deadline.
Another tipp that I offer is to start writing in the right format from the first moment. Nothing is more disappointing than having to shorten your thesis because you didn’t use the right font or spacing. Moreover, it might drive you crazy to format your thesis last minute in case you’re close to your deadline. Look up which fonts, spacings and bindings are preferred by your institution.
While some departments require a thesis defense, it is again no requirement at the department where I write my Master’s. Nevertheless, I want to give some advice I learned when talking to friends who had to defend their theses. The thesis defense will take place after you handed in your thesis, and while you’re preparing, make sure to check with your supervisor whether presenation cards are permitted or not. For sure, you wouldn’t want to stand in front of your supervisor(s) with presentation cards and them telling you you’re not allowed to use them.
Another tipp is to bring a printed version of your thesis, in case you’re allowed, and look up the pages where you’ve written important arguements. I would especially recommend to write down the number of the pages where you wrote down arguements you cannot tell during the presentation due to time shortage. During the Q&A session, you can then easily point to the page where you wrote down what your supervisor(s) think you forgot to implement.
Part One: Processing Period until the Research Phase
For me, the go-to advice on how to line out a schedule for working on my thesis was to divide the processing period into two sections: Before and after the field phase. As mentioned before, I will do empirical, quantitative research, where my supervisor advised to have finished the field phase by the middle of the processing period. For qualitative research theses, you should have finished the coding or transcription of your material by the middle of your processing period.
As some literature research and reading basic literature takes place before you register your topic, the remaining To-Do’s for part one include:
- set up the document
- draft the chapter outline
- brainstorming and iterative writing on your topic
- prepare literature excerpts
- research the current state of research on your topic
- start writing the theory chapter
- formulate hypotheses
- start writing the methodology chapter
- create the survey or data collection instrument (codebook, codesheet)
- create your presentation (where applies)
- get and implement feedback
- program your survey or data collection instrument
- implement feedback from the pretest
- start the field phase
Part Two: Processing Period after the Research Phase
I plan to have a field phase of about four weeks where I will repeatedly spread the link to my online survey via the internet. During this field phase, you can also already start to program the syntax of the statistics software you will later use for the data analysis (e.g. R or SPSS). As it is seldomly mentioned in statistics manuals, keep in mind that it is important to plan in some time to do the data screening, even though it won’t appear in your thesis in written form.
After finishing up the field phase, the To-Do’s for part two include:
- finish programming your statistics software (syntax)
- data screening
- data analysis
- start writing the results chapter
- start writing the discussion chapter
- finish up the writing process on all chapters
- (professional) proofreading and perusal
- implement feedback
- print, bind, and hand in the thesis
Last but not least, I prepared two printables for anyone to fill out by themselves. In case adjustment is needed, I hope the step-by-step guide helps nevertheless. Good luck with your thesis, and please let me (and other readers) know in the comments if I forgot an important To-Do!
Last but not least: One of my friends studies psychology and threw in that you should reward yourself with smaller or bigger treats along the way or when you reached a certain mile stone! It hopefully keeps up your motivation and helps you get through this! If you’re interested in my Master’s thesis writing procedure, you can follow me on Instagram where I try to share updates and motivation.
- Dahinden, U.; Sturzenegger, S.; Neuroni, A. C. (2014). Wissenschaftliches Arbeiten in der Kommunikationswissenschaft. Haupt, Bern: UTB.