Many students who are facing the daunting task of writing a thesis or a dissertation immediately get stuck into doing the necessary research. This process can lead to hours and hours going down rabbit holes on the internet, ordering books from Amazon and collecting articles. You need to figure out when “enough is enough”. At last, the day will come when you finally feel ready to start putting the words down.
It is at this stage, when you must put bum-in-chair and write, that a whole new set of challenges may start derailing the writing process. In my experience, this is when you start losing hours like coins in a casino and begin to feel severe pressure.
You want to try and avoid these obstacles at all costs.
It is vital that you set yourself up for optimal productivity and success by acquiring and mastering the necessary tools to make the job of writing a top-notch academic paper a reality.
These are the 8 secret weapons for thesis writing success
You’ll be doing a lot of research as you write your thesis, so you want to make sure you’re not losing anything important in the process. Use a suitable online platform to collect and collate all your research so you can access it easily at any time. This makes referencing a whole lot easier: Mendeley / Refworks are two of the most well-known referencing platforms. There are arguments as to which is better but they both require proper tuition. If you are in South Africa, I suggest connecting with the Stellenbosch University PGSkills office to find out their offerings on these courses.
These systems allow you to store articles and books in an orderly fashion. They provide the functionality to call directly from storage into your thesis document for “in-text” references. And, they provide for automated creation of the “reference list” based on your in-text references. Very handy, considering the volume of referencing you’ll be doing.
Choose your referencing system as early as possible and become familiar with it. You could choose to reference manually but this will require discipline and an effective management.
2. Language and grammar
There is a difference between American and British English. Choose your dictionary according to your university requirements. If they don’t have a preference, you choose. They key is to be consistent e.g. the “z” versus “s” difference.
SpellCheckPlus and Grammarly come highly recommended to keep your grammar usage on point. And yes, after all that, you’ll still need an editor. Remember that editors are busy people and need contracting early on in the year. More about editing in point 6 below.
How do you want to present your findings? Informative and visually appealing graphics requires software and a certain level of competence. You may choose to do it yourself (could be time consuming and expensive) or you could outsource it to a web service such as Fiverr.com. Investigate your options. In this respect I lean towards working smart instead of hard. I’ve personally made use of Fiverr a few times and been happy with turnaround times, inexpensive pricing and results. Whatever you choose, make sure it doesn’t bite you right at the end.
4. Data Analysis
Once you’re clear on your methodology, consider all your data analysis options. Once again, you can opt to analyze it manually or use specific software. E.g. ATLAS.ti is software used to analyze qualitative data to arrange and manage your material in creative ways. More options here. According to one of my clients, ATLAS.ti is quite complicated initially but, on learning the process, is super effective.
Will you do it yourself or contract out? When working with qualitative data, the experts suggest that doing your own transcribing gives you, as the researcher, an opportunity to engage fully and deeply with the data. This is true, but considering the fact that transcription is a specialist job it could cost you more time than you have. Here, I have a personal recommendation. See below.
Select and contract with an editor early in the process, they get booked up fast! Keep in mind that it will take an editor 2-3 weeks to edit your thesis, depending on the page count. You must be precise about your expectations of them i.e. language, referencing, grammar, sentence structure, or whatever else you deem necessary based on what they offer. The best editors come from referrals, so ask people you know who have engaged an academic editor before.
7. Document formatting
This will be the bane of your existence unless you are a whizz at formatting and know all the ins and outs of Microsoft Office.
What are the university requirements for margins, font, line spacing, indexing style, table title requirements, etc.? While Microsoft Office might be the first option that comes to mind, you could opt for specialized software like LateX (free). One of the biggest advantages of using LateX is that you can concentrate on the writing and leave the formatting to Latex once you’ve set it up with your specs.
8. Plagiarism detection
Upon submission, learning institutions generally run academic papers, theses and dissertations through plagiarism software. As a measure of professionalism, you can add this step to your process by making use of plagiarism detection software yourself. Here are some free options available online.
You’ll need ethical clearance from your learning institution for any data collection. This is not an overnight process, so get to it as soon as possible. Make sure you understand the process and the systems properly. You will be unable to collect the data you need in your thesis before this is done.
While using tools are great, they definitely take time to learn. To speed up learning, instead of trial and error and ‘playing around’ with it, visit the application’s website for tutorials or look it up on YouTube.
Finally, don’t forget to be diligent about making reliable backups of your work. In the event that life happens and your laptop gets stolen or it crashes, make sure you’ve backed up everything to a cloud service as well as having a USB drive backup. Rather safe than sorry.
Do you have any technical tips? I’d love to hear them.