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The Roadmap to Writing your Thesis

The Roadmap to Writing your Thesis

Most students are quite overwhelmed at the idea that they are tasked to write a hundred or more pages for the thesis or dissertation component for their course. And many do not know where to start. What should the chapter outlines be? What kind of content should be on those chapters?

This article is intended to provide you with a simple, yet practical roadmap to getting your thesis document started.  The bullet points below should serve as a strong guideline and give you a solid start but bear in mind that there is a lot more to it than that.

It is imperative that right from the beginning you understand your institution’s technical requirements for the actual thesis document: title page layout, margins, font, line spacing, tables and figures descriptions, format of front page, format of table of contents and any other technical aspects that you need to know.

Spend the time you need to get your thesis document set up in your word processor in the correct format and back it up.  You now have your working document and you can start populating it with your own work.

With minor differences, your thesis will follow this basic format.  


  • Title page
  • Declaration
  • Acknowledgements
  • Abstract

The abstract is a very tight summary and it will be the first substantive description of your work read by an external examiner. Therefore, it must represent all the elements of your work in a highly condensed manner. It is not an introduction. 

  • List of tables
  • List of figures
  • List of acronyms and abbreviations



  • Describes the background for your chosen topic.
  • Highlights your research topic and question and describes your aims and objective.
  • Describes the purpose and benefits of the study.


  • Confirm your keywords/constructs – this determines your search criteria.
  • Know your supervisor’s expectations in terms of your LR.
  • Know when to stop reading and start writing.
  • Keep an efficient article storage system for easy access later on.
  • As you read, begin the writing process, add snippets from your readings with the correct references and populate your literature review.
  • Use simple tools to put connections and comparisons out where you can see them. I highly recommend you read They say, I say book to learn how to achieve this. 
  • [insert pot of gold video]
  • Organize your sources in a way that makes it drop-dead easy to write a strong review, and to do this I recommend that you make use of software which is readily available such as Mendeley or Refworks.

READ: 8 Technical tools to help you kick thesis writing butt


    • Describe the background and design.
    • Discuss the explicit data collection and data analysis process you used.
    • Decide on data analysis software, if any.
    • Explain your ethical procedures.
    • Confirm your methodological fit with your supervisor.


  • Summary of your study.
  • Conclusions you found.
  • Contributions and limitations.
  • Recommendations for further research.


  • Connect all the dots.



  • Reference List
  • Appendices as referred to in text



If you see the writing of your thesis as a learning curve and not something you need to excel at on the first try, you’ll find that you are more receptive to advice. Not only that, you’ll see criticism as valuable feedback to help you make changes to get it right.  Don’t forget to ask for help. Read more about mindset here.

Get excited about submitting your thesis– it should be an intellectual challenge and not a horror story.