Writing A Master’s Thesis: Tips On Finding A Topic, Structuring And Working Out

At the end of your master’s degree, you should write a scientific paper. In it, you will independently work on a question using scientific methods. So much for the theory. But what does the practice look like? The writing a master’s thesis is little tricky. If you follow a few tips, you can successfully complete your master’s thesis.

Finding a topic for the master’s thesis

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The master’s thesis does not only differ from the bachelor’s thesis in terms of scope . There are also differences to be taken into account when it comes to finding a topic.

Your topic should be able to be integrated into the professional world. The master’s thesis should therefore answer a research-relevant question. In doing so, you show that you are familiar with the current research discourse. To do this, you should make your scientifically justified statement that does not duplicate previous work. Therefore, to find the topic of your master’s thesis, do not just read standard works, but also find out about current trends and work.

Scientifically compatible, also for the dissertation

While the bachelor thesis has a rather closed question on the topic, the master thesis sometimes goes beyond itself: It can serve as a scientifically connectable preparatory work for the doctoral thesis. Therefore, you should choose the topic and question in such a way that you could expand it to a dissertation.

In some subjects it is only possible to work on an empirical topic in the master’s thesis, i.e. to collect data and build your hypothesis on it. This usually leads to an extension of the processing time that the examination office allows you.

The master’s thesis as an applicatio

The master’s thesis as a door opener to your dream job

Even if you don’t want to stay at the university: where you want to go after your master’s can be an orientation for finding a topic. If you would like to go in a certain direction professionally or have a special industry in mind, it could be useful for later applications if you have already dealt with it scientifically. While doing your research, you might make useful contacts. Your subject-related knowledge may also later be a unique selling point on the job market.

Stay curious about the topic of your master’s thesis. Discuss it with others, attend events outside of the university that deal with your area of ​​interest. Check out websites and check publications for new articles. If necessary, subscribe to news feeds for your literature search on the website of your university library.

Choose a supervisor and narrow down the topic

First, find out basic information about the topic of your master’s thesis using reference works. Here you may find references to standard works on your area of ​​interest. Research in parallel, but in other ways, to ensure that you have current work at hand.

Find a supervisor who is familiar with the subject area by researching their research areas on the internet. Make your interest clear by going to the consultation hour prepared and informed. Prepare a preliminary bibliography and have already read basic texts. This also makes the conversation more productive for you because you can ask more specific questions.

Narrow down your topic by asking a specific question. The question is, so to speak, your tool with which you develop subject areas and scientific texts. The so-called “three-step technique” by Kate L. Turabian (2007) can help to develop a question from your topic.

Then ask specific questions for the titles that relate to your question. Follow this principle both when researching, to decide whether you need a title or not, and when reading the texts themselves.

Structure of the master’s thesis

Building on the question, you can structure your master’s thesis. Divide your main question into small sub-questions that you plan to answer in the text. Divide the answers in turn into theses, which you justify with your findings and text passages.

Based on the knowledge you already have about the topic, you can develop an argumentation structure with which you can support your working hypothesis. In the end, there has to be a common thread running through all the work that leads to a result. The common thread makes the result understandable for the reader.

Organize knowledge using visualization and clustering

Organize your knowledge by using visualization techniques such as “clustering” or mind maps. Write key statements behind which you note the literature that support your theses or that are important for this part. Number the cluster or mind map groups that appear to belong together. You can then break down the cluster groups in a linear order that is required in the outline.

Use literature organization programs to organize literature references according to bullet points. You can also connect article files and access links directly to it. Depending on the program, this will help you to sort your notes and excerpts and to find them again using the search function.

If you prefer to argue in writing, there is also the option of writing a draft and deriving an outline for your master’s thesis from it.

When formulating headings, think about the best way for a reader in a hurry to get to the right passage. Have someone unfamiliar with the subject proofread your drafts.

One paragraph, one function

Ask yourself which function a certain paragraph takes on in the overall text of the master’s thesis. It should only contain one topic or argument. Break the paragraph down into a summarizing “topic sentence” and the rest to explain it. As a role model, look at the subdivision of text sections in recognized specialist journals. For each paragraph, ask yourself what function it fulfills.

Think about how many pages you need for which part. This can help you keep track of the effort for all of the work.

If you notice in the course of your work that certain aspects are much more important and your reasoning changes, adjust the structure.

Use flowcharts to graphically visualize your line of argument. One argument is written down in successive fields connected by arrows. This can also serve to illustrate the reasoning in the work itself.

Writing a masters thesis

Elaboration of the master’s thesis

As you write, keep a research journal in which you write down thoughts, goals, progress and ideas away from the scientific text. This motivates and helps you to deal with your text and your research again on a higher level and to work in a more result-oriented manner. The meta-reflection helps identify dead ends and unnecessary hard work. But it can also be very motivating. Science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler wrote in her notebook: “My book will be read by millions of people!”

Create a schedule for your master’s thesis that you use the structure as a guide. Set smaller interim goals and work towards achieving them. Think of rewards for achieving these goals.

Looking for a writing partner, trying out writing times

Try different writing times and see when you can concentrate well. Once you have found these, set your schedule so that you always write at these times if possible.

Find writing partners with whom you meet to work, but don’t let others dissuade you from your work rhythm when things are going well.

First write the main part, then the introduction, then the conclusion.

Master’s thesis: This belongs in the introduction, main part, and conclusion

In the introduction to  the master’s thesis, you present the problem, the current state of research regarding the problem, the methods you will use and your research interests.

Basically define all central terms, which you will complete in the course of the work. Make sure that you don’t leave out anything that is important to the topic. However, do not raise any questions that are not answered in the course of your work.

The main part of  the master’s thesis includes the reasoning that proves your working hypothesis. Every part of the job should help. What does not serve this purpose is thrown out. Each thesis must be accompanied by research literature, quotes from primary texts or collected data and thus justified. With this you underpin your objective judgment.

On  the one hand, the conclusion of the master’s thesis serves as a summarizing review. Then you get a result from the argument. Put this in relation to what you formulated as a working hypothesis in the introduction and finally embed it in the thematically relevant research context. To what extent is the contribution you make with the help of your work relevant to current research? Here is also the opportunity for an outlook, in case the research result has raised new questions.

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Pay attention to the correct presentation of the data

In empirical work such as the master’s thesis, it is important to divide the presentation of the data from their interpretation and discussion, ideally by dividing them into different sections or chapters.

If you use illustrations in the appendix to the master’s thesis to graphically substantiate the evaluation of your results, label them first. With the figure captions, you should directly state what you want to make clear. After the figures, tables and graphics have been compiled, the results should be explained using texts. The results should be presented without literature references. They will only be discussed in the following discussion chapter.

The discussion chapter can be divided into a discussion of methods and results. State possible weaknesses of the chosen methods or whether different results would have been achieved with other methods. If this has already happened in other studies, state these.

When writing the main part, introduction and conclusion of the master’s thesis, it can be helpful to delimit two different readers. While the main part is written for the knowledgeable readership, in the introduction and conclusion you inform non-specialist interested parties about your work and its results.

Don’t forget to comment on the literature cited. Objectively distance yourself from the statements made therein. This also includes clarifying and classifying technical terms. Explain who shaped them and in which theoretical and historical context they were created.

And finally: have your work proofread. Make fixed appointments for this.