Write a master thesis: Tips for finding a topic, structure and elaboration

Write a master thesis: Tips for finding a topic, structure and elaboration

May 20, 2019

At the end of your master studies you should write a scientific paper. In it you work independently on a question using scientific methods. So far the theory. But what does the practice look like? If you follow some tips, you can successfully finish your master thesis.

Topic finding the master thesis

The master’s thesis is not only different in scope from the bachelor thesis. Also regarding the topic finding, differences are to be considered here.

Your topic should be integrable in the professional world. The master’s thesis should therefore answer a research-relevant question. You show that you are familiar with the current research discourse. You should make your scientifically justified statement that does not duplicate previous work. Therefore, to find your master’s thesis topic, do not just read standard works, but be smart about current tendencies and work.

Scientifically compatible, also for the dissertation

While the bachelor’s thesis has a rather closed question on the subject, the master’s thesis sometimes goes beyond itself: it can serve as a scientifically workable preparatory work for the doctoral thesis. Therefore, you should choose the topic and question so that you could extend it to a dissertation.

In some subjects, it is only possible in the Master’s thesis to work on an empirical topic, that is, to collect data and then build your hypothesis. This usually also leads to the extension of the processing period, which the Examination Office admits.

The master thesis as application

Even if you do not want to stay at the university: where to go after the master can be an orientation for finding a topic. If you want to work in a particular direction or have a specific industry in mind, you may find it useful for later job applications if you’ve already done some research on it. When researching you may already make useful contacts. Your subject-related knowledge may later be a unique selling point on the job market.

Stay curious about the topic of your Master’s thesis. Discuss with others, visit events outside the university, where your interest is concerned. Browse web pages and check publications for new articles. If applicable, subscribe to news feeds on your literature search on your university library page.

Select a supervisor and narrow down the topic

First, use basic reference works to find out about the topic of your Master’s thesis. Here you may find literature references to standard works to your area of ‚Äč‚Äčinterest. Research in parallel but in other ways to ensure that you have current work at hand.

Find a supervisor who knows the subject area by researching his research areas on the Internet. Make your interest clear by being prepared and informed in the consultation. Prepare a preliminary bibliography and have already read basic texts. So the conversation becomes more productive for you because you can ask more specific questions.

Limit your topic with a specific question. The question is, so to speak, your tool, with which you open up topic areas and scientific texts. To develop a question from your topic, for example, the so-called “three-step technique” by Kate L. Turabian (2007) can help.

Then ask specific questions to the titles that concern your question. Follow this principle both in research to decide whether you need a title or not, as well as in reading the texts themselves.

Outline of the master thesis

Based on the question you can create an outline of your master thesis. Share your main question in small sub-questions that you intend to answer in the text. Divide the answers into theses, which you justify with your findings and passages.

Based on the knowledge you already have about the topic, you can develop a reasoning structure to support your working hypothesis. Throughout the work, a common thread must be drawn at the end, which leads to a result. The common thread makes the result comprehensible to the reader.

Arrange knowledge by means of visualization and clustering

Arrange your knowledge using visualization techniques such as “clustering” or mindmaps. Write key messages behind which you note the literature that supports your theses or that are important to this part. Number the cluster or mindmap groups that seem to belong together. Then you can break the cluster groups down to a linear order that is required in the outline.

Use literature organization programs to organize bibliographical references into bullet points. You can also connect article files and access links directly with it. Depending on the program, this helps you to sort your notes and excerpts and find them again through 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.

Think about how to formulate headlines on how a hurried reader can best find the right passages. Have your designs read by someone unfamiliar with the subject.

A paragraph, a function

Ask yourself what function a particular paragraph takes on in the overall text of the master thesis. He should only contain one topic or argument. Divide the paragraph into a summary “topic sentence” and the rest explaining it. As an example, look at the subdivision of sections of text in recognized specialist journals. For each paragraph, ask yourself which function it fulfills.

Think about how many pages you need for which part. This can help you keep an eye on the workload.

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

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

Preparation of the master thesis

As you write, keep a research journal in which you write down thoughts, goals, advances and ideas away from the scientific text. This motivates and helps you to deal with your text and your research at a higher level and to work more result-oriented. The Metareflexion helps to detect dead ends and unnecessary diligence. It can also be very motivating. Science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler wrote in her notebook: “My book wants to be read by millions of people!”

Create a timetable for your master’s thesis, which you orientate on the outline. Set yourself smaller intermediate goals and work towards reaching them. Consider rewards once you reach those goals.

Find a writing partner, try writing times

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

Find writing partners to work with, but do not let others get you off work when things are going well.

Write first the main part, then the introduction, then the conclusion.

Master Thesis: That belongs in the introduction, main part, conclusion

In the introduction to the Master’s Thesis, you present the problem, the current state of research in the problem, the methods you will use, and your research interests.

Fundamentally define all the central concepts that you complete in the course of the work. Make sure you do not miss anything important to the topic. But do not raise questions that will not be answered in the course of your work.

The main part of the Master’s thesis includes the reasoning that supports your working hypothesis. Every part of the work should help. What does not fulfill this purpose flies out. Each thesis must be flanked and justified by research literature, quotes from primary texts or collected data. So you underpin your objective judgment.

The conclusion of the Master’s thesis serves on the one hand as a summary review. Then you win a result from the argument. Put this in relation to what you have formulated in the introduction as a working hypothesis and last embed it in the thematically relevant research context. To what extent is your contribution to your work relevant to current research? Here is also the opportunity for an outlook, in case the research results have raised new questions.

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 its interpretation and discussion, preferably by dividing it into sections or chapters.

If you use illustrations in the appendix of the master thesis to graphically evaluate the evaluation of your results, first label them. When capturing signatures, you should name what you want to clarify. After compiling the illustrations, tables and graphics, you should explain the results by means of texts. The results should be presented without references. They will be discussed in the next discussion chapter.

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

To write the main part, introduction and conclusion of master work, it may be helpful to distinguish two different readers. While the main part is written more for the expert readership, in the introduction and conclusion you inform non-specialists about your work and its results.

Do not forget to comment on the listed literature. Distance yourself objectively from the statements made in it. This also includes clarifying and classifying specialist terminology. Carry out who shaped them and in what theoretical and historical context they were created.

And finally: let your work read. Make sure appointments.