2. Writing your Thesis

2.1 Introductions

2.2 More effective writing

2.3 Conclusions

2.2 More effective thesis writing

Paragraphs

As a general rule, stick to one paragraph per point or ‘unit of thought’. That doesn’t mean paragraphs should stand alone, however: the point that ends one paragraph should naturally lead into the first sentence of the next.

 

Keep your marker’s eyes in mind. If a single paragraph is taking over an entire page, it needs breaking up. There’s no uniform length for paragraphs, but between 200 and 300 words usually does the trick.

Self-referencing

 

A common question for students at all levels is whether to use ‘I’, ‘we’, ‘this thesis’, etc. 

For the most part, adopt a more formal tone unless you've been advised otherwise.

 

Definitely avoid using 'we': this makes the assumption that anyone and everyone would agree with what you're saying. (If that were the case, there'd be no universities to begin with.) 

 

Using ‘I’ is preferable, but restrict it to a handful of key sentences, especially those in which you’re trying to convey strong personal belief or involvement.

 

Using 'This essay will...' can be a good idea when it comes to signalling your argument, but if overused it tends to come across as unnecessary padding. Limit its use to once in your introduction and then leave it out.

Writing style

 

Write for an audience. Register is all-important in academic writing, so imagine an aware, attuned reader with whom you can share a lively discussion. 

 

Assume that your reader is familiar with the source material: you're bringing your own informed perspective to bear on theirs, not starting them at square one.

 

Keep your language clear and uncluttered. This goes for both vocabulary and sentence structure. Varying your line lengths will keep your reader engaged. Read your prose aloud to yourself and make sure it sounds right.

 

Stay away from jargon. Be precise and technical when needed, but remember the human being reading your thesis for the very first time.

 

Stick to the active voice wherever possible. (Quick refresh: in the active voice, the subject always performs the action, as opposed to being acted upon. So woman beats record, not record beaten by woman.) The active voice makes for clear, forceful prose, whereas the passive voice can often dilute the power of your arguments.

 

Writer's block

 

It's happened to all of us. The key is how quickly you recover.

 

Free-writing can be helpful, but often the best solution is a simple blast of oxygen to the brain. Go for a run, go to the gym, or take the dog for a walk.

 

It's not switching off, it's switching your mind onto something (and ideally one thing) that has nothing to do with your work. Often this is when the synapses fire again and the ideas flow.

Repetition

 

When deadlines are looming, it can be easy to fall into a rut with your written language. You might find yourself repeating the same words (especially adjectives, adverbs and conjunctions) and phrases over the course of your thesis.

A good way to break this cycle is to use some word-cloud software like TagCrowd to build your own illustration of your most commonly used words. Feed your draft text in, filter out the 'the's and the 'a's, and take a look at what comes out. You might find you've been overdoing your use of the word ‘However’ recently.

Next: Writing your conclusion

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