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IADSR International Conference 2012 Post Conference Workshop Lahore, Pakistan 30 April 2012.

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Presentation on theme: "IADSR International Conference 2012 Post Conference Workshop Lahore, Pakistan 30 April 2012."— Presentation transcript:

1 IADSR International Conference 2012 Post Conference Workshop Lahore, Pakistan 30 April 2012

2 All About Writing Theses and Dissertations Barbara Gastel, MD, MPH AuthorAID at INASP ( and Texas A&M University

3 A Note on Terminology At least in some places in the United States: –Strictly speaking, a thesis is for a master’s degree and a dissertation is for a doctoral degree. –Often, however, the terms are used interchangeably. In this workshop, thesis often will be used to mean both thesis and dissertation. In general, a thesis and dissertation are similar but a dissertation is based on more extensive research and is longer.

4 Another Note on Terminology “Doing a thesis” generally means both –doing the research for a thesis –writing and revising the thesis “Writing a thesis” generally refers to only the writing and revising.

5 Overview Reasons to do a thesis Constituting your advisory committee Choosing your topic Preparing a thesis proposal Writing and revising a thesis Defending a thesis Preparing publications based on a thesis

6 Along the Way Open discussion Small-group work

7 Note Requirements for theses and dissertations often vary among universities or even within the same university. I will present a general view, based mainly on my experience in the United States. Please adapt what is said to suit your situation.

8 Preliminary Questions Experience –Have you written a thesis or dissertation? –Are you writing a thesis or dissertation? –Have you supervised a thesis or dissertation? Materials—did you bring any of these? –Guidelines –Proposals –Drafts –Other

9 Now let’s get started!

10 Reasons to Do a Thesis

11 Mini Exercise In your small group, come up with a list of reasons to do a thesis. If possible, list some reasons not to do a thesis, at least at present. Be ready to present items from the lists.

12 Some Reasons to Do a Thesis To gain an advanced academic degree (for career advancement, prestige, or other reasons) To develop skill in doing research To see whether one likes doing research To develop skill in writing about research To become versed in the literature in one’s field To become a more informed user of research Other

13 Some Reasons Not to Do a Thesis (at least now) Interest mainly in areas other than research Lack of aptitude for research Higher-priority uses of time Unavailability of suitable degree programs Unavailability of suitable guidance Other

14 Constituting Your Advisory Committee

15 Advisory Committee for a Graduate Student Typically consists of a few faculty members (professors) in the student’s area of study and related areas Has a chair, who serves as the student’s main advisor Functions include –Evaluating plans for the thesis research –Guiding the student –Evaluating the thesis and conducting the defense

16 Mini Exercise In your small group, consider the following scenario: “A graduate student is at a university where students suggest faculty members to serve on their advisory committees. What advice do you have on deciding whom to invite?” Be ready to present your advice.

17 Constituting Your Committee: Some Tips Choose a chair –Whom you know and respect –Who is doing research related to what you want to do –Who has the knowledge to guide you –Who will have enough time to guide you –Who seems to like working with students –Who is a good role model –Other

18 Tips (cont) Before approaching other potential committee members, consult the chair. –Request suggestions of possible members. –Request feedback on potential members you’re thinking of. Try to include members who can advise you on different aspects of your thesis work (for example, study design, data analysis, writing).

19 Tips (cont) Try to avoid including members who have conflicts with each other. Throughout the thesis process, stay in touch regularly with your committee members. Other

20 Choosing Your Topic

21 Mini Exercise In your small group, discuss the following: What are the characteristics of a good thesis topic? Come up with a list, and be ready to share items from it with the full group.

22 Some Characteristics of a Good Thesis Topic Greatly interests the person doing the thesis –Otherwise, too hard to stay motivated –One should be truly enthusiastic about the topic Is of interest and importance to others in the field Is likely to result in publishable work Is large enough to be meaningful Is small enough to be doable Other

23 Preliminaries Before proposing a thesis topic, review the literature relating to it. Doing so can help you to –Identify unanswered research questions –See methods used –Otherwise develop context for your research

24 Refining Thesis Topics Often the topics first proposed are too big. Don’t worry if it takes a lot of work to refine your thesis topic. That’s common, and the time spent refining a thesis topic is a good investment. Work with your advisory committee, and especially your chair, to refine your thesis topic. In particular, come up with good research questions—for they are the foundation for a good thesis.

25 Preparing a Thesis Proposal

26 Thesis Proposal Says, and justifies, what you want to do as your thesis research Requirements vary Commonly –Provides context via a literature review –States the research questions or hypotheses –Proposes methods –Includes a reference list

27 Mini Exercise In your small group, list reasons that preparing a thesis proposal before doing the thesis research is worthwhile. If anyone in the group has brought a thesis proposal, see what types of content it includes. Note strengths, and identify improvements to consider. Be ready to report to the full group.

28 Benefits of Writing a Thesis Proposal Helps ensure that the research is planned thoroughly Allows feedback before doing the research Helps ensure that committee members have consistent expectations Serves as a first step in drafting the thesis Provides practice in writing proposals Other

29 Proposal: A Piece of Persuasive Writing Your thesis proposal should persuade your committee that –Your topic is good. –Your methods are suitable. –You are prepared to embark on the research. Therefore the proposal should not only state but also justify. For example, it should state reasons for aspects of the research design.

30 Doing the Research (selected aspects)

31 Doing the Research: Selected Aspects Stay in close touch with your committee. –Perhaps meet regularly with your chair and periodically with the committee as a whole. –Avoid the temptation to avoid your committee if the research is going badly. Instead, seek the committee’s advice. –If changes in your research plan seem necessary, consult your committee.

32 Doing the Research (cont) While doing the research: –Write down ideas that occur to you for items to say in the thesis. –Start drafting the parts for which you already have the information (for example, literature review, methods).

33 Writing and Revising a Thesis

34 Mini Exercise: Writing the Thesis If group members brought instructions for doing theses, note some topics that the instructions address. Perhaps note some details of interest. If anyone brought a thesis or draft of a thesis (or can access one electronically), note parts of the thesis. Be ready to present observations to the full group.

35 Typical Structure of a Thesis Front matter—for example: –Title page –Abstract –Table of contents Core: chapters [see next slides] Back matter—for example: –References –Appendixes

36 The Core of a Traditional Thesis: An Example of a Structure Introduction –(The introduction may incorporate the literature review, or there may be a separate literature-review section.) Methods Results Discussion –(The discussion may incorporate conclusions, or there may be a conclusions section too.)

37 This traditional structure resembles the IMRAD structure for scientific papers. However, the sections are longer and more detailed. If desired, later we can say more about the content and crafting of the sections.

38 The Core of a “Multi-Article Thesis”: An Example of a Structure General introductory material –Provides background for the set of articles –Helps show how the articles fit together Published or accepted journal articles based on the thesis research General concluding material –Helps unify the thesis research –Helps show how it relates to the bigger picture

39 The Thesis-Writing Process

40 Establishing the Mindset Don’t view writing a thesis as a hurdle to overcome. Rather, view it as preparation for writing throughout your career. Include on your committee (or have as a mentor) a faculty member with particular skill, interest, and success in writing. Realize that people reading your thesis want you to do well.

41 Establishing the Mindset (cont) See structuring your thesis as a problem with various reasonable solutions. Likewise, see organizing or wording the parts as problems with various reasonable solutions. Remember that you are writing to communicate, not to impress.

42 Preparing to Write Find and analyze some good theses in your field. Use them as models. –Tip: Ask your committee chair to note some. Obtain relevant instructions, and extract key points from them. Examples: –The thesis instructions at your university –The instructions to authors if you are writing in the style of a specific journal –An appropriate style manual

43 Preparing to Write (cont) When ideas occur to you while gathering information, put them in files corresponding to sections of your thesis. Do lots of “pre-writing”. For example, gather all the information for a given section, and organize it carefully. Realize that sometimes things need to “percolate” for a while before you are ready to write.

44 Drafting the Thesis Make writing a part of your schedule or routine. Break the task into manageable parts. –Writing a 100-page thesis may seem daunting. –But writing a 2-page section probably seems feasible. As noted, start drafting parts of your thesis while still gathering data.

45 Drafting the Thesis (cont) Consider starting with whatever part you find easiest. Rather than getting bogged down searching for small details, leave blanks and fill them in later. If you need to stop, perhaps do so within a passage rather than at a “logical stopping place”; that way, you’ll have more momentum when you return.

46 Drafting the Thesis: A Note For drafting some parts of the thesis, you may be able to use parts of your thesis proposal as starting points. However, remember to make necessary changes. For example, whereas the methods section of a proposal is in future tense, the methods section of a thesis should be in past tense.

47 Revising the Thesis Remember: You don’t have to be an excellent writer. You just have to be a competent rewriter. Realize that revising is an integral part of doing a thesis. –To achieve its potential, a thesis generally needs several rounds of revision. –Doing the revisions is part of the learning process.

48 Revising the Thesis (cont) In revising, strive to make your writing –Clear –Correct –Concise –Consistent Show drafts to several people, including your committee members. Then revise some more. But don’t revise forever. No piece of writing is perfect. Be satisfied with mere excellence.

49 A Note on Thesis Format Increasingly, universities are allowing or requiring theses to be in electronic format (for example, as PDF files). Often, electronic theses can contain items difficult or impossible to include in paper theses—for example –Color illustrations –Video clips –Sound recordings

50 Defending a Thesis

51 Thesis Defense Thesis defense: an oral presentation on the thesis research, followed by questions and answers The questions commonly regard the thesis work and more generally the student’s graduate work. Sometimes the presentation and initial discussion are open to all interested. The final questioning commonly is open only to the student’s committee.

52 Mini Exercise In your small group, identify and list some purposes of having a thesis defense. Be ready to present to the full group some items on the list.

53 Some Functions of a Defense To show that the student can give a good academic presentation, as would be expected of someone with an advanced degree To give the student practice in presenting To probe the student’s depth of understanding To help consolidate the student’s graduate learning To help bring the thesis process to closure Other

54 What advice do you have for preparing for and undergoing a thesis defense?

55 Some Tips on Preparing for and Undergoing a Defense Follow guidelines for preparing and giving presentations. (See earlier workshop.) Review material from throughout your graduate studies. Think about how it fits together and how it relates to your thesis and future goals. Know that you might not be expected to answer all the questions well. Sometimes committee members keep probing to see the depth of your knowledge. After a successful defense, celebrate!

56 Preparing Publications Based on a Thesis

57 A Note on Wording One does not “publish a thesis” or “publish a dissertation”. Rather, one publishes one or more articles (or, in some fields, a book) based on the research for a thesis or dissertation. As noted, sometimes a set of articles based on the research can serve as the core of a thesis or dissertation.

58 Mini Exercise In your small group, compare and contrast –The purpose(s) of a thesis –The purpose(s) of a journal article based on thesis research Note some implications for writing a journal article based on thesis research. Be ready to present some of your points to the full group.

59 A Comparison Thesis Intended in part to show that the student –Has obtained a thorough knowledge of the field –Has done a thorough job of research and analysis Therefore contains a lot of detail, including items that are new to the student but not new to readers Journal Article Intended mainly to present findings that are new and interesting to readers Thus, should focus on what’s new Therefore much shorter and more focused than a thesis

60 From Thesis to Publication: Some Tips Realize that thesis material is likely to need considerable reworking to be publishable. Promptly write one or more papers based on your thesis research. The longer you wait, the harder it generally is—and the less timely the paper(s) will be. Consider first presenting your paper at a conference if you haven’t yet done so.

61 Tips (cont) Seek publication in journals that publish lots of good work in your field. –From doing the literature review for your thesis, you should know these journals. Obtain and follow instructions to authors. Make good use of peer reviewers’ and editors’ suggestions.

62 Tips (cont) Know that everyone’s work sometimes is rejected. If one journal doesn’t accept your paper, try another. In doing future research, and in writing future papers, apply what you learned in doing and publishing your thesis research.

63 Note: For more about writing journal articles, see tomorrow’s workshop.

64 General Discussion

65 Closing Items

66 Thank you!

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