Posted by: Ken Brown | May 1, 2010

How Not to Write a Master’s Thesis

From someone who took four years to finish a two year master’s degree, some friendly advice:

  • Wait until you’ve finished coursework to think about topics.
  • Don’t ask anyone for suggestions.
  • Don’t follow up on your ideas from classes or your own reading.
  • Don’t read other master’s theses.
  • Don’t read published dissertations; you’re not a PhD student are you?
  • Don’t read anything at all until you’ve finished your own research.
  • Read everything ever written on every aspect of your subject, otherwise you might miss something vital.
  • Spend every waking moment on your thesis.
  • Only write when you feel especially brilliant and inspired.
  • Include every insight you’ve ever had in the final draft, no matter how irrelevant it might be.
  • Use the smallest font you have for the footnotes, and cram as much supplementary information in as you can.
  • Don’t write the conclusion until the last possible moment, so you know exactly what you want to say before trying to say it.
  • Write your conclusions first, and then go looking for data to back them up.
  • Make sure you know exactly what methodology you are going to use before you start, and stick to it no matter how unhelpful it proves.
  • Don’t bother with methodology, just do whatever seems natural.
  • Take detailed notes on every single interesting thing you read, no matter how unlikely it is to wind up in the final draft.
  • Never takes notes, they will only slow you down.
  • Schedule as few meetings with your supervisor as you can, that way you can take a couple weeks off after each one.
  • Meet with your supervisor every other day, so you are forced to work hard all the time.
  • Only ever talk about your thesis with your supervisor; you don’t want to waste their time.
  • Ask every question that enters your head, even if it means sending twenty emails a day.
  • Be easily satisfied with your work.
  • Never be satisfied with your work.
  • Don’t read the official guidelines.
  • Definitely do not reread the guidelines before submitting.
  • Don’t try to present your work at conferences.
  • Spend all your time preparing the manuscript, and then just wing the defense.
  • Don’t bother considering your examiners’ interests when preparing for the defense.
  • Ignore the questions your examiners ask and just talk about whatever you want.
  • Forget to be a teacher and not just a researcher.
  • Don’t think about how or where you might publish your work.
  • Treat your thesis as a chore instead of an opportunity.

Seriously though, definitely DO start thinking about a topic as early as possible, read as widely as you can, take every opportunity to engage with others on your subject, and edit, edit, edit, then edit some more. The best writing usually does not come from a moment of brilliance, but from coming back to the same material from as many different angles as you can, and then polishing it to a high shine. The hardest part is the first draft, so get it written as efficiently as you can (even if it stinks) and then spend all the time you can improving it.



  1. I think you forgot a few! 😉

    I have to write a thesis before I start research seminars, so I’ll keep your suggestions in mind!

  2. I think I forgot a LOT! 😀

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