Getting Started With Your Thesis

Alright, now to get into the nitty gritty of getting started on your first thesis.

Well, I say thesis, but really this is the process that I went through for every project that I wrote, whether it was a 1500 word quick assignment or a 30,000 word thesis.

When I was thinking about how to present this post, I thought that I would get a specific topic and highlight how I would approach it.

As I am sure all of you have read – Methamphetamine, or P, is taking New Zealand by storm. It is an awful drug and is doing untold damage to our communities. Given that there has been a lot of talk in the media about this, I thought that I would highlight how I would approach a topic question around this issue.

So let’s say the questions was something like:

“Explain how methamphetamine is affecting New Zealand and what are the potential long term affects of this epidemic on local communities in New Zealand.”

The first thing to pick up here, is that it is a very broad topic that is open to a range of approaches and that brings us to step one.

Step One

Decide on the angle that you would like to take for your assignment.

My approach to this step is to decide on an angle that interests me. Let’s be honest writing about something that you are interested in is a whole lot easier and a whole lot more fun. So in this instance, as a property owner, I would be most interested in how methamphetamine contamination is affecting the housing market. This is probably also an angle that would not be focused on by my class mates, as my guess is that most would be writing about the social impact of the drug. This way I get to put an economic slant onto the assignment and discuss how the contamination would affect things like the longer term housing market and as such the New Zealand economy as a whole.

Step Two

Check the viability of your angle.

Now that you have selected an angle that interests you it is time to do your first sweep of the available material to ensure that there is enough information available to be able to build your assignment around. This is not the full blown literature review, but more of a quick sweep. Because of the angle that I have chosen, I would be checking media publications first, followed by government websites and finally scientific publications. As well as ensuring that there is enough data to construct my paper, I am also using this step to help to shape the article in my mind.

Step Three

Frame your paper.

This is probably the most important part of the process and also the part of the process that is most often overlooked. Most people tend to just jump straight into the writing. In fact often they even make the huge mistake of starting with the introduction! The framing process is exactly as it sounds. The goal of this exercise is to map out your paper. This means taking the main points that you want to touch on and jotting them down in an order that will make sense to the reader and take them on a natural journey through your paper. Before I demonstrate this, I will also point out that this is where you assign your word count to each section in order to ensure that you are not going under or over what is required. The word count aspect does not apply as much to a full blown thesis, but for shorter assignments, this is an important step. So the process might look something like this.

  1. Introduction (250 words)
  2. Background on methamphetamine in New Zealand (250 words)
  3. How methamphetamine can contaminate a property
    1. Clandestine Lab (250 words)
    2. Smoking P in a house (250 words)
  4. Methamphetamine property testing – an unregulated industry (300 words)
  5. Ministry of Health Guidelines around acceptable contamination levels (250 words)
  6. What does the science say (200 words)
  7. How does remediation costs affect landlords (200 words)
  8. How has the recognition of methamphetamine contamination affected property investors (400 words)
  9. How could this affect the New Zealand property market over the next 10 years (250)
  10. How would the change on the housing market affect local communities (250 words)
  11. Recommendations (200 words)
  12. Conclusion (300 words)

As you can see, in this instance I have framed the paper in a way that interests me and that will take the reader through a step by step process on how methamphetamine could affect New Zealand communities in the long term. You will also note that I have ensured that I will not go too far over the 3000 word limit.

Step Four

In-depth Research 

Okay, now it’s time for the heavy lifting. Now that we have a framework we can dive into the research that we will need. I would be looking for at least one but probably 2 – 5 references for each section. You can use the same reference in different sections if they are applicable. Now jump in and get digging. Make sure to save all of your research in one easily accessible location. There is nothing worse than having to do this part twice! I would also really encourage you to resist the temptation of starting to write a section before you have completed all of your research. This will confuse the process and will ultimately make your life far more difficult in the long run.

Step Five

Get writing

This is the fun part. You now get to bring all of your research together. Do not start with your introduction – this is the LAST thing that you will be writing. You have already framed your article, so you can work your way through each section in nice manageable chunks. Depending on how many words you have allocated to each section, select the 3 – 5 key points that you would like to make in each section. I always suggest following this paragraph format within each section. First, you make a statement which outlines your point. Then, you demonstrate your knowledge on the point and why you made this statement using your research. Finally you highlight any short comings in the available research (if appropriate) and offer recommendations. So this might look something like this:

The methamphetamine property testing industry is plagued by unqualified testers leading to inconsistent results. Due to the fact that the industry is completely unregulated, (ref 1 in here), there is currently a trend for significant numbers of alternate suppliers to add methamphetamine property testing to already offered services (ref 2). The Ministry of Health Recommendations state that XXXXXXXXXX is the appropriate method for testing in New Zealand (ref 3). Based on the lack of high quality methamphetamine property testing companies in New Zealand (ref 4) it is essential that reviews and references are checked prior to the company being engaged. The link provided is an example of a testing company which meets all the New Zealand requirements. It is recommended that a New Zealand Standard is put in place which establishes a baseline requirement for all methamphetamine property testing companies. This would allow training and qualifications to be developed which would lead to a more regulated industry. 

As you can see, I have worked through the steps highlighted while referencing my work and offering recommendations. I would now move onto the next paragraph in the section. Again this breaks down each section into nice manageable chunks.

Once you have written the body of your paper, you would then write your conclusion. The golden rule for your conclusion is that it is a summing up process ONLY! Do not introduce any new information in this section, it will only confuse your reader. Once you have written your conclusion it is time for a review. NOTE: THIS MUST BE DONE BEFORE WRITING YOUR INTRODUCTION. This review is to ensure that you are happy with the way that you have structured the body of your writing and it is your opportunity to shift around paragraphs as you see fit. Only once you are happy with the flow of your paper, can you go ahead and write your introduction. Your introduction is short and sweet and serves a single purpose – to give an overview of what is to come. My approach to introductions is very straight forward. I basically write one to two sentences for each topic in my framework. I always ensure that the introduction follows the same order as the body of the paper.

Step Six

Final Edit

This is the last step. Firstly you will need to run through your entire paper looking for any obvious grammatical errors. Remember that spell check is great, but if the wrong word is in there, but is spelled correctly it will not be picked up. This is really important. If possible, force yourself to read it one word at a time. Our brains like to work fast and as you were also the author, your brain will tend to read in groups of words and interpret what you are trying to say, rather than what is actually written. So be careful. Also try to have a friend give it a once over and make sure that there are no obvious errors, a second set up eyes is always a huge help! Once your edit is done, ensure that your references are all loaded into your appendix in the appropriate format. Most writing programmes, including word have a built in appendix insert function which is a huge help!

You’re done, you can relax in the knowledge that you have covered all the key points. You have answered the question well and you have put an interesting slant onto your paper. Well done. Now hand it in, put your feet up and take a well deserved rest!


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