Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The 15 Most Common Thesis Writing Mistakes

By Tara Selwick

When writing a thesis, there are a great many more than 15 possible mistakes to make. This list focuses on the top 15 most common mistakes, so be sure to reference this as a guideline. Remember to double check everything with your professor or your thesis advisor. When it comes down to it, the outcome of your paper depends on their assessment so it’s very important that you work with them every step of the way.
Complicated Subject Matter – It’s admirable that you are interested in taking on a topic with wide focus and magnitude, but it’s neither necessary nor advisable. Pare your subject down to a manageable size and focus in on details. If you are worried about length, expand your development and discussion rather than widening the scope.
Simplistic Subject Matter – The opposite end of the complexity spectrum is choosing a subject that is so simple that an undergraduate student could easily handle it. You want to impress your committee, not bore them by repeating a collection of facts that they already know to reach a foregone conclusion.
Too Many Tangents – You start to say one thing then mid-story you cut to an example then into a back story then ahead to a parallel conclusion. Or you take a five page exploration of the history of sun’s mythology when your topic is photosynthesis. This doesn’t make you look well informed. It makes you look disorganized.
No Development, Details, or Examples – You want to help your reader as much as possible. Your audience is an intelligent group of people with basic knowledge of your subject but limited knowledge of your focus. Spell out your conclusions with examples, graphics, details, and developments so that everyone is clear on the theory you started with, the action you tested that theory with, and the conclusions you came up with.
No Guidance – If you don’t ask questions, how can you expect to know the answers? It may sound simple enough, but many students would rather write their thesis without any help from their professors or advisor. It is tremendously important that you ask all the questions necessary not only to ensure that your thesis is up to department standards but also to end up with correct conclusions instead of a confusing, incorrect mess.
Stolen Lectures – The last thing you want to do when choosing your topic is to take the subject matter directly from your professor’s notes – unless you are using that as a jumping off point. If you intend to start with a lecture topic and extrapolate, that’s fine. But make sure you do more than summarize what was said in class.
Waiting – When you wait until the last minute to do your research, you will no doubt find that all of the most up to date information has been checked out of the library, inter-library loans will take too long to arrive and no meaningful study can be completed in time. Don’t wait.
Citing Summaries or Reviews – Any professor worth his or her salt will no the availability of material out there. Utilize it. All of it.
Using Internet Research – The internet is a great place to begin. It is not, however, where to get your research. It is far too unreliable and your risk of getting bad information is too great to risk.
Plagiarizing Someone’s Paper From Another Class – Going down to the reserves in the library basement and picking out a thesis that suits you and ‘re-writing’ it is, again, betting too much on the bad memory and silence of your professors. Your time will be better spent doing your own work.
Paraphrased Thesis From a Journal – It’s a big world, but a small discipline. Your professor or advisor won’t have to go far to find your source.
Sourcing An Encyclopedia – Just don’t. And if you really feel that you have to, make sure it’s not your only source. Yes. It has happened.
Sourcing Outdated Research – Use the most up to date research, books, papers, and articles that you can find. Some topics will allow a little bit of leeway on this, but never rely on sources more than 25 years old for the bulk of your research.
No Editing – Either you’ve waited until the last minute or you just don’t want to spend anymore time on it. Whatever your reason for not editing is, it’s not good enough. Even the best thesis will be ruined by bad grammar, misspellings, and dropped words.
Too Many Cooks – Sometimes, in an effort to create the best possible thesis, you may be tempted to ask anyone and everyone to check out your paper. Don’t. Limit your influences to a very few trusted colleagues and professors. This is your work. Don’t let someone else spoil it.

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