The most important factor for scoring a high grade on your Bachelor’s or Master’s thesis


Introduction

It’s the million dollar question for students that have to write a thesis to graduate university: which factors determine whether I will be awarded a high grade, or a low grade? Although the final grade of your thesis will depend on many different factors, there is one that stands out from the rest. And, it is typically not what students think is the most important one! In this blog post, I discuss what I believe is the most important contributor to writing a high quality dissertation.

The most important factor: What students think
The most important factor: My perspective
How to make sure your thesis has the X-factor

What students think

Whenever I ask students “What do you think is the most important factor for scoring a high grade for your thesis?”, I typically get the following responses:

  • “I have to use the most advanced statistical method possible.”
  • “My thesis has to be long, extensive and exhaustive.”
  • “I have to research lots of theories, articles and/or models.”
  • “My data and/or statistical results need to be perfect.”
  • “My dissertation needs to be flawless and look professional.”

Now, let me first say the following: obviously, some of these factors contribute positively to the quality of your thesis. If you are doing a Literature Study, and you’ve covered all the literature that is available on your topic, then the fact that your thesis provides an ‘exhaustive’ or ‘extensive’ view of this literature will be appreciated (and thus, will be reflected in your grade). If you have gone above and beyond to collect your own data or to (correctly) do a very advanced statistical analysis, more power to you (and likely to your grade!). And let’s be honest: every supervisor likes to read a flawless, error-free report that looks like it’s written by a pro.

Sources students use

When I ask some more questions about the motivation of students to give these answers, I usually learn that they were (predominantly) derived from two sources. The first is: grading schematics, which occasionally are provided by a university, but more often are ‘Googled’ by a student. They show how a thesis is typically graded by a supervisor, and which level is required to get a high grade. The second source is: example dissertations, for example those written by friends. You yourself may have looked at an example of a ‘high quality’ thesis (i.e. one scoring a high grade), and an example of a simple ‘pass’ (i.e. one scoring a lower grade).

abacus

Why not to use these as guidelines

However, despite the fact that some of these factors may certainly help you write a high quality dissertation, they are not the most important determinants of your grade. For example, grading schematics tend to be very abstract because they are a tool for evaluating a thesis, not for writing one. In other words: they are very useful for your supervisor when your thesis has been written, but these schematics provide little guidance when you are still developing your topic or research strategy, for example.

Furthermore, many students find it difficult to ‘decipher’ which elements are the most important for scoring a good grade, just from reading a ‘good’ thesis written by someone else. For example, in my experience a long dissertation is no guarantee for scoring a high grade. Likewise, a statistical analysis that includes some flaws is no reason to downgrade a complete thesis.

Tip: mistakes

Obviously, multiple small mistakes will add up and will affect your grade. Want to know some of the most common mistakes I encounter when reading a dissertation?

Finished your dissertation? Check our 5 point checklist before you submit!

High-quality dissertation: My perspective

At this point, you are likely wondering: “If not these, then what is the most important factor that determines the quality of my thesis?”. Let me share what I believe is the most important characteristic of a high-quality thesis, and therefore the strongest determinant of your grade. I’ve written the answer down as a question, because the best way of determining the quality of your thesis is to ask yourself:

How much will other people learn from my thesis?
Supervisor perspective

Look at it from my perspective as a thesis supervisor. After reading a thesis, I always ask myself : “How much did I learn from this study?” Why this question? Very simple: if we did not learn something from your thesis, then there is no reason why we should have conducted this study in the first place! If you are studying something which we already know, or if you are reporting results that are already well-established in the literature, then we could’ve simply read the (published) articles that describe that which we already know!

You are part of Science!

Remember: if you are graduating from a Bachelor or Master of Science program (or if you are graduating from a Bachelor or Master of Arts program in which the scientific method is used), you need to show that you are able to participate in science! And the best way of participating in science – whether you are studying Psychology, Economics, Business, Political or Medical Science, or any other branche of science – is by moving it forward (perhaps only a little bit!). In other words: by helping other people to learn something they did not know yet.


presentation

How to make sure your thesis has the X-factor?

After reading the above, a different question may have come to your mind: “How do I make sure that other people will learn something from my thesis?!”. To answer this question, I have designed the online thesis writing program ThesisCore. In this program, I show you how to choose your topic and research strategy in a way that will automatically ensure that other people will learn something from your study!

I also show you how to convincingly write this idea down in a research proposal, such that it will become abundantly clear how you will contribute to the (scientific) discussion on your topic. Finally, I help you with finding and discussing the correct literature to support your research idea. Sounds good? Join my course today!

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Why it’s better to avoid back-references in your thesis


Introduction

In this post, I would like to discuss something which I have already discussed in a previous post. I might post this on the next page. But you should probably read the Introduction first.

Confusing? I hope so! Nonetheless, I sometimes encounter structures or sentences like these in dissertations. I call these: “back-references”, and they’re the topic of this post:

What are back-references
How to avoid using back-references
I’ve already used back-references. What can I do?

What are back-references

Academic writing is difficult, no doubt. You have to put an abstract idea into words, in a way such that others will understand exactly what you mean. Often you understand what you mean, since you have constructed your text in your own personal way: you know exactly where in your text you have said what, especially if you have been working on a manuscript for many months.

However, the people that will actually read your thesis (such as your supervisor) will often not have this intimate knowledge of your text. They will simply take it at face value, and they count on your ability to logically unpack your arguments. One at a time, each one building on the next. In short: your readers will expect that you have written the text for them.

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Which sections should I include in my Bachelor’s or Master’s thesis


Contents

No matter whether you are writing a thesis for a Psychology, Business, Sociology or Medical Science program: a thesis largely looks the same across all disciplines. A typical thesis has 5 sections:

After the Conclusion your thesis usually is not finished: at the very least, you will have to include a Reference section or so-called ‘Bibliography’. But perhaps you also want to include one or more Appendices. These are discussed at the end of this post, together with a complete overview of the structure of a typical thesis.

1. Introduction

The Introduction section is the first and arguably the most important section of your thesis. Here, you introduce your topic and you discuss how you will study this topic: your research proposal.

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Using subsections and subsubsections in your thesis


Introduction

It’s difficult to explain science: ideas are inter-connected, topics flow from one to the other, and theories can get very extensive. Many students therefore include subsections (e.g. 2.2) and subsubsections (e.g. 2.2.1) to help structure their discussion. The question is: does this structure your story? Does it really improve the readability of your text? I’ll give you my perspective on this matter in this post:

The purpose of adding sections in your thesis
What’s the difference between sections, subsections and subsubsections?
Sections should help the reader, not the writer
Does this mean I can’t use subsections in my thesis?
Okay! Anything else I should know about subsections?

The purpose of adding sections in your thesis

Just to put your mind at ease: No, there’s nothing wrong with adding sections to your thesis! They’re a great way to structure your discussion, or to neatly isolate parts that deserve a more extensive discussion. This is true for ‘major parts’ of a dissertation (e.g. it doesn’t make sense to lump together your literature review with your introduction – that’s why we separate both into two sections), but also for smaller parts inside a discussion. For example, if you want to discuss multiple theories in your thesis, then it makes sense to properly introduce each one by assigning it to a separate subsection or subsubsection.

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How to format tables in your dissertation


Introduction

Whether you want to give an overview of the literature you have reviewed, or you want to present (statistical) results: almost everyone that is writing a thesis will at some point need to include a table. It can be tricky to correctly include these in your report, as there are many (small) things you need to look out for. Especially when it comes to scientific tables.

In this blog post, I discuss some formatting rules that I personally follow whenever I include a table in my papers (in fact the examples posted here are sourced from one of my articles!). If you want to include a table in your thesis, pay attention to the following:

Tables in a thesis
Number tables
Caption
Position of your table
Table font
Table contents
Tip: APA and tables
Tip: Journal
Tip: software to generate tables

Looking for tips on figures and plots instead?

How to format figures and plots in your thesis

Tables in a thesis

A table is a rectangularly shaped container, in which information is arranged using columns and rows. Tables are a great tool to quickly and orderly present data, and therefore are perfectly suited for presenting numerical data such as statistical results. However, tables are also quite common in dissertations that do not use any numbers (at all)! For example, in a literature study a table is often included to show which articles have been included for review.

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How to format figures and plots in your thesis


Introduction

Whether you want to highlight your research with a nice info-graphic or flow-chart, or you want to visually present your (statistical) results: virtually everyone that is writing a thesis will at some point need to include a figure or plot. There are many (small) things you need to look out for when posting figures in your report, especially when it comes to scientific figures.

In this blog post, I discuss some formatting rules that I personally follow whenever I include a table or figure in my papers (in fact the examples posted here are sourced from one of my articles!). If you want to include a figure in your thesis, pay attention to the following:

Figures in a thesis
Number your figures
Caption
Position of your figure
Figure font
Plot: axis label
Color
Tip: Software
Tip: when best to use figures
Tip: number of figures
Tip: Journal

Looking for tips on scientific tables instead?

How to format tables in your dissertation

Figures in a thesis

Figures or plots are graphical presentations of data. However, instead of showing numbers (which often is the case with tables), figures visualize numbers. Most people are better at processing complex data when it is presented in a visual form, making figures a great communication tool to use in a thesis!

Continue reading “How to format figures and plots in your thesis”

How many times can I cite the same article in my dissertation


Introduction

Writing a thesis means citing other people’s work: scientific articles and books. But how many times can you cite the same article or book in your thesis? That’s the topic of this post:

Avoid overusing a reference
How many times can I cite the same article, then?

Avoid overusing a reference

A common styling pitfall when writing a thesis is referencing the same scientific article over and over again, sometimes even multiple times in the same paragraph. This usually is not necessary, and even frowned upon a little. Here’s a little example:

“In an article by Smith (2018), the author studies how school-performance may lead to depression within adolescents. The author reports that working towards a graduation is a big contributing factor. [..] This result is similar to previous studies such as Johnson (2015) or Greany (2016).

Smith (2018) also states that time-constraints, such as having a student-job, further impact the probability that school-performance is affected (Smith, 2018). [..]

Furthermore, previous research also shows that students that schedule their graduation well in advance, including planning the individual tasks it requires, have a lower probability of becoming depressed (Smith, 2018).[..]”

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What are the differences between a Bachelor’s and Master’s dissertation?


Introduction

Whether it’s a Bachelor’s or Master’s thesis, the process of writing a thesis basically is the same. However, that doesn’t mean that both documents that come out of this process will be exactly the same. In this post, I will discuss 3 points on which a Master’s thesis typically differs from a Bachelor’s thesis:

I’ll also share one of the most common questions I get asked on this topic: “Does this mean that a Master’s thesis is (much) longer than a Bachelor’s thesis?” Check out my answer to this question at the end of this post!

A Master’s thesis uses more advanced literature

Books vs. articles

When they start their Master’s program, most students notice a transition when it comes to how ‘knowledge’ is transferred. Whereas most knowledge would come from books in their Bachelor’s program, suddenly academic literature such as scientific articles are dominant in the curriculum. Indeed, articles are a more advanced way of learning: whereas the author of a text-book has interpreted the findings of studies for you, with articles you have to now interpret the quality, merit and implications of this knowledge yourself!

Continue reading “What are the differences between a Bachelor’s and Master’s dissertation?”

How to write a simple abstract for your Bachelor’s or Master’s thesis in 4 easy steps


Introduction

Although the Abstract is probably the shortest part of your thesis, it’s not the easiest! How should you condense your complete Bachelor’s or Master’s thesis to a short summary of about 100-150 words? Let me make your life a bit easier: a good abstract always answers the following 4 questions:

  1. What did you study?
  2. How did you study that?
  3. What were your results?
  4. What does that mean?

At the end of this post, I’ll also share a complete example of a Thesis Abstract that applies these four questions!

1. What did you study

The best way to start your Abstract is to simply state what you studied. One option is to repeat the research question of your thesis, in which case you start your Abstract with a question. For example:

  • Does having a smart room mate increase the grade-point average of students?
  • Why do children of alcoholic parents have a higher probability of becoming alcoholics themselves?
  • Does Twitter-use hurt a company’s stock-market performance?

Continue reading “How to write a simple abstract for your Bachelor’s or Master’s thesis in 4 easy steps”

Finished your dissertation? Check our 5 point checklist before you submit!


Introduction

Finished! After many months of reading literature, collecting data and doing your research you are finally ready to hand in your thesis and take that well-deserved holiday. Congratulations!

But wait! Whether it’s because of immense excitement, relief or happiness: each year I receive a couple of dissertations from students that miss some elementary parts! Not only may this have a negative effect on the evaluation of your thesis, but often these are minor details that can easily be avoided, especially if you know how to spot them. The following are the five most common things students forget when they hand in their thesis:

1. Page numbers

As trivial as this may sound, every year I receive a couple of dissertations without page numbers! Such a shame and completely unnecessary, as this is something that you can easily add in a word processor. Therefore, make sure that your pages are numbered (except for your cover page), and that the number is visible on all pages of your thesis (excluding your front cover).

Continue reading “Finished your dissertation? Check our 5 point checklist before you submit!”