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.
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).
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.
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?
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:
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 we1 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.2
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!