If you’re struggling to envision what the end product of your MA thesis should look like, read on! Most MA programs have a dedicated timeline for when drafts of your thesis are due and outlines for what to include in your thesis. If your program hasn’t provided that information, this brief framework from my time teaching at UChicago might be helpful to you. Keep in mind that this outline worked for my students in the Humanities and Social Sciences, but it may need alteration to suit your circumstances. Change it to make it work for you.
(for a thesis that is 30-60 pages; check with your program or thesis advisor for the range they want)
Introduction (3-8 pages)
Your intro should include your “thesis sentence” (actually a thesis paragraph) and the main points you will be addressing. You should write this section last; it will save you from having to redo the introduction if your completed thesis doesn’t “fit” with what you said in your intro.
Method of Approach (3-6 pages)
You might write this section or the Lit Review (below) first. This section is intimately tied to your introduction, so many people include this info as part of their intro instead of having a separate section. The benefit of having your “Method” as a separate section will allow you to address some important information without getting bogged down with trying to invent an intro (after all, how can you introduce a paper you haven’t written yet?). In the “Method” section, you should discuss (1) your research questions, (2) the importance of your project, and (3) any theories or approaches that aided in the conceptualization of your project. These items are necessary to include because you need to situate your project among the research that has already been done in your field. Are you filling in a research gap that no other scholar has done? Are you connecting dots that nobody else has? Are you focusing on an aspect of research that others tend to ignore? Why is your work important?
Literature and Source Review (3-5 pages)
In order to situate your project (and explain why it’s important), you should have a state of the field or literature review to show that you have done your research. What have other scholars done on the topic? What arguments have they made? Where does your research fit in the field? Basically, your writing is in conversation with other scholars, so you might pretend like you’re actually having a conversation with them.
Analysis (15-30 pages)
This is the bulk of your research. Analyze your sources, provide any data points as proof, and drive home your argument. If you think back to terms we learned in high school, this section is the “body” of your paper.
Conclusion (2-6 pages)
Appendices (if you have them)
Thesis Writing Timeline
- Seek out a thesis advisor
- Write a short description of your thesis topic + begin research
- Confirm your topic with your thesis advisor
- Write out the concrete questions your thesis will answer + importance of your thesis topic
- Begin writing out your literature/source review section (i.e. what are primary and secondary sources you are using, how do they help formulate your argument, why use these particular sources?).
- Send a draft of whatever you have to your advisor. You should try to have your literature review and some of your analysis written out. Tell your advisor what you need from them: ask for feedback, suggestions, corrections, guidance. Don’t expect them to know how to help you (you need to ask!).
- Keep writing your analysis. Aim to have a “working” draft done by the end of the month.
- Your first completed draft should be given to your advisor (or reading committee) for feedback. If you know there are trouble spots in your thesis, point them out to your readers, so that they can focus on those sections.
- Meet with your advisor to have a penultimate or final meeting about your thesis. If you have questions or concerns about your writing, now is the time to address these problems.
- Submit your final draft to your advisor (reading committee) and program. Most programs will want your thesis done and submitted 2-6 weeks before graduation! Make sure you and your advisor settle a final submission deadline.