Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 6

Writing your Winning Thesis 1

Writing your Winning Thesis

Carlo Magno and Jennifer Ann Lajom


De La Salle University-Manila

"Quatre loves to blame himself for everything if you let him. Sooner or later, he'll start saying that there is no air
in outer space because he did not work on it hard enough." - Duo Maxwell, Gundam Wing

The purpose of this workshop is to provide students with techniques in writing a clear and accurate
undergraduate thesis proposal. Students commonly encounter a variety of problems in starting to write their
thesis from conceptualization of their research questions, to selecting group mates, and ultimately starting to
write the manuscript. To deal with these problems, students need effective preparations both psychological and
technical for writing the thesis manuscript. Preparing oneself psychologically to write a thesis is an important
consideration for students. This psychological preparation involves the use of effective cognitive strategies such
as self-regulation. On the other hand, the preparedness in the technical writing of one’s thesis is emphasized in
this workshop. Clarifications on how to arrive with research questions and the purpose of the literature review is
presented. The functions in arriving with quality literature review are explained as a key in writing effectively
other parts of the thesis proposal.

Regulating oneself to Write a Thesis

Self-regulation when effectively used increases the likelihood that students perform successfully on specific tasks
(Magno, 2007). The use of self-regulation in writing a thesis manuscript involves different means. Self-regulation
in doing a thesis involves planning or goal-setting, organizing, self-consequencing, seeking help and information,
and environmental structuring.

Planning and goal-setting Begin your thesis with an end in mind. Clarify what you really want to show
and prove in your thesis. Being able to see what will come out in your thesis
helps you to write a clear purpose of what you want to investigate, the
significance of your study, and method used to arrive with your purpose.
Organizing Writing your thesis involves several reading activities and exposure to reading
materials. Handling several reading materials will require a way to organize
and fix the materials that will be meaningful for you. You organize reading
materials such as journals and articles using a method that can be useful for
you. An example of organizing is arranging materials according to a subcontent
of the thesis, making catalogues in the index card, etc.
Self-consequencing What will happen if you spend very little time and avoid your thesis? You
should be able to realize the consequences of not devoting your time and
energy in writing your thesis. A thesis that is not well written with major
revisions is a consequence of lack of commitment and poor preparation. It is
impossible to write a very good thesis overnight! Weeks of editing and
preparation are required.
Seeking help and information If you need to have accurate answers to some thoughts about your thesis, your
university or college library is best place to go. The library contains more
scholarly materials instead of relying on unknown webpages which you could
not cite as good reference. Going to the library will require enthusiasm and
patience. You need to have the skill to search. People who do not have the
patience to seek out library resources fall short with good materials in their
thesis. Scholarly journal articles in psychology are good sources that can be
found in the periodical section.
Environmental structuring When starting to work with your thesis, it is advisable to remove all
distractions from your environment. You need to engage fully in writing your
Writing your Winning Thesis 2

thesis by minimizing the influence of distractions such as noise and


temptations to do something else. Select a room where you are stimulated to
work and a space where you are most comfortable to work.

Preparedness in Writing your Thesis

The preparedness in writing your thesis is the main content of this workshop. It is very important for you to have
mastery on what should be written on each section of your thesis. When you have enough “know how’s” on
writing the specific sections of their thesis, you can start concentrating in structuring your research questions for
the whole manuscript. Some students immediately plunge in writing their thesis without consciousness on how
should each part be written and end up being constrained both on how to write the thesis and focusing their
topic. Even expert learners need to master information one at a time what more for novice learners?

Not as simple as looking at the ceiling: Arriving with the Research Question!

You usually start your thesis with an idea in mind on the “topic” you want to investigate. This procedure helps
you, but sooner or later you need to realize how this topic is related with other factors or how to study this topic
under a research question. The guiding theme of thesis is not really a “topic” but the research questions. The
research question is “not just a topic” but contains a complex set of variables and how these variables are
interrelated with each other. A research question is not just an ordinary question that needs to be answered.
With all of our research questions in mind, most or some of them have already answers, and this does not make
it a viable question to pose anymore. There are two important questions to ask in raising a research question for
a thesis:

How does one know if a research question is worth investigating?


How does one refine the appropriate variables included in a research question?

There is actually one answer to these two questions. You need to read previous studies done on the variables
that you are studying. To determine the previous studies done on your variables means looking at existing
literature reviews. The techniques in literature search and review is explained in the next section of the paper.
You do not just get a set of variables and correlate or differentiate them. There should be enough basis for
relating a set of variables and enough basis for looking into the effect of an independent variable to a dependent
variable. The justification for studying relationships and effects among variables can be justified in the
introduction of the study by citing literature reviews. A thorough knowledge of the literature review will help you
know what variables to relate and what variables is good study under a causal relationship. At some point in
time, a student who starts with a research topic will now realize the connection among variables and is able to
propose empirical questions.

How does one justify a research question?

A research question can be justified by giving the reason why is there a need to study your research question.
The need to study a question is indicated by three important things extracted from several studies: gaps,
contradictions, and concepts that need further explanations.

Gaps in previous knowledge. Gaps refer to what is still lacking or missing from previous studies. Gaps
from previous studies are not usually explicitly given by the author but the readers should be able to identify
what is missing in the phenomenon being investigated. Gaps can be (a) variables that were neglected to be
included in a study, (b) misrepresentation of a variable in an available framework, (c) applying a variable in a
Writing your Winning Thesis 3

different setting, and (d) studying variables in a different way. The following is an example of a gap found in the
introduction of a study:

“There are several reports highlighting the use of PBL in academic learning of students. However, these
reports fall short in terms of appropriate implementation procedures for PBL and the relevant
explanatory investigations in assessing the effects of PBL, especially in the areas of accuracy and
achievement. Thomas (2000) cites the absence of a widely accepted framework or theory of PBL upon
which professional development might be based. Although some studies provided clear structure in
implementing PBL as a method (Ross & Hurlburt, 2004; Lev, 2004), most studies on PBL showed that the
intervention process follows no precise flow and practitioners device their own techniques in
implementing the method.”

Contradictions from previous studies. Contradictions from previous studies are easy to detect. If you
encounter a study saying a significant result was found and another study is found not to be significant with the
same variables, then this is a contradiction. Contradictions are also shown in two or several studies where their
explanation on the same phenomenon is different. The following is an example of stating a contradiction found
in the introduction part of the study:

“Studies have found that an authoritative parenting style would foster higher achievement in their child
(Rollins & Thomas, 1979; Champney, 2004; Boveja, 1998; Dornbusch, Ritter, Leiderman, Roberts, &
Fraleigh, 1987). However, there are some studies that claim otherwise. For example, Lambourn (1991)
states that children who perceived their parents as authoritarian have a good measure of obedience to
adults and do achieve in their academics (Lambourn, 1987; cited in: Champney, 2004).”

Concepts that needs further explanation. There are lines of research that has been abandoned for a
period of time because of lack of sufficient evidence and the concepts were not further explored. There are also
concepts that were repeatedly studied using the method over and over and its stability was not evidenced using
other ways. There are also concepts that need to be defined in a cultural context. Further of clarifications of
concepts can be used as justifications especially if the study is venturing into a variable that is not
well-researched on. An example of a justification for clarification of a concept is:

“The concept of parental closeness is usually mentioned on references about guides to parenting and
there are not much empirical evidences that are shown regarding its impact (Cath, Gurwitt, & Ross,
1982; Lamb, 1976; Ginott, 1972). Most of the variables related to closeness in the family are clinical
measures (i. e. Adult-Adolescent Parenting Inventory; Beck Codependence Assessment Scale; Family
Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scale; Family Attachment and Changeability Index 8; Family Sense
of Coherence; and Family Adaptation Scales).
Previous parenting measures classifies parents according to a set of characteristics (Baumrind, 1967;
Roberts, Block, & Block, 1984) and do not provide the degree to which they manifest the characteristic.
The present study constructed a measure of parental closeness composed of different factors and will be
further tested through Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA). There is a need to further explain the
structure of parenting factors and provide a pattern on how they cluster (Henry, Tolan, & Gorman-Smith,
2005).”

The gaps, contradictions, and concepts that further need explanations are justified in the introduction part of the
study. In some thesis these are called issues or rationales. Issues referring to contradictions and conflicts that
needs to be resolved, and rationales referring to reasons why study the posed research question. These issues
and rationales can later be transformed into significant contributions of the study such as (1) new argument of
conjecture, (2) new definitions, (3) clarification, (4) illustration of exemplar, (5) elaboration, (6) refutation or
rebuttal, (7) rephrasing of question, (8) recasting of question, (9) evaluation of an earlier assertion, (10) new or
alternative interpretation, (11) supportive evidence, and (12) contrary evidence (Bernardo, 2007). In writing the
introduction, these basis needs to be shown and inductively lead to the research questions or the statement of
Writing your Winning Thesis 4

the problem. If you are not able to clearly convey these issues and rationales then the introduction failed to serve
its purpose.

Work It!: Your Review of Related Literature

The Review of Related Literature (RRL) consists of studies that deal with your chosen topic. These studies may be
in the form of journal and periodical articles, theses and dissertations, books, unpublished manuscripts, online
databases and electronic journals. Likewise, studies may also reflect topics discussed in conferences, research
forums and even personal communication with an expert in a specific field.

When writing your thesis, this section describes studies that elaborate the context and background of your
research topic. The RRL is an important part of a thesis because it will basically define your research agenda, that
is, through the RRL, you will be able to show what academic investigations have been done about your topic. By
knowing this, you will be able to discern what other aspects of your topic that you can research on-whether there
are unexplored areas for investigation or perhaps some contradiction about earlier studies that need
clarification. Basically, the RRL will enable you to define your rationale, that is, the reason behind your research
agenda.

Apart from the rationale, your RRL will enable you to see how your research variables are defined and how they
relate to another. For instance, your RRL will help you in explaining terminologies that may mean differently to
different people. This is usually reflected in the thesis section of Definition of Terms, where conceptual (i.e.,
depicts a construct’s meaning) and operational (i.e., depicts how a construct is observed). Likewise, the RRL
will help you in establishing your conceptual framework that reflects your research agenda. Thus, your research
problem will be clearly defined and your hypotheses will also have empirical basis.

Finally, writing the RRL goes beyond merely summarizing the past research findings you gathered. RRL actually
requires some level of cognitive processing such that you have to be able to evaluate what your research
literature are giving you. You have to be keen on identifying relationships between variables, potential
inconsistencies, contradictions and knowledge gaps, as well as theoretical and practical significance of your
research. Evaluating your RRL will also give you a better idea on what research design and method.

The Process of Literature Search and Review

There are three basic steps in arriving at a fully written RRL. First, you must select a topic, then collect and
evaluate relevant literature, and finally, write the review. The RRL is the first part of the research process where
you get your hands dirty, but it is a crucial step in making your research endeavors worthwhile (and a little bit
closer to making it a winning work!).

Choosing a Topic

Oftentimes, students like you already have a general topic in mind but it would help if your topic has these
characteristics. First, it is of current interest—that means it is not defunct and the topic is still being investigated
at present time. One advantage of this is that collecting empirical studies about such topics will not be very
difficult. Also, do not limit yourself to just one topic—consider having alternatives.

Second, the topic you may have in mind might still change depending on how broad or narrow its scope is.
Usually students will come up with really broad topics (e.g., memory processes among the elderly or relationship
formation of adolescents). Having a broad topic will make it difficult for you to collect articles about it because
the immense amount of available journal articles alone will be overwhelming. Thus, research topics should
always be narrowed down—e.g., picture recognition among Filipino older adults, or intimacy and friendship
formation among adolescents.
Writing your Winning Thesis 5

Lastly, it always helps to research on a topic that you yourself find interesting or that you can relate to. If this is
the case, you will have an easier time trimming your topic down, since you know basically what you want to find
out. It will also motivate you to actually go through with the research and come up with a well-written output.

Related Literature Search

Just because it was stated earlier that topics should be narrowed down from initial and broader options, it does
not mean that you have to wait until that moment to start your literature search. You may do a preliminary
search, where upon looking up on your broader topics, you may find more specific and promising topics, with
clearer variables that appeal to you.

A challenging part of literature search is to be able to say that you have exhausted all possible sources for your
topic. This means that the search has been purposeful and thorough, and this will lessen the chance of
erroneous claims on your part about the extent of your knowledge regarding that topic. It’s helpful to know the
places where journal articles, both hardcopy and online sources, can be accessed (e.g., school library). If you will
use online search, it’s good to familiarize yourself of the synonymous terms of some of your variables. For
example, terms such as ‘teenagers’, ‘teens’, ‘peers’ and ‘youth’ may be used when looking for literature on the
variable ‘adolescents’. These variations will yield different results and by searching in different online resources
(e.g, Ovid, JSTOR, PsycInfo, Proquest, Google Scholar, etc.), you are likely to get an abundant amount of literature
for your research.

Suppose you found journal articles that fit your research agenda, another good source of literature are the
reference section of empirical papers, journal articles, theses and dissertation papers. They are there for a
reason and that is for future researchers like yourself to know what other literature have been used in the article
that you found useful. It is always better to search and collect a large number of literature since you can expect
that after reading them, a number of them might not even be relevant to what you want to research on.
Reading the Articles

Now that you have piles of hardcopy and files of softcopy literature, there’s no point in delaying the
inevitable—reading them. Reading research articles does not always come off as an easy task to
students—feeling lost or frustrated (or both!) is expected. Since the foundation of a good RRL is a thorough
understanding of its contents, it is imperative that you must read and re-read your articles.

There is really no strict process regarding how you must read the articles in order to understand them.
Although there are some initial guidelines that you can follow, how you proceed afterwards depends on your
own style of “studying” the articles. One strategy you can use is to first scan the article and do not plunge into
reading its entirety immediately. By reading the abstracts of the articles, you will get a “feel” of what the article
is about. Afterwards you can start identifying the problem, hypothesis (if any), general findings and how these
findings were explained. Placing these information in note cards or summary sheets can also help. Once you
achieved the basic understanding of what the article is about, you can now begin reading the article completely
without being overwhelmed with its details.

An important thing that you should always keep in mind is that cramming will not help when doing your
RRL. As you can see, even the stage of looking for articles require substantial amount of time—it is the same
with reading them.

Writing your RRL

In writing the RRL, students often ask for a gauge as to how long it should be, usually in terms of the
number of pages. The answer to this not definite, since the length of the RRL discussion will vary depending on
the number of variables required of the study. The more variables you have, the longer your RRL will be
compared to a study focusing only on one independent variable and one dependent variable.
Writing your Winning Thesis 6

Establishing the organization of the RRL is important. Usually, the RRL begins with the brief overview of
the problem and the variables (i.e., the independent variable then the dependent variable) that will be presented
in the said section. Pertinent studies are discussed, with emphasis on the methodological issues, major findings
and conclusions.

Just like looking for articles and reading them, writing takes time. The first draft will always look good at the first
few minutes but once you reread your draft, perhaps after taking a break, revisions are likely to occur. Taking
time to write your RRL not only improves the quality of your review but you continue to gain a deeper
perspective of your literature.

Finally, one relevant issue that should be addressed when writing RRL is plagiarism. Plagiarism is when you
present others’ words and ideas as your own. You do this when you do not properly cite your references or when
you copy (and paste) a portion of a journal article to your own review (even if you cited the article where you got
it from). Remember that just because you can freely access the information does not mean you have the
permission to use it as it is and pass it as your own. A good RRL is one that reflects the understanding of the
researcher/s and that entails the skill of paraphrasing, i.e., writing in your own words in terms of your
understanding of the literature. In other words, it is about how you abstract meaning from the work of others.
Most students do not intentionally plagiarize and such act is brought about by ignorance of how RRL should be
written. However, now that you know these guidelines, you should be aware the contents of your RRL should be.
Effective RRL writing takes time and practice but it helps to start with knowing exactly what should not be done.

References

Bernardo, A. (2007). Publishing in an ISI abstracted journal. Seminar conducted by the Psychological Association
of the Philippines, April 10, 2007.

Badke, W. (2007). Give plagiarism the weight it deserves. Medford, 31, 58-60.

Bem, D. J. (2004). Writing the empirical journal article. In Darley, J.M., Zanna, M.P., & Roediger, H.L. (Eds.), The
complete academic: A career guide (2nd edition), 185-218. Washington, DC: American Psychological
Association.

Boote, D.N. & Beile, P. (2005). Scholars before researchers: On the centrality o the dissertation literature review
in research presentation. Educational Researcher, 34, 3-15.

Go, S. (1992). General guides to thesis writing: A guide to writing and evaluating social science theses. De La
Salle University Press: Manila.

Magno, C. (2007). Activation and inhibition of self-regulated learning. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, De La
Salle University, Manila, Philippines.

Snodgrass, D.M. & Bevevino, M.M (2005). Should we give up the plagiarism battle?. English Leadership Quality,
28, 11-14.

Writing a psychology literature review (2006). Retrieved December 3, 2007 from:


http://web.psych.washington.edu/writingcenter/writingguides.html