Thesis/Dissertation Writing Guide
  • 35-minute read
  • 12th February 2021

Thesis/Dissertation Writing Guide

How to Write a Great Thesis or Dissertation

This guide will explain how to write a great undergraduate or master’s thesis or dissertation (see our Essay Writing Guide for advice on shorter academic documents).

Use the list to the left to select an aspect of thesis writing to learn more about.

What Is a Thesis?

A thesis is a longer, in-depth paper written at the end of an undergraduate or master’s degree. It will be on a subject you choose yourself and involve self-directed research, although with some help from a tutor or advisor. The thesis may make a significant contribution towards your final grade, so it is very important. We will use the word “thesis” throughout this guide, but some also call this final project a “dissertation.” 

The idea of an undergraduate thesis (also known as a “senior project” or “senior thesis”) is to demonstrate the skills and knowledge developed during your studies. Not every undergraduate will need to do a senior thesis, but they are common in some schools and may be required if you’re planning on enrolling for a postgraduate course.

A master’s thesis is the final project on a master’s degree. It will usually be longer and more detailed than an undergraduate thesis. You may also be required to make an original contribution (i.e., put forward a new argument) as well as demonstrating your knowledge.

Depending on your subject area, your thesis may be empirical or non-empirical:

  • Empirical theses are more common in the sciences. They involve collecting and analyzing data, then writing this up with your findings and conclusions.
  • Non-empirical theses are more common in the humanities. They involve researching existing data, ideas, and arguments, then offering a critical analysis or making an argument of your own based on your research.

In this guide, we will discuss both types of thesis, highlighting any differences as they become relevant. We will not look at how to write a doctoral dissertation, which is usually even longer and more complex, but many of the same skills apply.

KEY NOTE: Most colleges and universities have detailed guidelines for how students should write a thesis, including any stylistic or procedural requirements. The advice below will be designed to apply to any thesis-length project, but you still need to check what your institution requires if you are writing a thesis or dissertation.

Planning a Thesis or Dissertation

The first step in writing a thesis is making a plan. This may include several steps.

Selecting a Topic

Since a thesis is self-directed, you will need to decide what to research. This is an important decision, so don’t rush it! Tips for selecting a thesis topic include:

  • Think about your interests – Try to pick something that reflects your interests. Is there something from your prior studies you wish you’d had more time with? Some subject area that you found especially engaging? Something you read about that you didn’t get the chance to study? Something relevant to your career plans? A thesis is a major project, so make sure it focuses on something you care about!
  • Aim for originality – Try to find a unique issue or problem to address. This doesn’t necessarily mean conducting entirely original research (it will be hard to find something nobody has ever written about). But you can try to find a new angle on an existing idea or problem (e.g., applying an established theory in a new area). This is especially important for a master’s thesis, where originality is valued.
  • Think about the scope – Try to pick a problem that you think you can answer within the word limit of your thesis. This should be something fairly in depth so you can show off your skills and hit the word count. But it should also be narrow enough that you can finish it in time and without massively overwriting!
  • Do some research – If you have an idea for something you might want to write about, do a little preliminary research. This will help you focus your idea by seeing what other people have already said on the subject. It may even help you identify a new angle from which to approach the issue. And if you do a little research on a few potential topics, you can be sure you’ve picked the right one for your thesis.
  • Be realistic – As with the scope of your chosen topic, you need to be realistic about what you can do with the time and resources available. Would your topic require access to specialist equipment or resources? Would it require traveling? Are there any potential costs? Think about how easy it will be to conduct your research. 
  • Ask for advice – Once you have a basic idea of what you might want to write about, ask your tutor or lecturer for advice. They will have a good sense of whether it is a suitable subject for a thesis and may have suggestions for how to approach it.

And once you’ve selected a topic, you’ll want to check what your school requires for a dissertation. Usually, you will need to submit a research proposal of some kind for approval. Minimally, though, you will need to decide on a research question.

Setting a Research Question

The “research question” is the question you’ll seek to answer in your thesis. This should narrow the focus of your thesis down even more, giving you a distinct problem to address. To formulate a research question, try to come up with something that:

  • Clearly sets out the focus of your research
  • Has a limited enough scope to answer in one paper
  • Is complex enough to warrant in-depth discussion and investigation
  • Is relevant to your field of study (e.g. it fills a gap in the research)

For instance, you may be interested in viral marketing techniques. However, since this would be a very broad topic for a thesis, you would then need to look for a specific question to answer, such as how do social media influencers affect a viral advertising campaign? You could even narrow this down further by framing a question around a specific case study.

We can see some examples of “good” and “bad” questions below.

What are the environmental effects of climate change?
How is climate change affecting polar bear populations in Alaska?

In this case, the “bad” question is too broad. It would take several book-length essays to even start answering! The second question is much narrower, focusing on the effect of climate change on one species in one region, making it easier to answer.

What policies does the US have regarding food safety?
Are federal food safety policies effective at promoting public health?

In this case, the “bad” question is too narrow. It could be answered by searching on google and simply setting out the policies you find. The second question, meanwhile, is open to debate and does not have a simple answer, so there is scope for good research.

As with your thesis topic, once you have come up with a research question, speak to your advisor or tutor. They may have some guidance on how to refine it.

Writing a Research Proposal

Some colleges will ask you to write a research proposal – i.e., a detailed description of your proposed research project – before they approve your thesis. And even if you don’t have to do this, writing a research proposal can be a useful way to organize your thoughts before you begin writing. This may include information on the following:

  • A proposed title
  • Your research question/objectives
  • Why your research is significant (e.g., what it contributes to your field of study or how it could be used to help solve a practical problem)
  • An initial literature review (i.e., a look at existing research in the subject area)
  • A thesis chapter outline (see below for tips on structure)
  • Your methods (i.e., how you will conduct research or experimentation)
  • A justification for why you will study the topic in the manner set out
  • Logistical and ethical considerations
  • Potential limitations on your research project
  • A reference list or bibliography
  • A research timeline breaking down when you will complete each stage of the project, including writing up and editing your thesis
  • Any information on projected expenses or budget

You won’t always need all the above. This will depend on your school’s requirements, your subject area, and the scope of your thesis project. In essence, though, you need to set out what you want to achieve, why you want to do this, and how you intend to accomplish it.

One thing to note here is that your plan may change later on. Research can be difficult to predict, so you may need to adapt your plan after you start work on your thesis. You might find, for example, that your research question was too broad. Or you might encounter an obstacle that forces you to adapt your plans. This is completely normal!

As such, don’t stress too much about making your research plan “perfect.” Your real aim is to prove that you’ve thought seriously about your thesis, that you’re capable of planning a research project, and that you’re committed to producing high quality work.

Once your school has approved your plan, you will be ready to begin work on your thesis.

Conducting Research

Any thesis will require engaging with past research. This may be for a literature review before conducting your own experimental study. Or, in a more theoretical thesis (e.g., historical analysis or literary criticism), it may make up a large proportion of your work.

You will have done some research already as part of your proposal. But most of it will come after your thesis has been approved. Exactly what this will involve will depend on your subject area and research question, but we will look at a few common issues below.

Creating a Research Plan

Creating a plan will help you focus your research. To do this, break your thesis down into steps and set aside time for each task you need to complete. You’ll then know exactly how much you need to do and how long you will need to do it. This may include:

  • Studying existing literature on your research topic
  • Designing a study or experiment
  • Conducting primary research

When creating this plan, be realistic about how long each stage will take. And make sure to leave time for writing and editing your thesis once you’ve finished the research!

Top Tip! You can actually start writing while you’re still doing research or gathering data. For example, if you’re working on your design study, you can start making notes for your methodology section. This will save time when you come to write your thesis, as you should have all the information you need in one place, ready to be written up.

Selecting Sources

Part of efficient research is selecting the best sources for your project, as reading every single book or article on a subject would take far too long. This may involve:

  • Using what you know from your studies as a starting point for finding relevant sources. Asking your tutors or lecturers for recommendations is another good idea.
  • Checking the reference lists in good sources for similar titles.
  • Developing a strong search strategy to find sources online or in databases. This means testing keywords and using filters to narrow searches.

If you are doing research online, make sure you’re using reliable academic sources, too. For instance, a reputable journal or a university website should be trustworthy. But a blog post with no cited sources or author information will not be suitable for academic writing. Likewise, Wikipedia is not an academic source, though you can check the citations to find sources.

Top Tip! If you are writing a thesis in the humanities, the majority of your work may involve analyzing, criticizing, and comparing secondary sources or ideas from these sources. As such, it is vital to find and engage with the major thinkers in your subject area.

For instance, if you were writing about behavioral psychology, and your thesis did not acknowledge or engage with B. F. Skinner – a hugely influential figure in behaviorism – at any point, your marker may assume you haven’t done enough research or that you have missed something important. And this may affect how they assess the rest of your work.

Even if your thesis is mainly based on primary research, it is important to show that you’ve researched past work in your subject area. If you overlook a major thinker or some recent research relevant to your own study, it could end up losing you marks!

Taking and Organizing Notes

Writing a thesis will be much simpler if you have good notes to work from. So when you’re reading a paper or book relevant to your research, make sure to:

  • Take notes that are neat enough to understand when you read them.
  • Note all publication details for any source you might use in your thesis.
  • Organize notes so you can find them when needed (e.g., using colored labels to sort paper notes visually and having a well-labeled folder system on your computer).
  • Highlight important information so that you can find it later.

Other tips for efficient note taking include:

  • Use abbreviations or shorthand to aid note taking (especially in lectures).
  • Summarize key passages and ideas rather than writing them down verbatim. This will make note taking quicker, as well as helping you absorb the information.
  • Focus on the parts of sources most relevant to your research question.
  • Record page numbers and source information for anything you make notes about.
  • Use an audio recording device to record lectures.

This should leave you with detailed, easy-to-use notes when you come to write your thesis.

Data Collection and Analysis

If you are conducting empirical or experimental research, part of your research will involve data collection. This is where you gather your own information to help answer your research question. The three main styles of research include:

  • Quantitative – Research that depends on numerical data. This can be based on a scientific experiment, questionnaires, or many other methods.
  • Qualitative – Research that focuses on the distinguishing characteristics or traits of the thing studied, such as how something is subjectively experienced. Qualitative methods include things such as interviews, focus groups, and observations.
  • Mixed methods – Research that combines quantitative and qualitative methods. The aim here is to get a more rounded picture of the thing being studied.

The same applies to data analysis methods, which can also be quantitative or qualitative. But the research approach you adopt will have a major influence on how you answer your research question, so you need to think about this carefully! Key factors may include:

  • Past research – How have other studies in your subject area been done? Is there something about a past study you could draw on or improve upon? Is there existing data that you could use (e.g., from past studies or metastudies)?
  • Practicality – How easy will it be to conduct your study with the resources available? How will you collect and store data? How will you analyze it after collection?
  • Sampling – Where will you gather data? Will you be able to generalize it to a wider population? If you are working with human subjects, are there ethical concerns?
  • Problem solving – What obstacles might you face when gathering data? Do you have time to run a pilot study (i.e., a test study) before you begin?

You may have decided on much of this while writing your research proposal, but these are issues you should consider throughout the study design process. You may also want to work with your thesis advisor to finalize your plans before collecting data.

From a planning perspective, the key is giving yourself enough time to carry out each stage of the data collection and analysis. If you rush, things are more likely to go wrong!

Writing Up Your Thesis

The Structure of a Thesis

The structure of your thesis will depend heavily on the subject area. As such, we will look at how to structure empirical and non-empirical theses separately. However, as elsewhere, make sure to check what your school suggests about structuring your thesis.

Empirical Thesis Structure

Most empirical theses have a structure along the following lines:

  • Title page – A page with key information about your thesis, typically including your name, the title, and the date of submission. Your school should have a standard template for thesis title pages, so make sure to check this.
  • Abstract – A very short summary of your research and results.
  • Content page(s) – A list of chapters/sections in your thesis. You may also need to include lists of charts, illustrations, or even abbreviations.
  • Introduction – An opening chapter that sets out your research aims. It should provide any key information a reader would need to follow your thesis.
  • Literature review – An examination of the most important and most up-to-date research and theoretical thought relevant to your thesis topic.
  • Methodology – A detailed explanation of how you collected and analyzed data.
  • Results and discussion – A section setting out the results you achieved, your analysis, and your findings based on the data. You may want to include charts, graphs and other visual methods to present key findings clearly.
  • Conclusions – A final section summarizing your work and the conclusions drawn.
  • References – A list of all sources used during your research.
  • Appendices – Any additional documentation that is relevant to your study but would not fit in the main thesis (e.g. questionnaires, surveys, raw data).

We will look at some of these sections in more detail below.

Non-Empirical Thesis Structure

In the humanities and other non-experimental subject areas, your thesis may be structured more like a long essay, with each chapter/section adding to your argument. The structure will therefore depend on what you are arguing, but a common style is:

  • Title page – A page with key information about your thesis, typically including your name, the title, and the date of submission. Your school should have a standard template for thesis title pages, so make sure to check this.
  • Abstract – A very short summary of your research.
  • Content page(s) – A list of chapters/sections in your thesis. You may also need to include lists of charts, illustrations, or even abbreviations.
  • Introduction – An opening chapter that sets out your research aims. It should provide any key information a reader would need to follow your thesis.
  • Main chapters – A series of chapters where you address each main point in your argument. Ideally, each chapter should lead naturally to the next one.
  • Conclusions – A final section summarizing your work and the conclusions drawn.
  • References – A list of all sources used during your research.
  • Appendices – Any additional documentation that is relevant to your work but would not fit in the main thesis (e.g., questionnaires, surveys, raw data).

We will look at some of these sections in more detail below. For the main chapters of your thesis, though, you will have to break your argument down into a series of points. To do this, review your notes with your research question in mind, then:

  1. Write down your main arguments in as few sentences as possible. Try to imagine explaining it to a friend or your advisor in simple terms.
  2. Expand each sentence with a series of detailed subpoints or premises.
  3. Look at how each subpoint contributes to the overall argument and use this as a guideline for structuring your thesis. Ideally, each chapter will address a single aspect of your argument in detail, complete with supporting evidence.

It can help to treat each chapter in a humanities thesis like an essay of its own, with an introduction (i.e., what you will address in the chapter at hand), a series of sub-points with evidence, and a short conclusion that leads on to the next chapter.

Writing Your Thesis

Next, we’ll look in detail at some of the sections most theses will include. As elsewhere, though, don’t forget to check your school’s requirements for the structure and content of a thesis, as some elements will vary (e.g., the length of the abstract, or whether to include separate “Results” and “Discussion” sections). If you cannot find this information on your college’s website or in course materials, ask your tutor or advisor for guidance.

Picking a Title

Your thesis title should give readers an immediate sense of what it is about. A good way to do this is to have a title and a subtitle based on topic and focus respectively:

  • The topic is the broad subject area of your thesis (e.g., viral marketing techniques, the environmental effects of climate change, or food safety regulations).
  • The focus is the specific thing that you are studying (e.g., the impact of social media, the change in polar bear populations, or whether regulations promote public health).

For instance, the following could all work as dissertation titles:

Viral marketing and social media: A case study of the role of influencer culture in the success of Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign

Environmental Effects of Climate Change: A Qualitative Study of the Factors Behind Changing Polar Bear Populations in Alaska

Food Safety in America: Are Federal Policies Promoting Public Health?

All these titles give a sense of the question the thesis will answer. The first two are quite long, which can reduce clarity in some cases, but they also include information about the type of research conducted. The key is striking a balance between detail and clarity.

You may also want to check your style guide (or ask your advisor) for advice on how to capitalize titles. You can find information on title case and sentence case capitalization here.

Writing an Abstract

An abstract is like a preview, allowing readers to see what your thesis is about. As such, it should set out the key information about your study in a clear, concise manner.

The exact length and style of an abstract can vary, but typically it will be between 100 and 500 words long and primarily written in the past or present tense. It should include:

  • What you aimed to do and why
  • How you did it
  • What you discovered
  • Recommendations (if any)

It often helps to leave writing the abstract until you’ve at least got a first draft of your full thesis, as by that point you’ll have a better sense of your research overall.

Writing an Introduction

A good thesis introduction should set the scene for the reader, telling them everything they’ll need to know to follow the rest of your thesis. It should therefore:

  • Establish the subject area and specific focus of your work.
  • Explain why the topic is important and your research objectives.
  • Offer some background information, including current theories or research.
  • Provide a thesis or hypothesis (i.e., a short statement of what you will argue).
  • Outline the structure of your thesis (i.e., what each chapter will cover).

It can help to have a strong opening line that will grab the reader’s attention, but this is not necessary. Try to avoid clichéd openings such as “Webster’s Dictionary defines [THESIS TOPIC] as…,” as these will rarely add anything useful to your paper.

One good tip is to write a rough introduction first, but to revisit it once you have a draft of your full thesis. This is because the introduction and conclusion should work like “bookends” to the rest of your thesis, so the introduction needs to reflect the content that follows.

The Literature Review

The literature review provides the theoretical foundations for your thesis. The idea is not just to summarize key concepts and studies, but to set up your own work by showing how it follows from existing research to offer something new. To do this, you may need to:

  • Examine key theories or ideas that provide context for your study.
  • Read sources critically and assess how they relate to your research.
  • Look at the current state of research in your subject area.
  • Reflect on the methods and theories used by other researchers.
  • Explain how your work will develop or build upon current knowledge.

You can use your research question to guide this review. But it’s also worth asking your advisor or tutor for advice on literature you should read.

When writing up your literature review, make sure it has a clear structure. This might be chronological (i.e., in order of when the studies you discuss were done), methodological (i.e., organized in terms of the research style or approach), or thematic (i.e., organized in terms of what studies focused on or discussed). But you need to give it a clear sense of development, which ultimately should lead back to your own research question.


The methodology chapter is where you explain, in detail, how you performed your research. This may be a relatively simple section of your thesis, but make sure to:

  • Include something about your research approach (e.g., qualitative vs. quantitative) and why it was the best choice for your study.
  • Be descriptive! Make sure to detail each step of how you gathered and analyzed data. This includes any equipment or techniques used, as well as the conditions under which you gathered your data. Ideally, a reader should be able to replicate your research from reading your methodology section.
  • Justify your choices. From equipment to analysis, you should have a reason for every decision you make about the methodology of your study.
  • Mention any obstacles you faced or any limitations of your chosen methods.
  • Consider ethical concerns. If you had to seek approval from an ethics panel to conduct your research, make sure to detail it here.

The appendices can be useful here, as you can use them for information that is relevant but not essential for explaining your methodology (e.g., survey templates, consent forms). If you do include anything like this in your appendices, though, make sure to reference it clearly in your methodology chapter (e.g., “For more information, see Appendix C…”).

Results and Discussion

This is where you set out the results of your research, including data, analysis, and findings. 

This can vary a lot depending on your subject area and school. Some use a combined “Results and Discussion” section, where results are presented alongside analysis. Some prefer to separate the results and the discussion into separate chapters. As such, you will want to check with your advisor about the best way to present your results.

Generally, though, reliable tips for presenting results in a thesis include:

  • Offer context – Raw data may be difficult to follow, so make sure to include enough text to guide the reader through your findings. Ideally, it should be clear how everything in this section helps you to answer your initial research question.
  • Focus on the most relevant data – If you’ve collected lots of data, make sure to focus on the parts that are most relevant to your research question. If you try to include everything, key findings may get lost among the information overload.
  • Use visuals – If appropriate, consider using charts, graphs, tables, or figures to present results, as these can make complex data easier to visualize. However, make sure to label all charts and figures carefully so their relevance is clear.

The “Discussion” part should focus on the significance of your results. Think about:

  • How the data supports (or disproves) your initial hypothesis. 
  • How your results compare to those of the studies in your literature review.
  • Whether any problems encountered during the research, or the previously outlined limitations of your methods, affect the validity of your results.
  • The implications of your study for future theory, research, and practice.

Since this is where you really dig into the value of your research, the “Results and Discussion” section may be the most important part of your thesis. As such, you should take time to make sure it thoroughly addresses your chosen research question.

Writing a Conclusion

The conclusion is where you tie everything up together. As mentioned earlier, it should work with the introduction to “bookend” your thesis. As such, it should:

  • Start by briefly recapping the thesis topic and your research question.
  • Summarize the main points of your argument/your results.
  • Draw conclusions and explain how your research supports them.
  • Consider the implications of your research (e.g., its significance for your field of study or real-life applications of your results).

Your overall aim is to briefly explain how you have answered your research question. However, make sure not to introduce new arguments or evidence in the conclusion. If you need these to support your point, they should be included in the main body of the thesis.

Referencing and Quoting Sources

In any academic document, you will need to cite sources. This typically means:

  • Citing sources in the main text of your thesis.
  • Adding a reference list or bibliography at the end of the document.

The details of how to do this will depend on the referencing style or system you’re using, so remember to check your style guide. However, we will offer some general tips here.

Why Cite Sources?

Referencing involves identifying the sources you’ve used in your research, usually with some kind of in-text citations and full publication information for all sources in a reference list.

There are several reasons to take referencing seriously in your thesis:

  • You get to show off your research skills and ability to find relevant information.
  • It is good practice to credit other thinkers for their ideas.
  • It provides vital context for your own work.
  • Failing to cite sources will be treated as plagiarism (i.e., using someone else’s words or ideas without crediting them), which could have negative consequences.

This last point is the most important as plagiarism is considered academic fraud. And if you’re found to have plagiarized someone else’s work in your thesis, you will lose marks.

You will need to cite a source whenever you:

  • Quote or paraphrase another person’s words.
  • Refer to facts or figures that aren’t common public knowledge.
  • Refer to an idea or theory you found published somewhere.
  • Use an image or illustration that you did not create yourself.

This should protect you from unfair accusations of plagiarism.

In-Text Citations

In-text citations come in three main types, each used by different referencing systems:

  • Parenthetical Citations – This involves giving citations in brackets in the main body of your thesis. Often, this will be the author’s surname, the year of publication, and page numbers (e.g., Harvard, APA). However, some systems differ, such as MLA, which only gives the author’s surname and page number(s).
  • Number–Footnote Citations – Some referencing systems indicate citations with a number in the text, then give source information in footnotes (e.g., Oxford, MHRA).
  • Number–Endnote Citations – Similar to the above, number–endnote systems use numbered citations in the main text (e.g., Vancouver, IEEE). However, in this case the numbers point to an entry in a reference list at the end of the document.

And while these citation styles differ, there are some tips that apply in all cases:

  • Always check your school’s style guide to find their preferred citation style.
  • Make sure every source used in the main text is cited.
  • Make sure that all cited sources are included in a reference list.
  • Apply a consistent citation style throughout each essay.

As above, this will help ensure you don’t accidentally commit plagiarism in your writing.

Quoting Sources

Quoting sources is a great way of supporting your arguments in a thesis. However, if you are going to quote a source in your writing, you need to do it right.

The first step is knowing when to quote a source. Generally, this is most useful when:

  • Your point depends on the exact wording (e.g., if you are discussing why an author used a specific term in their work).
  • The original text is especially well expressed and rephrasing it would detract from this.

If you do quote a source, make sure to place the borrowed text in “quotation marks.” This shows the reader that you have taken it from somewhere else. The accompanying citation should then identify the source and the page(s) where the quote can be found.

In many cases, it is better to paraphrase a source than quote it. This means rewriting the passage in your own words, which shows that you have understood it. However, remember that you still need to cite sources when paraphrasing something.

Reference Lists and Bibliographies

Every academic document that cites sources should include a reference list or bibliography. These terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but the general difference is:

  • A reference list is a list of every source cited in your thesis.
  • A bibliography should include any source you used while researching your thesis (even the ones that you did not cite directly in your work).

As with citations, this may depend on the system you’re using and different referencing systems will have different rules for creating a reference list. In all cases, though:

  • Make sure to check your school’s style guide for advice on whether to create a reference list or a bibliography (and what to include in it).
  • Check that you know the reference formats for every source type you have used (e.g., a print book will have a different format to an online journal article).
  • Make sure all references are clear and consistent.

One helpful tip for drawing up your reference list/bibliography is to keep a running list of sources as you work. In other words, whenever you find something useful during research, note down the publication details. You will then have all the information required if you need to reference it later (plus, you’ll be able to find the same source quickly if you need it).

Reference Management Software

Finally, you may want to look at using reference management software when writing a thesis. This refers to programs that store and organize your references, such as:

  • EndNote – EndNote works with all major referencing systems, source types and word processors. The full version is paid, but there is a limited free version.
  • Mendeley – This is a free tool for managing and citing PDF documents. It is therefore most useful when the majority of your sources are in this format.
  • Zotero – This package has an internet browser plugin that can automatically import source information from websites and add citations to your work.
  • RefWorks – This web-based system provides a simple way of collating sources that can be accessed from any computer with an internet connection.

Whether you use reference management software or not, you should always double check citations and the reference list before submitting your work. That way, you can be sure that the referencing in your thesis is clear, consistent, and error free.

Additional Resources

For more information on referencing in different systems, see our blog posts on:


Not every thesis will include an appendix or appendices. However, as mentioned above, you can put useful but non-essential information in an appendix.

Common examples of things that you might put in an appendix include:

  • Raw test data
  • Technical figures, graphs and tables
  • Maps, charts and illustrations
  • Letters and emails
  • Sample questionnaires and surveys
  • Interview transcripts

You will need to check your style guide for advice on appendices, such as whether they count towards the word limit, but standard rules for adding appendices include:

  • Place appendices at the end of your document after the reference list.
  • Divide appendices by topic so that each appendix contains one type of information (e.g., separate sections for test results, illustrations and transcripts).
  • Start each appendix on a new page and label it with a letter or number, along with a title clarifying content (Appendix A: Instrument Diagrams, Appendix B: Test Results).
  • List appendices in the table of contents at the beginning of your document.

If you then needed to point the reader to something in an appendix in the main body of your thesis, you would simply have to cite the relevant appendix label. For instance:

The interviews show that most people like ice cream (see Appendix C for full transcripts).

This lets you keep the main text of your thesis focused on the research question.

Word Count Advice

Most theses come with a suggested word count. Ideally, you will get as close to this as you can (within 10% either way is usually acceptable). Exceeding or being significantly below the word limit may lose you marks, so make sure you know what to aim for.

If you are struggling to stay within the word limit on an essay:

  • Look for and cut out any repetition in your work.
  • Consider whether non-essential information may fit better in an appendix (but make sure to check whether appendices count towards the word limit).
  • Remove redundant pairs (i.e., terms like “each and every” or “final outcome”).
  • Edit out unnecessary modifiers and qualifying terms (e.g., you can often cut words like “quite,” “very,” and “really” without losing anything of substance).
  • Replace phrases with a word (e.g., “due to the fact that” = “because”).
  • Cut down long or unnecessary quotations.
  • Use the active voice instead of the passive voice.

If you are struggling to reach the suggested word count, you can:

  • Do more research to develop your argument further.
  • Add quotes or examples to support your arguments.
  • Introduce alternative points of view for comparison.

The key is that anything you add to increase the word count should also add to your argument. Do not try to pad out your writing by simply adding extra words and phrases.

Editing and Proofreading a Thesis

Before submitting an essay, you will want it to be perfect. This means that you shouldn’t just submit the first draft you write. Instead, you’ll want to go over your work and refine it.

We’ve touched upon this above in our tips on staying within the word count. In this last section, though, we’ll look at editing and proofreading an essay in more detail.

The Drafting Process

A “draft” is a version of a document, with the “final draft” the finished version. And writing a good thesis will require redrafting. This might be because the focus of your thesis shifts part way through, meaning you need to tweak what you’ve already written. Or it may simply be that you wrote your introduction first and want to adjust it after finishing your conclusion.

In any case, redrafting is a good way to polish your writing and pick up extra marks (as well as to avoid embarrassing errors and typos). Typically, the process looks like this:

  • First Draft – An initial version based on your thesis plan. It doesn’t matter if this isn’t perfect right away, as you’ll have a chance to improve it by redrafting.
  • Second Draft – After finishing the first draft of your full thesis, go back over each chapter and make sure it fits within the document as a whole. This may include making changes to fix errors, to highlight connections between different parts of your thesis, or to make sure each section flows smoothly into the next one.
  • Third Draft Onwards – Repeat the step above as required. This is vital in a thesis-length document, as it is easy to overlook typos when dealing with large amounts of text. Each time you redraft, you should need to make fewer revisions.
  • Final Draft – This is the finished thesis. However, you’ll still want to do one final check to eliminate remaining typos. This final check is often known as “proofreading.”

The key to a truly great thesis is giving yourself enough time to redraft at least once or twice. Keep this in mind when working out your schedule before you begin writing.

Another point to note here is that some online companies offer to redraft your thesis for you. However, using an editing service may count as plagiarism if your work is being marked. 

But it is a good idea to seek professional proofreading for your thesis.

Proofreading Your Thesis

Proofreading differs from editing because it focuses on technical errors, such as spelling and grammar mistakes, while preserving the meaning and content of your writing. As such, you can have your work proofread without falling foul of plagiarism rules.

Proofreading your own work can be difficult as it’s easy to miss errors when you’re already familiar with a document. If you do plan to proofread your own thesis, though:

  • Take some time off before you begin. This will help you spot errors that you might otherwise miss from being too familiar.
  • Print it out and proofread on paper instead of on the screen.
  • Try reading problem sections out loud or in reverse (i.e., starting from the end of the part you’re having trouble with and working backwards).
  • If you are reading it on screen, make sure to set the proofing language. In Microsoft Word, you can do this via Review > Language > Set Proofing Language.

It is almost always best to have someone else proofread your work, though. If you would like one of Proofed’s academic writing experts to check your thesis, why not upload a document today?

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