The Study Dude—Three Tips for Planning & Organizing Thesis Papers

The Study Dude—Three Tips for Planning & Organizing Thesis Papers

Have you ever had your computer die while writing a term paper? It’s a cause for grief, anger, and other prickly emotions.  But with the next three tips, you may never lose grades due to the sudden death of a laptop, the loss of a file, or the lapse of a deadline.

That’s because studies go smoother when you plan and organize your paper.

Let’s look at how to plan ahead a thesis.

Tip #1: Plan your studies the night before.

According to Petteri Sahlman (2012), “An easy way to ensure your day will get an efficient start is to plan your next thesis session after you have finished the previous session.  So if it is Monday and you have just written 2 pages of literature review, check out articles/sources for Tuesday’s work and write the page numbers down on your document.  On Tuesday, all you have to do is to check where you left off, open the right sources and pages and start typing.  Trust me, this really makes a world of difference” (20%).

Writing an essay is similar.  Before you go to bed, sketch out what you’ll write about the next day.  To do so, type square brackets where you left off with your essay.  Inside those square brackets, jot the first sentence of what you aim to write the next day.  Add in a few words about the topics you wish to tackle.  And then, open up your articles and books to the pages you want to read.  Then, enjoy a peaceful sleep.

I guarantee, you’ll write at the speed of lightning the very next day.

Tip #2: Collect your data after you do the following three things.

For a master or PhD thesis, you need to start your empirical research at a certain point.

But first, you might be wondering, “What is empirical data?” It’s the data that you use in graduate studies to make original work.  Surveys and interviews are types of empirical data.  Observations are another form of empirical data, such as that done in ethnographic studies where you observe, say, a cultural group in its natural habitat.

You likely won’t use empirical data in the undergrad program, as the emphasis is less on creating original work.  But you’ll likely be citing articles that use empirical data.

In grad school, you have a year to write a book-length document.  Mine had to be a minimum of 50 pages.  So, it’s critical to pace your empirical research.  In fact, it’s essential to pace every component of the thesis, not just the empirical part.

Petteri Sahlman (2012) says, “[A] factor to plan is when you should start collecting empirical data for your thesis (if you need any).  As a general rule … if you have to collect the data yourself, this should be started when you have finalized your research questions, chosen your methodology and written about half of the literature review ….  This will give you enough background knowledge to plan your questionnaire/interview questions and get your supervisor’s approval and suggestions before you finalize your theoretical part.  This allows you to start working on the empirical part as soon as the literature review is done” (21%).

And if you don’t know what a literature review is, it’s the scope of what is known about your topic.  Your sources for the literature review will be from, of course, published academics, but mostly from academic thought leaders.  You can even contact high profile people, like a president of an organization, and cite one-off commentary.  The key is to keep the sources credible.

So, start early on your surveys, observations, interviews, or other empirical data collection methods—but not too early.

Tip #3: Do the following to back up your files.

Petteri Sahlman (2012) advises, “Let’s talk about file management.  This is very simple really.  There are basically two rules: 1) Save a new version daily 2) Backup everything.  You should have a dated version of your work for each day you are working on it, for example thesis-0822.docx where 08 refers to the month and 22 to the date.  Why is this format cool? For a few reasons: it allows you to roll back to older version (or a part of it) if that is necessary and you will see the progress easily” (23%).

I prefer to label all my documents in the format of year-month-day-shortenedtitle-draft1.  For instance, 2020-11-04-literaturereview-draft1.  But, if not a thesis, try starting your labeling system with the course name: COMS201-2020-11-04-PlatoEssay-draft1.  This system will ensure your current draft stays at the top of your prior drafts.

But be sure to create a folder for each course: COMS201, and put inside that folder subfolders, such as, “COMS 201 Term Paper.”

That’s easy file management, but what about backups?

Petteri Sahlman (2012) states, “Creating backups should also be a no-brainer.  A friend of mine lost more than 50% of her literature review because her computer broke down and she had no backups.  It is extremely frustrating to write same things twice.  So use USB-drives, TimeMachine (if you have a Mac) and remember to send it to yourself by email occasionally so you have it somewhere easily accessible for sure.  Also, install DropBox.  It is completely free and works amazingly.  You can use that as an additional backup folder or you can just create your thesis folder in Dropbox and have it store everything automatically” (22%).

You can buy an external hard drive for $90, too.  It might just have more storage space than your laptop.  I bought two thin external hard drives, each the size of a wallet.  And I back up all my files on both of them.  These external hard drives work exactly like USB sticks.

So, those are three tips to planning and organizing a thesis—and even an essay.  One thing you never want to happen is to lose your best essays.  Back up those beauties.  They’re your ticket into grad school.  And organize them because, should you decide on grad school, tidy files tame the deadline beast.  And, lastly, pace your empirical research to rocket your originality.

Ah, you’ve got the edge.

Sahlman, Petteri.  (2012).  How to write a masters thesis fast: Practical productivity tips for students.  [Kindle Unlimited].  Retrieved at
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