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Stuck on your master's thesis?

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16th-Jul-2017       
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Joanna Hughes :
Even the most devoted scholars ultimately hit a roadblock at one time or another-sometimes at the least convenient times. If you're having trouble getting started on your master's thesis, you're likely feeling no small about of frustration. But you're also not alone. Lucky for you, we've rounded up some tried-and-true tips and tricks for getting off and running in the right direction.
1. Commit to Choosing the Right Topic
Choosing a topic for your master's thesis is anything but an arbitrary process. After all, you're going to be stuck with it for a long time. However, if you're like most master's students, you're probably in graduate school because you have an interest in a particular area or subject. Your brainstorming process starts here.
Write down a list of all possible ideas, welcoming creativity throughout the process. An open mind and expansive approach are integral: While some of your ideas may not be feasible, others may lead in unexpectedly fecund directions.
It's also useful to keep your career goals in mind when narrowing down your list of potential topics. While the job hunt may feel like it's a long way off right now, it will be here before you know it and a relevant thesis can give you the leading edge when it does.
And while the idea generation process may be a solitary one, the selection process doesn't have to be. Everyone from classmates to your thesis advisor can be ideal sounding boards for exploring potential ideas.
One last thing to keep in mind? Forget about finding the "perfect" topic. Why? Because it doesn't exist. Not yet, anyway.
2. Write a Solid Proposal
Your master's proposal outlines the plan for its completion. The more comprehensive your proposal is, the clearer your path will be throughout the research and writing process. Investing inadequate time into your proposal, meanwhile, will not only interfere with your progression, but may also lead to complications when the time arises for committee review.
If you're still not sure about your topic, performing a topic analysis can help. A simplified version of a proposal, a topic analysis can help you "test" a topic in order to determine whether it's worthy before you venture too far down the path. This step includes identifying the hypothesis or question; evaluating the topic's importance; assessing the significance of prior work on the topic; determining your planned methodology or approach; and predicting possible outcomes along with their significance.
Don't limit yourself to a single topic analysis.  Exploring several different directions can help you hone in on the best topic, which can then be built out into a strong proposal.
3. Don't Underestimate the Role of Your Advisor
The best master's students advisors are involved with the research process from its inception to completion. While the role may be supervisory in nature, it can also be quite active. Choosing an advisor who is interested in your topic and has expertise in the field is critical. After all, advisors who have a stake in your work are much more likely to offer the most useful guidance and help.
In addition to interviewing potential advisors, take time to talk to their advisees, who can offer invaluable insight into determining everything from how available a particular advisor is to what sort of feedback will be offered. Other questions to ask may pertain to management style, facilitation skills, working atmosphere, expectations, and the average time advises take to finish under a particular advisor.
It's also essential to remember that advisors have commitments of their own. Making sure your mutual expectations are in alignment in advance can save you heartache and headache down the line.
4. Start Writing and Keep Track
While every person's writing process is different, all master's theses share at least one thing in common: the writing has to start somewhere. Beginning with your initial brainstorming sessions, maintain a research notebook aimed at collecting all of your ideas, sources, observations and impressions, and problems into one central location.
Again, the more thorough you are, the more valuable this notebook will be-not only as a resource, but as a record and reference. While it will serve as a go-to throughout your entire thesis writing process, your thesis notebook will be particularly useful when you're preparing your bibliography.
5. Set Goals and Reward Yourself
Once you choose your topic and start writing, your thesis can become all-encompassing. And while momentum is good, it can also lead to burnout.
Many writers find that establishing a schedule-both for starting and stopping! -- is a useful way to spur productivity while simultaneously building in essential time off. Stopping at regular intervals to rest and recharge is an important part of the thesis writing process, as is goal-setting. As with most things in life, the more realistic and manageable your goals are, the more likely you are to reach them. Yes, you'll be that much further along in the process, but you'll also derive a beneficial mental boost every time you reach another milestone and move on.
While writing a thesis takes no small amount of time and energy and there will invariably be obstacles along the way, these five tips can help you navigate the challenges and enjoy an optimized path toward thesis-writing success.
(Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family).

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