Major Paper or Thesis


General Notes:

Step 1: Identify and refine research question.

  • Your interest in your research questions (from Emory University) will help you maintain focus on the process. The work you do may become the starting place for future research work and the next step in your career. Choose a topic that interests you and will help you advance your career. However, your choice of topic will depend on the requirements of your professor, advisor, program, department, college, university, and academic discipline.
    • In some cases, you will be given a research question or a list of topics to choose from by your advisor. In other cases, you will develop a topic based on your own research interests.
  • Review departmental information to learn about faculty research areas and identify faculty who might be interested in working with you. Try the UFV Experts database.
  • Set up a system for organizing your search results, citations, PDFs, primary sources, and notes.
    • Citation management tools (from Simon Fraser University) such as Zotero and Mendeley can help you with this. You can use these tools to create 'in-text' citations and bibliographies or works cited lists as you write.
  • Do a preliminary study of the literature related to your topics to understand previous research, key themes, issues, variables, methodologies, limitations, terminology, controversies, and gaps in the current research. Identify significant researchers and scholars working in the area. Consult a variety of sources such as websites, research blogs, books, journal articles, conferences, organizations, and other sources.
  • Narrow your ideas to 2 or 3 possible research questions. Evaluate your question using criteria like feasibility, scope (too narrow or too broad), your level of interest, and future benefit to your career.
  • Discuss your ideas with colleagues, mentors, and other professors for comment and feedback.
  • Organize your research ideas into a pre-proposal for use in discussion and negotiation with your advisor.
  • Revise and modify as needed based on comments gathered.
  • Be sure that you and your advisor are in agreement about the research questions before drafting the final proposal.
Percentage of time on this step: 5%

Step 2: Develop research design and methodology.

  • The research design is the strategy or blueprint for the collection, measurement, and analysis of your data. Generally the design is the overall logical structure for your project and the methodology refers to the detailed steps for data collection and analysis.
    • The type of design and method used is determined by the nature of your research question.
    • Certain research designs and methods are core to specific fields of study or programs.
    • Your design needs to be consistent with the requirements and expectations of your advisor, committee, and program.
    • Your choice of design and methods will influence the niche you develop for yourself within your department, your discipline, and the wider academic community.
  • Read and review information about design and methodology (such as books on methodology) and study examples of how these strategies have been applied in research similar to yours.
  • Consider any philosophical and practical factors. Identify the theoretical approaches inherent in your design and methods.
  • Learn about data management best practices (from Queen's University). Data management plans assist you in planning the types of data you will collect, standards to document your data (metadata), security measures to protect the confidentiality of your subjects and intellectual property, and methods for archiving and sharing your data.
  • Review theses and dissertations with similar designs and methods to learn about what worked well and what obstacles occurred.
Percentage of time on this step: 5%

Step 3: Review literature and write proposal or prospectus.

  • Proposals (from Chronicle of Higher Education) generally include the title of your project, an introduction, literature review, and a description of the research design and methodology for your proposed major paper or thesis. This is often used as the foundation for the first three chapters of the completed paper or thesis. Be sure to read other successful proposals as examples to guide your work. Check with your advisor, mentors, or department for examples.
  • Write an effective title (pdf from University of Minnesota) for your proposal. Remember that the title is the first thing that is going to help the reader understand the nature of your work. You will likely revise the title but aim to include the most important descriptive words. The title words will help researchers find your work in the future when they search for research online. Avoid ambiguous words and use a subtitle if needed.
  • Use the introduction (pdf from Academic Success Centre) to establish the context of the research being conducted and to summarize the current and historical understanding about the topic, your rationale, theoretical perspective, and proposed design and methodology. Explain the significance of your question and potential outcomes.
    • The introduction establishes the context for your research by briefly summarizing the current and background information about the topic. Use it to state the purpose of your work in the form of the hypothesis, question, or research problem (from Emory University), and briefly explain your rationale, theoretical perspective, design and methodological approach. Identify the significance and potential outcomes your project.
    • The introduction might include acknowledgement of the previous work on which you are building, an explanation of the scope of your research, what will and will not be included, and a 'road map' or 'table of contents' to guide the reader to what lies ahead.
    • Although this is the first section the reader comes to, you might want to write it last, since until then, you will not be absolutely sure what you are introducing.
    • Write in the future tense since it is a proposal. It can be changed and edited later once it becomes part of your major paper or thesis.
  • Review the literature to support your question and explain how your research will fit into the existing literature:
    • Develop an in-depth understanding of your topic and clarify why your research is significant.
    • Understand the broader discipline and field(s) of which your topic is a part. Position or frame your topic in your field and establish the link between existing research and your question.
    • Explore important methodologies, controversies, and research issues.
    • Identify names of key researchers, core journals, other research centers, possible sources of funding.
    • Explain your rationale for the research design and methodology and your plan to use and describe why it is appropriate for your research.
    • Your reading and study of the literature should be very comprehensive as your prepare your proposal and later write your final literature review. Now is the time to immerse yourself in your topic.
    • The written literature review is selective and does not include every article or source your find on your topic. Think of yourself as a curator at a museum. Select the most meaningful, representative works for your 'exhibit' but you will have had to have read and critically evaluate many more sources that you don't include in your literature review.
    • Build a workflow or system so you can keep track of sources (from Simon Fraser University) including notes/rationale for sources you are using and for those you choose not to include (with your rationale for excluding them in case your advisor or committee have questions later).
  • Specific strategies for your literature review:
  • Schedule your proposal meeting after approval by your supervisor and/or committee chair following departmental procedures. In some departments the proposal meeting is called the 'preliminary oral'. Be sure that committee members receive their copy of the proposal in advance.
    • Determine the expectations and requirements for the proposal meeting; for example, find out what type of presentation, if any, is expected. Talk with colleagues who have completed this process to understand more about the meeting.
    • Be sure that you have completed all the necessary forms from the School of Graduate Studies and/or your department.
Percentage of time on this step: 15%

Step 4: Gather and analyze data.

  • After your proposal is approved, the next step is to implement your research plan by gathering and analyzing your data. Before you begin there are more steps to consider if you have not completed these:
    • Obtain any needed Human Ethics Review Board approvals.
    • Create a strategy to organize your files, contacts, observations, field notes, and bibliographic information.
    • Implement a small pilot study before proceeding with the full data collection. This will help you to test your approach to ensure you are collecting data that reflects your research question. Document details such as time involved and issues in the study for either you or the participants. Determine if any modifications to your study need to occur before proceeding.
    • Identify and test a strategy for transforming and analyzing the data (e.g., coding data, transcribing interviews, running statistics).
    • Test your analysis method with the small pilot study or sample of your data.
    • Create graphs, tables, images, and other outputs that illustrate your results.
    • Meet regularly with your advisor to discuss and resolve any questions.
Percentage of time on this step: 30%

Step 5: Write results and discussion sections. Update introduction and literature review sections.

  • The results section of your major paper or thesis is the place to report your findings based on the data you gathered. This section should appear in a logical sequence based on your methodology. State your findings without interpretation.
    • Use non-text objects to illustrate your results including tables, figures, images and visualizations. Illustrative objects should either be placed within the major paper or thesis text or at the end of your major paper or thesis.
    • Summarize all your results whether they are statistically significant or not.
    • Put raw data, survey instruments, and release forms into appendices if appropriate and required.
  • The discussion section is often considered to be the core of your major paper or thesis. It gives context to your research, explains what your results mean, and the relevance. As part of the discussion, incorporate elements of your literature review and describe the significance and implications of what you found.
    • Include your research questions identified in the introduction. Describe how you have moved the field forward. Explain how your research enhances or fills a gap in existing research. Identify any unexpected or contradictory findings.
    • Explain how your results relate to existing literature and if they are consistent with previous research.
    • Describe how your results can be applied. This could take a variety of forms such as real world application, best practices or recommendations.
  • Review and update your introduction and literature review sections to ensure that they are accurate and current. Change the tense if needed from future to past.
  • Share the conclusion have reached because of your research. Explain limitations in your research and possibilities for future research on your topic.
  • Get online or in-person writing support from the Academic Success Centre.
Percentage of time on this step: 25%

Step 6: Edit draft and prepare for final review or examination.

  • Although editing and revising occurs throughout the writing process, budget sufficient time to return to your draft for full-scale revision. Seeking feedback, reviewing, and editing your document helps you to:
    • See your text from a reader's perspective.
    • Examine the overall organization and identify what is no longer relevant and what sections need further development.
    • Bring together parts written at different times to create a coherent, connected whole.
    • Make your ideas clear to others, which in turn, will result in better reader comments.
    • Plan and negotiate your progress in consultation with your advisor and committee members.
    • Separate large-scale revision from small-scale editing and proofreading (from Purdue University), making sure to make large changes in organization and content first rather than spending hours smoothing out a sentence you'll end up cutting.
    • Use a checklist of common errors (pdf from Academic Success Centre) when you do your final editing and proofreading, or consider hiring an editor to help you identify and fix such problems.
  • Ask colleagues and others for specific types of feedback to guide the comments. Connect with your major paper or thesis support network and members of your committee to receive constructive feedback.
    • Help your readers help you by giving them a direction, for example in a cover letter, in which you explain what you want to accomplish in the draft and list your specific questions and concerns.
    • Identify potential readers' expertise and skills when deciding which parts of your major paper or thesis you want them to review. For example, perhaps only people working in your lab can constructively comment on your methods, while friends in other disciplines would give useful feedback on the introduction.
    • Respond to all comments even though you may decide to not incorporate a suggestion.
    • Negotiate with your advisor and committee members to establish a process for submitting drafts for their feedback.
  • Check all calculations, visual details, and citations for accuracy and validity and remove sources you are no longer citing or add new ones.
  • Prepare the bibliography, appendix, title page, and acknowledgements.
  • Be sure you are formatting your document to meet the School of Graduate Studies requirements:
  • Your final review or examination is your final opportunity to present your major paper or thesis as a coherent, intelligent product to the committee members who will read and evaluate it. And, although the exam is a challenging prospect, remember it is your chance to share your work with interested colleagues, who will give you valuable feedback.
    • You may or may not be expected to give a brief presentation at the beginning.
    • Focus on the needs of your primary audience (your advisor and committee), either by consulting them directly or considering their feedback to your initial draft.
    • Review your notes and rationale for making the decisions you made in your draft for example, including or excluding certain seminal theories, authors, and research methodologies.
    • Remind yourself that at this point you are now the 'expert' on your research and the goal of the exam is to present and share your expertise and seek feedback from interested readers.
    • Check deadlines for graduation and submission of the major paper or thesis.
Percentage of time on this step: 15%

Step 7: Finish and submit.

  • Your major paper or thesis committee will have informed you that you passed your exam, or passed with minor revisions needed.
    • In some cases, substantial revisions are needed before the committee members agree to pass the major paper or thesis.
    • The procedures, requirements, and timelines for completing the major paper or thesis process may vary depending on the department or school with which you are affiliated and the type of degree you will receive.
    • Once any needed revisions have been completed and approved, you are ready to finish the major paper or thesis and submit the final version to the School of Graduate Studies.
  • A copy of your major paper or thesis is submitted to HarvestIR for long term, open access and archiving.
    • You will retain your rights to your major paper or thesis when submitting it to HarvestIR.
    • The HarvestIR copy of your major paper or thesis will be freely available for you and others to read and link to with a permanent URL.
    • You must submit a signed license agreement with your completed major paper or thesis.
  • Once you have completed the committee, departmental, and graduate school requirements regarding the major paper or thesis, you're almost done. Now it is time for personal and professional considerations.
    • Find a way to bring closure to the major paper or thesis and the degree as a goal, deadline, and benchmark in your life and look ahead to the future and the next steps in your career.
    • Take time to celebrate your achievements, honour and appreciate those who have helped along the way, and refocus your activities -- this will help you articulate and pursue new professional or career goals.
Percentage of time on this step: 5%