How I wrote my Bachelor Thesis: Minimum Input, Maximum Output
let’s talk about academic papers. I haven’t met a single person that loved them. I met a few that found meaning im them and I met a few that liked consuming the work of others, but I never really met anyone who is “passionate” about writing them. Not even writers. So in this blogpost I share a 9 tips, that will make it a whole lot easier to write academic papers and stop procrastinating. Then I will share how I wrote my thesis strategically, so I got maximum output, with minimum input. And in the end I mention some tools, that really helped me throughout the process.
First of all: Do not stress out about it too much
Usually, when I talk to other students, the bachelor thesis is such a big deal. It can become a real struggle even. But let’s face it: Technically it is not. It is the same things you need to do as if you would hand in a term paper. People do that all the time. Get informed about a topic and write a paper about it. The mindset of making it harder than it is, will make it harder for you to sit down and work on the thesis. BUT: I totally get, that there are a few mental blocks and circumstances, that make it really hard to stay motivated throughout the thesis, so that is why I wanted to share this post.
Side not: Not stressing out about your thesis also has the nice benefit of you being able to think more clearly, since our brain works worse when we are stressed. It is easier to think things through when we are relaxed. Why? I will explain in another blogpost 😉
This was definitely a saviour for me, since I worked full time while writing my bachelor thesis. I did an hour a day BEFORE work every day (or at least most days :D). I tried doing it after work in the beginning, but that did not work at all, since I was tired and usually did not get myself motivated enough. Also I wanted my head to be fresh for reading and writing and it was important for me to have time in the evenings for friends etc. But the hour a day definitely did it for me, once I knew how to time it.
What I also did is found “focus afternoons” at the weekends, where I would really focus and dive into the thesis. And actually both are habits I am keeping. Now I read one hour every morning (which is actually something I enjoy a lot) and use the “focus afternoons” to really do a deep dive into a topic and write a blogpost.
Best thing I saw about habits so far is a video by Ali Abdaal, where he summarizes “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.
Once you figured out what your habits are going to be, put in appointments with yourself. I am serious. This helps, because it makes sure you will do it (if you respect the slots) and you can let go of the thesis during the other parts of the day, since you know you have set a time to work for the thesis.
Pomodori really helps with motivation holes. And it is simple: Set a timer for 25 min and just start working. After 25 min you take a five min break and start again. You can repeat this as often as you want. And you can ALWAYS do a minimum of 25 min. They will fit in every day. And your brain will not get the chance to spiral and invent a thousand things you have to do before sitting down. So even if motivation and time are low, you will do a little bit every day, which will bring you closer to your goal of finishing the thesis. You will be surprised: Often, when the bell rings after 25 min, you will have the motivation to continue.
You can also set the timer for 45, 50 or even 360 min. Just adapt the breaks if you do longer sessions, your body and brain need it. I would recommend starting with short sessions in the beginning though.
Make sure your physiology is okay or better than okay. The most important factors are: a good nights sleep (our brain repeats what we learn while sleeping and detoxifies itself), proper breaks, movement (for relaxation and better oxygen supply) and nutrition (lots of fibre and protein are good).
If you want to have more advice on some of these, just send me a message.
Before I even started working on my thesis I made a rough project plan for it: Till when do you want to find a professor and a topic? When do you want the research to be done? When do you have to register your thesis? How much time do you have after that, till you have to hand it in? Will there be an oral exam? etc. – Put down everything that will be important in the progress and make sure that you give yourself enough time. If you have forgotten something you can just add it later. This is more about planning the big chunks, so you have a realistic picture about what is coming up. Do not set the deadlines too tightly. And count in the times you will not be available. E.g.: I wanted to enjoy the summer after lockdown, so I gave myself more time to finish the thesis. I just planned it in.
Nice side effect: The project plan shows you black on white that it is only a temporary situation with the thesis and that it will be over at a certain point of time. So even if you hate working on your thesis, you will know “This shall pass, too”.
Lock yourself away for a few days
For the last bit of my thesis I booked a small and cozy appartment with a Sauna. Best thing I could have done! It was out on the country side, bad weather and far away from all the distractions. I did not have to do the laundry or clean the place. I told everyone that they probably will not receive a reply or message from me and I got to spend some time in nature during my lunch breaks, which is usually not the case, since I live in the city centre.
The only things I did, so I could sleep well and perform nicely, is to go into the sauna and take one big walk during the day to refresh my brain.
Think about your values and who you want to be
This was a game changer for me on how I approached my thesis mentally. In the beginning I was usually pissed that I had to sit down and spend time on something I do not enjoy or need right now, since I was already working full time. Once I thought about how I wanted to approach the thesis and why I did it, it was way easier to keep a good mindset and not waste energy resisting.
Also: I told myself that we get better at the things we practice and decide for. So it is always good to finish something what you started. Life is not always easy and there are things that are necessary to be done, to get where you want to be. A good mindset helps to see the bigger picture.
Check your thesis for Plagiarism
I am really not good with bureaucratic work, so I was afraid that I got the whole quoting thing wrong. After I told myself, that I will just pay a bit to get the thesis checked that stopped me from worrying, since I knew that check would show if there was plagiarism in my thesis. Even if that is not the case with you, the ca. 30 Euros are totally worth it in terms of quality.
And as for quoting, I just used the build in function of Word for my bibliography.
Choose a topic you like
Since you will spend a lot of time on your thesis you might as well choose a topic that you like and that is linked to something you want to do later.
I chose something that
- I found interesting
- I could use in my work
- that I can imagine working in longterm
And I made the topic my own. Meaning: I study Pedagogy and I wrote about learning and E-learning, but focused more on the neurophysiology for the learning part and on digital possibilities for the E-learning part. Usually pedagogics focuses more on the education itself.
Take care which professor you choose
This is a big one! If not the most important one! You can’t change what your uni is asking of you, but if you can choose your professor, definitely go with one that has appropriate requirements, is not too strict and has enough time to help you out, if you are stuck.
Ask around uni which professors are a good choice and about the experience other people made with that professor.
After hearing some horror stories from friends I would definitely recommend better choosing a good professor, than a good topic. Because he/she is the one who could make the process way harder, than it is and the he/she is the one who is correcting the thesis in the end.
But now: How to write the thesis step by step
After looking for a professor and choosing a topic.
Brainstorm what you think should be in the thesis to answer the question you rose.
Check if there is a good overview literature or blog post or podcast or Youtube video or book or anything that is easy and fun to consume and read /listen to. That will give you an overview and first idea about the topic. So you get a better idea about it.
Cluster everything you have with Barbara Minto Pricliple – This seems a bit old, but it is still the most widely used method for structuring stuff (no matter if it is presentations, papers or other documents) and it works! Check it out the short introduction here or the older Version directly from Barbara Minto here.
Search for literature, if possible (meta-) studies (they are shorter, only read intro and conclusion), search for literature, search for literature, search for literature and save it all to folders that cover the different points from your outline of the thesis.
Open the PDFs with Kindl app – here you can highlight everything that is important and export the highlights later
Once you read a piece of paper, export the Notes and import them into Notion (a tool that is for free)
Label the literature notes with the status you are at right now. I chose e.g.:
- To read – Not read yet
- Read – I read it, but I did not do anything with the notes yet
- Notes done – I read it and imported the notes into Notion OR I read it and there are no notes
- Inserted into Bachelor Thesis- I inserted the quotes into the right place of the outline into the bachelor thesis Note: After I did the Outline of the thesis I directly created headlines so I can just put in the quotes where they belong.
Then I wrote – meaning I paraphrased, quoted and added my own thoughts where it fit.
For Citation I used the build in function from Word along the way, which worked nicely for me.
Once I read through enough material (meaning I have enough content under the headlines) I put the quotes into order, so they have a nice red thread and good reasoning.
Best tools for writing you thesis (and also productivity)
brain.fm – dope music for concentration, way better than any binureal beats I listened to and I loved binureal beats until I discovered brain.fm!
freedom – get rid of distracting apps you go to, whenever you want to distract yourself. This is a life savior! It would not even let you get out of a session if you would try.
Flow – helps with timing of pomodoro technique, Software for mac (if you do not have a mac, just google it, you will find a similar software that fits your operating system)
Notion – For project planning, taking notes etc. (I LOVE Notion)
Google docs – Simple & free, amazing for getting feedback from people reviewing your thesis, so they can all work in one document.
Even though I am still not passionate about writing the bachelor thesis, I can totally say it was worth the experience, now. And that I see the reasoning behind having to do it, too. I learned a lot about myself, how to stick with projects, about writing, E-learning and learning in general (topics of my thesis). I hope this advice helps you too!
Best of luck!