Writing Your Thesis
Part Two: The Timeline
Once you've actually got a thesis in mind, and an approved topic, you have to create some sort of manageable timeline for this project. This differs from department to department. If you are not required to do experimental research, your thesis may take less time than someone from, say, Industrial Engineering. But if you have to write a novel or short-story collection (as a master's student in the Creative Writing program would), you may take longer than someone in the MBA program who is doing a simple pilot study using survey research.
In addition, your timeline will be very different depending upon the semester in which you plan to graduate. It may also change if you pilot-study your thesis as an independent study.
Don't let this worry you, though. Just know that this timeline is a guideline, not set in stone. Also, remember that everyone's thesis will be different, and everyone's methodology will be different, so this sample timeline may not fit your thesis perfectly. It is set up on a 16-month schedule, which is very conservative. As a full-time student, this should be in your second or third semester.
- 16 months before your defense:
- Decide (if you have the option to decide) whether or not to write a thesis
- Start figuring out a thesis topic. You can do this by paying close attention to the texts you read in your graduate courses. Check out what research is being done in your field, and where you think you could expand on that research. Speak to your professors about what areas could use more research and extension. Keep track of your ideas; they will serve you well quite soon.
- 14 months before your defense:
- Decide on a Thesis Advisor (see Part One of Tackling a Thesis).
- Craft a proposal and approach your prospective advisor (or advisors). This should be done a year in advance to be certain that your topic is researchable and that you can complete it within the timeframe. The advisor can help you with this.
- 13½ months before your defense:
- Begin the research process by finding resources.
- Spend a day at the UCF Computer Labs (or at home, if you like, although you can print anything for free at the labs). Go into the database services offered by the school and read or print (we suggest printing) as many articles as you can find that are germane to your topic. Don't spend all your time actually reading every single one right now; just skim them. You can read them later. For more information, see Part Three of Writing a Thesis.
- 11 months before your defense:
- Review your research.
- This is the part where you read all the articles you have, highlighting, underlining, or taking notes. Also, organize the articles in whatever way that you believe would be best for your actual write-up; for more information, see Part Four of Writing a Thesis.
- 10½ months before your defense:
- Begin the writing process.
- Start writing the introduction and the literature review. This will take a while. It seems like a never-ending process, but it helps to look at each section of the review as a separate essay.
NOTE: The following two steps will only apply to you if you need to do a pilot study.)
- 10 months before your defense:
- Start crafting a pilot study or the actual experiment.
- Some experiments require pilot studies, which take time. Now would be a good time to do one. You can create the pilot study format and methodology with your advisor, and (possibly as an independent study, although this option varies from department to department) perform the pilot study over the summer. Whether or not you do a pilot study will be directly related to previous research in your field, so examine what others have done and decide for yourself (with your advisor) whether you need to do a pilot study or not. Your advisor will help you get your subjects.
- 9½ months before your defense:
- Complete your pilot study. Self-explanatory. You might also input the data into a statistical computer program (see the statistics professor for your graduate department for advice) and go over it with your advisor.
- 7 months before your defense:
- Do another brief literature review
- Review anything that may have come out between your previous review and the current date. If it is worth printing out, print it. Otherwise, you can cite it in your paper as further proof. For example:
There has been no statistical proof as of yet that cellular phones cause cancer (Herbert, 1998; McHenry and Teddrow, 2001).
NOTE: The following three steps will only apply to you if you are required to have an experimental research project within your thesis.
- 5 months before your defense:
- Start designing your actual experiment. This is complex. Your advisor will come in handy. Let him or her help you with this process. It is very different for every field, so it would be best to set up a subordinate timeline with your advisor that fits into this timeline. You and your advisor will also take your experiment to the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and make sure that you won't harm any human subjects (if you are using human subjects).
- 4½ months before your defense:
- Perform your experiment. Self-explanatory. Remember, if you're using mailed-out survey research, that you must start earlier so your subjects have time to return your survey.
- 2½ months before your defense:
- Enter your data and deduce/induce your results, and then write it up. Self-explanatory again. This portion includes writing your methodology, procedure, findings, and discussion sections, or whatever your department has chosen to call them.
- 1 month before your defense:
- Finish the writing process. By now, you should have everything written up except your conclusion. Finish that up, and then proofread your thesis three final times: once in normal order, once in reverse order by paragraph, and once in reverse order by chapter. This will help you pick up all the little errors you may have missed.
The following four steps have specific dates, set each year by the College of Graduate Studies. Visit the College of Graduate Studies Web site to find out the specific dates for the semester in which you plan to defend your thesis.
- 1 month before your defense:
- Request a thesis defense date from your advisor.
- 3 weeks before your defense:
- Submit a copy of your thesis to the Thesis and Dissertation Office within Graduate Studies.
- Day Zero Defend your thesis. Most theses must be defended, to prove that you are worthy of receiving a Master's degree. You will defend to your advisor, your committee, and your department. Also, thesis defenses are open to the public; you can invite anyone you want, and other people may just show up to see not only how you do, but also to hear your interesting ideas. See the handout Preparing for the Defense for more information.
- Shortly after your defense: Submit final copies of your thesis to the Thesis and Dissertation Office for final approval. This is part of the publishing process; all theses are published on-campus and made available in the library for students to use.