HOW TO WRITE BA THESIS menulis thesis BA

How to Write a BA Thesis
a practical guide from
your first ideas to your
finished paper
Charles Lipson

1 introduction
Most students write a thesis for a very simple reason: it’s required to grad-
uate with honors. In some schools, it’s required for all graduates. Even so,
the thesis is different from other requirements—more demanding and
much more rewarding. Most requirements focus on specific courses, per-
haps an introductory course on statistics, social structure, or American fic-
tion. There is not much you can do if the class is at 9 .., the subject is bor-
ing, or the professor drones on, oblivious to your snoring.
Your thesis, happily, is different. It is in your hands. You will work with
an adviser, of course, but you will ultimately select your own topic and do
most of the work yourself, independently. You can start at 9 .. or 9 ..,
skip work entirely some days, or study straight through the weekend. You
own it.
That’s the good news and the bad news. To select a topic, you have to
think about what truly interests you, and probably meander a bit before
you settle on the right path. Once you have decided on a general subject—
say, marriage and divorce in nineteenth-century fiction—you need to
hone it down to a manageable size. That might be “The Scar of Divorce in
the Fiction of Henry James and Edith Wharton.” In international studies,
your broad interest in America’s wars might lead to a thesis on “The Evo-
lution of American Air Power in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq.”These
for all students: read in month 1
1. One student recalls just such an experience: “Dr. Duncan’s lectures [on medical
matters] at 8 o’clock on a winter’s morning are something fearful to remember.
Dr. Munro made his lectures on human anatomy as dull as he was himself.... I at-
tended Jameson’s lectures on Geology and Zoology, but they were incredibly dull. The
sole effect they produced on me was the determination never as long as I lived to read a
book on Geology or in any way to study the science.” The student was Charles Darwin.
Despite the dreadful lectures, he grew more interested in these subjects and, apparently,
even conducted some independent research and writing. Charles Darwin, The Auto-
biography of Charles Darwin and Selected Letters, ed. Francis Darwin (New York: Dover,
1958), 12, 15.topics capture your general interests and encourage you to grapple with
them, but they are not too large and unwieldy. They are feasible thesis top-
ics because they allow you to do the necessary research and then enter the
conversation with your own ideas.
This reading, research, and writing builds on your previous work: your
courses and seminar papers. Together, they lay the foundations for a
longer, more challenging project: your thesis. If doing a thesis seems harder
than your earlier work, it is also more satisfying. As you select your topic,
you can explore issues that interest you deeply. As you move gradually from
reading and research to writing and revising, you can develop a real sense
of mastery. As you work out your perspective and begin writing, you can
develop your own distinctive voice. In all these ways, your thesis is the cap-
stone of your undergraduate education. And it is something more: a vital
step toward lifelong learning, where you will always pick your own subjects
to explore.
Because your thesis requires independent work, it is useful to have a
guide, a mentor by your side. That’s what this book is. It is designed to help
you and your adviser as you proceed along the trail, from selecting a good
topic to turning in your final draft, with a sigh of relief. My goal is to offer
suggestions you can use at every stage of your work.
One of the challenges of writing a thesis is that you need to combine a
lot of tasks: selecting a topic, reading the best books and articles, conduct-
ing sustained research, arriving at your own viewpoint, planning your
paper, writing a first draft, and then revising and polishing it, all while
managing your own time. This is not a 100-meter dash. It is a hike through
the woods, requiring a variety of skills and some persistence.
This book will guide you past the mileposts, flag the main issues, warn
you about the stumps along the trail, and give you some brief, practical ad-
vice about each aspect of the project. If you want more details on some, I
will point you to the best sources. But I will keep this book focused on the
main issues so you can focus on your primary goal: completing your own
best thesis, one you find satisfying to work on and pleased to turn in.
For now, let me begin with some reassurance, based on years of work-
ing with thesis students. You’ve made it this far, and you can complete your
thesis. In fact, you can complete a thesis you’ll be proud of. You just need
to approach it thoughtfully and stick with it. If you are committed to that,
you’ll do just fine

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