Master's thesis students
Table of Contents
Last revised: April 30, 2019
Writing a thesis is hard work: a lot needs to happen in a little time. I've created this document to clarify responsibilities and meeting procedures, adding both general and specific chapter advice for students. This helps streamline the process and free up more time to discuss content. So please read this document before our first meeting. You may also find it useful to consult throughout the process. I update it to incorporate more useful tips and advice based on past experience.
Be sure to check out the masters thesis blackboard page with examples of good theses, the thesis manual, and advice pertaining to specific methodologies.
Good luck with your thesis!
My job is to give you advice based on the written product you deliver. I only look at finished written chapters. The ideas and writing are your responsibility. It's not my job to lift all theses up to a passing grade. I may identify problems, but the solutions are for you to discover. Of course, if it is something beyond what is covered in class, I will step in and offer more guidance. But if it involves things you should know about, based on marketing classes, or general knowledge, then it's your responsibility to identify the solutions.
A few remarks about this:
- Questions like “what is the right ____ (e.g., model, theory, explanation)?” are for you to figure out, not me.
- As another example, I may say you need to fix your hypothesis, meaning, to write them in a way so that the variables and relationships are clearly described. But you must figure out how to write them the correct way.
- Feedback I give may require global changes to your thesis. For example, if my advice is to change your statistical model in chapter 3, you may need to revise what you write about it in chapter 1. These are your responsibilities to fix.
- Lastly, I focus on the most critical errors as I see them. Hence, I cannot correct everything. Therefore, it is entirely possible that a chapter I reviewed contains errors that a co-reader spots. The responsibility is on you to keep revising (and hopefully improving) your thesis. I am not the guarantor of quality, you are.
- We will meet 5 meetings + 1 defense = 6 times in total.
- A meeting typically lasts 30 minutes.
- Usually I hold them on Thursday afternoons. My office is 608 in the Tias building.
- If your thesis is based on a project for a company, you are encouraged to bring your company supervisor to the first meeting (and the defense). Students often complain that they find themselves in the middle of a conflict between their academic and company supervisors. You can better manage this if we agree in the beginning about what the aim and scope of your thesis will be.
- Each meeting covers a chapter of your thesis. I will read the new chapter you submitted, plus the revision of the last chapter. On the 5th meeting, I will read through the entire draft.
- These meetings will be at least 3 weeks apart. Please consider this in your scheduling. I cannot meet with you every week, even if you are close to the deadline.
- I do not plan more than one meeting in advance. I will plan the next meeting at the end of the current meeting.
- I do not plan the thesis defense before the 5th meeting unless there are extenuating circumstances.
Before the meeting
By 17:00, two days before the meeting (i.e., Tuesday), please submit in my mailbox, at the 6th floor building T at the marketing secretary office.
- A hard copy of your thesis. For the revised chapters, indicate which parts you’ve changed for the chapters I’ve already read using the highlighter in word or some other method.
- The last draft with my comments. This helps me in giving you better advice for your thesis!
No thesis = no meeting.
- Prepare a list of questions or other issues you would like to discuss.
At the meeting
- In the first 10-15 minutes, I will go over my main comments.
- The following 10-15 minutes is your time to ask me questions.
- In the last 5 minutes, I describe what is required for the next step and plan the next meeting or schedule the defense.
It is your job at these meetings to ask questions. Email is not the place to ask me questions. In response to your question I may ask you to consult a resource or guide you in the direction of where the answer may be found.
At the defense
- Bring a copy of your thesis to the defense. This is useful for you to have in answering the questions! (You would be surprised how many people don't do this.)
- Take a moment to think about the question before answering. We appreciate clear and concise answers. This isn't a conversation where you have to respond immediately. So take some time to think about your answer, and don't feel obligated to respond immediately.
- If you do not understand the question, you can ask to clarify. If you still don't understand, you can try rephrasing it before you answer the question, "So I see you're asking about whether this variable X is actually measuring concept Y instead of Z as I claim. .." That way you can show that you are thinking carefully about the issue and want to understand the question.
- There are good arguments, and there are bad arguments, as to why, for example, you chose to examine some variables, and not others, or why you used a particular sampling technique or statistical method over alternatives. One argument to avoid is what's called argument by authority: the reason I chose this method is because my supervisor told me to do it, or, it's the same procedure as in this paper I cite. What we care about is why this choice is a good choice in the first place. So avoid argument by authority. Closely related is argument-by-statistical-package: I did it because that's how SPSS or Latent Gold does it. If you use this argument at the defense, you are revealing a lack of knowledge about the underlying statistics.
- Don't be defensive at the defense :) It's good to acknowledge the limitations of your thesis, and to demonstrate that you understand why they are in fact limitations. You should not blindly defend everything on the page.
- Following the masters thesis manual, only complete chapters may be submitted.
- In each of your chapters, try to thoughtfully organize what you want to say into subsections and paragraphs. It may be useful to outline what you want to say, so you can better organize it. If it's a jumbled mess, no one will understand what you are saying and give up reading; this leaves you with a low grade.
- Resist using company jargon. Students writing their thesis in conjunction with a company tend to adopt that company's particular vocabulary. This makes it hard to read for the supervisor and co-reader. Use standard academic or common terms instead. If you must use it, of course be sure to define exactly what it means.
- Resist inventing your own variables if there are already perfectly good variables that do the job.
- Be consistent in naming your variables: keep the same name throughout.
- Be sure to reference your sources correctly. We use the APA format. You can see more here: "How do I reference?"
- Also, make your tables and figures in APA (American Psychological Association) format. If you’re using SPSS, you can use these Table and figure template files I’ve created to make SPSS output in APA style. To use them, go in SPSS to Edit, Options, charts and pivottables, and use them as templates.
- Remember the page limit is 35 (see the thesis manual).
- Number pages and the distance between rows should be 1.5-space text (see masters thesis manual step 3)
- Following the masters thesis manual, check your document for spelling and grammar.
- Consider visiting the Scriptorium in the Language Center, which offers free advice on writing and information search. Do this multiple times; my experience is that it always results in improvements!
Some specific chapter advice
Note: this is meant to supplement the information that's in the masters thesis guide on BB.
Chapter 1: Introduction
- On the masters thesis blackboard page, see the videos on "Building a Framework".
- A clear problem statement has (1) a dependent variable, (2) independent variable(s) and/or moderators, and (3) a context. It should address the discussion in the preceding text, the problem indication.
- Consider the scope and feasibility of the thesis: what are you focusing on and what is not being studied.
- Avoid long descriptions of the company; only include what is relevant to the problem you are studying.
Chapter 2: Theory (Literature Review)
- On the masters thesis blackboard page, see the videos on "Building a Framework", especially building hypotheses.
- Need help finding enough literature on your topic? The Scriptorium has information specialists who can help you out.
- Generally, I advise organizing this section as: (1) a short first subsection on literature related to the general context (if any); (2) subsection(s) for the variables in the conceptual framework (e.g., corporate responsibility); (3) finally a subsection on the relationships among variables, including hypotheses, and conceptual framework (CF) diagram.
- Almost everyone tends to write too much in this part, perhaps to signal how much was read. Think Mark Twain. Take the necessary time to be concise, including only discussion related to your context, variables, and relationships among variables (hypotheses). Do not include everything you've read. Only what is relevant.
- Organize your paragraphs by theme (e.g., variable or relationship), not by paper. One sign you're not organizing well is if your first sentences of the paragraph tend to begin: "X, Y, and Z (2004) find that ... "
- Each hypothesis should be supported in the text immediately preceding it. Do not write, "the last 3 pages leads to the following 3 hypotheses: ... ".
- Not every arrow in your conceptual framework needs a hypothesis. Only what is new for your thesis. Other variables can be called "control variables". See for example here, on Figure 1. There are 3 hypotheses (about groups of variables), and two control variables labeled in the figure.
- Consider using a table: sometimes it's useful to summarize the literature (comparing what has been studied to what you are studying), or your hypothesis (and the arguments or papers they are based on), in a table.
Chapter 3: Methodology
- On the masters thesis blackboard page, there is material on conjoint, surveys and experiments.
- Here you should discuss (1) how you plan to measure the variables in your conceptual framework, including the relevant survey questions if they are new or different than usual; (2) what your population is and how you plan to sample from it; and (3) the model and how you will estimate the model.
- Equations help clarify things, but make sure they have proper subscripts, and the variables are defined in the text.
Chapter 4: Results
- The results generally follow this structure: 4.1, descriptive statistics about your sample, giving us some sense either formally (with statistical tests) or informally of how close your sample is to the population; 4.2 your main results, hypothesis tests; 4.3 validity, additional results, robustness checks, etc.; 4.4 a quick summary of what the results mean.
- When going through your main results, take the reader CAREFULLY through your results. Explain them well. Do not simply report the coefficients or test results. Give some sense of quantitative effect size (e.g., not just positive but how positive) either in words or a figure.
- Your main results should be in the main text, not the appendix. Ideally, the additional results or robustness checks should be there too, unless there are too many of them.
- As in Chapter 2, consider a summary table with your results or hypothesis tests, outcomes, and interpretations at the end of the chapter.
Chapter 5: Conclusion
- Before (in section 4.4) you gave a focused summary of your results given your sample. Now you have permission to extrapolate. Taken together, what do your results mean? To what other situations would these results generalize? What are the implications for firms, consumers, policy makers, marketers, etc? Do not veer so far away from your results so as to make the connection tenuous. The implications have to result from the findings in your study.
- What are the limitations of the analysis? Measurement, sampling, analysis, data issues..
What goes here?
- Your questionnaire in the original language, and translated in English if necessary.
- Pre-test interviews or focus groups. Protocols or details about the procedure.
- Analysis that is central to your thesis (what I called the main results above) belongs in the main text not the appendix. If you take more than 1-2 sentences to discuss a result, it should be in the main text. The supplementary analysis, like robustness checks, correlation tables, outlier removal, ... belong in the Appendix.
Symbols I use when checking your text
At the end of the meeting, I give you back the draft with some markings I've made. Here are some common marks I make.
- ref or cite: provide a reference or citation for the sentence.
- backwards P: new paragraph