Understanding the Thesis Process
Cassandra Matthews ~ Assistant Editor
Though the specifics vary from discipline to discipline, all senior students at the University of Lynchburg undergo the process of writing a thesis.
Jer Bryant, director of the Wilmer Writing Center, explained that there are common elements to a thesis project within each discipline.
“Firstly, students usually begin with brainstorming. They ask questions related to their interests, to what they know and what they want to know. Eventually, they move from the panoptic to the microscopic, narrowing down their research question. Most read to ascertain where they want to go. They find a research question or topic that they want to explore, one that is not overly done. They may wish to join a conversation and add to it, or they may desire to start a conversation. Students often work with their advisors to narrow down a focus. Regardless, it should be a focus that adds to people’s understanding, their edification.”
Bryant continued, “Sometimes students turn in a prospectus, outlining what they would like to explore, and their advisors provide feedback. Other times, students meet with their advisors to talk out their interests and plans. After their focus is determined and approved by their advisors, students move into researching.”
Senior sociology major Shelbi Jordan is finishing up her thesis about how the disproportionate number of black or African American officers in the U.S. military impacts the leadership aspirations of black or African American enlisted soldiers. She described the senior thesis process as being doable, but more intensive than she could imagine. “It really is so much work,” she said.
One component of the thesis research process is getting approval from the Institutional Review Board, an administrative body that is established in order to protect the wellbeing of human research participants. Jordan explained that it is not often that the Institutional Review Board approves a project on the first try, and that students usually need to make a series of modifications to their research studies before those studies are approved to be conducted.
She said, “You have to fill out a research request form where you talk about all of the different [aspects of] the study, like if you are going to give compensation, how you are going to find your population, the type of samping you are going to use, [and] risks if you are working with marginalized populations or minors.”
Jordan and Bryant both talked about the literature review step of senior research. Bryant said, “[Students] return to their exploration of what exists, what has been covered, and where the gaps appear. This may involve creating annotations and/or a literature review. After checking in with their advisors, students begin drafting.”
He specified, “In actuality, they should create a plan, one that breaks the writing into parts. This may mean writing sections or chapters. Keep in mind that it is not uncommon for an advisor to ask for pieces of the thesis to see if a student is ‘on track.’ After drafting their thesis, a student may receive specific feedback for revision and/or they may be asked to defend their thesis. In either case, students will most likely be asked to revise their work.”
Jordan noted that a literature review is not as easy as simply discussing the existing research, saying that the studies included all have to be peer-reviewed, and have to “relate to what you are studying, and you have to identify [what is missing], and that lag is what you are studying.”
For students in need of guidance, the Wilmer Writing Center is here to help. Bryant said, “Wilmer Writing Center is an excellent resource for a student writing their senior thesis. Tutors can help with any stage of the process–brainstorming, exploring, drafting, revising, etc. Some tutors have conducted detailed literature reviews. Others may be in the process of drafting a senior thesis. Working with someone who ‘gets it’ is beneficial. A sense of community is always important for writers.”