So You Wanna Do A Thesis? Part 1: Preparation

This article was originally published on October 20, 2016.

Welcome to my new series about my decision to do the thesis option for my program, and my advice to those of you considering the same. Are you considering doing a thesis? Does your program require you to? Then join me on this journey! Follow along on Twitter (@JessicaLColbert) with #MSLISthesis.

The Master’s degree in library science (however your program labels it, mine is MSLIS) is a degree with a lot of possibilities. Because it’s a professional degree, you can really tailor it to be mainly practical and technical. I prefer combining those practical skills with theory, and I recently fell in love with the idea of having research be a crucial aspect of my career. Now, there are many ways to incorporate research into programs. You can do independent studies. You can do a practicum and write about it. You can even take courses that require research papers. One contributor recently talked about lots of ways to get credit for your work.

Or you can do a Master’s thesis.

A thesis isn’t required for my program, but I’m gonna do one anyway. #YOLO and all that jazz. Are you also considering doing a thesis? Then join me on this journey! Today we’re gonna talk about preparation and getting started.

Deciding to Do a Thesis

If your program requires you to do a thesis, then this part won’t be entirely relevant to you. However, if it’s not required but rather an option, then it will be.

I’m still in some very basic stages of doing my thesis, and I can already tell that it’s going to be a lot of hard, disciplined work. Sometimes, I feel like I’m putting myself through this for nothing, since it isn’t required. So I have to remind myself why I’m doing it.

Ask yourself some questions about whether or not doing a thesis option is beneficial for you. Will paying for credit hours for a thesis instead of other classes hurt you? Do you have space in your program to do it? I can technically graduate this semester, and my job covers my tuition, so it’s possible for me to stay on longer than needed.

(If you need somebody to weigh the pros and cons with, always reach out to your adviser or trusted professors. You can also talk to me, since I’m currently in the trenches. Hit me up on Twitter, email, or even Facebook!)

Will Your Future Career Require Research?

I am doing a thesis because, even though I plan to be a cataloging and metadata and/or discovery services librarian, I want to work in an academic library. This is mainly because the cataloging can be more original and complex than in public libraries, and many public libraries are getting rid of their technical services departments. I also have a lot of lofty research goals, and I would rather have that be a part of my job than to provide free intellectual labor, even if it is beneficial; I know I’ll never be paid enough to have that luxury.

Do You Have Experience in Social Science Research?

I have my BA in English. For those of you who don’t, the majority of coursework in that type of degree, when it’s not creative writing, is textual analysis, and a lot of textual analysis doesn’t require research or citations. Just pure analysis, nothing outside the text.

So when I had all these lofty research goals, I had no clue where to even begin! And if I have to do it in my future career, I figure I might as well get practice now with a trusted adviser, with like milestones and accountability and constructive criticism.

Do You Have a Passion for Your Research Question?

My research question stems from something I noticed while still an undergraduate, and its one of the things that made me want to be a cataloger. I happened to find a gap I could fill with research, and I plan to do just that. I think I’ve mentioned previously that my librarianship is an extension of my activism, and this research will serve that activist goal.

Finding an Adviser and Support Group

I cannot stress how important it is to have a good adviser. From my own personal experience, I can tell you that you will need to shop around. I sort of joked around, pretending I was on one of those dating shows. “Thesis adviser bachelorette number 1!” I can tell you from experience that the person in your field whose research fits best with yours might not be the best person to advise you. At a PhD level, that is more important, but at a Master’s level, I think most professors at your program will at least be able to provide guidance.

For me, the most important thing I needed was not necessarily subject expertise, but patience and guidance. I have never done research like this before, so a roadmap with deadlines and milestones and “I should be here by then” is super important. Communication is important.

I also poked around my friend group to see if anybody else had done this type of project, and I found online groups for graduate students, especially for writing. My friend added me to a Facebook group that I would be more than happy to add others to, and there’s also the PhinisheD forum (get it?).

Don’t go through the process alone! It should not be lonely, and having a support group (including your adviser) will help a lot when you reach roadblocks, or if your mental health starts to suffer.

Getting Started

So you decided yes, you’re going to do a thesis. Now what? Well, first, consult with your adviser after you decide on one. Then sort of mentally prepare yourself for that path ahead. Visualize submitting your thesis, visualize publishing it. I know I sometimes have this trouble believing that something will happen until it actually does, so reinforcing that in my mind has helped me immensely. Then, you need to find your deadlines and requirements. Is there a certain citation style you should be using? Do you have a page requirement? What about formatting requirements? After you do that, it’s time to make a plan.

Making a Plan

Working with your adviser, and based off submission deadlines, you need to create a plan. When will you have each step accomplished? What are those steps? If you’re doing research, do you need to get IRB approval? When should your drafts be done by?

Now, try to stick to your plan as rigidly as possible, but don’t guilt yourself if you need to move stuff around a bit. You need to have a lot of discipline, but you also need to be attuned to reality. I just caught whatever crud was going around, so I probably won’t have my research proposal revised by the time I told my adviser I would. But I’m okay with that because I set that due date with plenty of time to push it back if I needed; I only need this proposal to apply for thesis credit hours, after all, and that won’t happen until November. I am also doing lots of other things, like working on job applications and spending valuable time with my girlfriend. So set deadlines and try to stick to them, but set them early enough that you can push them back, if needed.


Below I have linked some resources that have really helped me. In my next post, I’ll talk about the process of writing the thesis, particularly doing a literature review and doing research based on human subjects. Future posts in this series will also include topics like self-discipline, something I’ve learned from Buddhism called mental hygiene, finding a place to write, and more, so stay tuned!


  • Booth, W. C. (c2003.). The craft of research / (2nd ed.). Chicago : University of Chicago press,.
  • Creswell, J. W. (c2009.). Research design : qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches / (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, Calif. : Sage Publications,.
  • Creswell, J. W. (2015). A concise introduction to mixed methods research /. Thousand Oaks, California : SAGE,.
  • Handbook of critical and indigenous methodologies. (2008). Los Angeles : Sage,.
  • Heppner, P. P. (c2004.). Writing and publishing your thesis, dissertation, and research : a guide for students in the helping professions /. Belmont, CA : Thomson/Brooks/Cole,.
  • Leckie, G. J., Given, L. M., & Buschman, J. (Eds.). (2010). Critical theory for library and information science: exploring the social from across the disciplines. Santa Barbara, Calif: Libraries Unlimited.
  • Narayan, K. (c2012.). Alive in the writing : crafting ethnography in the company of Chekhov /. Chicago : University of Chicago Press,.
  • Paris, D., & Winn, M. T. (Eds.). (2014). Humanizing research: decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.



6 replies

  1. This is great! I can do a thesis option or field study in my program. I’ve elected to do the field study because of my particular goals but your post offers so much help to those who haven’t made that decision yet. Thank you.


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