Thesis Writing

   Good thesis writing can involve a considerable amount of effort.  Moreover,
the question of how to write a dissertation or thesis is complex.  However, I
believe there are several important attributes of a good thesis.  This page is a
brief guide to thesis writing.  This information may be helpful in learning how to
write a thesis (e.g., learning how to write a master's thesis).  
Below are five
attributes involved in writing a good thesis:

1.  Demonstrates Effective Principles of Writing

   I believe every paper or thesis should demonstrate seven principles of
effective writing.
These include accuracy, clarity, cogency, conciseness,
vividness, depth, and organization.    In the
Writing Papers section on this
website I have provided information on
seven principles of effective writing.

2.  Makes an Original Contribution to Our Knowledge

      It is important that a thesis make an original contribution to what we
.  Thus, it is very important to consider original thesis topics.   The thesis
ideas should include some ideas that cannot be found in journal articles or
One way a thesis can make an original contribution is by integrating the
ideas or findings in the thesis in the conclusion section, and presenting
general insights that reflect the integration of the ideas or findings.
In the
fourth edition of my book,
The Social Psychology of Fundraising, I describe six
principles of donating behavior.  These basic principles reflect research findings
in my book.  Moreover, in my book,
Finding Meaning (3rd edition), I provide a
general insight in the epilogue that can be viewed as reflecting an integration of
other ideas in the book.  Below is a paragraph in the epilogue (p.  64) that
reflects this general insight:

Wholeness may be a fundamental principle in our search for meaning.  We may strive for
         self-unity in which all aspects of our personality are reflected in our behavior.  Authenticity
         is partly achieved when there is unity between the inner self and overt self.   Pursuing a
         combination of personal goals that reflect a generic life theme can help us to feel a sense of
        purpose.  The principle of continuity reflects the need to avoid the feeling that one's life is
        fragmented.  Meaningful learning is partly analogous to putting pieces of a jigsaw puzzle
        together.  Reconnecting with the past may help us to perceive our lives as more integrated.
        A sense of coherence involves perceiving how the events in your life reflect an underlying
        order.  Creative expression can involve integrating elements into a coherent whole.
        Meaningful work may involve working on projects from start to finish.  Finally, finding
        meaning in adversity may partly depend on viewing negative experiences from a more
        holistic perspective.
A second way a thesis can make an original contribution is by presenting
a theory or model that involves integrating findings.
These findings may be
from the thesis or other scholarly articles.  You can find examples of models and
theories in many psychology journals.   In the
Important Concepts section of this
website, I provide some information on the
definition of a theory.
A third way a thesis can make an original contribution is by presenting
a new program that provides a possible solution to a problem related to the
thesis question or statement.
In the Solutions section of this website I suggest
some possible solutions to problems.   For example, I describe a
fundraising technique.
A fourth way a thesis can make an original contribution is by
presenting findings that (a) provide evidence for an important phenomenon,
(b) that address the validity of an important idea or theory, or (c) shed light
on a possible solution to a problem.
There are many examples of research
findings that make a significant original contribution in psychology journals.  It
would be good to read a number of articles in a variety of scholarly journals in
psychology.  These articles could serve as a model when developing and writing
a thesis.  Moreover, there are a number of examples of research findings on this
website that reflect a significant original contribution.

3.  Has a Good Thesis Statement

    It is essential to learn how to write a thesis statement. It is important that
the thesis has a thesis statement that is (a) clear, (b) sufficiently connected to
evidence and findings, and (c) reflects an idea or ideas that would make a
significant original contribution to what we know.  
    The thesis statement needs to be more than a vague or abstract statement.  It
also needs to be presented with specific information that makes it clear what is
being argued or hypothesized.
   For theses involving original research, the thesis statement can be a hypothesis
that is addressed in the study.
   The thesis statement should involve addressing a question that has
not been
adequately addressed in the previous literature.

4.  Has a Good Thesis Introduction

In my view,  a very good thesis addresses the following questions in the thesis

   1.  What is the thesis question?
   2.  Why is the thesis question important?
   3.  How are you going to address the thesis question?
   4.  How does the thesis make an original contribution to our knowledge?

  By addressing the above four questions in the thesis introduction, the author of
the thesis may motivate the reader to read the rest of the thesis.

5.  Demonstrates High Standards of Scholarship

 A good thesis will demonstrate high standards of scholarship.  The best
thesis would be suitable for submitting to scholarly journals.  Below are a
number of possible standards of scholarship.  More information on writing
findings is included in the article, "
Writing Findings."

1.  The thesis extensively reviews and critiques the previous literature.
Limitations and weaknesses should be mentioned.  The review of the previous
literature should be balanced and comprehensive.  If the thesis concerns a
scientific topic, the thesis should include a significant number of research
findings from scholarly journals.

2.  The thesis presents research limitations and plausible alternative
explanations for findings.
At least a few alternative explanations should be
provided for correlational findings.  The possible generality of findings should be

3.   The thesis includes the best evidence possible. If there is experimental
studies on the topic, these would be included in the thesis.  Carefully conducted
experiments involving random assignment to conditions may allow us to make
causal conclusions

4.  The thesis provides a well-developed rationale for ideas addressed in the
The ideas should be connected to relevant research findings and other
ideas that serve as a foundation for the new ideas in the thesis.

5.  The thesis findings are described in sufficient detail so that the reader is
able to know what conclusions may be made from the thesis findings.   
reader needs to be provided with sufficient information to determine whether a
study was a case study, correlational study, or randomized experiment.

6.  In the thesis conclusion, there are general insights based on the
integration of findings and more specific ideas.  
It is like putting pieces of a
jigsaw puzzle together.  You can integrate the ideas by providing general
statements about the ideas in the thesis.  What do the ideas mean in the bigger
picture?  What are the general concepts that can be developed from the themes
in the thesis?  What is the common denominator among the ideas of the thesis?

7.   Conclusions based on research findings should be justified. Causal
conclusions should not be made from case studies and correlational studies
(because we cannot rule out alternative explanations).

8.   All citations are consistent with a certain style (e.g. APA).  

9.   A significant number of the references in the thesis are from
peer-review, scholarly journal articles .  
Critical evaluation of ideas and
findings is important.   In my view, most of the findings and ideas included in the
thesis should be from references in peer-review, scholarly journals.


Bell, B.  (2003) The social psychology of fundraising (4th ed.).   Portland, OR:
Blue Fox Communications.

Bell, B.  (2007).  
Finding meaning (3rd ed.).  Portland, OR:  Blue Fox