16 Apr Writing a Master’s Thesis in two months: Part 1
On March 27th I had an introductory lecture about writing a Master’s Thesis. On the same lecture the deadline for the thesis was set on May 29th. From that moment on I had two months to plan, conduct, write and finally graduate.
This kind of timeline seems crazy, especially since I’m used to the idea of people spending at least one year–if not years–writing their Master’s Thesis. But now that I’m three weeks down and have six weeks to go, I think it’s time to look how far I’ve gotten.
But first of all let me tell you this: my Master’s Thesis is an interview based research in which I look into how news robots affect journalists’ professional identity and work in practice. For the thesis I will interview a total of 12 journalists working with news robots from Sweden and Finland.
By now I’ve done four interviews and next week I will do three more. Coming up with the interview questions and doing the interviews is not the tricky part. What is tricky is finding the right people to be interviewed.
Even though I used a similar method for my Bachelor’s Thesis (a web inquiry instead of face-to-face interviews), I had forgotten how long it actually takes to find all the people you want to interview. Even though you’d think it’s only a matter of sending a couple of emails and making a couple of phone calls, it’s not.
Based on my experiences I’d say that finding the right people to participate in your research easily eats up half of the time you have for the whole project, no matter how much or little time you have on you. So from now on, despite how much of planning I’ve done beforehand, I will always double my time estimate concerning interviews. I suggest you do the same.
Besides finding the right people for your research, another crazy time consumer is transcribing the interviews. Like seriously, it’s mad especially if you’re not used to it.
For me it takes about one hour to transcribe 15 minutes meaning that transcribing a one hour interview–which is a normal and moderate time for an interview like this–takes four hours at the best. But since my fingers start to ache and I start to lose focus at some point, in reality it takes up to six hours to transcribe a one hour interview. That’s almost a full day of work.
There are several ways of transcribing an interview varying from super detailed (including pauses, emphases and talking on one another) to a rough reference (writing down only the most important points). How much time transcribing an interview takes depends on the detail that is needed.
For my Master’s Thesis I’m doing it quite a detailed transcription, and thus having twelve interviews to transcribe transforms into almost two weeks of work. With my fingers and wrists burning and my eyes dry from staring at the screen for hours, you can imagine that with only ten weeks on me I’ve cursed myself quite a few times for doing this.
Doing background research, finding the right methodology and theories has been till now by far the easiest thing to do. Of course finding relevant information requires skills in using different databases and knowing the right keywords, but once you get a hold of it you’re off.
Things get especially easy when you find one really good article or book. The magic in it lies in the source list, as some of the best academic researches to go with your thesis can be found from researches other people have done. Note though that even if this is a really handy and time saving thing to do, there is a risk that you might end up using a too narrow or maybe even expedient set of literature to back up what you want to find.
Being aware of the risks, I follow the guideline of reaching for background information and different results till I can’t find anything new. Even though this method isn’t waterproof either–as it is dependant on my searching skills–it gets me a little closer to taking into consideration all possible information.
The difference between academic research and investigative journalism
Throughout my master’s studies I’ve pondered over the difference between academic research and investigative journalism. Initially in my mind the two had a lot in common: doing interviews, background research, analyzing cause and effect, asking the same five Ws, and presenting the results in an interesting and understandable way.
Yet now that I’ve been working on my thesis I find that they are definitely not the same thing. The biggest difference for me is that investigative journalism is almost always into negatives while academic research is gathering information on things, valuing them neither positive or negative – at least not in the very beginning.
When we write (and read) news it’s almost always bad news. This is the main reason to why I find academic research to be my cup of tea in the long run. Like anybody else, I can look into the negatives wanting to reveal the harm done, but even though I love doing journalism, there’s something in the negative core of it that goes against a fundamental part in me: seeing things from as many perspectives as possible.
Doing interviews, transcribing and searching for background information is the hands on practical part of doing a thesis – the things that one has to do to get to results. And my my my are the results interesting! With only four interviews down I’m already starting to see a pattern and I can’t wait to do the rest of the interviews. The academic nerd in me is very excited.