Writing a thesis is like a rollercoaster ride

Laura Ramula graduated from the Master's Programme in English Studies in Spring 2023. She wrote her Master’s thesis on international students’ experiences of inclusive language practices at the University of Helsinki.

In addition to majoring in English, Ramula is currently studying in the Master’s programme in Changing Education. This means Laura has to write another thesis soon. We interviewed Laura to find out what writing her first thesis felt like and what we can learn from her.

In her thesis, Laura studied the experience of linguistic inclusion of students whose native language is not Finnish or Swedish. Linguistic inclusion refers to language-related processes that are used to increase accessibility and inclusion at the university. The thesis takes a qualitative approach and is based on interview data.

According to Laura, writing the theory section was definitely the hardest part. “It would have been so much easier if someone had told me to just keep reading and read everything on the topic”, she recalls. When writing a theory section, it can be useful to pick up on keywords and useful sources and then use them to find more references, Laura says.

Key takeaways on finding participants

Being active and diligent helped Laura find people to interview for her research. The research method required participants to be willing to attend an in-depth interview process. Finding participants to interview was not quick or easy. Laura credits her previous connections for helping in the process. “Don’t rely on wide email searches. Talk to people you know and ask them to share the message”, Laura advises. People are more likely to answer if the message is more personal. In addition, Laura made sure to accentuate the importance of her research, as well as telling people why taking part was so important. Getting people interested in your research is a huge advantage.

The number of participants needed for research is something every researcher wonders about. Laura had originally wanted over 10 participants, but eventually landed with six. In the end, she was satisfied with this amount, as the qualitative data would have taken too long to analyse if she had had too many participants.

Laura contemplates whether knowing the participants beforehand is acceptable. “You can’t sometimes avoid knowing the people you interview”, Laura notes. She advises future researchers to “just be transparent” about the possible moral dilemmas, so they won’t become a problem.

Cautionary advice

What would someone who has gone through the challenges of writing a thesis advise their past selves? What are the biggest challenges? The answer is immediate: “Plagiarism.” Even though students are warned about academic dishonesty, unintentional plagiarism is something to be aware of. Sourcing and citing your information with care can make a great difference in the success of your thesis. A further aspect that Laura encourages thesis writers to pay attention to is research ethics. This includes taking proper care to secure informants’ consent to participate in the research.

Romanticise the writing process

Laura instructs thesis writers to take their time and find a topic that really interests them, as writing your thesis should be enjoyable. But what can be done if you find yourself experiencing writer’s block? “The key is to romanticise the writing process for yourself”, says Laura. Small changes in the environment or a coffee can make a great difference: “Even opening the document can get you into the flow.”

Looking back, Laura feels she has gained theoretical understanding and confidence in talking about the topics of her research. Moreover, she recognises personal development in herself: “Being able to work on something and managing time, you learn to prioritise working.”

In addition to the thesis for the English programme, Laura is soon going to embark on a journey to write her second thesis in another master’s programme. While writing the first thesis was not easy, one of the key takeaways for Laura is that seeing it finished and being able to share it and talk about it is extremely rewarding. “I am still nervous”, Laura says about the task of writing another thesis. While the finished product is satisfactory, the process itself was full of ups and downs. The process can be overwhelming while it is happening, but in the end it will pay off. “Writing a thesis is like a rollercoaster ride”, Laura says.