Category Archives: thesis writing

A reflection on my Masters’ thesis writing

 

             Deepak Bhatt

Writing on my personal experience of thesis writing, I experienced a way of learning during the selection of the topic for research, planning for data collection and overall writing process which taught me to strive for academic excellence. No two researchers are the same and no two research journeys are the same, even though academic aspirations could be similar among researchers. What you go through and what you experience on this academic journey is always unique. Any initial difficulty we have with academic writing will pay off when we discover new ways of looking at the world and of making sense of it.

The phrase ‘thesis writing’ had become a catchy phrase for me ever since I filled the form of the fourth semester of Masters Level at Far Western University. I had heard the inspirational stories of thesis writing from senior students and my professors about how they did and succeeded. I found their stories interesting, inspirational, and fearful too. As the time passed, our teachers suggested us to select the area for our research to be carried out and to get approval from the department as soon as possible. I had to accomplish the writing in time and to get awarded earlier.

I was the 34th researcher to carry out thesis in the department where many seniors were also struggling to complete thesis writing.  Being the newly founded University, I could see the lack of sufficient literature available in our library. This made me disappointed for the area to be selected for a while. I collected some research works from senior batch students and friends from Tribhuvan University. I dwelt among many research areas and disciplines for more than a month in course of finding the area that interests me. After the vehement effort, I made up  my mind to carry out research on teaching literature which interested me at the end. With the fear in mind, I went to campus to consult my supervisor and discuss the area that I had selected. The supervisor gave silent agreement to that but waited to see the particular genre to further go through. He also suggested me to read the literature so that I could have an idea to decide the genre and narrow down the area of investigation. This meeting encouraged me to go through the literature. I returned home and made a call to my brother in Kathmandu to visit the central library of TU and get some unpublished theses in pen drive. This was the time; the government had recently imposed lockdown in the nation. The librarian, despite the lockdown, provided seven or eight research works to my brother. The theses supported me with sound knowledge of literature for my research.

Then I visited the central library and Department of English Education and got some research works. All those documents assisted me to sort out a genre of literature for my research work. It had been the most suffering and stressful time for me to sort out the particular topic.  Finally, I narrowed down the area as teaching drama in secondary level and teachers’ perception towards it. Till the time I came to finalise the topic, English Department had divided the students into different groups under the supervision of professors from the department. I found my name in the list under the supervision of one of the assistant professors from the department.  Shortly I met my supervisor to finalize my topic  and with some suggestions he approved my topic. My supervisor advised me to make my research a comparative study. We discussed and pondered on the challenges and issues of comparative study. After having a meaningful discussion, he urged me to write the proposal for the research work. I got success in finalizing my topic as it seemed ‘teachers’ perception in teaching English drama’. It was the moment that brought extreme happiness and provided me with rays of hope.

Now I had to start writing the proposal for the research which was just as to crack the hard nut for me. I consulted my teachers and some of the senior batch students to write proposal. They provided me some valuable ideas about what to include in the proposal. After this, I started working on my proposal. I spent many sleepless nights on the completion of the research proposal. I worked on the first, second, third, and fourth draft getting it to the approved form. During this process of writing a proposal, I got incredible assistance from my supervisor, teachers, senior students and my classmates. I stepped back many times during proposal writing; it took me many weeks to go ahead.

Collecting the required data for the research work is another challenging task to be performed during the research work. When I found myself in trouble, I used to talk to myself. I often had long conversations all by myself, but I did not understand a single word of what I was saying. As I was thinking about preparing the data collection tools, I received a call from one of my classmates, and he shared his confusions regarding the preparation of tools for data collection. He suggested that we had to meet the supervisor and we together went to the college and met him. We shared our problems with him. He, very clearly, explained about the tools, their administration, and reliability and so on. The meeting made me clear on what data collection instruments are, their reliability, preparation, administration, and many more. I came to know that the tools we choose to collect data depend on the type of data (quantitative and qualitative). I was told that the data is the backbone of any research. This moment triggred me to move ahead in course of developing tool(s).I decided to collect data using a questionnaire. I prepared the questionnaire including open and close-ended questions that were divided into six different categories: -problems of teaching drama, way of using literature, the significance of drama, relevance of content presented in drama, techniques used in teaching drama, and language used in drama. After working on the first draft of the questionnaire, I met my supervisor to discuss the questionnaire. He advised me to limit the number of questions up to 25 and make some other necessary changes. It took a couple of days for me to finalize the questionnaire. I selected the private and government schools purposively under non-random sampling. Getting responses using non-random sampling is faster, more cost-effective because the sample is known to the researcher. The respondents responded quickly as compared to people randomly selected as they had a high level of motivation to participate. This method made data collection easier to some extent. It was the time when the nation was in lockdown due to the Covid 19 pandemic. It became difficult for me to visit the schools to meet the English teachers as my respondents. I explained to them about my research work, and provided them with the questionnaires. Using different ways, I collected the phone numbers of the selected schools and built rapport with them. Then, I visited the teachers at their convenient places and time.

My first day of data collection journey was very memorable that I want to share it. As I entered into the premises of one of the schools in Kanchanpur, I found it was made quarantine for COVID-19 suspected people. It was full of Covid infected people. I found myself to be reluctant for a while to move ahead that the school had turned into the quarantine. But I had to collect the data at any cost and I moved towards the office room. I met the secondary level English teachers, described my research work to them and provided them with the questionnaires. I found all the respondents very cooperative and supportive, and they returned the filled-up questionnaires physically in time.

After the collection of data, I was completely lost for two or three weeks in searching for ideas to analyze and interpret the data collected. I read some unpublished master’s theses submitted to Tribhuvan University on my area of investigation. I took a highlighter and circled each paragraph on analysis of the data. These researches helped me with some valuable ideas about how to analyze and interpret the data though it was not enough for me to go ahead. With some ideas in mind, I met my supervisor and discussed the analysis of the data. He told me that it was the most important part of research work where researcher analyzes the data and give meaning to the data in terms of existing literature and looking the meaning from a theoretical lens. And finally he or she came to the certain generalizations. After spending a couple of days, I came up with the ideas to analyze and interpret the data. Then I struggled to write the very first draft, a rough draft by entering important data and interpretation. It was  incomplete and rough. With the regular collaboration and guidance of my supervisor, I worked with the first, second, third and many drafts to bring it into the accepted format.

To sum up, it is really challenging work to research in a way to succeed and make it a model. I learned how to abide by the common principles of research and ask the right kind of questions, deal with seemingly insurmountable problems that had no obvious solutions. The experience gave me the confidence later on to propose and develop my knowledge base about research. The research experiences come in many forms in the lives of students.  At this point, the key is to focus on exploring what interests the researcher, and what he/she does not enjoy doing which sometimes can be even more important. We do not need to be disappointed while researching though it can not be accomplished overnight. It requires rigorous effort, certain processes to be followed, and dedication on the part of the researcher. There is a saying “some people dream of success, while OTHERS wake up and work hard at it.” I kept myself under the quoted OTHERS, as I woke up and worked hard to make my dream come true. The journey of writing master’s thesis as a beginner in research sometimes becomes a very inspirational story for me to explore further.  At the end, I am truly indebted to the pious souls whose contribution made my journey of wring thesis the most enjoyable and encouraging. Most importantly, I extend my sincere gratitude to my respected gurus and the supervisor for their incredible guidance, suggestions and love throughout the writing process.

Author’ bio:

Deepak Bhatt is an M.Ed. in English (TESOL) from Far Western University. He has a decade experience of teaching English from primary to secondarily level. Mr. Bhatt is currently working as an English Teacher at Sainik Awasiya Mahavidyalaya, Teghari Kailali.

 

Understanding thesis writing as a socio-cultural practice in the university than a ‘ritual’

          Ashok Raj Khati

Introduction

Developing academic writing is an essential skill for the students in higher education to achieve academic success and to demonstrate that achievement. My experience as a university student shows that learning in higher education involves adapting to entirely the new ways of knowing –new ways of understanding, interpreting, and organising knowledge –which mainly requires an ability to write well in a purely academic style. Furthermore, students’ academic abilities in higher education are usually evaluated through several writing-related course assignments, research, review papers, and publications. Therefore, academic writing needs the greatest attention in higher education in all contexts.

The purpose of this blog piece is to discuss the thesis writing practices in Nepali universities in light of two theoretical orientations: the traditional autonomous model and the socio-cultural model. As theoretically guided by social perspectives of academic writing, I relate some thesis writing anecdotes from Nepali universities along with my own writing experience to discuss the thesis writing practices and support the main argument of the write-up. My central argument is that thesis writing as a requirement to receive a degree at any cost is based on the traditional autonomous model which considers the process of writing as a highly mental and cognitive activity. As this model seems to be incapable of capturing the context in which the writing takes place, the socio-cultural theoretical orientation offering a more culturally sensitive view of academic writing practices has been increasingly gaining recognizable space in Nepali academia.

Thesis writing practice

Let me begin the discussion with a story. A year ago, one of the ‘back paper’ students (a student who attempted the board examination more than one time) of master’s level came to my residence and requested me to provide a topic for his thesis writing. He told his stories that he was not able to pass the papers in time that would qualify him for writing a thesis. Finally, in two attempts (after two years), he was able to meet the requirements to start the thesis writing process. As he was a high school teacher of English in the western part of Nepal, he further shared that he did not have enough time to go through the overall processes of thesis writing. I could guess that he wanted to complete his thesis writing in any case as early as possible. I offered him some of my ideas on different topics of interest related to ELT (English language teaching). To my surprise, he proposed me to write a proposal for him and he would pay for it. I did not respond to his unethical proposal for a moment. After some time, I persuaded him that I could assist him to review his proposal if he, at least, could prepare a draft. Since then, he went out of my contact. Later, I learned that he hired somebody to work for him.

This is a story of a thesis writer who perceives that a thesis should be submitted at any case and cost as it has been four years to accomplish the master’s degree. The student was entirely unfamiliar with the preliminary research activities such as sources of research topics and proposal writing. Karn (2009) states that one of his students (a student from a Nepali university) seemed to have assumed that thesis can be submitted in any manner, and he did not seem to pay any heed that there is a proper style of writing and the theses should adhere and abide by the standards set by the Department. In a similar line, Neupane Bastola (2020) explores that students’ focus was on the completion of a thesis rather than learning. Her research participants in the study –ten supervisors, complained that their students were interested only in the completion of their thesis to such an extent that thesis writing was just ‘a ritual for the majority’ (p. 10). The above anecdote also signifies the reasons behind some unethical conduct such as having a thesis written and plagiarism. Most importantly, the context clearly indicates that writing a thesis has merely been a requirement to receive the degree for many students, rather than learning research and academic writing skills.

In my experience, as another side of analysis, thesis writing issue is also deeply rooted in our teaching of writing skill from the school level. Students were never taught writing as a process-based activity. The teachers in schools and universities teach about writing not writing itself. For instance, students are made to memorise what a paragraph means rather than making them write a paragraph on different topics. In schools, teachers generally write paragraphs, letters, and essays on the board and students just copy them. They even memorise those notes including essays for the examination. Furthermore, there are ‘ready-made’ paragraphs, letters, job applications, and essays in the markets; the “Bazaar notes”. In a way, these notes make the teachers’ lives go easy. In the university, many students strive to create original pieces of writing. To meet the date for assignment submission, students ‘copy and paste’ in rush. They do not receive enough opportunity to practice writing in the classrooms. Interestingly, it has also been observed that the teachers and university faculties who have never produced a single piece of original writing in their career grade the students’ papers for their creativity and originality in writing (Khati, 2018).

Let me share another story. A professor had a nasty dispute with a student during his second semester in a university class for some reasons. Their professional relationship collapsed thereafter. Coincidentally, the same professor was assigned as the thesis supervisor to the student at the end. Then the student brought a student union leader and threatened the professor and pressurized him to award marks for the thesis as per his (student’s) wish. When the professor tried to persuade him about the thesis writing process, he attempted a physical attack on him with the help of his friends. The student blamed that the professor was not his nomination as a supervisor instead the professor was blamed to take revenge of the past and managed the formal process of appointing himself as a supervisor in the department. Finally, the case grew bigger and bigger among students and professors, and the issue, of course, an academic one was eventually politicalized.

The story is an extreme example of unethical conduct in the university, and it can be analysed from different angles. On the one hand, many students come to the phase of thesis writing with no prior experience of writing anything except in the examination. They do not make themselves well prepared and creative enough to begin the thesis writing process. In this connection, Bhattarai (2009) also observes that students neither examine the research problem critically nor do they defend it satisfactorily. She further mentions that if the thesis supervisor tries to convince them about the right track of the thesis writing process, they feel that they are unnecessarily harassed.

On the other hand, the story also demands the supervisors’ awareness of their expected supervisory roles. Tiwari (2019) seems to be very critical of the roles of the thesis supervisor and raised some ethical concerns on the role of thesis guide in the way they were not professionally supportive to students to enhance the collaborative process of writing of the thesis. He further articulated that all his participants in the research voice came in a way that their supervisors were not cooperative and professional in supporting students’ thesis writing. For instance, delayed response to students’ writing is a major complaint among students. In a similar vein, Sharma, (2017) also points out that thesis supervisors need to consider and be familiar with the expectations of thesis candidates. The scenario evidently depicts that thesis writing is taken as the locus of all master’s level programs. It further stresses that university departments need to take the necessary steps to change this scenario in terms of the theoretical orientation of the thesis writing process, reconsidering the rationale of making students write theses at any cost and practicalities of thesis writing.

Writing as an autonomous cognitive activity

In my observation, the problem mainly lies in the theoretical model of implementing the courses of thesis writing. Traditionally, thesis writing has been taken as a highly mental and cognitive activity, an isolated writing activity of the student which is context-independent. Universities conduct mass orientation of students in a single venue regarding the thesis writing guidelines or procedures irrespective of their socio-cultural backgrounds, level of experiences, diverse disciplines, and areas of interest. Students are oriented as a homogeneous group of people in which student’s writing is based on relatively homogeneous norms, values, and cultural practices. Homogeneous here refers to the uniform and universal writing norms and practices.  Furthermore, they are given ‘good’ or ‘bad’ types of feedback in terms of the language they use in their writing. Students do not have many empowering experiences as a one-way socialization process of writing takes place. It is because the traditional model focuses on a set of learnable universal skills for writing a thesis that is separate from the discipline and institutional contexts that considers academic or thesis writing as a predefined set of rules that student writers need to adapt to. Lea and Street (1998) criticise this deficit model which represents student writing as somewhat reductionist meaning, it is dependent on a set of transferable skills, and language proficiency rather than critical thinking.

This ‘one size fits all’ model, therefore, is incapable of taking account of culturally sensitive views of academic writing practices as they vary from one context to another. It further ignores that students’ writing in higher education is ideological in nature. In our context, universities’ departments execute the ‘processes’ of academic writing and thesis writing entirely from a traditional perspective in the way over-reliance on the ‘product’ based model has made it more difficult for students to attain and accomplish the work.

Writing as a socio-cultural practice

Thesis writing, however, is not considered an easy task in all academic contexts even outside Nepal. The experiences –pains and pleasure –of students vary in different contexts. Let me share you two excerpts from two success stories (reflections) of thesis writing in a Nepali university T. Rai (2018) shares her experiences this way:

“During this journey of writing a thesis I experienced most suffering and stressful time, I feel like that a woman suffered during in labour pain. It was in the sense that I had no option escaping from it because I spent about a year preparing this thesis and face several problems, challenges, dilemmas, and fear from the early days of preparing proposal to facing thesis viva. These several painful moments during the process however made me strong and led towards its successful completion”.

She compares the thesis writing pain with the labour pain that a woman suffers. It shows the real struggle of a thesis writer from the early days of writing thesis to defending thesis viva at the end. She gets satisfied after going through several stages of thesis writing during that whole year. Likewise, M. Rai (2018) told her story in this way:

“No doubt writing a thesis is a hard work. But it becomes harder for students like me who have a limited idea about a subject that I am going to study. My study was always focused on ‘how to pass’ the exam. I rarely voyaged beyond the prescribed books and rarely generalised the things in life that I have studied. I always had due respect to my teachers and their PowerPoint slides and I became successful to note and rote them. I was like a ‘broiler kukhura’ (poultry chicken, not free range), who merely depends on others. Since I started writing my Master’s thesis, I realised the real sense of reading and writing.”

She brings a powerful message in her reflection as an indication to shift the traditional approach of lecturing, rote learning and receiving the degree. She made an important point that she was just fascinated by the teachers’ presentations, obeyed them all the time, and made some notes for the examination during two years of her regular study. However, she realized the real sense of reading and writing that begins only after she started the thesis writing process. It indicates that writing a thesis brings varieties of activities and writing practices on the part of students.

These two thesis writers describe the stories on how a thesis writer in the university experiences writing in an early stage, how they struggle or become a part of different reading, writing activities and other academic practices to accomplish the work. While going through the whole stories of two thesis writers, it provides a sense of academic writing as the process of socialization in an academic community. Here, socialization refers to a locally situated process by which a university student from various linguistic and cultural backgrounds becomes socialized into a new academic community, such as a university department. The process involves the thesis writers’ engagement in various academic activities in their communities of practice. Therefore, academic writing in higher education needs to be taken as a social practice, not simply a technical and learnable language skill rather it is always embedded in socially constructed epistemological principles (Street, 2015). Street earlier in 1984, viewing literacy as a plural concept, coined the term ideological and the other is autonomous which is seen as a unitary concept without reference to contexts.

Under the socio-cultural framework, master’s level students as novice researchers and writers gradually learn to access university culture, understand disciplinary discourses, and engage themselves in different academic writing activities in their academic communities. They learn to write from others as an outcome of academic socialization such as discussing their writing drafts with their supervisors, sharing research and writing ideas with peers and upper-grade students, seeking language help from doctoral students and preparing papers for conference presentations. During their engagement in several writing activities, they negotiate with their own life experiences and worldviews or diverse ideologies. Here, the writing is not viewed as a text production activity; but a range of practices centering around the writing act, including reading sources, teachers’ guidelines and comments, advice and guidance from peers as well as teachers, and their own reflections on and observations of their learning experiences (Fujioka, 2007). The final output –the thesis –is the product of negotiation and renegotiation of different disciplinary and institutional ideologies. In the end, the learning from the thesis writing journey changes the thesis writer’s identity and he or she possibly becomes an entirely different person.

Conclusion

To sum up, many thesis writers in Nepal, if not all, view thesis writing as a ‘ritual’ activity. Against this backdrop, the universities’ departments should come up with an appropriate and effective package of thesis writing with theoretical and practical clarity and make the students understand the value of thesis writing –a learning experience, an opportunity to enhance their academic writing skills and a process-based academic practice –in the university. Thus, changing the view of a one-way assimilation into a relatively stable academic community with fixed rules and conventions (Morita, 2004) to the collaborative writing practice which takes account of socio-cultural aspects of the writing is really important at present. This viewpoint considers academic writing as a social-cultural practice and involves several collaborative activities of writing among teachers, supervisors, department heads, peers, upper-grade students, conference organizers, and even publishers. It promotes participatory and engaging academic practices of students in writing in an academic community which, to a greater extent, helps to eliminate unethical conduct during the thesis writing stage in higher education in Nepal.

The author: Ashok Raj Khati is a PhD student at Graduate School of Education, Tribhuvan University Nepal. Mr. Khati is currently working as the principal at the Sainik Awasiya Mahavidyalaya Kailali, located in far western Terai of Nepal. His areas of interest include developing writing skill in general and academic writing in particular.

References

Bhattarai, A. (2009). The first activity in research. Journal of NELTA, 14(1), 21-25.

Fujioka, M. (2007). Academic writing development as a socialization process: Implications for EAP education in Japan. PASAA, 40, 11-27.

Karn, S.K. (2009). Give me an easy topic, please: My experience of supervising theses. Journal of NELTA, 14(1), 63-70.

Khati, A. R. (2018, July). The third quarterly issue of ELT Choutari: Special coverage on writing education. [Editorial]. ELT CHOUTARI, 10(80).  Available at:  http://eltchoutari. com/2018/07/welcome-to-the-third-quarterly-issue-of-elt-choutari-special-coverage-on-writing-education-vol-10-issue-88/

Lea, M., & Street, B. (1998). Student writing and faculty feedback in higher education: An academic literacies approach. Studies in Higher Education, 23(2),157-172.

Morita, N. (2004). Negotiating participation and identity in second language academic communities. TESOL Quarterly, 38, 573-603.

Neupane Bastola, M. (2020). Engagement and challenges in supervisory feedback: Supervisors’ and students’ perceptions. RELC Journal, 1–15.

Rai, M. (2018). Thesis writing: a hard nut to crack (a student’s experience). In ELT Choutari. Available at: http://eltchoutari.com/2018/04/thesiswriting- a-hard-nut-to-crack-a-students-experience.

Rai, T. (2018). Thesis writing: a next step in learning. In ELT Choutari. Available at: http://eltchoutari.com/2018/04/thesis-writing-a-hard-nut-to-crack-astudents- experience.

Sharma, U. (2017). The role of supervisor and student for completing a thesis. Tribhuvan University Journal, 31(1-2), 223-238.

Street, B. (1984). Literacy in theory and practice. CUP: Cambridge.

Street, B. V. (2015). Academic writing: Theory and practice. Journal of Educational Issues, 1(2), 110-116.

Tiwari, H. P. (2019). Writing thesis in English education: Challenges faced by students. Journal of NELTA Gandaki (JoNG), 1, 45-52.

Can be cited as:

Khati, A. R. (2021, January). Understanding thesis writing as a socio-cultural practice in the university than a ‘ritual’ [Blog article]. ELT CHOUTARI. Available at: http://eltchoutari.com /2021/01/understanding-thesis-writing-as-a-socio-cultural-practice-in-the-university-than-a-ritual/

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