Writing a master’s thesis is a time-consuming task. Scientific work is not written alongside, but requires training, discipline and perseverance. But under time pressure, things often have to go faster. In this article I describe how my master’s thesis was written in 17 days. Although it would not have been possible without regular preparatory work; the pure paperwork with source study, the making of diagrams, a case study as well as the analysis took however actually only two and a half weeks to complete.

Master thesis in International Management

I wrote my master’s thesis as part of an extra-occupational MBA program in International Management at the Lord Ashcroft International Business School (LAIBS) of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in Cambridge / UK. The master’s program itself was a dual award, organized by the Institute of Management Berlin (IMB) in cooperation with ARU. The processing time for the thesis was four months. Three quarters of my time was devoted solely to the collection of sources and their collection and constant updating.

In addition to the presence and online libraries of LAIBS and HWR Berlin, I used Google Scholar to be provided with the latest publications on my key words. Thus, publications on the topic could be integrated, which appeared only in 2014 or 2015 and thus were not widely used. Being up-to-date through Google Scholar made it possible to find essays and papers directly related to my topic “Intellectual Property in the German automotive sector: How do German SMEs and SMEs use their IP portfolio?” And provided valuable suggestions and quotes.

“Without structure and timing, nothing works.”

Important is the planning of the structure and the timing of a master thesis. While the rough structure with the fixed parts already resulted from the requirements of the university, I had to divide and plan my own time. At first I assumed that the Master’s thesis would be feasible in the form of a four-month “crescendo”: starting slowly and sparingly but intensifying and focusing more and more every week. This turned out to be a fallacy after a few weeks. Since I worked full-time as a self-employed person, things always came in between which made it impossible to concentrate on the Master’s thesis.

Actually, only the orange marked days were completely provided without employment of the master thesis. On the days marked in blue I wanted to work at least four hours for the thesis. Due to the changing workload of a freelancer, many other days changed from blue to orange. After consultation with my supervisor, I therefore decided to put the entire evaluation and writing phase in the last three weeks. For this I went to the exam in a remote Baltic Sea community and worked in this time exclusively on the master’s thesis. In the following diary I describe what the preparatory work looked like and what happened on the 17 days until the delivery.

Preliminary work to write the master’s thesis

The preparation started in January during the module “Research Methods” at the LAIBS. During the methodology lecture, the topic already crystallized, was narrowed down and refined. The first proposal had to be submitted on January 30 in the form of a poster. After the subsequent feedback, rework, changes, and other limitations were made, resulting in a prototype that contained about 20% of the master’s thesis. The so-called “Research Proposal” consisted of an introduction to the topic, a shortened literature review and the schedule of the work. With the delivery of the document on April 13, there were still exactly 16 weeks processing time available.

In several work phases, the libraries were searched, appropriate literature selected by cross-reading and recorded in the literature management Cite this for me and archived as a digital document. Likewise, I did with the online sources of Google Scholar: Almost daily I got in the literature research a link collection to my keywords by e-mail. The sources had to be read and checked for usability. If a document matched the topic, it was captured and archived in RefME. To ensure data security with the increasing number of documents, I set up a triple backup: The master work folder was backed up to a backup hard disk, an SD card and the Dropbox. Even if my computer’s hard drive and the cloud had collapsed, there would have been two independent local disks available.

Already in the 6th Week indicated that a planned survey with 20 companies could be problematic. The response was minimal, many companies did not or could not answer the questionnaires. Therefore, I quickly switched to interviews with external experts. The organization and implementation took more time, the last interviews were even during the writing phase. Furthermore, the evaluation of the patent database turned out to be demanding, since complex analysis would have been necessary for the detailed analysis. The editing in Excel finally turned out to be a compromise that was sufficient for the required diagrams. With well over 150 sources, a semi-finished literature review, the methodology chapter and three of six interviews, it finally went on July 16 in retreat to the Baltic Sea.

Writing phase of the master thesis

Day 1: Arrival, collection, formalities

For the coming days and weeks, I had the following daily schedule: 8 hours of master’s thesis, 8 hours of free time, 8 hours of sleep. It worked well, with more work and less free time on some days. But there were also days when things reversed. In any case, on the first day I sorted out the sources in various folders, got an overview, found deficiencies and weaknesses in the research proposal and tried to find the “red thread”. In addition, I did all the formalities, i. all necessary cover sheets, statements and attachments were completed except for the signature. The connection to the outside world, however, was not optimal: Neither Vodafone nor O2 offered fast mobile data services. Only the Telekom remained as a last hope.

Day 2: Problems with the title

On the second day, a problem arose: the title was in danger. The term “SME” (small and medium-sized enterprises), which I used, was partly in contradiction to the German term “middle class”. According to various definitions SME and SMEs are not congruent, which made some sources unusable. I sent my supervisor a suggestion for change and took the middle class on. Similarly, the second level research questions have been reworded to refer to the new title. Later in the day, I read the sources, reviewed the research proposal and transcribed and translated the last interview. In the morning I had bought a SIM card from Telekom for my iPad. When the tablet was in the garden, there was a reasonably solid 3G connection. The solution was finally to use the iPad in a plastic bag in the garden as a hotspot and to work in the house. This allowed me to be online at an acceptable speed.

Day 3: Lack of literature leads to a new idea

In the morning, the sources were further studied and sorted out. In addition, I created several tables in which I extracted quotes from the sources and collected. The SME / SME issue was still a reason for intensive employment. It also turned out that there was too little useful literature on automotive suppliers and their IP portfolio. Therefore, the interviews were given a special role because they contained expert information that could partially replace or even supplement the literature. In addition, I came up with the idea of ​​a case study because a few months ago I interviewed a German medium-sized company directly involved in innovation and monetization models in the automotive sector. At the end of the day, another pending telephone interview was planned and confirmed.

Day 4: Lazy, but effective

The fourth day started lazily and did not pick up until the afternoon. At first, I was just thinking about how to approach the case study and designed several scenarios in my mind. In the evening I started to put these on paper. Furthermore, I looked at available statistics material from databases and asked for another interview. At the same time I received an e-mail from a professor, whom I quoted as a source and to whom I asked a specific question about his definition of middle class. His answer could be used as evidence of the necessary reformulation of the title.

Day 5: Case Study and Interview

The case study started the night before was continued. In addition, I continued to research in the middle class area and expanded the quotations collection. Another telephone interview I held in a car with hands-free kit in a car park and made immediately after the fair copy. The authorization was received for an interview conducted in Berlin.

Day 6: Interview and status update

On the sixth day I was able to conduct a telephone interview with the managing director of an automotive supplier. In the evening, the raw version of the case study was completed and emailed to my supervisor, including a status update.

Day 7: Not much new

This day can be described in a few words: Further source work and reading quotes.

Day 8: Many phone calls

A telephone interview with a middle class expert was pending. For the interview from day 5 the authorization came. However, there was a danger to the case study: I ​​called a specialist colleague and wanted to know his opinion about using my interview with the medium-sized company. He pointed out the explosiveness, since I had correct citations and content, but the investigated company had never publicly admitted or confirmed these facts. The danger was to be tidied up properly when lawyers were published. So I summoned the CEO and described my approach. He then wanted to see the case study and received it by e-mail. I asked him to let me know within 48 hours if any changes were necessary. The end of the day I spent in further source studies and the graphic processing of the Conceptual Framework.

Day 9: Data and diagrams

The ninth day was devoted to Excel: from the corresponding data from the patent database, I formatted charts and analyzed the evolution of IP portfolios. The methodology chapter has been expanded, the appendix added. For clarity, I renamed the sources and added more quotes. The Conceptual Framework has now been added to the main document. Due to the interview results in a controversial and diffuse field of research, where all businesses keep their cards covered, I filed a request for confidentiality of the work. Five out of six interviewees insisted on anonymity, which is possible according to the university’s ethics guidelines. However, since their statements contradicted current research and teaching, I considered it useful at the time of writing the master’s thesis not to make the results public. My application was accepted by the university, so the work was only available to the proofreaders and my sources.

Day 10: First results

By reading the past few days, I was able to expand the literature review and capture more sources. Furthermore, I revised the diagrams with patent data and focused on ten companies that were presented in detail. The chapter on results also began now, because the data analysis already contained usable data. In the evening I prepared the “Dissertation Declaration Form”, in which formalities such as name, student ID, topic etc. were entered.

Day 11: Literature evaluation and interviews

The eleventh day was purely leisurely from the intellectual work. Meanwhile, the literature review was completed, the result chapter was expanded with the summary of the interviews and now included about 2100 words. In the evening, I started the analysis and discussion of the results.

Day 12: Analysis and adjustments

The analysis took shape during the day and was about halfway through. It reached to the point “Utilization of IP”. In addition, the methodology and the introduction had to be slightly changed because I deviated from the originally planned approach due to lack of data in companies.

Day 13: Analysis and reflection

On the thirteenth day, I reworked the entire chapter of analysis and included the research questions so that the common thread became even clearer. The clean formatting of the diagrams was more of a diligence, but also prepared the work visually convincing. There was a point in the University Master’s roadmap that I had neglected until then: I needed to critically reflect on my approach and methods. Therefore, the analysis chapter has been extended and adapted accordingly.

Day 14: Theories and Case Study

In order to increase the clarity, I added a table in which the theories used for my approach including authors and synopsis were recorded. Furthermore, I added the edited case study as a third point next to the patent data evaluation and the interviews. The “Abstract” as a short summary of the entire work could now also be written, because all parts of the Master’s thesis were almost finished and the results were fixed.

Day 15: Corrections and counter reading

The fifteenth day was all about corrections (spelling, grammar) and counter reading, putting every sentence and every claim to the test:

  • Is the statement correct?
  • Is she available?
  • Was it correctly quoted?
  • Does the red thread remain recognizable?
  • Are the individual passages logical in themselves and do they make sense of each other?

Day 16: Formalities and printing

On the penultimate day, I finished counter reading and started another round of correction. In particular, the formalities (Dissertation Declaration Form, Contact Log, etc.) were re-examined and supplemented. The list of contents and figures was the next item on the program, the attachments were then formatted and visually revamped. Another check only related to the layout. I copied the final version to a USB stick and had it printed and bound in Stralsund in a copy shop. The print served only as an aid to not having to read the work on the screen. The levy at the university is digitally uploaded to the university server, print copies are no longer necessary. In the evening, I carried out the plagiarism check using the Turnitin software. All already recorded passages were highlighted in color, so I only had to check the correct citation.

Day 17: Final corrections and delivery

On the last day I saw the master thesis in the morning and did the last fine-tuning: uniform typesetting, formatting of bibliography and title page, checking of the formalities, last check of spelling and layout, installation and testing of jump labels and anchor points. In the early afternoon, I could not think of anything else that needed to be changed. I created the final PDF, named it according to the specifications and uploaded it to the university server. Finished.

Conclusion: A master thesis in 17 days is possible

It is possible to write a master thesis (as well as a bachelor thesis) within a short time. However, the preparation must be disciplined and good; The master’s phase should take place as far as possible outside the usual environment to avoid distraction. Full-time students can devote themselves to a master’s thesis intensively and over a longer period of time. For employees who study on a part-time basis, this means three weeks’ vacation, for self-employed people three weeks without any jobs or acquisition.

However, it is very important to have the structure and the expected results in mind at the beginning of the intensive phase. Otherwise, the pressure increases day by day and the shore stays out of sight. Anyone now thinking of getting support from an academic service provider should be aware of the dangers of writing the master’s thesis with a ghostwriter.

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