How do I question my professor

Frequently asked questions from students to their supervisors (Prof. Horn)

"When you look at a bachelor's or master's thesis in order to evaluate it later, what do you pay attention to first?"

The supervisor's first look is at the form of the work. Because the form already gives clues to its content and the author's performance. The division into sections and subsections allows initial conclusions to be drawn as to how the student worked on his task, arranged his material and his thoughts and obtained his results. The structure is not an external aspect of the text, but rather it sheds light on the most important aspects that play a role in the assessment of a bachelor's or master's thesis. These are the factual content of the work, the independent performance of the author and the coherence of his thoughts.

The supervisor's reading begins with the introduction and the end of the work. The introduction should explain the topic of the thesis, justify your question, describe the methods of processing it and present its structure. The final part summarizes the results of the investigation and classifies them in the scientific discussion or the state of research. Introduction and conclusion should reveal the content of the thesis.

When assessing the factual content of the work, the main question is whether and to what extent the author has succeeded in linking the results of his statements with his question. The results should emerge clearly from the processing of the questions asked. The independence of the author is measured according to how he deals with the literature used argumentatively, how he applies the scientific methods of his subject and how he, if necessary, classifies his own research into the scientific discussion of his questions. Good reasoning means that the reader can understand the individual steps of the argument and find them convincing.

It is very important here how the student deals with quotations from literature. As a rule of thumb, those who use verbatim quotations sparingly and purposefully to reinforce their own arguments show greater independence than those who include a particularly large number of quotations from others in their own text. After all, when evaluating the work, its form plays a role. This means two things: The citation rules, which differ from subject to subject, must be strictly adhered to and without errors; everything else pushes the note. And the language of the work should be appropriate to its subject. In academic papers, bureaucratic gibberish is not the order of the day, and shiny prose is not required.

"When my supervisor tells me that my bachelor's or master's thesis has a low academic content, what exactly does he mean by that?"

The question is easier to answer if it is formulated positively: What is the scientific content of a paper? The following seven points are important for the authors of a bachelor's or master's thesis:

  1. Science aims to gain new knowledge. In order to gain knowledge, you have to know what you actually want to know. Every scientific work presupposes a question. The formulation of a question is the starting point for a scientific investigation. This results in the search for the necessary research material.
  2. A scientific question must delimit its subject. It can aim to find out new things or to look at the familiar from a new perspective.
  3. Science works systematically. It reveals the steps it takes to gain new knowledge, and it presents them in a comprehensible way.
  4. Scientific work must precisely name its sources of information. This also includes calling on other scientists.
  5. Scientific papers should use colloquial language as far as possible in order to be understandable; but they must not refrain from precisely defining the essential terms with which they argue.
  6. The results of scientific research should point beyond their own subject. Every scientific paper should describe the state of research and show how and why it continues scientific research.
  7. A scientific paper makes factual statements. But she is also allowed to evaluate them. The prerequisite is that it clearly separates the two.

“I read a lot of books on my subject. I think the authors write so well. I don't get that formulated in such a simple way. Do I have to worry about this when I submit my bachelor's or master's thesis? "

No! There are authors of scientific papers who formulate fluently and elegantly, but there are also those who write in a cumbersome and lumpy manner. Anyone writing a bachelor's or master's thesis should be as unimpressed as possible by the language of others. Turned sentences are not required here. Sentences whose meaning is clear and unambiguous are important. The legibility of the work is the most important thing. No student should try to chase another author's style. That would always be a mistake.

"My supervisor said to me: 'I miss a specific question in your work. What distinguishes a good question from a bad one?"

There are always two people responsible for the question of a bachelor thesis or a master thesis: the supervisor and the author himself. Every student should approach his supervisor with a suggestion for a topic. Suggesting a topic yourself is the first step on the way to success! The supervisor should give advice on this, suggest changes if necessary, or suggest a topic of his own. The examination regulations usually provide for the candidate's right to propose. Everyone should make use of it!

A good question narrows down the topic. It is based on the state of research, estimates the effort involved in developing and evaluating your own research material and formulates the issue of the work. It helps with searching, organizing and evaluating, and it shows where the way should go. Bad questions would be those that do not meet these requirements. No student should get involved in questions that he cannot answer with a reasonable amount of effort!