Download the Thesis Survival Guide

It's August, which means the new school year is right around the corner! If you're gearing up for a thesis, dissertation, or professional paper, be sure to download my free Thesis Survival Guide, with tips, tricks, and tools from former grad students. 

I wrote this guide because I wish that a resource like this had existed when I was a graduate student! All of the advice comes from firsthand experience. Hope you enjoy, and be sure to share with your friends!

Picking the right survey tool for your research project

If you're preparing to collect information from people as part of your research project, you'll likely discover that there are dozens of digital tools and services to use. 

If you’re not sure what type of survey tool/service works best for you, here are some things to consider:

Does the tool let you ask different types of questions?

Depending on what you want to collect from people, a service that lets you create a variety of question types — multiple choice, short answer, radio buttons, etc. — would be best suited for this.

Is the tool easy for others to access and use?

If you want a ton of great results, make sure that your survey doesn't have friction — meaning, any obstacles that prevent them from easily completing it. Stick to tools that have a simple design, and offer mobile-friendly layouts. Most form tools generate a simple link that you can post on social media, text, email, or share with others however you wish. Be sure to test it yourself to ensure that the survey/form link works! Also test to make sure it's legible and simple to type, select checkboxes, and submit the response.

How do you plan to analyze your results?

Do you want the service you’re using to do some of that work for you, or do you plan to just analyze it all your own way? Or, perhaps both? For example, Survey Monkey has some analytics tools so you can get a general idea of how people are answering your survey.

How do you want the data?

Do you want to be able to export it as a PDF, or download it as a spreadsheet that you can then analyze in Excel/Numbers/etc.? 

How confidential is the information you’re collecting?

If you’re asking about very private or personal information, first of all, consult with a lawyer or a research ethics governing board. But after that, make sure the service stores the data in encrypted databases. I’ve personally never had to worry about this but it may come up in some of your research!


My personal favorite form/survey tools are Google Forms, which is totally free and part of the Google Drive suite, and Survey Monkey, which has some robust features, although some of those are premium. There are many great survey tools out there, though, so pick the one that works best for you!

Creating a thesis toolkit

Tools for tackling your thesis or dissertation

Organization is key to maintaining some semblance of sanity during your thesis or dissertation. It also ensures that your research and methods are accurate; if your data and resources are all over the place, it becomes much harder to revise later on, which means important details can fall through the cracks.

If you’re about to start your thesis process, take a day to assemble your toolkit. It’s never too late to get organized! Here’s a list of recommended tools — digital and analog — that current and former graduate students use and love.

Word processor

What do you plan to use to actually write your paper? There are many options besides Microsoft Word (which is a good option, too!). I used a mix of Google Docs and LaTeX while writing my thesis. Google Docs was great for keeping my drafts and ideas stored in the cloud, but it’s not the best to use for formatting requirements. This is where a tool like LaTeX comes in handy, although there is a bit of a learning curve. Take the time to try out a few options. You should find something you love, because you will be spending a lot of time with this program.

Word processing software:

Ulysses app

Ulysses app

Citation manager

When you start writing your literature review, you will collect a ton of documents that you’ll need to cite in your paper. Managing your citations and references early is a life-saver. Be consistent in using a citation manager so you don’t have to scramble to put together your reference page at the very end.
Recommended app: Zotero. Free and open source, Zotero makes it easy to manage and organize your citations and references.

“Zotero. May the Gods bless Zotero.” — J. Saperstein, Master of Arts in Geography, University of Missouri

Style guide

The internet has plenty of great resources for citation style, but I highly recommend investing in a print copy of your required style. It’s much easier to flip through it on your desk then to have to constantly tab back and forth on your computer. A style guide also has more information than just citation formatting; there will be important information about how to structure and report your research.

Recommendation: Check out a copy from your local library.


I love digital tools, but I never leave my house without a notebook, and they are super useful to document notes or progress. You may try documenting your search terms, informal research observations, ideas for your defense, and so on. Brainstorm on the go.

Recommended: Word notebooks. I love their bullet journal-esque layout, and they are small and durable on-the-go.

Cloud-based notetaker

Even if you use a notebook, it’s helpful to have a web version for general outlining, planning, and note-taking. Use a cloud service so you don’t have to worry about losing any of your notes. Cloud notetakers tend to also offer options to upload other file types, including spreadsheets or images.

Recommended apps: Evernote or Google Keep.

External hard drive

Yes, I just said how wonderful cloud services are, but I (along with thousands of other writers) cannot stress this enough: BACK UP EVERYTHING YOU DO. There is nothing more terrible or demoralizing than losing time or data that you can never retrieve. Don’t even put yourself
 in that position. Be extra careful and get an external hard drive to store everything you’ve worked on, including all of your research articles used for your literature review. Use it in conjunction with cloud storage. Don’t risk it. Seriously. Can you tell how serious I am about this?!

Calendar app

Find a calendar app for desktop or mobile that you absolutely love, or invest in a nice planner — you’ll be using it a lot. I prefer a calendar app because I can set reminders for all of the many deadlines that arise during the thesis process.

Recommended app: Shift. Switch between Google accounts easily, including Calendar, Inbox/Gmail, and Drive. A must-have for those who use more than one Google account.

Download the free Thesis Survival Guide for more tips, tricks, and tools.