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Tips and hints on preparing the thesis in the AE10

Aim of the thesis

The thesis (Diploma, Bachelor or Master thesis) is a scientific paper that investigates one topic intensively. In general, a thesis contains planning and carrying out an empirical study. A crucial criterion for the grading of the thesis is the intellectual penetration of the material, the theoretical foundation of your work, the conception of study design and instruments, the execution of the study, the analysis and interpretation of the collected data and linguistically appropriate writing.


You should make sure that you have the necessary standard statistics skills and that you know how to use an appropriate software package such as SPSS or R. Your supervisor will let you know which particular skills are required for completing your thesis. You are expected to be able to work independently which also means that you manage to acquire any skills you might still be lacking on your own accord.

Please also note that much of the relevant literature will be in English. It is therefore essential that you are prepared to read English texts in the original language and to include these in your thesis.

You are also expected to attend the colloquium "Forschungs- und Praxiswerkstatt" regularly (see "Current Courses"). In this seminar you will present your thesis in consultation with your supervisor in order to discuss it with your teachers and peer group. It is advisable to present your thesis there, both before the data collection as well as during data analysis.

Topics of theses

You'll find interesting topics for your thesis here (only on the university intranet or via VPN):

Topic portal for Bachelor and Master theses

Current topics for theses are also regularly presented in the colloquium "Forschungs- und Praxiswerkstatt".

You may also talk to a staff member of the AE10.

Phases of your thesis

Preparing your thesis is usually organised according to the following phases:

  1. Literature search and identification of the research question
  2. Literature review, elaboration of the theoretical basis and development of the hypotheses
  3. Conceptual planning of the study
  4. Practical preparation of the study
  5. Data collection
  6. Data analysis
  7. Writing the thesis

You do not necessarily have to follow this sequence. Your exposé is usually between the first and second phase.


Before starting on your data collection, you should draft an exposé which you will discuss with your supervisor. Writing an exposé should serve the following purposes: Firstly, it should help to further define the theoretical background, the study and the data analysis before you start with the actual data collection (this lowers the risk of any unpleasant surprises later on). Secondly, you can concentrate your literature search on the aspects that are really relevant for your work. And finally, having actually formulated your hypotheses, you will find it easier to get started with your data analysis after having collected your data. The hypotheses in your exposé are a first draft, which means that the hypotheses of your thesis might deviate from those in the exposé. The exposé will not be graded.

The exposé should comprise about 3-5 pages (500-1,000 words) and include the following sections:

  1. The central research question of the thesis
  2. Theories on which the paper is based
  3. Hypotheses
  4. The research design
  5. The required constructs
  6. Planned sample
  7. Planned analysis strategies
  8. The scientific and practical relevance of the study
  9. Timetable

You can find detailed guidelines about how to write an exposé here.

There is also the possibility for you, in consulation with your supervisor, to pre-register the planned study. You can find furher information on the pre-registration here .

Please keep in mind that your supervisor will need some time to read and comment on your exposé. Please allow about two weeks for this.

Meetings concerning your thesis

Usually, it is helpful and necessary that you discuss individual steps of your thesis with your supervisor. Please arrange with him/her at which stages of your thesis these meetings are to take place. In order to gain the greatest benefit from these meetings, you should prepare and follow-up on these meetings, which could mean:

  • make sure you have an agenda for the meeting and discuss it with your supervisor before the meeting,
  • you might send in any material that you have already prepared in advance (e.g., a list of your research questions, suggestions on operationalisation, design of questionnaires or similar),
  • summarise the results of the meeting in a short report and send it to your supervisor.

"Prepared material" means that it is usually not helpful to send your supervisor a few articles and expect him/her to have read them. It is better to summarize the relevant points of the article and to send the summary along with the article (e.g., description of a planned operationalisation).

Length of the thesis

The thesis should be as short as possible and include only those elaborations which are directly connected with the researched question. As a general rule, about 8,000 words are considered appropriate for a Bachelor thesis (incl. illustrations, tables, bibliography etc.), about 10,000 words for a Master thesis (also incl. illustrations, tables, bibliography etc.). More extensive additional material (questionnaires, interview guidelines, additional tables etc.) should be given as annex.

Structure of your thesis

The thesis should be structured like a good journal article. Examples can be found in the Journal of Applied Psychology or in the Academy of Management Journal. The structure should include the following points:

  1. Cover page
  2. Table of contents
  3. Abstract
  4. Introduction - what is the thesis about
  5. Description of the theory
  6. Derivation of the research question and the hypotheses
  7. Methods
  8. Results
  9. Discussion, including the strengths and weaknesses of the study and implications for practice and further research
  10. Literature
  11. Annex
  12. Declaration, that you wrote your thesis autonomously

For the different sections the following exemplary questions can be used as an orientation:

(1), (2) and (3) Theoretical introduction:
  • Which research question is being examined? Which problem are you seeking to solve?
  • What is the background to the problem? What is the current state of literature on the topic?
  • Have you given a clear description of the relevant theoretical approaches?
  • Have you cited the associated literature?
  • How did you derive your hypothesis?
  • Did you derive your hypothesis accurately and correctly from the theoretical reflections?
(4) Methods:
  • Does the paper contain all relevant information about the sample (gender, age, education as well as further relevant information for the study), the study procedure, the design and the material (operationalisation)?
  • Does it become clear what the operationalisation and the constructs (IV and DV) are?
  • Are the methods written in a continuous text (i.e. no bullet points)?
  • Would an outsider (i.e. a person other than the supervisor) understand what has been done in the study?
(5) Results:
  • Has a manipulation check been reported? (if the study is experimental)
  • Has the procedure of testing the hypotheses been described transparently (can a third person replicate the results with your data right away)?
  • Do the conducted tests correspond to the hypotheses?
  • Is a correlation matrix with all the variables included?
  • Are all values/indices given correctly in terms of the form either in the text or in tables?
  • Has the meaning of the results for each hypothesis been given in a separate sentence?
  • Are the tables being referred to in the text with the correct number?
(6) Discussion:
  • Are the main results summarised again at the beginning of the discussion?
  • Is the meaning of the results for the hypotheses stated again?
  • Are justified speculations for (non-existent) effects being discussed?
  • What is the connection between the results of the thesis and results of other studies? What are the differences, what the similarities? Why?
  • Do you state implications for future studies?
  • Do you address and discuss possible limitations of your study?
  • Is there a conclusion about the main statement of your thesis?
(7) Literature:
  • Are all cited sources being named here?
  • Are only the cited sources being named here?
  • Is the bibliography formatted according to the APA style guidelines?

Introductory and further literature about writing a thesis in AE10: Sonnentag, S. (2006). Abschlussarbeiten und Dissertationen in der angewandten Psychologie. Göttingen: Hogrefe.


Make sure your thesis has a common theme. With regard to the formal presentation, your thesis should be written according to the guidelines of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). This especially applies to the citations, bibliography, tables and figures. If you want to hand in your thesis in a formatted form, please use 1.5 line spacing instead of double spacing. Furthermore, please insert tables and figures in the text at the place where they are mentioned. If you want to hand in your thesis as a manuscript, please refer to the APA style guidelines when formatting it. You can write your thesis either in English or in German.


The thesis is a scientific paper. This implies that you should only cite those sources which you have actually read yourself. It is self-explanatory that you mark everything that you take from a source - be it word-by-word or paraphrased.

Saving your data

Don't forget to save your texts and data on a regular basis. It is recommended to use write protection for the raw data file. In doing so, you are making sure that you can always start from the original data set (so that recoding repeatedly is avoided). You should document your whole analysis in a (SPSS) syntax file so that everybody can retrace and replicate every step of your analysis.


Please keep in mind that most steps in writing a thesis take than you might think initially. Take into account that you cannot control every process entirely (e.g., coordinating with companies). Before handing in your thesis, you should agree with your supervisor upon the parts of your thesis which you can hand in for feedback. This draft should already comply with all formal and content-related requirements. For example, you can hand in beforehand:

  1. Formulation of the hypotheses, methods and results,
  2. theory and finally
  3. discussion.

Keep in mind that your supervisor will need some time to read and comment on your drafts, and that you will also need some time to make corrections. Please make arrangements with your supervisor early enough.

Data sets

Please include a CD/DVD with the complete data set in your thesis (e.g., also not recoded single items) as well as a documentation of your data set and - after consulting with your supervisor - maybe also the survey materials (e.g., tape recordings, questionnaires). Handing in the data set and syntax files should enable your supervisor to examine parts of your analyses without having to check back with you.

If possible, please include a PDF file of your final thesis in addition to the printed version.


The publication of any interesting findings from your thesis is encouraged. In general, you and your supervisor are responsible for such a paper submission. The order of the authors depends on the relative part each person had in the paper. Usually, the supervisor will be on first position, and you on second. Variations from that are possible. In any case, you will need your supervisor's approval for a publication.


You can get useful information on structuring your thesis here. This enables you to double check important steps and helps you to organise.