You should pay attention to the output of the configure script, each line of it. Typically it goes trough things one at a time and prints output like "X found, Y missing, Z ok, ..." and though it should stop at an error, it may well continue to the end even though not everything is as it should in your environment (depending on what's wrong). So read trough the entire output; if it's long, direct it to a file and use less
(for example) to read it trough; see that everything is all right before going on. If something is not, fix it, re-run the configure script and so on.. When configure script finishes without errors, makefile should be present (given that you had a non-broken archive and you extracted all files from it) and you should be able to run it. Again, after 'make' read the output and see that everything is ok before continuing..
But really before going into all that, read the usually provided README and, if present, INSTALL files. They tell you what to do to compile the software; it is not
always the "./configure && make && make install" process. It may involve automake, other install scripts or whatever the software creator has thought necessary..and in addition to that the files should tell you what you need in order to compile the software, and if it's some software, perhaps even the version or minimum version needed for it to work -- or maybe notes about some versions that are known to cause trouble. A usual reason for configure failing is that some program or library is not present on the system, or the script can't find it (in which case it can be told where it is).
Then another thing is what you can pass to the configure script as arguments. These should be documented in the README/INSTALL files, or if you run
or something similar; it may be that the default values won't do, that you need to override them by giving some special arguments to the script. In most cases you don't need to do that, but sometimes you do.
If the makefile indeed is missing (it's called Makefile, without suffix; capital M in most cases), it sounds like the previous step(s) didn't go all right. You may post the (relevant) output of the previous step(s) if you think it might help, but if it's hundreds of lines, try to cut it down a little..
Sometimes I find that source projects compile "easier" (with less effort) on some distributions than others; Slackware particulary has been a nice one. With some software it *might* matter that Ubuntu (for example) is meant to be more a "desktop OS" than a "developer OS", and so a lot of developer tools are not included in the default installation, which means that one needs to know what to install prior to trying compiling..especially because Ubuntu's installer won't ask you questions about package sets, so you can't just click "C/C++ programming" and have it there (not a bad move with Ubuntu, in my opinion).