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Thesis writing

  1. Jan 10, 2010 #1
    So I have enough material to graduate, and I'm working on my thesis. I have some questions concerning the thesis writing.

    I've noticed a lot of other thesis have large sections, if not whole chapters copied from their publications. Is this allowed?

    My advisor is a nice guy, but a totally incompetent mentor. The only piece of advice he has given me regarding thesis writing is "try to be clear". Oh, that helps. And here I am spending all my time trying to be incoherent.

    When it comes to technical writing, it takes a lot of time for me to figure out how to write down complicated ideas with simple sentences.

    I remember my mom gave me a good procedure for writing

    1) Tell me what you want to say.
    2) Now write it down just like you said it.

    This worked well for English class. This technique doesn't work for detailed thesis writing. Does anyone have some procedure for tech writing?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 10, 2010 #2
    You're mom's procedure works brilliantly, you just need to apply her advice to every paragraph and sub-section of your thesis, instead of to the essay as a whole. You have to be really careful to cover all your basis, so write as if you've got your committee over your shoulder nagging you, but it's still all about just explaining everything that could possible need explanation. Large chunks of technical jargon usually mean that the guy writing it didn't understand what he was doing; it usually shows when you start to deconstruct the paragraph and realize it's contradictory or impossible. Use jargon as appropriate (like that's the name of the technique, and everybody in your field knows it) and when it simplifies the sentence; if your sentence starts getting very long an unwieldy, break it up. Listen to your mentor, 'cause if he can't understand your thesis, you're in trouble.

    All thesis are published, so just check out some of the ones from the past couple of years. Ask your adviser if he can give you some from his former students. That will give you the format and style generally used at your school. A thesis is basically a glorified lab report: they all have some form of an introduction, literature review, materials/method, results, discussion, conclusion,references. They've just got a lot more info in each sub-section, which is how they get to be so big. You're telling the story of your research, so you need to give enough information in your thesis so that everyone on your committee can basically understand what you've done.
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2010
  4. Jan 10, 2010 #3


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    Most graduate departments will have a thesis manual and even a template for you to work with. I would recommend reading over the thesis manual carefully as soon as possible - make sure that you're aware of deadlines and format rules etc. It's also worth keeping in mind that your supervisor may or may not be intimately familiar with the overall formal.

    Many schools will allow a paper-based thesis, which essentially consists of your papers as chapters sandwiched between introduction and conclusion chapters. This minimizes the work involved in re-writing and gives you a little more confidence in your defence because, ultimately, your work has already been accepted in a the peer-review system.

    Some schools will not accept this format - which is why I suggest looking it up in the thesis handbook.

    If you're having trouble getting constructive feedback from your supervisor, you may want to try asking other members on your committee, or recently graduated post-docs for advice. Also, keep in mind that everyone has his or her own writing style.
  5. Jan 11, 2010 #4


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    If Choppy has already said, you need to get advice elsewhere. Remember that your primary goal is to graduate, not to write a brilliant piece of prose. At the bare minimum you have to meet all formal requirements (of which there can be many) when it comes to style, contents etc.

    A colleague of mine was recently on a committee where they nearly failed the student because of problems with her thesis, but after asking her about it, it turned out that she had just been given some VERY bad advice by her advisor (she passed after making some changes).

    So, get a template if possible. If one is not available look at one or more older thesis that you know are ok and use them to guide you. But again, talk to someone else.
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