How to write a Dissertation
How to write a Dissertation

How to write a Dissertation

This guide to writing a thesis provides some simple and practical tips for startup problems, organization and division of a large task into less formidable pieces and working on those pieces. It also explains the practical way to survive the test. Includes a suggested structure and a guide to what should go in each section. Was originally written for graduate students in physics, and most of the specific examples are taken from that discipline. However, feedback indicates that users were consulted and appreciated by graduate students in various fields in science and humanities.



When to begin, writing a thesis seems a long, difficult task. This is because it is a long and difficult task. Fortunately, you will feel less intimidated once you have made a couple of chapters. Towards the end you will find even enjoy it – based on the satisfaction of accomplishment, of pleasure in the improvement in his scientific writing enjoyment and, of course, the final close. Like many tasks, writing a thesis usually looks worse before you start, so let us give you a look at how to start.

A sketch

First make an outline of the thesis: several pages containing chapter headings, captions, illustrations, some titles (to indicate where some results) and perhaps some other notes and comments. There is a chapter order and thesis structure at the end of this text. Once you have a list of chapters and, under each title, a completely reasonable list of things that should be reported or explained, you have given a great backhand against writer’s block.When you sit down to type, your goal will no longer be a thesis – a terrifying goal – but something simpler. Your new objective will only write a paragraph or section about one of your subtitles. Help start with an easy one: it does get into the habit of writing and gives you confidence. Often, chapters in Materials and Methods are the easiest to write, just write what he did; carefully, formally and in a logical order.

How is the draft of a chapter ago? For most of them you can try the method I use to write documents, and I learned from my thesis advisor: collect all the figures used in it, put them in the order that you would use if you were to explain to someone what all means. You can also try to explain it to someone else – after all probably give several talks based on your thesis. Once you have found the most logical order, note under it important words of explanation. These key words provide a skeleton for much of the outline of your chapter.

Once you have an outline, discuss it with your counselor. This step is important: he or she will have useful suggestions, but it will be for them a warning that they can expect a steady stream of drafts of chapters you probably present in disarray, and that will make high priority demands on his time. Once you and your advisor agree on a logical structure, he or she will need a copy of that sketch for reference when reading the chapters that present probably disordered. If you have a co-advisor, the sketch also discuss with him or her and present all chapters to both advisers for comments.


Encourages and is helpful to start a filing system. Open a file in your word processor and one for each chapter for references. You can put these notes and text. While doing something in Chapter n, think. . . “Oh I should make a reference to discuss this in Chapter m” and make a note to do that on file Chapter m. Or you can think of something interesting or relevant to that chapter. When you go to work in that chapter, the more of these notes have accumulated, the easier it is to write.

Make a backup of these files, please do so at least every day (depending on the reliability of your computer and the age of your drive). Never store the backup disk near the computer, in the hypothetical case of a thief who likes your computer is smart enough to think you could also use those discs. Must also have a rotation system backup floppy: use two discs, back up one each week, and keep physically separated from their main computer.That way you always have backups at 1 and 2 weeks old antique ¸, and if a file is damaged, you have an older version of it available. If you want to be very careful, you may transfer your backups to a machine in a geographically remote location (using FTP) without saying, of course, the system administrator I suggested this. (For use Macintosh BinHex files to convert files to ASCII format, and the ships in ASCII mode FTP. For DOS / Windows files transferred using binary format). A simple way to make a remote backup is sent as an attachment to an e-mail correspondent. You could send it to yourself if your mail server preserves its (in some packages like Eudora this is an elective option). In any case, be careful to remove older versions of replaced, so do not waste disk space.

Must also have a physical file system: a collection of folders with chapter numbers on them. This will make you feel good about getting started and also help you keep your desk clean. Your files will contain not only prints and pages of calculations results, but all sorts of old notes, references, calibration curves, addresses of suppliers, technical characteristics, speculations, letters from colleagues, etc.., Which will be of relevance relevance to a chapter or another. Stick them in that folder. Then put all the folders in a box or in a file cabinet. When you write bits and pieces of text, printing paste, figures, etc.., In these folders too. Touch them and feel their thickness from time to time-ah, the thesis is taking shape. If any of your data exists only on paper, copy and store the copy in a different place. Consider making a copy of your lab notebook. This has another purpose beyond security: usually the laboratory notebook remains in him, but you might want a copy for their own future use. Looking beyond the scientific ethic required to retain books and original data for at least ten years, and is more likely to find a copy if there are two of them.

As he began to organize, the university must deal with paperwork. Examiners must be appointed and must agree to serve several ways for your department and university administration will be required. Make sure the passing rate of the production mark of the thesis, and not some minor bureaucratic problem.

Schedule of work

Especially recommend you to sit with advisor and develop a timetable for writing: A list of dates that will take the first and second draft of each chapter to his (s) advisor (s). This structure your time and provides intermediate targets. If merely aims “to get everything done (some distant date),” may deceive himself and postpone more easily. If your adviser has said it will deliver a first draft of Chapter 3 on Wednesday, that focus their attention.

Iterative solution

The any time you sit down to write, it is very important to write something. So write something, no matter how rough it. It would be nice if a clear prose, precise, easily out keyboard, but usually does not. Most of us find it easier, however, to improve something that already wrote that produce text from nothing. So start a project (as gross as you’d like) for their own purposes, then polish it so that your advisor read it. Word processors are great for that: in the first draft does not have to start from scratch, you can leave gaps, can introduce small notes to yourself, and may polish it later.

Your counselor will wait to read each chapter in draft form. Would then return with suggestions and comments. Do not feel bad if a chapter – especially the first write-back covered in red ink. Your adviser will want your thesis is best, because their reputation will be affected as much as yours. Scientific writing is a difficult art, and it takes time while learning. As a result, there will be many ways in which your first draft can be improved. So take a positive attitude to all the scribbles with which your adviser decorates your text: each comment tells you one way you can do your best thesis.

While writing his thesis, your scientific writing is likely to go better. Even for native English speakers who write very well in other styles, you notice a huge improvement on earlier drafts from first to last of the chapters written. The process of writing the thesis as a course in scientific writing, and in that sense each chapter is like a job in which you are being taught, but not evaluated. Remember, it evaluates only the final draft: the more comments add your counselor the first or second draft, the better.

Before submitting a draft to your adviser, would face a spell checker so that he or she does not spend time on it. If you have any feature grammar fails, check to find it.

What is a thesis? For whom is it written? What should be written?

His thesis is a research report. The report concerns a problem or series of problems in one area of ​​physics and describe what is known about it previously, what was done to resolve it, what you think your results mean, and where or how progress can be made further in this field. Do not overwhelm your student ideas considered: a thesis is not an answer to a question of task. An important difference is this: the reader of a task is usually one that already has the answer. He or she already knows the answer (or one of the answers), not to mention the history, literature, assumptions and theories and the strengths and weaknesses of them. The readers of a thesis do not know what the “answer”. If the thesis is for a PhD, the university requires an original contribution to human knowledge is made: your research must discover something hitherto unknown.

Obviously your examiners will read the thesis. For UNSW (University of New South Wales) theses are not anonymous: they require a college counselor to discuss the panel with you. Be experts in the general field of the thesis but in the exact topic of your thesis, you will is the world expert. Keep this in mind: You must write to make it clear theme to readers who have not taken much of the last three years thinking about this issue.

His thesis will also be used as a scientific report and will be consulted by future workers in his laboratory that will want to know in detail what you were doing. Theses are occasionally consulted by people from other institutions, and the library sends microfilm versions if required. Now more and more theses are kept in a completely digital (the figures and the text are on the disk). One consequence of this is that your thesis can be found more easily by researchers around the world. Write with these possibilities in mind.

It is often helpful to have someone other than your advisor, read some sections of the thesis, particularly the introduction and conclusion chapters. It would be appropriate to also ask other members of staff if they could read some sections of the thesis they found relevant or of interest, and which could make valuable contributions. In any event, give a revised versions so do not waste time correcting your grammar, spelling, poor construction or presentation.

How much detail?

The short answer is: a lot more than for a scientific report. Once you have evaluated your thesis and your friends have read the first three pages, the only readers who will continue only people who seriously investigate that area. For example, future research student can follow the same research and be interested in finding out exactly what you did. (“Why is the device that Bloggs built for work project no longer works? Where is the circuit diagram? I will seek his thesis.” “The subroutine Blow does not converge in my space and parameters. I have to browse your thesis” . “How did that group in Sydney for work that technique? I’ll send a microfilm of that thesis cited in his report.”) For important parts of apparatus should include shop drawings, circuit diagrams and computer programs, usually as appendices. (Parenthetically, the intelligible annotation of programs is as frequent as aviation pigs, but it is much more desirable wrote that line coding for a reason.. Further down the explain it online) You’ve probably read the theses of students earlier in the lab where he works now, so you probably know the benefits of a clear explanation, an explicit and / or disadvantages of a vague thesis dissertation.

Make it clear what is theirs

If you use a result, observation or generalization that is not yours, you must declare which usually is the result reported in the scientific literature. The only exceptions are cases every physicist knows: the dynamic equations do not require an appointment precedes Newton; circuit analysis does not require a reference to Kirchoff. The importance of this practice in science is that it allows the reader to verify your starting position. It is said that physics is a vertical science: results are built relying on results, which, in turn, were built on other outcomes, etc.. Good references let’s check the basics of their contributions to the structure of physics, or at least retract them at a level that we deem to be reliable. Good references also tell readers what parts of the thesis are descriptions of previous knowledge and which parts are his contributions to that knowledge. In a thesis, written for the general reader who has little familiarity with the literature in this area, this should be especially clear. It seems tempting to omit a reference to the hope that a reader might think that a good idea or a good piece of analysis here. I warn against this game. The reader will probably think, “What a good idea – I want to know if it is original.” The reader can probably find out via the library network or with just one phone call.

If you write in the passive voice should be even more careful about attributing that if you type in the active voice. “The sample was prepared by yttrium heated …” not clear whether you did that or if I did the Yttrium Company. “I prepared the sample …” is clearer.


The text should be clear. Good grammar and thoughtful writing will make the thesis easier to read. Scientific writing has to be a bit formal – more formal than this text. Native English speakers should remember that scientific English is an international language. Slang and informal writing will be harder to understand for non-native speaker.

Phrases and short, simple words are often better than long. Some politicians use “at this point in time” instead of “now” precisely because it takes longer to get the same meaning. Not careful with elegance or efficient communication. You do need. Instead, there will be occasions when a complicated sentence is required because the idea is complicated. If your primary statement requires several qualifications, each of these require a subordinate clause. “When [qualification], and where [place], and if [condition] then [statement]” Some lengthy technical words will also be necessary in many theses, particularly in fields such as biochemistry. Do not sacrifice accuracy for the sake of brevity. “Black is white” is simple and catchy. A copywriter would love. “The objects of very different albedo should be lit differently to produce similar reflected spectra” is longer and uses less common words, but, compared to the previous example, has the advantage of being true. The longest example would be fine in a physics thesis because English speaking physicists will have no problem with words. (A physicist who did not know all those words are probably glad to remedy the gap, either from the context or by consulting a dictionary.)

An important option is to decide between the active voice and the passive voice. The active voice (“I measured the frequency”) is simpler, and makes it clear what he did and what others have done. Unless you are a schizophrenic or a monarch, use the first person singular, not plural. The passive voice (“frequency was measured”) makes it easier to write ungrammatical sentences or awkward sentences. If you use the passive voice, be especially cautious when using participles. For example, the phrase “after being given all these possible materials, plutonium was selected” implicitly attributes consciousness to plutonium. This option is a matter of taste: I prefer the active time that is clearer, more logical and makes simple functions. As I recall, the arguments for the use of the passive voice are (i) many theses are written in the passive voice, and (ii) some very polite people find the use of “I” immodest. I suspect that the most common mistake in scientific English is the misuse of the plural “data.” If you have this problem, tell yourself “is a really …,” “these data are …” several times. An excellent and widely used for the English grammar and style reference is: “A Dictionary of Modern Inglés Usage” by HW Fowler.


There is no need for a thesis to be a masterpiece of publication. Your time can be more productive if spent improving the content more than appearance.

In many cases you can draw a faster than with a graphics package pretty clear diagram by hand. Either is equally satisfying. The computer-generated figure has the advantage that can be saved in text and electronically transmit, but this advantage disappears if you do not save your thesis as a file for transmission.

In general, students spend too much time in diagrams – time that could have been spent on examining the arguments, make explanations clearer, thinking more about the importance and check for errors in algebra. The reason, of course, is that drawing is easier than thinking.

I do not think there is a strong correlation (either way) between quantity and quality. No need to leave big gaps to make the thesis thicker. Readers will not appreciate large amounts of vague or unnecessary text.

How many copies?

Ask your advisor about this. As for examiners and university libraries yourself, you must make some copies for distribution. These copies should be sent to other scientists working in the field so that:

  • they can discover the wonderful work you have been doing before appearing in professional journals;
  • or can they find the fine details of the methods and results that will be or have been published elsewhere briefly;
  • or may realize that you are wonderful scientist. This finding could be useful if there is a post-doctoral position available in their laboratories. Shortly after shipment, or if they were authors of their proposed post-doctoral research. In any mode, have your name on your bookshelves can be a plus.

Whatever the policy of the University to use one side or both leaves, copies for distribution should be double-sided, so that the cost of paper and stamps are not excessive. Your advisor can help you develop a list of stakeholders and / or useful potential people for such massive mailing. Your advisor can also help by funding the copies and postage if they are not covered by the scholarship.

The following comment comes from Marilyn Ball of the Australian National University in Canberra: “When I finished writing my thesis, a postdoc wisely advised me to give back to my parents never would have thought to do that when I just could not imagine. . they would do with it I’m so glad I followed that advice, my parents really appreciated receiving a copy and proudly displayed for years (My mother never finished high school and my father worked with trucks – the fixed, built them. The handled, sold and scattered them. Nevertheless, they enjoyed having a copy of my thesis.) “


In the ideal situation you will spend a large part – perhaps most – of his time writing his thesis. This could be bad for your physical and mental health.

Install your chair and computer properly. The Health Service, the departments of typists or perhaps the school safety officer can supply you recommending diagrams relative heights, healthy postures and also exercises to do if you spend much time at the keyboard. In the latter pays to make sure: you do not want an extra discomfort in the back or neck pain. Try to spread long sessions of typing with other tasks.If you do not know how to type, you must learn to do, both because of his neck as productivity. There are several good software packages that teach typing interactively. If you use one of at least 30 minutes per day for a few weeks, you can type. By the time you finish the thesis, you can touch type quickly and accurately and your six hour investment will have paid for itself. Be careful not to use the exercise of typing as a diversionary activity.


ExerciseBe sure to exercise in the meantime.Loss of exercise will make you feel bad, and you do not need anything else making you feel bad while writing a thesis. 30-60 minutes of exercise per day is probably not lost time to his thesis: I found that if I do regular exercise, sleep less soundly and longer. How about walking to work and go home again? (Ande of the way if your home is distant.) Many people think that a walk helps them think, or clears their heads. Find that an occasional stroll improves your productivity.

FoodDo not forget to eat, and make an effort to eat healthy food. Should not lose fitness or risk getting a disease at this critical time. The exercise serves to maintain appetite. I know you have little time to cook, but keep a supply of fresh fruit, vegetables and bread. It takes less time to make a sandwich to go to the local fast food restaurant, and you’ll feel better afterwards.

DrugsThesis writers have long used coffee as a stimulant and alcohol or marijuana as relaxants tradition. (The use of alcohol and coffee is legal, marijuana use does not.) Used in moderation, do not appear to have adverse effects on the quality of the thesis produced. The extras, however, are obviously counterproductive: several cafés loaded cost you too much and you sit and work; several drinks at night they become more sluggish the next day.

OthersOther people will show their affection, so aprécielas enough. Husbands (as), lovers, family and friends should not undervalue. Spend some time with them and when I do, have fun. Do not waste your time with them complaining about your thesis: they already resent the thesis because they keep away from them. If you can find another student writing a thesis, then find therapeutic complain to each other about advisers and difficulties. He or she need not be in the same discipline in which you are.


Writing a dissertation is hard work. It is also an important rite of passage. On behalf of scholars everywhere, I wish you good luck!

A suggested thesis structure

(How to Write a PhD Thesis – Part 2)

The list of volumes and titles of chapters below are suitable for a thesis. In some cases, one or two of them might be irrelevant. Usually combined in several chapters of a thesis Results and Discussion. Think about the plan of chapters and decide what is best to inform their work. Then make a list, in point form, than enter each chapter. Try this rather detailed, so that it ends with a list of points that correspond to subsections or paragraphs of your thesis. At this stage, think carefully about the logic of the presentation: within chapters. It is often possible to present ideas in different order, and not all arrangements are equally easy to follow. If you make a plan for each chapter and section before sitting down to write, the result will probably be clearer and easier to read. It will also be easier to write.

Waiver of copyright
Your institution has a form for this case (UNSW does). In any case, this standard page gives the university library right to publish the work, usually by microfilm. (At UNSW, the Postgraduate Student Office will provide a packet of thesis with several guidelines and rules on the structure of the thesis. Sure to consult for their formal requirements and informal guidance is pretty.) 

StatementCheck the wording required by your institution, and if there is a standard. Many colleges require something like: “I hereby declare that this proposal is my own work and to my knowledge and belief, contains no material previously published or written by another person nor material which substantially has been accepted for the award of awards of any other degree or diploma of the university or other institute of higher learning, except where due acknowledgment has been made in the text. (signature / name / date) “

DeclarationTitle page This can vary between institutions, but as an example: Title / Author / “proposal A thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Sciences / The University of New South Wales” / date.

AbstractOf all your thesis this part will be the most widely published and most read because it published in Dissertation Abstract International. Is better written towards the end, but at the last minute, because it will probably require several projects. You must be a distillation of the thesis: a concise description of the problem (s) chosen (s), their method of solving (s), their results and conclusions. An abstract should be self-contained.Normally contains no references. When a reference is necessary, its detail should be included in the text of the abstract. Check the word limit.

Acknowledgments or acknowledgmentsMany authors thesis include an acknowledgments page to those who have helped in scientific and also indirectly by providing essential materials such as food, education, genes, money, help, advice, friendship, etc.. If any of your colleagues worked, should make clear who did what sections.

Table of ContentsThe introduction starts on page 1.’s Initial pages should have roman numerals. It helps to have the subtitles of each chapter and the chapter title. Remember that the thesis can be used as a reference in the lab, so help can find those things easily.

IntroductionWhat is the issue and why is it important? Exhibitor (the) problem (s) as simple as possible. Remember that you have worked on this project for a few years, so it will be very close. Try to mentally step back and take a broader view of the problem. How does it fit into the broader context of the physical world?Especially in the introduction, do not overestimate the reader’s familiarity with his subject. You write for physicists in the general area, but not all of them need to be specialists in their particular subject. Helps to imagine such a person – think of some physicists who could have met at a conference on the subject, but working in a different area. He or she is intelligent, has the same general knowledge, but knows little about literature or tricks that relate to their particular issue.

The introduction should be interesting. If the reader bored here, then it is unlikely to rekindle their interest in sections of the materials and methods. For the first few paragraphs, tradition permits prose that is less dry than the scientific norm. If you want to be lyrical about your subject, here is the place to do it. Try to make the reader want to read that a kilogram of A4 that has come to your desktop for free. Go to the library and read several thesis introductions. Did someone you want to read? What were boring?

This section may require several drafts to get it read well and logically, while kept small. For this section I think it’s a good idea to ask someone who is not a specialist to read it and comment. Is it a proper introduction? Is it easy to follow? There are arguments to recommend writing this section – or at least make a major revision of it – towards the end of writing the thesis. Your introduction should tell where the thesis goes, and this would become clearer during the writing.


Literature ReviewWhere does the problem come from? What is already known about this problem? What other methods have been tried to solve it?Ideally, you have plenty of hard work done, if you have followed the literature when he swore to do it three years ago, and if you have made notes about important papers over the years. If you have summarized those papers, then you have some good starting points for review.

How documents? How to be relevant for inclusion?. This is a matter of judgment. In the order of a hundred is reasonable, but it depends on the field. You are the world expert on the subject of his thesis reduced: must prove it.

A political point: make sure not to miss important documents to the examiners, or to potential employers who can send the thesis in the coming years.


Middle chaptersIn some theses, the middle chapters are the journal articles in which the student was the primary author, and usually they have reduced the illustrations. There are several disadvantages to this format.One is that a thesis is expected to have more detail than an article in a magazine. For journal articles, one usually has to reduce the number of figures. In many cases, all interesting and relevant data can enter the argument, not just those that were in magazines. The degree of experimental detail is usually larger in a thesis. Relatively often a researcher query a thesis for more details about how it was carried out a study.

Another disadvantage is that your newspaper articles may have some common materials in the introduction and in the Materials and Methods.

When reporting your own theoretical work, must include a lot more detail, but you should consider spending long derivations to appendices. Also think about the order and style of presentation: the order in which you did the work could not be clearer presentation.

Suspense is not necessary to inform science: Before you begin, you must tell the reader where you are going.


Results and discussionThe results and discussion are very often combined in theses. This is sensible because of the length of a thesis: you can have several chapters of results, if you wait until you are all presented before you begin discussion, the reader may have difficulty remembering what you have been talking. Division Result and Discussion material in separate chapters usually best done by type of material.Ensure that described the conditions under which this set of results was obtained. What remained constant? What were the other relevant parameters? Also make sure you have used appropriate statistical analysis.Where applicable, show measurement errors and standard errors in the graphic. Use appropriate statistical tests.

In most cases, the results need discussion. What do they mean?How do they fit into the existing body of knowledge? Are they consistent with current theories? Do they give new insights? Do they suggest new theories or mechanisms?

Try to distance yourself from your usual perspective and see their work. Not only wonder what it means in terms of the orthodoxy of his own research group, but also can see how others in the field. Is there any implication that does not involve questions to answer?

Final chapter, references and appendices

Conclusions and suggestions for future work
Your summary should include its conclusions in a very brief, because it must also include some other materials. A summary of conclusions is usually longer than the concluding section of the abstract, and you have the space to be more explicit and careful qualifications. You may find it helpful to put your conclusions in list form.Often the case is presented with scientific research produced more questions than answers. Do you suggest any wider his work interesting avenue? Are there ways in which their work can be improved by future workers? What are the practical implications of their work?

This chapter should usually be reasonably short – perhaps a few pages. As with the introduction, I think it’s a good idea to ask someone who is not a specialist to read this section and comment.


References (See also under literature review)It is tempting to skip the titles of the articles cited, and the university allows, but think of all the times you’ve seen a reference in a document and searching only to find it was not useful after all.

AppendicesIf there is material that should be in the thesis, but that would interrupt the flow or bore the reader, include it as an appendix. Some things that are typically included in appendices are: important and original programs, computer data files that are too large to be represented simply in the results chapters, pictures or diagrams of results that are not significant enough to included in the main text.