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C. Berger
Writing Your Thesis Survival Guide

Version 0.1

TODO: Add further sections like: How to get results, how to plan an argument, ...

1. Formal Requirements on the Text

1.1 Spelling Checker

The thesis is read by the author, the supervisor, the examiner, and future students and researchers. They all can expect to get a text without any typos! Thus, use spelling checkers which are either directly built-in in the word processor or available as a separate tool in a LaTeX type setting environment - and checker before each quality gate (i.e. before passing to another reader)!

The above requirements also include that absolutely no typos are allowed in the name of the supervisor or examiner - always double-check!

1.2 Equations and Example Calculations

If equations or example calculations are used to outline a theory of the illustrate its application, consider the following

  • use a unique and consistent key throughout the entire text (e.g. "Eq. 1.1" for the first equation in chapter 1, "Eq. 3.4" for the fourth equation in chapter 3).
  • always refer to the unique key within the text, i.e., every equation should be explained and referenced in the accompanying text,
  • add a list of equations to the beginning or right after the main text; if there are only a few equations it is possible to declare them as figures and to include a joint list of figures
  • ensure to use the correct operands in equations especially if an equation is defined for different intervals; e.g. f(x) = -0.5*x; -inf < x < 0; f(x) = x; 0 <= x < +inf
  • if example calculations are used for illustration make sure that they are correct

1.3 Figures, Tables and Charts

Besides regular text, figures, tables, and charts are proper means to support an argument or to illustrate derived conclusions. However, the following things need to be considered:

  • use a unique and consistent key throughout the entire text (e.g. "Fig. 1.1" for the first figure in chapter 1, "Fig. 3.4" for the fourth figure in chapter 3).
  • always add a caption that it is possible to understand the main information and statement without reading the surrounding text
  • always refer to the unique key within the text,i.e., every figure/table/chart should be explained and referenced in the accompanying text,
  • add a list of figures and tables to the beginning or right after the main text; if there are only a few tables it is possible to declare them as figures and to include a joint list of figures
  • consider that the text could be printed in black/white only; ensure that a figure can still be understood (i.e. add symbols like triangles and squares to charts instead of using "as shown by the yellow chart")
  • prefer vector-based figures over bitmaps because they remain easily readable at any scale factor
  • if a pie-like chart is used to illustrate fractions of a given set make sure its parts sum up to exactly 100%
  • if charts are used make sure to add descriptions to the axes like "m/s" and "t" and use proper units (if applicable)

1.4 References

It is impossible to write a scientific text without using and relying on other people's work. Thus, a careful literature work is essential from the very first beginning of a thesis project. There are several possibilities to organize the own literature database but it is highly recommended to use a program to manage books borrowed from the library and papers downloaded from the web. An overview is presented here:

The selected program should definitively work seamlessly with the intended text processor. For example, a thesis which is written in LaTeX requires the use of a BibTeX-compliant reference manager. Furthermore, it should be possible to maintain all required meta-data like authors, title, publisher but also to add personal comments and notes. All this data should be searchable to find all necessary information with ease.

Whenever other people's ideas, text paragraphs, sentences, source code, pictures, raw and processed data, conclusions and the like should be incorporated into the own thesis, these authors must be credited accordingly by a correct citation. Otherwise, using someone else's ideas without a proper notice is plagiarism - and it will be punished! We will use the Urkund system to check this. Furthermore, if you incorporate strong claims (like "pi is a prime" or conclusions form statistical data) which is not obvious to the common reader, either prove it accordingly or add the correct source. Thus, whenever you write a paragraph which uses an idea or concept from someone else simply add a citation:

  • either directly after the text fragment which is incorporated on a word-by-word basis; furthermore, add quotation marks around the incorporated text
  • or directly after the sentence which includes someone else's idea (not on a word-by-word basis) to derive a new idea or conclusion
  • or after an entire paragraph when several own sentences derive from someone else's ideas

The citation itself is a unique key to the reference which is listed in the bibliography chapter at the end of the thesis (cf. below). Furthermore, there are different styles for citations ranging from references which are incorporated into the text to footnotes which are placed either on the same page or at the end of a chapter; moreover, it is also possible to restart the numbering of footnotes for each chapter. The selected style should reflect the personal liking but it must be consistent throughout the entire document - never switch between different citation styles! In computer science papers, often the numeric style of referencing, e.g., [1], or the abbreviation style is used, e.g., [Fel10] and [BHOL08 ] as shown below.

At the end of the thesis there must be a chapter where all literature is listed which is used throughout the document (bibliography). It is important to use the same unique keys which were already used in the text. It is important to list only those sources which were actually used and cited within the text - never add the whole catalogue of downloaded papers! Furthermore, the bibliography is also sorted according to a specific style, e.g. last name of the authors. Thus, it is highly recommended to use a reference manager program that can do the job by generating the appropriate list to avoid problems and mistakes. Bibtex is normally used for Latex.

Try to avoid citing web sites; if it is still necessary make a PDF print out of the web site for the digital version of the thesis so that the supervisor and examiner are able to check that reference. Furthermore, add the access date to the bibliography.

1.5 Page layout

Follow the same page layout on all pages of your document. You should not try to invent a new layout by yourself as this has been already done for you and probably in a better way than all "non-page layout experts" can do. Use technical solutions to enforce this, e.g., Latex or document styles in Word. Often your supervisor can give you an appropriate template.

References - Or: These documents and books provide further information and details

[Fel10]R. Feldt: "Pedagogical Portfolio"., last accessed 2012-07-29.
[BHOL08]M. Berndtsson, J. Hansson, B. Olsson, B. Lundell: "Thesis Projects: A Guide for Students in Computer Science and Information Systems", Springer, 2008.
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Page last modified on August 14, 2012, at 03:40 PM