This page is designed to provide information about thesis writing for EE 4000 students (senior electrical engineering students at UNB); however, the content may apply to thesis writing in general. Feel free to browse but acknowledge that the ideas presented here are only suggestions.
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Updated by: Andrew Marble
Last update: September 2, 2004
Email comments/suggestions to: AEEGS Executive (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Problem Definition (more appropriately named)
Implementation Process (more appropriately named)
Acknowledgements and Appendices are optional; provide them only if necessary. The Title Page, Abstract, Acknowledgements, Table of Contents, and List of Illustrations are paged separately from the rest of the text (usually with lower case Greek numbering - i, ii, etc.) The Appendices are also paged separately. If you have more than 1 appendix, number them first by letter, and then by page number (A1, A2... B1,B2...etc.).
Details of the content of each component follow. Pay particular attention to the content of an Abstract and a Literature Review. These are trouble spots for novice writers.
You have all handed in a title page that is acceptable, so no description is given here. However, some of you could improve your title. Make sure that you choose a title that describes the content of your work. Your title is what others will use when they are reviewing research. Will your title show up in relevant literature searches??
Your abstract must summarize the purpose, method, main findings and conclusions of your research. In doing this, it should identify what problem you researched, why the problem is important, what contributions you made in solving the problem, and why your contributions are significant. Your abstract should be no longer than 200 words.
Although this is an optional component, if you received funding, or any other assistance from your supervisor or anyone else, you should acknowledge the contribution.
The table of contents should list all of the components of your paper, with page numbers. If components are significantly sectioned, each section, with the appropriate page number, should also be listed in the table. If the sections are numbered, list the numbers with the section. All figures should be listed in a similar way within a list of Illustrations.
Your introduction should establish the purpose, context and scope of your primary research. A rationale for engaging in the research should be presented as part of the context. Your personal learning objectives are NOT the kind of justification warranted in a rationale; do not include these anywhere in your document. You should establish the focus of your research quickly; leave details for other components. Make sure that you have stated the purpose of your research clearly in one or two sentences somewhere in your introduction.
Also use your introduction to describe the structure of your thesis document. While it is not necessary to give a section by section account, you should find some way to list the steps you took to complete your research as reflected by your document.
Your literature review should provide background information on your research topic by critically analysing previously published research on the topic. First, use the publications to define/identify your general research topic. This provides an appropriate context for the information you are about to describe. Then, identify all overall trends, conflicts in theory, methodologies, evidence, conclusions and gaps in the publications. Finally, place your proposed research somewhere within the context of the information you provide. This links your review to your research.
Some questions to keep in mind while writing your literature review are:
Make sure that you reference the content of your literature review appropriately. Adequately describing others' work on your research topic indicates that you are well versed on the topic and are therefore not 'reinventing the wheel'; moreover, it ensures that you are not plagiarizing!
The problem definition may be subdivided into further components or kept together. You decide based on your own topic. You can also decide what to call each part. Perhaps 'Problem Definition' will suffice, or perhaps a title tailored to your research may be more appropriate. Regardless, the content of this component must include the following:
If you are using mathematical developments to describe your problem and solution, make sure that you number all expressions and equations, and make sure that all of your variables are appropriately identified. If your document is cluttered with rigorous proofs, consider moving some of them to an appendix.
This component must provide a detailed description of the processes involved in solving your problem. These processes might include designing, building, testing, and/or others. It might be necessary to divide this component into sections, as in the problem definition. Again, you may name each section appropriately.
This component should effectively depict the outcomes of any processes involved in your research. It is exceedingly appropriate to use tables, graphs, lists and figures in this section. However, present your finding efficiently. Do not clutter this component with pages of data. Use summary and example sets of data here, and provide full data sets in an appendix. Make sure that all of your tables, graphs and figures are numbered and labeled.
Your conclusion should not only summarize what you accomplished, but it should also address the following points:
While it is assumed that you established personal learning objectives related to your thesis project, it is not necessary and not recommended that you provide a commentary of their evaluation here.
It is almost impossible to engage in research as comprehensive as your thesis project without consulting other publications; therefore, a reference section is mandatory. You must reference all relevant sources. Simply including a bibliographic list at the end of your document is INSUFFICIENT. You must note the references within the text of your document and provide relevant bibliographic information through a thorough reference list. While there are a variety of approaches available to do this, the IEEE promotes a 'numbered referencing system' , so it is recommended.
A numbered referencing system numbers all of the referenced information within a document and supplies a numbered list of reference sources to accompany the information. For example:
within the text of the document:
...These successive changes in potential propagate along the membrane of the cell at a rate between 0.5 - 90 m/sec depending on the size and structure of the cell. ...
within the reference section:
10. Graupe, D. "EMG Pattern Analysis for Patient-Responsive Control of FES in Paraplegics for Walker-Supported Walking", IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, 41(7), 1994.
11. Guyton, A.C. Human Physiology and Mechanisms of Disease. Fifth Ed., W.B. Saunders Company, Toronto, 1992, ISBN: 0-7216-3961-5.
Provided here is an example of an acceptable reference form for journals (10) and books (11). There are a variety of number system formats. You can use whatever format you are comfortable with; just be consistent.
Appendices are optional. You may not have to include this component; however, appendices are an excellent place to include work that supports your document but obstructs its flow of ideas:
* computer code may or may not be presented in an appendix but should not be presented in the text of your document. Formally, code should not be included anywhere but on disc; however, it is common practice here at UNB to provide a hard copy of code within an appendix of a document.
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Organize your ideas so that they are coherent and coordinated and they are presented consistently and correctly:
Choose your words carefully, so you can get the most out of them! Say what you need to say in as few words as possible.
State your problem definition and stick to describing and solving that problem!!
Choose appropriate content.
This process will remind you continually to stay focused on your topic.
Big Paper Planning
This process will help you to be clear because it helps you to organize your ideas with some coherence and coordination. On a really big piece of paper (I suggest 16 3/4" x 13 7/8", 12 columns, columnar paper - accountants use it, but the blank backside serves this purpose well), in some diagrammatic form (tree diagram, flow chart, Tables...) outline your ideas within layers of organization:
Bounce your ideas off more than your walls
This process will help you with the big paper strategy outlined above. When you get your ideas grouped, you may have trouble deciding how they should be sequenced, or how they are linked. This happens when you get to close to a topic. Your walls cannot help you, but your friends can - especially those who have no idea what you are doing. Explaining your ideas to them will help you to see connections that you missed, and your friends may provide novel connections that you may never have imagined. Don't wait until your document is completed before you ask for input - get it throughout the process!
Using Parallel Structure
Parallelism is a style concept that addresses consistency in writing and can therefore help you to be more clear. This concept can be applied at may levels within your writing:
Using Transition and Connective Words/Phrases
By using transition and connective words and phrases, you can enhance the clarity of your writing because they help to delineate the coherency and coordination of your ideas. Here are some words/phrases that you should be using. If you are not, chances are your document is not clear:
Succinct and concise are synonyms. That is, they share the same meaning. Good writing must be succinct; if a document is not, people will not read it. You can implement many strategies to avoid being wordy:
Using Verbs effectively
Verbs are the action words in your sentences. Sometimes they get converted into things called verbals which can be wordy, and sometimes really disrupt the flow of your writing, even when they are grammatically correct. Be careful when using verbals such as:
Another important point of style with respect to verbs is using the active voice. While some formal formats still require writers to use the passive voice exclusively, most technical writing experts agree that the active voice is more assertive and should be used wherever possible. You should use the active voice abundantly and avoid using the passive voice:
Idioms are phrases that we commonly use when we speak, but you should avoid them when you are writing a formal document. They almost always can be replaced. Examples are:
Check your tenses
Make sure that your tenses are consistent throughout all sentences, paragraphs and sections. It is not mandatory that you use the same tense throughout; sometimes one tense is more appropriate than another. However, make sure that verbs that are linked to each other are of the same tense.
Check your plurals
Make sure that your verbs and nouns match in number. That is, if your noun is plural, make sure that you use the plural form of the verb. And remember, 's denotes ownership.
Personification is the act of giving personal characteristics to things. While it is an accepted literary trick, it is awkward in formal technical writing. Examples are:
Avoid ending a sentence in a preposition
Unless the preposition is part of a verb phrase, like 'boot up', try to avoid ending a sentence in words such as in, on, up, as, to, of, from, with...
Avoid awkward split infinitives
As previously stated, infinitives are verbs that take the form 'to + verb'. Sometimes it is appropriate to split up the 'to' and the 'verb', but more often it is not. You should avoid splitting these words. An examples of an awkward split infinitive is:
Check your punctuation
Make sure your sentences are separated by periods, and your main clauses by semi-colons or commas. To choose between semi-colons and commas, try to apply the following rules:
If you do not follow these rules, you will create either a comma-splice or a sentence fragment. While comma splices are never accepted in writing, even though sentence fragments are grammatically incorrect, sometimes they are accepted. Often, technical writers use sentence fragments beginning with words such as however and therefore , and you can too.
Note the differences between: