Rabu, 20 Mei 2009

What is a thesis?

What is a thesis? For whom is it written? How should it be written?
Your thesis is a research report. The report concerns a problem or series of problems in your area of research and it should describe what was known about it previously, what you did towards solving it, what you think your results mean, and where or how further progress in the field can be made. Do not carry over your ideas from undergraduate assessment: a thesis is not an answer to an assignment question. One important difference is this: the reader of an assignment is usually the one who has set it. S/he already knows the answer (or one of the answers), not to mention the background, the literature, the assumptions and theories and the strengths and weaknesses of them. The readers of a thesis do not know what the "answer" is. If the thesis is for a PhD, the university requires that it make an original contribution to human knowledge: your research must discover something hitherto unknown.

Obviously your examiners will read the thesis. They will be experts in the general field of your thesis but, on the exact topic of your thesis, you are the world expert. Keep this in mind: you should write to make the topic clear to a reader who has not spent most of the last three years thinking about it.

Your thesis will also be used as a scientific report and consulted by future workers in your laboratory who will want to know, in detail, what you did. Theses are occasionally consulted by people from other institutions, and the library sends microfilm versions if requested (yes, still). More commonly theses are now stored in an entirely digital form. These may be stored as .pdf files on a server at your university. The advantage is that your thesis can be consulted much more easily by researchers around the world. (See e.g. Australian digital thesis project for the digital availability of research theses.) Write with these possibilities in mind.

It is often helpful to have someone other than your adviser(s) read some sections of the thesis, particularly the introduction and conclusion chapters. It may also be appropriate to ask other members of staff to read some sections of the thesis which they may find relevant or of interest, as they may be able to make valuable contributions. In either case, only give them revised versions, so that they do not waste time correcting your grammar, spelling, poor construction or presentation.
Some sites with related material

Writing and publishing a scientific paper
How to survive a thesis defence
Research resources and links supplied by Deakin University
"Final year projects": a guide from Mike Hart at King Alfred's College, Winchester, UK
Postgraduate Student Resources supplied by University of Canberra
A useful aid to surviving meetings with management
The National Association of Graduate - Professional Students (USA)

Some relevant texts

Stevens, K. and Asmar, C (1999) 'Doing postgraduate research in Australia'. Melbourne University Press, Melbourne ISBN 0 522 84880 X.
Phillips, E.M and Pugh, D.S. (1994) 'How to get a PhD : a handbook for students and their supervisors'. Open University Press, Buckingham, England
Tufte, E.R. (1983) 'The visual display of quantitative information'. Graphics Press, Cheshire, Conn.
Tufte, E.R. (1990) 'Envisioning information' Graphics Press, Cheshire, Conn.