Writing the Body Part of your Master Thesis – The Do’s and Dont’s

This is the main part of your thesis where you reel off a sequence of chapters, each with a unique result or building-block. Some tips here to make it the best:

  • Ask your advisor for presentation style and help with outline.
  • Think of this as a sequence of 2-3 distinct top conference papers that you have published.
    - There should be a natural progression from one chapter to the next
    - Keep in mind that you are still telling a story
  • Use figures, and plenty of them
    - They draw the reader in and make the thesis more interesting
    - Can convey a lot more information than text, sometimes
  • Ways to present your data
    • Try the book Visual Display of Quantitative Information, by Tufte

Do…..

Be clear and candid about

  • Your assumptions – yes, every one of them
  • Your limitations – yes, every one of them
  • Requirements of your solution/approach – both mandatory and optional
  • Constraints under which your solution will work
  • Above all, why these assumptions, limitations, requirements & constraints
  • A concrete validation plan for your hypothesis – experiments, simulation, theorems, proofs, etc.
  • Scope – what’s part of your thesis and what is definitely not

Don’t…..

  • Expect to shoe-horn all of the work that you did during your graduate research career into your thesis
  • Present a set of scattered, unrelated results that don’t add up to a whole
  • Tout all of the advantages of your approach repeatedly
  • Conjecture wild promises from your results (i.e., stay factual throughout)

Presenting your Approach or Methodology well

  • Tell the reader why you picked this approach
    - Did you know that it would work? Did you have a basis for knowing this?
    - What was your overall philosophy in your approach?
  • What other approaches did you consider and discard?
    - Where did they fall short? How were they inappropriate?
  • What interesting negative or counter-intuitive results do you have?
    - For instance, are there instances of where your hypothesis breaks down?
  • Two questions that are almost always part of any Ph.D. defense
    - How do you know that you are done? When is the problem solved?
    - If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

Within each Thesis Chapter

  • Introduction
    - What is this chapter all about?
    - What sub-problem or issue is this chapter addressing?
    - How does this chapter fit within the overall “story” of the thesis?
  • The Meat
    - Rigorous approach to sub-problem, or detailed explanation of issue
    - Assumptions underlying sub-problem, or complete description of issue
    - Validation: System design, theory, implementation, graphs, references, ….
  • Summary
    - Repeat the highlights of the chapter
    - Transition sentence that acts as a “teaser” for the next chapter, and how the next chapter fits with the current one

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