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How to write a thesis and survive the process

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Tips on how to successfully write a MSc or PhD thesis. Presentation made for an ISCTE-IUL activity

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How to write a thesis and survive the process

  1. 1. HOW TO WRITE A THESIS and survive the process
  2. 2. About me • Sofia Gomes • PhD candidate in Computer Science, from Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologias, NOVA • IEEE Volunteer • wrote a MSc and a PhD thesis
  3. 3. “THE” Thesis • At least 1 (MSc) or 4 (PhD) years of work • Developing the work can be fun (at least at first) • Writing the thesis can be a torture
  4. 4. “THE Thesis” - Why it is so hard
  5. 5. “THE Thesis” - Why it is so hard • It’s lonely • It’s a lot of work and it takes time • Involves a lot of writing • If the thesis document is not well-written, it does not matter that much what/how you did • Most of engineering students are not trained to write properly • Research means you don’t know the outcome • and a *lot* of times you can’t reach what you want
  6. 6. In this talk… • Goal: give you tips for a successful thesis • Before starting checklist • Overview of the writing process • Expected thesis outline • Writing style rules (english)
  7. 7. Tips before starting Prepare yourself! • Choose your advisor(s) carefully • Choose your topic carefully • Choose your writing environment
  8. 8. Choose your advisor(s) carefully • (S)he will be your boss for at least a year • Check for personality compatibility • Ask for other colleagues experience • Check if colleagues are finishing on time • Very often 1 advisor is better than 2
  9. 9. Choose your topic carefully
  10. 10. Choose your topic carefully • You will work on that for at least a year • Make sure you like what you’re doing • Ask and read background work before committing • Make sure you’re solving something new • and if not, make sure it’s still relevant
  11. 11. Choose your writing environment • LaTeX vs. Word • learn the right tool • check how to manage bibliography • check the document specifications
  12. 12. Choose your writing environment • LaTeX vs. Word • learn the right tool • check how to manage bibliography • check the document specifications • Writing English vs. Portuguese • English is the “science” language • but make sure you can handle it • British English vs. American English • always, always use a spell checker
  13. 13. Most common complaints
  14. 14. Most common complaints • I don’t know how to start! • I don’t know what is expected in each section/chapter • I can’t find that paper • I don’t understand that work • I’m not inspired today, I’ll do it tomorrow
  15. 15. The Writing
  16. 16. Tips when starting “I don’t know how to start” • Understand writing • Writing means you have something to say • Requires a clear knowledge about what your work and background • It takes time and practice! • Writing is hard for everyone • Don’t try to be Shakespeare • Stop waiting for “inspiration” • Start with the middle
  17. 17. Writing Process • Prewriting (60%) • Organize and synthetize information • Define a take-away message • Outline and road-map (10%) • Write draft • Just keep writing • Rewrite and Revision (30%) • Read out loud, cut the clutter, check the verbs • Correct mistakes • Get feedback
  18. 18. Outline Research Paper • Abstract • Introduction • Background / Literature Review • “Real Work” • Evaluation and Discussion • Conclusions • Abstract Thesis • Introduction • Background / Literature Review • “Real Work” • Evaluation and Discussion • Conclusions
  19. 19. Thesis vs. Research Paper Research Paper Thesis • Limited space • Specialized context • Tackles a specific question • “Unlimited” space • Broad context • Tackles a large question
  20. 20. Thesis Outline Recommended Writing order • Abstract • Introduction • Background / Literature Review (1) • “Real Work” - Your Results and Contributions • Evaluation and Discussion • Conclusions (2) (3) (4/5) (4/5) (6)
  21. 21. Background / Literature Review
  22. 22. Background Chapter • Give the big picture of the field • Give context and introduce seminal work • Introduce the works that you will use • Introduce the limitations of these works, and why they don’t solve your problem • Give hints on what your solution will have to address
  23. 23. How to find Related Work “I can’t find that paper” • Ask your advisor for the seminal work • Google Scholar • Check citations and h-index • Most cited papers, are in principal more important • Can’t find that paper? • Access by your campus internet (use proxies when at home) • Check the authors webpage / Research Gate / Citeseer • Ask your advisor for the paper and/or email the author • Managing references • Use a proper tool (e.g. BibTex)
  24. 24. Writing about Related Work “I can’t understand that work” • Can’t understand what they’re doing? • Check other papers citing this work • Read descriptions and comparisons by other people • Careful with plagiarism • Never ever ever copy sentences! Use your own words • Cite correctly! • A citation should come after the introducing the work
  25. 25. Writing about Related Work “I can’t understand that work” • Can’t understand what they’re doing? • Check other papers citing this work • Read descriptions and comparisons by other people • Careful with plagiarism • Never ever ever copy sentences! Use your own words • Cite correctly! • A citation should come after the introducing the work
  26. 26. Your Real Work
  27. 27. Your results and contributions • Be clear about what are you doing and why • Don’t assume people are experts in your field • Write like you were teaching some colleague • Justify your decisions • Restate your goals often
  28. 28. Evaluation and Discussion
  29. 29. Evaluation and Discussion • Show what you’ve done is correct • Empirical Testing vs. Proofs • Graphs vs. Theorems • Discuss and compare your results • Don’t lie! • But be positive on what you’ve accomplish • Compare with related work • Remember the reader why it is important • State what you can do and the others can’t • End with positive take away message
  30. 30. Conclusions
  31. 31. Conclusion Chapter • Should be understood without reading your whole thesis • Restate what you wanted to accomplish • Restate have you accomplish • Defend your results (anticipate criticism) • Strengths and Limitations • Future Work • Open challenges / directions • What would be interesting to do • Show how awesome your thesis • Restate the big picture, and give take away message
  32. 32. Introduction
  33. 33. Introduction • Written for a general audience • Clear, concise, non-technical • Any colleague must be able to understand it • Even your mom should be able do understand some of it • The most important part along with the conclusions • Keep paragraphs short and well-written • Summarize at high-level. • Leave details and criticisms of others’ work out
  34. 34. Introduction • Introduce /define your area in general • Artificial Intelligence is.. / Network Security aims to… • What is known • What is unknown • Limitations and gaps of current works • Your question / goal • How will you solve it • Why is your approach different and important • State your contributions concisely • Roadmap of your thesis (optional but recommended)
  35. 35. Abstract
  36. 36. Abstract • Completely independent of your thesis • People read the abstract to know if they will read your thesis or not • High-level, but not as in the introduction • Overview of the main story • Should fit in one page!
  37. 37. Abstract • Why you’re doing it • Background • Your question / goal / hypothesis • How you’re doing it • Methods and Experiments • What are your key results • How it relates to the real world • Conclusions and implications
  38. 38. Writing Style Rules * * Most examples here were taken from the Coursera’s Course: Writing in the Sciences https://www.coursera.org/course/sciwrite
  39. 39. Writing Style Rules • Keep it short and simple • You’re not writing a novel • It should be understandable • Use a spellchecker • Expand your vocabulary • Read other people’s work • Use a dictionary for synonyms • Avoid negative sentences • She was not often right vs. She was usually wrong • They did not believe the drug was harmful vs. They believed the drug was safe.
  40. 40. Writing Style Rules - after writing • Read and re-read everything • Is my sentence/section/chapter understandable? • Is it enjoyable to read? • can I make it better? • Distance yourself from the work • Wait a few days before re-reading again • Put yourself in the reader’s shoes • Ask for feedback
  41. 41. Common English Mistakes (made by portuguese) • Don’t forget the subject • Subject is mandatory (Use we, one, they, it) • Sabemos que é impossível • We know it is impossible • One knows it is impossible • Avoid beginning sentences with “It is…” • É importante destacar os trabalhos recentes que… • It is important to highlight the most recent works that… • The most recent works that… • Remove unnecessary that • Os resultados mostraram que muitas pessoas gostam de fruta • Results showed that many people like fruit • Results showed many people like fruit
  42. 42. Writing Style Rules (english) • Cut the clutter • Conveys the same message, stronger • Cut dead weight words and phrases • As it is well known • As it has been shown • It can be regarded that • It should be emphasized that • Cut adverbs • very, really, quite, basically, generally, etc.
  43. 43. Cut the clutter • A majority of • A number of • Are of the same opinion • Less frequently occurring • All three of the • Give rise to • Due to the fact that • Have an effect • most • many • agree • rare • the three • cause • because • affect
  44. 44. Writing Style Rules (english) • Use the active voice • (subject + verb + object) • helps direct communication • It is ok to use “We” or “I” • A solution was developed to save the world • We develop a solution to save the world • Gives clear meaning to what is done • Makes you responsible for your work • Unless it’s someone else work • in [3] a solution was developed • The authors of [3] developed a solution
  45. 45. Writing Style Rules (english) • Write with verbs • avoid turning verbs into nouns • Provide a review vs. Review • Offer a confirmation vs. Confirm • Provide a description vs. Describe • Take an assessment of vs. Assess • use strong verbs • don’t bury the main verb • keep the subject and main verb close
  46. 46. Avoid turning verbs into nouns • Compare: • During DNA damage, recognition of H3K4me3 by ING2 results in recruitment of Sin3/HDAC and repression of cell proliferation genes. • With: • During DNA damage, H3K4me3 recruits ING2 and Sin3/ HDAC, which together repress cell proliferation genes. • Say exactly who does what to whom!
  47. 47. Use strong verbs • avoid common verbs • Compare: • “Loud music came from speakers embedded in the walls, and the entire arena moved as the hungry crowd got to its feet.” • With: • “Loud music exploded from speakers embedded in the walls, and the entire arena shook as the hungry crowd leaped to its feet.”
  48. 48. Don’t bury the verb • One study of 930 adults with multiple sclerosis (MS) receiving care in one of two managed care settings or in a fee-for-service found that only two-thirds of those needing to contact a neurologist for a MS-related problem in the prior 6 months had done so. • One study found that, of 930 adults with multiple sclerosis (MS) who were receiving care in one of two managed care settings or in a fee-for-service setting, only two-thirds of those needing to contact a neurologist for an MS-related problem in the prior six months had done so.
  49. 49. Common english mistakes • That vs. which • Affect vs. effect • They’re vs. their • Who vs. whom • Assure vs. ensure
  50. 50. Final Tips
  51. 51. Final Tips • Prepare, and practice writing • Set realistic goals and do your best to accomplish them • Stay focus! • Follow a schedule • Fix an amount of working hours • Create work habits • (whatever works for you) • Eat, sleep and exercise
  52. 52. Final Tips • Stay optimist • Don’t try to make it perfect • Follow a schedule • Ask for feedback
  53. 53. QUESTIONS?

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