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    Need Help in writing a Research proposal

    Sun Aug 19, 2012 6:31 am by The Students Forum(TSF)

    How Do You Write a Research Proposal for Academic Writing
    If you are in college then one of the many questions on your mind may be, how do you write a research proposal for academic writing. To write an academic research proposal is most likened to writing a proposal that addresses a project. The only difference is that the research proposal has either academic or scientific research at the …

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    How to write your Thesis

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    default How to write your Thesis

    Post by Admin on Mon Jan 07, 2013 8:27 am

    How to Write Your Thesis

    compiled by Kim Kastens, Stephanie Pfirman, Martin Stute, Bill Hahn,
    Dallas Abbott, and Chris Scholz

    I. Thesis structure

    II. Crosscutting Issues

    III. Editing Your

    Title Page What We Are
    Looking For
    Copy Editing
    Abstract Planning
    Ahead for Your Thesis


    Avoiding Ambiguity
    List of
    vs. Reading
    Thesis Length
    List of
    Order of

    an International Audience
    Introduction Figures

    and Tables
    Methods Tying the Text
    to the Data
    Results Giving Credit
    Discussion Final
    Conclusions Resources


    I. Thesis structure

    Title Page

    Title (including subtitle), author, institution, department, date of
    delivery, research mentor(s) and advisor, their instututions and
    email adresses


    • A good abstract explains in one line why the paper is
      important. It then goes on to give a summary of your
      major results, preferably couched in numbers with error
      limits. The final sentences explain the major
      implications of your work. A good abstract is concise,
      readable, and quantitative.
    • Length should be ~ 1-2 paragraphs, approx. 400 words.
    • Absrtracts generally do not have citations.
    • Information in title should not be repeated.
    • Be explicit.
    • Use numbers where appropriate.
    • Answers to these questions should be found in the

      1. What did you do?
      2. Why did you do it? What question were you trying to
      3. How did you do it? State methods.
      4. What did you learn? State major results.
      5. Why does it matter? Point out at least one
        significant implication.

    Table of Contents

    • list all headings and subheadings with page numbers
    • indent subheadings
    • it will look something like this:

    Page #
    List of Figures xxx
    List of Tables
    subheads ...?
    subheads ...?
    subheads ...?
    subheads ...?

    List of Figures

    List page numbers of all figures.
    The list should include a short title for each figure but not the
    whole caption.
    List of Tables

    List page numbers of all tables.
    The list should include a short title for each table but not the
    whole caption.

    You can't write a good introduction until you know what the body of
    the paper says. Consider writing the introductory section(s) after
    you have completed the rest of the paper, rather than before.
    Be sure to include a hook at the beginning of the introduction.
    This is a statement of something sufficiently interesting to
    motivate your reader to read the rest of the paper, it is an
    important/interesting scientific problem that your paper either
    solves or addresses. You should draw the reader in and make them
    want to read the rest of the paper.

    The next paragraphs in the introduction should cite previous
    research in this area. It should cite those who had the idea or
    ideas first, and should also cite those who have done the most
    recent and relevant work. You should then go on to explain why
    more work was necessary (your work, of course.)

    What else belongs in the introductory
    section(s) of your paper?

    1. A statement of the goal of the paper: why the study
      was undertaken, or why the paper was written. Do not
      repeat the abstract.
    2. Sufficient background information to allow the
      reader to understand the context and significance of
      the question you are trying to address.
    3. Proper acknowledgement of the previous work on which
      you are building. Sufficient references such that a
      reader could, by going to the library, achieve a
      sophisticated understanding of the context and
      significance of the question.
    4. The introduction should be focused on the thesis
      question(s). All cited work should be directly
      relevent to the goals of the thesis. This is not
      a place to summarize everything you have ever read on
      a subject.
    5. Explain the scope of your work, what will and will
      not be included.
    6. A verbal "road map" or verbal "table of contents"
      guiding the reader to what lies ahead.
    7. Is it obvious where introductory material ("old
      stuff") ends and your contribution ("new stuff")

    Remember that this is not a review paper. We are looking
    for original work and interpretation/analysis by you.
    Break up the introduction section into logical segments by
    using subheads.

    What belongs in the "methods" section of a scientific

    1. Information to allow the reader to assess the
      believability of your results.
    2. Information needed by another researcher to
      replicate your experiment.
    3. Description of your materials, procedure, theory.
    4. Calculations, technique, procedure, equipment, and
      calibration plots.
    5. Limitations, assumptions, and range of validity.
    6. Desciption of your analystical methods, including
      reference to any specialized statistical

    The methods section should answering the following
    questions and caveats:

    1. Could one accurately replicate the study (for
      example, all of the optional and adjustable parameters
      on any sensors or instruments that were used to
      acquire the data)?
    2. Could another researcher accurately find and
      reoccupy the sampling stations or track lines?
    3. Is there enough information provided about any
      instruments used so that a functionally equivalent
      instrument could be used to repeat the experiment?
    4. If the data are in the public domain, could another
      researcher lay his or her hands on the identical data
    5. Could one replicate any laboratory analyses that
      were used?
    6. Could one replicate any statistical analyses?
    7. Could another researcher approximately replicate the
      key algorithms of any computer software?

    Citations in this section should be limited to data
    sources and references of where to find more complete
    descriptions of procedures.
    Do not include descriptions of results.

    • The results are actual statements of observations,
      including statistics, tables and graphs.
    • Indicate information on range of variation.
    • Mention negative results as well as positive. Do not
      interpret results - save that for the
    • Lay out the case as for a jury. Present sufficient
      details so that others can draw their own inferences
      and construct their own explanations.
    • Use S.I. units (m, s, kg, W, etc.) throughout the
    • Break up your results into logical segments by using
    • Key results should be stated in clear sentences at
      the beginning of paragraphs. It is far better to
      say "X had significant positive relationship with Y
      (linear regression p<0.01, r^2=0.79)" then to start
      with a less informative like "There is a significant
      relationship between X and Y". Describe the
      nature of the findings; do not just tell the reader
      whether or not they are significant.

    Note: Results vs. Discussion Sections

    Quarantine your observations from your interpretations. The writer
    must make it crystal clear to the reader which statements are
    observation and which are interpretation. In most circumstances,
    this is best accomplished by physically separating statements about
    new observations from statements about the meaning or significance
    of those observations. Alternatively, this goal can be accomplished
    by careful use of phrases such as "I infer ..." vast bodies of
    geological literature became obsolete with the advent of plate
    tectonics; the papers that survived are those in which observations
    were presented in stand-alone fashion, unmuddied by whatever ideas
    the author might have had about the processes that caused the
    observed phenomena.

    How do you do this?

    1. Physical separation into different sections or
    2. Don't overlay interpretation on top of data in
    3. Careful use of phrases such as "We infer that ".
    4. Don't worry if "results" seem short.


    1. Easier for your reader to absorb, frequent shifts of
      mental mode not required.
    2. Ensures that your work will endure in spite of
      shifting paradigms.


    Start with a few sentences that summarize the most important
    results. The discussion section should be a brief essay in
    itself, answering the following questions and caveats:

    1. What are the major patterns in the observations?
      (Refer to spatial and temporal variations.)
    2. What are the relationships, trends and generalizations
      among the results?
    3. What are the exceptions to these patterns or
    4. What are the likely causes (mechanisms) underlying
      these patterns resulting predictions?
    5. Is there agreement or disagreement with previous work?
    6. Interpret results in terms of background laid out in
      the introduction - what is the relationship of the
      present results to the original question?
    7. What is the implication of the present results for
      other unanswered questions in earth sciences, ecology,
      environmental policy, etc....?
    8. Multiple hypotheses: There are usually several
      possible explanations for results. Be careful to
      consider all of these rather than simply pushing your
      favorite one. If you can eliminate all but one, that is
      great, but often that is not possible with the data in
      hand. In that case you should give even treatment to the
      remaining possibilities, and try to indicate ways in
      which future work may lead to their discrimination.
    9. Avoid bandwagons: A special case of the above. Avoid
      jumping a currently fashionable point of view unless
      your results really do strongly support them.
    10. What are the things we now know or understand that we
      didn't know or understand before the present work?
    11. Include the evidence or line of reasoning supporting
      each interpretation.
    12. What is the significance of the present results: why
      should we care?

    This section should be rich in references to similar work
    and background needed to interpret results. However,
    interpretation/discussion section(s) are often too long and
    verbose. Is there material that does not contribute to one
    of the elements listed above? If so, this may be material
    that you will want to consider deleting or moving. Break up
    the section into logical segments by using subheads.

    • What is the strongest and most important statement
      that you can make from your observations?
    • If you met the reader at a meeting six months from
      now, what do you want them to remember about your
    • Refer back to problem posed, and describe the
      conclusions that you reached from carrying out this
      investigation, summarize new observations, new
      interpretations, and new insights that have resulted
      from the present work.
    • Include the broader implications of your
    • Do not repeat word for word the abstract, introduction
      or discussion.


    • Include when appropriate (most of the time)
    • Remedial action to solve the problem.
    • Further research to fill in gaps in our
    • Directions for future investigations on this or
      related topics.


    Advisor(s) and anyone who helped you:

    1. technically (including materials, supplies)
    2. intellectually (assistance, advice)
    3. financially (for example, departmental support, travel


    • cite all ideas, concepts, text, data that are not your
    • if you make a statement, back it up with your own data
      or a reference
    • all references cited in the text must be listed
    • cite single-author references by the surname of the
      author (followed by date of the publication in

      • ... according to Hays (1994)
      • ... population growth is one of the greatest
        environmental concerns facing future generations
        (Hays, 1994).

    • cite double-author references by the surnames of both
      authors (followed by date of the publication in

      • e.g. Simpson and Hays (1994)

    • cite more than double-author references by the surname
      of the first author followed by et al. and then the date
      of the publication

      • e.g. Pfirman, Simpson and Hays would be:
      • Pfirman et al. (1994)

    • do not use footnotes
    • list all references cited in the text in alphabetical
      order using the following format for different types of

      • Hunt, S. (1966) Carbohydrate and amino acid
        composition of the egg capsules of the whelk. Nature,
        210, 436-437.
      • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
        (1997) Commonly asked questions about ozone.,
      • Pfirman, S.L., M. Stute, H.J. Simpson, and J. Hays
        (1996) Undergraduate research at Barnard and Columbia,
        Journal of Research, 11, 213-214.
      • Pechenik, J.A. (1987) A short guide to writing about
        biology. Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 194pp.
      • Pitelka, D.R., and F.M. Child (1964) Review of
        ciliary structure and function. In: Biochemistry
        and Physiology of Protozoa
        , Vol. 3 (S.H. Hutner,
        editor), Academic Press, New York, 131-198.
      • Sambrotto, R. (1997) lecture notes, Environmental
        Data Analysis, Barnard College, Oct 2, 1997.
      • Stute, M., J.F. Clark, P. Schlosser, W.S. Broecker,
        and G. Bonani (1995) A high altitude continental
        paleotemperature record derived from noble gases
        dissolved in groundwater from the San Juan Basin, New
        Mexico. Quat. Res., 43, 209-220.
      • New York Times (1/15/00) PCBs in the Hudson still an
        issue, A2.

    • it is acceptable to put the initials of the individual
      authors behind their last names, e.g. Pfirman, S.L.,
      Stute, M., Simpson, H.J., and Hays, J (1996)
      Undergraduate research at ......


    • Include all your data in the appendix.
    • Reference data/materials not easily available (theses
      are used as a resource by the department and other
    • Tables (where more than 1-2 pages).
    • Calculations (where more than 1-2 pages).
    • You may include a key article as appendix.
    • If you consulted a large number of references but did
      not cite all of them, you might want to include a list
      of additional resource material, etc.
    • List of equipment used for an experiment or details of
      complicated procedures.
    • Note: Figures and tables, including captions, should
      be embedded in the text and not in an appendix, unless
      they are more than 1-2 pages and are not critical to
      your argument.

    II. Crosscutting Issues

    What Are We Looking For?

    We are looking for a critical analysis. We want you to answer a
    scientific question or hypothesis. We would like you to gather
    evidence -- from various sources -- to allow you to make
    interpretations and judgments. Your approach/methods should be
    carefully designed to come to closure. Your results should be
    clearly defined and discussed in the context of your topic. Relevant
    literature should be cited. You should place your analysis in a
    broader context, and highlight the implications (regional, global,
    etc.) of your work. We are looking for a well-reasoned line of
    argument, from your initial question, compilation of relevant
    evidence, setting data in a general/universal context, and finally
    making a judgment based on your analysis. Your thesis should be
    clearly written and in the format described below.
    Planning Ahead for Your Thesis

    If at all possible, start your thesis research during the summer
    between your junior and senior year - or even earlier - with an
    internship, etc. ... then work on filling in background material and
    lab work during the fall so that you're prepared to write and
    present your research during the spring . The best strategy is to
    pick a project that you are interested in, but also that a faculty
    member or other professional is working on. This person will become
    your research mentor and this gives you someone to talk with and get
    background material from. If you're unsure about the selection of a
    project, let us know and we'll try to connect you with someone.

    Writing for an Audience

    Who is your audience?

    1. Researchers working in analogous field areas
      elsewhere in the world (i.e. other strike-slip faults,
      other deep sea fans).
    2. Researchers working in your field area, but with
      different techniques.
    3. Researchers working on the same interval of geologic
      time elsewhere in the world.
    4. All other researchers using the same technique you
      have used .
    5. If your study encompasses an active process,
      researchers working on the same process in the ancient
    6. Conversely, if your study is based on the rock
      record, people studying modem analogs.
    7. People writing a synthesis paper on important new
      developments in your field.
    8. People applying earth science to societal problems
      (i.e. earthquake hazard reduction, climate warming)
      who will try to understand your paper.
    9. Potential reviewers of your manuscript or your
      thesis committee.

    Skimming vs. Reading

    Because of the literature explosion, papers more skimmed than read.
    Skimming involves reading the abstract, and looking at the figures
    and figure captions. Therefore, you should construct your paper so
    that it can be understood by skimming, i.e., the conclusions, as
    written in your abstract, can be understood by study of the figures
    and captions. The text fills out the details for the more interested

    Order of Writing

    Your thesis is not written in the same order as it is
    presented in. The following gives you one idea how to

    1. first organize your paper as a logical argument before
      you begin writing
    2. make your figures to illustrate your argument (think
    3. the main sections are: background to the argument
      (intro); describing the information to be used in the
      argument, and making points about them (observations),
      connecting the points regarding the info (analysis),
      summing up (conclusions).
    4. outline the main elements: sections, and subsections
    5. begin writing, choosing options in the following
      hierarchy - paragraphs, sentences, and words.

    Here is another approach.

    1. Write up a preliminary version of the background
      section first. This will serve as the basis for the
      introduction in your final paper.
    2. As you collect data, write up the methods section. It
      is much easier to do this right after you have collected
      the data. Be sure to include a description of the
      research equipment and relevant calibration plots.
    3. When you have some data, start making plots and tables
      of the data. These will help you to visualize the data
      and to see gaps in your data collection. If time
      permits, you should go back and fill in the gaps. You
      are finished when you have a set of plots that show a
      definite trend (or lack of a trend). Be sure to make
      adequate statistical tests of your results.
    4. Once you have a complete set of plots and statistical
      tests, arrange the plots and tables in a logical order.
      Write figure captions for the plots and tables. As much
      as possible, the captions should stand alone in
      explaining the plots and tables. Many scientists read
      only the abstract, figures, figure captions, tables,
      table captions, and conclusions of a paper. Be sure that
      your figures, tables and captions are well labeled and
      well documented.
    5. Once your plots and tables are complete, write the
      results section. Writing this section requires extreme
      discipline. You must describe your results, but you must
      NOT interpret them. (If good ideas occur to you at this
      time, save them at the bottom of the page for the
      discussion section.) Be factual and orderly in this
      section, but try not to be too dry.
    6. Once you have written the results section, you can
      move on to the discussion section. This is usually fun
      to write, because now you can talk about your ideas
      about the data. If you can come up with a good
      cartoon/schematic showing your ideas, do so. Many papers
      are cited in the literature because they have a good
      cartoon that subsequent authors would like to use or
    7. In writing the discussion session, be sure to
      adequately discuss the work of other authors who
      collected data on the same or related scientific
      questions. Be sure to discuss how their work is relevant
      to your work. If there were flaws in their methodology,
      this is the place to discuss it.
    8. After you have discussed the data, you can write the
      conclusions section. In this section, you take the ideas
      that were mentioned in the discussion section and try to
      come to some closure. If some hypothesis can be ruled
      out as a result of your work, say so. If more work is
      needed for a definitive answer, say that.
    9. The final section in the paper is a recommendation
      section. This is really the end of the conclusion
      section in a scientific paper. Make recommendations for
      further research or policy actions in this section. If
      you can make predictions about what will be found if X
      is true, then do so. You will get credit from later
      researchers for this.
    10. After you have finished the recommendation section,
      look back at your original introduction. Your
      introduction should set the stage for the conclusions of
      the paper by laying out the ideas that you will test in
      the paper. Now that you know where the paper is leading,
      you will probably need to rewrite the
    11. You must write your abstract last.

    Figures and Tables

    • The actual figures and tables should be
      embedded/inserted in the text, generally on the page
      following the page where the figure/table is first cited
      in the text.
    • All figures and tables should be numbered and cited
      consecutively in the text as figure 1, figure 2, table
      1, table 2, etc.
    • Include a caption for each figure and table, citing
      how it was constructed (reference citations, data
      sources, etc.) and highlighting the key findings (think
      skimming). Include an index figure (map) showing and
      naming all locations discussed in paper.
    • You are encouraged to make your own figures, including
      cartoons, schematics or sketches that illustrate the
      processes that you discuss. Examine your figures with
      these questions in mind:

      1. Is the figure self-explanatory?
      2. Are your axes labeled and are the units
      3. Show the uncertainty in your data with error
      4. If the data are fit by a curve, indicate the
        goodness of fit.
      5. Could chart junk be eliminated?
      6. Could non-data ink be eliminated?
      7. Could redundant data ink be eliminated?
      8. Could data density be increased by eliminating
        non-data bearing space?
      9. Is this a sparse data set that could better be
        expressed as a table?
      10. Does the figure distort the data in any way?
      11. Are the data presented in context?
      12. Does the figure caption guide the reader's eye to
        the "take-home lesson" of the figure?

    • Figures should be oriented vertically, in portrait
      mode, wherever possible. If you must orient them
      horizontally, in landscape mode, orient them so that you
      can read them from the right, not from the left, where
      the binding will be.

    Tying the Text to the Data

    "Show them, don't just tell them…" Ideally, every result
    claimed in the text should be documented with data, usually
    data presented in tables or figures. If there are no data
    provided to support a given statement of result or
    observation, consider adding more data, or deleting the
    unsupported "observation."
    Examine figure(s) or table(s) pertaining to the
    Assess whether:

    1. the data support the textual statement
    2. the data contradict the textual statement
    3. the data are insufficient to prove or refute the
      textual statement
    4. the data may support the textual statement, but are
      not presented in such a way that you can be sure you are
      seeing the same phenomenon in the data that the author
      claims to have seen.

    Giving Credit

    How does one fairly and accurately indicate who has made what
    contributions towards the results and interpretations presented in
    your paper?: by referencing, authorship, and acknowledgements.
    Different types of errors:

    1. direct quotes or illustrations without quotation marks,
      without attribution
    2. direct quotes without quotation marks, with attribution
    3. concepts/ideas without attribution
    4. concepts/ideas with sloppy attribution
    5. omitting or fabricating data or results

    Check references carefully and reread reference works prior to
    publication. The first time you read something, you will consciously
    remember some things, but may subconsciously take in other aspects.
    It is important to cross check your conscious memory against your
    See also:
    D. Kennedy, 1985, On Academic Authorship
    Sigma Xi, 1984, Honor in Science
    Yale University pamphlet on plagiarism

    Final Thesis

    • Make 3 final copies: 1 to mentor and 2 to department,
      so that we can have 2 readers.
    • Final thesis should be bound.
    • Printed cleanly on white paper.
    • Double-spaced using 12-point font.
    • 1-inch margins.
    • Double-sided saves paper.
    • Include page numbers.


    • The Barnard Writing Room provides assistance on
      writing senior theses.
    • Look at other theses on file in the Environmental
      Science department, they will give you an idea of what
      we are looking for.
    • Of course do not hesitate to ask us, or your research
      advisor for help.
    • The Barnard Environmental Science Department has many
      books on scientific writing, ask the departmental
      administrator for assistance in locating them.
    • Also see additional

      as Resources.

    III. Editing Your Thesis

    Even a rough draft should be edited.

    Copy Editing

    1. Proof read your thesis a few times.
    2. Check your spelling. spellcheckers are useful for
      initial checking, but don't catch homonyms (e.g. hear,
      here), so you need to do the final check by eye.
    3. Make sure that you use complete sentences
    4. Check your grammar: punctuation, sentence structure,
      subject-verb agreement (plural or singular), tense
      consistency, etc.
    5. Give it to others to read and comment.

    Content Editing

    1. logic
    2. repetition, relevance
    3. style

    Avoiding ambiguity

    1. Do not allow run-on sentences to sneak into your
      writing; try semicolons.
    2. Avoid nested clauses/phrases.
    3. Avoid clauses or phrases with more than two ideas in
    4. Do not use double negatives.
    5. Do not use dangling participles (i.e. phrases with an
      "-ing" verb, in sentences where the agent performing the
      action of the "-ing" verb is not specified: " After
      standing in boiling water for two hours, examine the
    6. Make sure that the antecedent for every pronoun (it,
      these, those, that, this, one) is crystal clear. If in
      doubt, use the noun rather than the pronoun, even if the
      resulting sentence seems a little bit redundant.
    7. Ensure that subject and verb agree in number (singular
      versus plural).
    8. Be especially careful with compound subjects. Be
      especially careful with subject/verb agreement within
    9. Avoid qualitative adjectives when describing concepts
      that are quantifiable ("The water is deep." "Plate
      convergence is fast." "Our algorithm is better.")
      Instead, quantify. ("Water depths exceed 5km.")
    10. Avoid noun strings ("acoustic noise source location
    11. Do not use unexplained acronyms. Spell out all
      acronyms the first time that you use them.

    Thesis length

    Write for brevity rather than length. The goal is the
    shortest possible paper that contains all information
    necessary to describe the work and support the
    Avoid unnecessary repetition and irrelevant tangents.

    Necessary repetition: the main theme should be developed in
    the introduction as a motivation or working hypothesis. It
    is then developed in the main body of the paper, and
    mentioned again in the discussion section (and, of course,
    in the abstract and conclusions).
    Some suggestions on how to shorten your paper:

    1. Use tables for repetitive information.
    2. Include only sufficient background material to permit
      the reader to understand your story, not every paper
      ever written on the subject.
    3. Use figure captions effectively.
    4. Don't describe the contents of the figures and/or
      tables in the text item-by-item. Instead, use the text
      to point out the most significant patterns, items or
      trends in the figures and tables.
    5. Delete "observations" or "results" that are mentioned
      in the text for which you have not shown data.
    6. Delete "conclusions" that are not directly supported
      by your observations or results.
    7. Delete "interpretation" or "discussion" sections that
      are inconclusive.
    8. Delete "interpretation" or "discussion" sections that
      are only peripherally related to your new results or
    9. Scrutinize adjectives! adverbs and prepositional

    Although it varies considerably from project to project,
    average thesis length is about 40 pages of text plus
    figures. This total page count includes all your text as
    well as the list of references, but it does not include any
    appendices. These generalizations should not be taken too
    seriously, especially if you are working on a
    labor-intensive lab project. If you have any questions about
    whether your project is of sufficient scope, consult one of
    us early on.

    Writing for an International

    1. Put as much information as possible into figures and
      tables. In particular, try to find a way to put your
      conclusions into a figure, perhaps a flowchart or a
    2. Don't assume that readers are familiar with the
      geography or the stratigraphy of your field area.
    3. Every single place-name mentioned in the text should
      be shown on a map.
    4. Consider including a location map, either as a
      separate figure or as an inset to another figure. If
      your paper involves stratigraphy, consider including a
      summary stratigraphic column--in effect, a location map
      in time.
    5. Use shorter sentences. Avoid nested clauses or
    6. Avoid idioms. Favor usages that can be looked up in an
      ordinary dictionary. "Take the beaker out of the oven
      immediately..." rather than "Take the beaker out of the
      oven right away..."


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