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Writing Your Thesis or Dissertation. Alysoun Taylor-Hall October 26 , 2011. Writing Your Thesis or Dissertation. Establishing good research habits & tools Conducting your literature search Getting ready to write Writing: Introduction Abstract Body C onclusion Finishing your thesis

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Writing your thesis or dissertation

Writing Your Thesis or Dissertation

Alysoun Taylor-Hall

October 26, 2011

Writing your thesis or dissertation1
Writing Your Thesis or Dissertation

  • Establishing good research habits & tools

  • Conducting your literature search

  • Getting ready to write

  • Writing:

    • Introduction

    • Abstract

    • Body

    • Conclusion

  • Finishing your thesis

  • General writing tips

  • Uploading & Resources

About me
About Me

BA in English w/Concentration in Professional Writing

Certificate in Technical Writing


Program Coordinator for Ph.D. in Engineering Program

Technical Writer/Editor for CDOC research group

Establishing good research habits
Establishing Good Research Habits

  • Document as you go

  • Keep a research notebook/journal

  • Archive your data

  • Learn to use available tools



    Be sure to check out Dr. Slater’s “archiving data” link

    Thesis and Dissertation Handbook:


Conducting your literature search
Conducting Your Literature Search

  • Conduct your own comprehensive search

  • Start with current publications, but be sure to check older resources as well

  • Follow up on the works cited in relevant publications

  • Talk to other researchers in your field

  • Contact Phil Flynn, Engineering Librarian, for assistance with your search:



Conducting your literature search1
Conducting Your Literature Search

  • Document your search from the very beginning

  • Use available tools and resources



    Jab Ref


Getting ready to write
Getting Ready to Write

Audience Analysis

Who will be reading your thesis/dissertation?

  • Types of Audiences

    • General/lay audience

    • Expert audience

    • Executive audience

  • What do your readers know about your topic?

  • What do they need to know?

    Tip: As a writer, you sound “smart” when your reader can understand your ideas

Writing your introduction
Writing Your Introduction

Write your introduction first

Use your research notebook/journal

Lay out your argument for your topic

Organize your thesis to support your argument

Writing your abstract
Writing Your Abstract

Generally a 1-page document that summarizes your research

  • Write for more of an executive audience

    • Keep sentences relatively short and direct

    • Limit explanations of complex concepts

    • Assume that many readers will only read the first page

  • Focus on your motivations

    • Why does this work need to be done?

    • Who will benefit?

Writing your abstract1
Writing Your Abstract

  • Allow plenty of time for revision

  • Ask other readers to read your abstract

    • Ask someone unfamiliar with your topic

  • Your abstract shouldbe as clean, clear, and concise as you can make it

  • Good practice for writing research proposals

Writing the body of your document
Writing the Body of Your Document

  • Remember audience analysis

    • What does your “expert” audience already know?

    • What do they need to know?

  • Remember to cite as you go

    • Graphs, figures, tables

    • Any language that is not your own

  • Some readers will skip around, so each chapter should stand alone to some extent

    • Point readers to where they need to go within the document

Writing your conclusion
Writing Your Conclusion

  • Provides a satisfactory stopping point for the reader

  • Generally relatively brief

    • No need to restate the entire abstract

    • In a thesis or dissertation, conclusion should emphasize findings and future work

    • Highlight original contribution

  • The only other part some readers will read

    • Make sure the conclusion is well edited

Finishing your thesis
Finishing Your Thesis

  • Allow plenty of time for revision and finishing

  • Edit your document thoroughly

    • Use spell-check and grammar tools


    • Hire an editor if necessary

    • Follow the Thesis and Dissertation Handbook


  • Include Acknowledgments

    • Be careful of personal acknowledgments

  • Request a Format Check

Style guides
Style Guides

How do you know what format to use for your citations?

Style guides provide specific guidelines:

  • Examples: MLA, APA, Chicago/Turabian

  • Provide specific guidance on many style issues, including citations

  • Many disciplines have a standard style

    • Examples: Psychology uses APA; English uses MLA

  • Unfortunately, Engineering does not have a standard style guide

Engineering styles
Engineering Styles

What style should you use?

Check the University Libraries website to find style guides for your discipline:


Check publications in your discipline and follow their format

Ask your professor or advisor

Ask the University Librarian


  • Convert your document to a PDF

  • Follow instructions on SoGS website


  • Binding options


General writing tips
General Writing Tips

Understand how readers process your writing

Your goal is to make the reader’s job as easy as possible

Save their energy to focus on your ideas, not your writing

Effective writing doesn’t tire the reader

General writing tips1
General Writing Tips

Understand how readers process your writing, cont.

  • Limitations of short-term memory

  • Present the information in the most logical order for ease of processing

  • Allow frequent breaks so readers can process what they’ve read and move it out of short-term memory

    • Parenthetical information demands more from your reader

General writing tips2
General Writing Tips

  • Punctuation provides sign posts to guide your reader through your document

    • Punctuation works best when it meets subconscious reader expectations

    • Written punctuation does not follow spoken “breaks” in the sentence

    • Learn to punctuate according to American English norms

    • Good punctuation

      • Keeps your reader from tiring

      • Allows your reader to focus on your ideas

General writing tips3
General Writing Tips

Use active voice:

Subject Verb Object


Object Verb (implied Subject)

I will take out the trash


The trash will be taken out

Active voice is far less tiring than passive voice

General writing tips4
General Writing Tips

But . . . vary your writing style occasionally

  • Maintain reader interest

  • Too many sentences in the same style begin to sound “sing songy”

  • Invert the order of a few sentences

  • Combine two sentences

    • But make sure you do this correctly (not run on)

Help with writing skills
Help with Writing Skills

  • EGR 535: Technical Communications for Engineering and Computer Scientists

  • University Writing Center


Thesis and dissertation preparation workshop
Thesis and Dissertation Preparation Workshop

  • Held every year in the fall

  • Sponsored by the Graduate School

  • Contact Lisa Lewandowski:




Useful web resources for research writing:

The School of Graduate Studies Thesis and Dissertation Handbook:


University Libraries:


University Writing Center:


Other University-based Writing Websites:

Purdue Online Writing Lab: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/

The Writing Center @ Rennselear: http://www.rpi.edu/web/writingcenter/wc_web/school/index.htm