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Documentation: Thesis Writing Tips

V. Documentation

This is an article about thesis writing tips. This article will focus on writing your document on your thesis, research paper, term paper and case study.

1. Avoid repetition. Every item must be in the appropriate place, and repetition of material in different places should be eliminated.

2. Always backup. A word to the wise is to have the outline and all work on the thesis to be on back-up files. If for some reason the original disk malfunctioned, all of the work would not be lost. How discouraging to find that the page or chapter your worked so hard to write has disappeared in a hard disk failure, or when a power surge hits your computer. Save your work in multiple places: hard drive, floppy, zip drive, CD. Also print out sections as they are finished so you can see what your work looks like on paper.

3. Be simple, brief, and avoid jargons. Choose section titles and wordings to clearly give them this information. The harder they have to work to ferret out your problem, your defense of the problem, your answer to the problem, your conclusions and contributions, the worse mood they will be in, and the more likely that your thesis will need major revisions. Don’t use jargon-you’ll have enough time to do that if you become a professor. Use good grammar too. There’s nothing worse than having to plow through 150 pages of misplaced modifiers, dangling prepositions, and run-on sentences. Do not assume that a reader can read between the lines. Maintain in plain sight a thread of continuity in your writing. Use paragraph structure to enhance the flow of the text. Do not write too long sentences, they will easily make the text unreadable.

4. It is documentation not a journal. It usually doesn’t follow the chronology of things that you tried. It’s a formal document designed to answer only a few major questions.

5. Don’t write a thesis. Write a paper (or papers) for conference or journal submission that you turn into a thesis by adding an extensive set of appendices. Why? (1) You will be forced to describe the important parts of your work (i.e. the new ideas) … concisely. (2) You will avoid writing a tremendous amount of text that nobody reads that muddles your main contributions. (3) You will be well on your way to getting your work published so that researchers will actually read it. (4) You will acquire the skills necessary to describe your work to the research community.

6. Images and Tables should accomplish something. Images and tables should be numbered and also include a caption describing their content. Images, tables and appendices are not decorations: remember to refer to each of them in the. Tables and figures are often the “meat” of a study. Tables and figures are not raw data – they represent synthesized and manicured information. Avoid undue complexity. Ask yourself, “What is the purpose of this table or figure?”. It is not merely to show data, this mystifies and misleads the reader. It is provided to accomplish something specific; to reveal comparisons or changes, to reveal why something is significant, or for some other purposeful reason.

7. Format counts. Again since this improves readability. But do not waste your time with unnecessary frills of modern word-processors. When a period or comma occurs with closing quotation marks, place the period or comma BEFORE rather than after the quotation marks. Put other punctuation outside quotation marks unless it is part of the quoted material. When a period or comma occurs with quotation marks that are used to set off the titles of publications or to show that certain words are used in a special way, place the period or comma ALWAYS INSIDE the quotation mark. Always comma numbers 1,000 or above. “If you want to make a reviewer (or advisor) angry do not organize, do not follow the correct format, do not edit, do not number pages, and do not pay attention to detail.” (Scalet)

8. Avoid weak, vague, abstract, superfluous, first person, pronoun, adjective, adverb words. Keep vague, abstract words like “important,” “interesting,” “experience,” “situation,” and such out of your thesis. Cut out all of the superfluous words, so that your reader can understand exactly what you are arguing and can easily remember it while reading the rest of the paper. Imprecise wording in your thesis can leave your entire paper open to misinterpretation. Choose language that is unambiguous and appropriate to your discipline so that your reader has no question about what you are trying to say. Avoid pronouns whenever possible. Use a thesaurus when writing. Avoid using phrases like “Clearly, this is the case…” or “Obviously, it follows that …”; these imply that, if the readers don’t understand, then they must be stupid. They might not have understood because you explained it poorly. Avoid the first person. (“I believe,” “In my opinion”). Don’t use weak works like just or really.

9. Write using your own words. Do not cut-paste even in the early phase of your work, at least not without marking the text clearly with quotation marks and source. Writing with your own words clearly shows that you do understand what you have written: first read, then put the source aside, then write using your own words without looking at the source.

10. Be coherent. Work on transitional sentences. Correct for logical flow (switching).

11. A “first draft” does not represent the first time you have written something. It represents the first time you believe the material is ready for someone else to read and critically review. In reality the “first draft” may be your 5th, 6th, or more attempt at writing a particular document.

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