Le Libraire Dissertation Meaning

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This Study Guide addresses the task of writing a dissertation. It aims to help you to feel confident in the construction of this extended piece of writing, and to support you in its successful completion.

You may also find the following Study Guides helpful:

Introduction

Sometimes writing is seen as an activity that happens after everything else:

“The research is going well, so the writing should be straightforward - I can leave it until later”.

“I know I’m not good at writing so I keep putting it off”.

“I know I’m good at writing so I can leave it to later”.

“I want to get everything sorted out in my mind before I start writing or I’ll just end up wasting my time re-writing”.

These four very different perspectives lead to the same potential problems:

  • regarding re-drafting as a failure or a waste of time;

  • ignoring the further learning and clarification of argument that usually occurs during the writing and re-writing process; and

  • leaving too little time for effective editing and final proofing.

The process of having to describe your study in detail, in a logical sequence of written words, will inevitably highlight where more thought is needed, and it may lead to new insight into connections, implications, rationale, relevance, and may lead to new ideas for further research.

Barras (1993:136) suggests that you ‘think of your report as part of your investigation, not as a duty to be undertaken when your work is otherwise complete’, and this Study Guide suggests that: writing is an integral part of the research process.

Getting on with the writing

The good news is that you have already started writing if you have written any of the following in relation to this study:

  • a research proposal;

  • a literature review;

  • a report of any pilot studies that you undertook;

  • an abstract for a conference;

  • reports for your supervisors;

  • a learning journal where you keep ideas as they occur to you; or

  • notes for a presentation you have given.

In each case the object of the writing was to communicate to yourself, your supervisors, or to others, something about your work. In writing your dissertation you will draw on some of this earlier writing to produce a longer and more comprehensive account.

Check out what is required

Before embarking on any substantial writing for your dissertation you will need to check the exact requirements regarding:

  • the word limit: maximum and minimum; and whether or not this includes words within tables, the abstract, the reference list, and the appendices;

  • which chapters are expected to be included, in which order, and what kind of material is expected in each;

  • the kind of content appropriate to place in the appendices rather than in the main text; and

  • the marking scheme or guidance.

The structure

There are some conventions that guide the structuring of dissertations in different disciplines. You should check departmental and course regulations.

Below are two structures that are commonly used.

  • Title page
  • Abstract
  • Acknowledgements
  • Contents page(s)
  • Introduction
  • Materials and methods or Literature review
  • Results or Sources and methods
  • Discussion or Findings
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Appendices

Each section or chapter has its own particular function

Title page

The title itself is an important opportunity to tell the potential reader what your research is about. You will need it to be succinct, specific, descriptive, and representative of the research you have done. There is likely to be a required format for the title page in your discipline, so you need to check what that is.

Abstract

This may be one of the shortest sections of your thesis or dissertation, but it is worthwhile taking great care to write it well. Essentially, the Abstract is a succinct summary of the research. It should be able to stand alone in representing why and how you did what you did, and what the results and implications are. It is often only one page long, and there may be a word limit to adhere to. The Abstract is an important element of the thesis, and will become a document in its own right if the thesis is registered within any database. The examiners will therefore assess your Abstract both as part of your thesis, and as a potentially independent document.

It can be best to write the Abstract last, once you are sure what exactly you are summarising. Alternatively it can be useful to write the abstract earlier on, as an aid to identifying the crucial main thread of your research, its purpose, and its findings, which could then guide the structure of the dissertation.

Attending to the very restrictive word / space limit, while at the same including all the relevant material is quite a challenge. It might be useful to look at how others have managed. It is certainly an academic exercise, but perhaps not too different from the concise explanations of your research you may have had to give to relatives and neighbours over the last few years, in terms of its brevity, accessibility, and comprehensiveness.

Acknowledgements

This is your opportunity to mention individuals who have been particularly helpful. Reading the acknowledgements in other dissertations in your field will give you an idea of the ways in which different kinds of help have been appreciated and mentioned.

Contents, and figure and table lists

The contents pages will show up the structure of the dissertation. Any  imbalance in space devoted to different sections of content will become apparent. This is a useful check on whether amalgamation of sections, or creation of further sections or sub-sections is needed.

Introduction

Although this is the first piece of writing the reader comes to, it is often best to leave its preparation to last as, until then, you will not be absolutely sure what you are introducing. The introduction has two main roles:

  • to expand the material summarised in the abstract, and

  • to signpost the content of the rest of the dissertation.

The literature review, or context of the study

The purpose of this chapter is to show that you are aware of where your own piece of research fits into the overall context of research in your field. To do this you need to:

  • describe the current state of research in your defined area;

  • consider whether there are any closely related areas that you also need to refer to;

  • identify a gap where you argue that further research is needed; and

  • explain how you plan to attend to that particular research gap.

This can lead logically into a clear statement of the research question(s) or problem(s) you will be addressing.

In addition to the research context, there may be other relevant contexts to present for example:

  • theoretical context;

  • methodological context;

  • practice context; and

  • political context.

It can be difficult to identify the best order for sections in this chapter because the rationale for your choice of specific research question can be complicated, and there may be several inter-linked reasons why the research is needed. It is worth taking time to develop a logical structure as this will help to convince examiners of the relevance of your research, and that you understand its relevance. It will also provide you with a framework to refer back to in your discussion chapter, when you reflect on the extent to which your research has achieved what it set out to do.

Chapter(s) describing methods, sources, material etc

In these chapters a straightforward description is required of how you conducted the research. If you used particular equipment, processes, or materials, you will need to be clear and precise in how you describe them.  You must give enough detail for another researcher to replicate your study.

Results / Findings

You will need to check which style of reporting is preferred in your field. For example a scientific dissertation would probably have very clear separation between the results and the discussion of those results; whereas a social science dissertation might have an overall chapter called Findings, bringing the results and their discussion together.

Decisions about style of presentation may need to be made about, for example:

  • whether you want to begin with an initial overview of the results, followed by the detail, or whether you move immediately into the detail of the results;

  • in which order you will be presenting the detailed results; and

  • what balance, in terms of word space, you want to achieve across the spread of results that you have.

Discussion

This is where you review your own research in relation to the wider context in which it is located. You can refer back to the rationale that you gave for your research in the literature review, and discuss what your own research has added in this context. It is important to show that you appreciate the limitations of your research, and how these may affect the validity or usefulness of your findings. Given the acknowledged limitations, you can report on the implications of your findings for theory, research, and practice.

Conclusions

This chapter tends to be much shorter than the Discussion. It is not a mere ‘summary’ of your research, but needs to be ‘conclusions’ as to the main points that have emerged and what they mean for your field.

References

This section needs to be highly structured, and needs to include all of your references in the required referencing style. As you edit and rewrite your dissertation you will probably gain and lose references that you had in earlier versions. It is important therefore to check that all the references in your reference list are actually referenced within the text; and that all the references that appear in the text appear also in the reference list.

Appendices

You need to check whether or not the appendices count within the word limit for your dissertation. Items that can usefully go in the appendices are those that a reader would want to see, but which would take up too much space and disrupt the flow if placed within the main text.  Again, make sure you reference the Appendices within the main text where necessary.

Designing your detailed structure

If your dissertation is well-structured, easy to follow, logical, and coherent, your examiners will probably enjoy reading it, and will be able to listen to your argument without the distraction of trying to make all the links themselves.

The only way to achieve a consistent argument throughout a piece of writing is by creating some kind of plan or map of what you want to say. It can be useful to think of the research question or topic going like a strong thread throughout the dissertation: linking all the elements of the study, and giving coherence to its reporting.

Moving from doing the research to writing a comprehensive account of it is not necessarily easy. You may feel that you know everything in your head but can’t see how you can put it into words in the most useful order. It can be helpful to break the task down into smaller, more easily accomplished elements. The process of producing your writing plan could go as follows.

  1. You could start by making a comprehensive and unstructured list of all the elements and ideas that you need to include, ranging from

  2. chapter headings to notes about analysis, and from ideas for graphical representation to ideas for further research. Alternatively you could choose to start at stage 2.

  3. List the main chapter headings in the order in which they will appear.

  4. Under each chapter heading, list a series of important sub-headings. It may be that, for example, a literature review chapter needs to be split into a review of several different segments of literature. In this case each segment can have its own sub-heading, with a synthesis that brings the findings together at the end of the chapter.

  5. Under each sub-heading, list the main content that needs to be included, creating sub-sub-headings if needed. If you began by making a long and unstructured list of content, you can now feed that into the developing structure by inserting it as bullet points under the relevant headings. You need to ensure that all the content you want to include has been allocated a place.

  6. As you go, you can slot in ideas, references, quotes, clarifications, and conclusions as they occur to you, to make sure they are not forgotten.

  7. Check that there is an appropriate balance between and within  sections, and that the structure facilitates the logical and coherent description of the research study you have undertaken.

  8. Take feedback from others at this stage, before you begin to fill in the detail.

Filling in the detail

It can be a good idea to put the word limit to the back of your mind at this point, and concentrate on getting everything recorded in a document. You can always edit upwards or downwards later as necessary.

Writing as you go along

It is likely, and advisable, that you will not wait until the end of your research before starting to write it up. You may be required to produce one or more chapters for assessment part way through your research. The process described above can be used for any individual chapter you are working on. It is important to be prepared to critique and revise your own work several times. Even the early chapters submitted for assessment, and passing that assessment, may need to be revised later on. This is not a failure, but a positive sign of increased experience and skill.

Developing an argument

An important aspect running through your dissertation will be your argument for:

  • why this specific topic is worth researching;

  • why this is a good way to research it;

  • why this method of analysis is appropriate; and

  • why your interpretations and conclusions are reasonable.

You will refer to the work of others as you make your argument. This may involve critiquing the work of established leaders in the field. While it is important to be respectful in the way that you discuss others’ ideas and research, you are expected to engage directly, and even openly disagree with existing writing.

In Taylor’s (1989) book on writing in the arts and social sciences, he suggests that the following different approaches offer a range of academically legitimate ways to engage with published work.

  • Agree with, accede to, defend, or confirm a particular point of view.

  • Propose a new point of view.

  • Concede that an existing point of view has certain merits but that it needs to be qualified in certain important respects.

  • Reformulate an existing point of view or statement of it, such that the new version makes a better explanation.

  • Dismiss a point of view or another person’s work on account of its inadequacy, irrelevance, incoherence or by recourse to other appropriate criteria.

  • Reject, rebut or refute another’s argument on various reasoned grounds.

  • Reconcile two positions that may seem at variance by appeal to some ‘higher’ or ‘deeper’ principal.

  • Develop an existing point of view, perhaps by utilising it on larger or more complex datasets, or apply a theory to a new context

(Adapted from Taylor 1989:67)

It is important that you are assertive about what you are arguing, but it is unlikely that, in a dissertation project, you will be able to be definitive in closing an established academic debate. You should be open about where the gaps are in your research, and cautious about over-stating what you have found.  Aim to be modest but realistic in relating your own research to the broader context.

Improving the structure and content

Once you have the dissertation in draft form it becomes easier to see where you can improve it. To make it easier to read you can use clear signposting at the beginning of chapters, and write links between sections to show how they relate to each other. Another technique to improve academic writing style is to ensure that each individual paragraph justifies its inclusion. More ideas will be presented in the Study Guide The art of editing.

You may choose to review your draft from the standpoint of a dissertation examiner, which might involve preparing a list of questions that you want to see answered, then reading through your dissertation scribbling comments, suggestions, criticisms, and ideas in the margin. If you have a marking guide then apply it to your dissertation and see if there are aspects that you can improve.

While you do this, be aware of whether you need to increase the number of words, or decrease it to reach your target. As you read you can then cross through material that appears unnecessary, and mark points that could be expanded. This will then form the basis for your next, improved, draft.

When to stop

Just as it can be difficult to begin writing, it can also be difficult to know when to stop. You may begin to feel that your dissertation will never be good enough, and that you need to revise it again and again. It may be helpful to divert your attention for a while to the finishing off activities you need to attend to:

  • writing the abstract and the introduction;

  • checking the reference list;

  • finalising the appendices; and

  • checking your contents page.

Coming back afresh to look critically at the main text may then enable you to complete it to your satisfaction. Remember the dissertation needs to demonstrate your ability to undertake and report research rather than to answer every question on a topic.

It is important to allow yourself enough time for the final checking and proof reading of the finished document.

Summary

  • Devote time to planning the structure of the dissertation.

  • Plan a structure that will enable you to present your argument effectively.

  • Fill in the detail, concentrating on getting everything recorded rather than sticking to the word limit at this stage.

  • Regard writing as part of the research process, not an after-thought.

  • Expect to edit and re-edit your material several times as it moves towards its final form.

  • Leave time to check and proofread thoroughly.

References

Barrass R. (1979) Scientists must write. A guide to better writing for scientists, engineers and students. London:Chapman and Hall.

Taylor G. (1989) The Student’s Writing Guide for the Arts and Social Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


To The Candidate:

So, you are preparing to write a Ph.D. dissertation in an experimental area of Computer Science. Unless you have written many formal documents before, you are in for a surprise: it's difficult!

There are two possible paths to success:

    • Planning Ahead.

      Few take this path. The few who do leave the University so quickly that they are hardly noticed. If you want to make a lasting impression and have a long career as a graduate student, do not choose it.

    • Perseverance.

      All you really have to do is outlast your doctoral committee. The good news is that they are much older than you, so you can guess who will eventually expire first. The bad news is that they are more practiced at this game (after all, they persevered in the face of their doctoral committee, didn't they?).

Here are a few guidelines that may help you when you finally get serious about writing. The list goes on forever; you probably won't want to read it all at once. But, please read it before you write anything.






The General Idea:

  1. A thesis is a hypothesis or conjecture.
  2. A PhD dissertation is a lengthy, formal document that argues in defense of a particular thesis. (So many people use the term ``thesis'' to refer to the document that a current dictionary now includes it as the third meaning of ``thesis'').
  3. Two important adjectives used to describe a dissertation are ``original'' and ``substantial.'' The research performed to support a thesis must be both, and the dissertation must show it to be so. In particular, a dissertation highlights original contributions.
  4. The scientific method means starting with a hypothesis and then collecting evidence to support or deny it. Before one can write a dissertation defending a particular thesis, one must collect evidence that supports it. Thus, the most difficult aspect of writing a dissertation consists of organizing the evidence and associated discussions into a coherent form.
  5. The essence of a dissertation is critical thinking, not experimental data. Analysis and concepts form the heart of the work.
  6. A dissertation concentrates on principles: it states the lessons learned, and not merely the facts behind them.
  7. In general, every statement in a dissertation must be supported either by a reference to published scientific literature or by original work. Moreover, a dissertation does not repeat the details of critical thinking and analysis found in published sources; it uses the results as fact and refers the reader to the source for further details.
  8. Each sentence in a dissertation must be complete and correct in a grammatical sense. Moreover, a dissertation must satisfy the stringent rules of formal grammar (e.g., no contractions, no colloquialisms, no slurs, no undefined technical jargon, no hidden jokes, and no slang, even when such terms or phrases are in common use in the spoken language). Indeed, the writing in a dissertaton must be crystal clear. Shades of meaning matter; the terminology and prose must make fine distinctions. The words must convey exactly the meaning intended, nothing more and nothing less.
  9. Each statement in a dissertation must be correct and defensible in a logical and scientific sense. Moreover, the discussions in a dissertation must satisfy the most stringent rules of logic applied to mathematics and science.

What One Should Learn From The Exercise:


  1. All scientists need to communicate discoveries; the PhD dissertation provides training for communication with other scientists.
  2. Writing a dissertation requires a student to think deeply, to organize technical discussion, to muster arguments that will convince other scientists, and to follow rules for rigorous, formal presentation of the arguments and discussion.

A Rule Of Thumb:


    Good writing is essential in a dissertation. However, good writing cannot compensate for a paucity of ideas or concepts. Quite the contrary, a clear presentation always exposes weaknesses.


Definitions And Terminology:


  1. Each technical term used in a dissertation must be defined either by a reference to a previously published definition (for standard terms with their usual meaning) or by a precise, unambiguous definition that appears before the term is used (for a new term or a standard term used in an unusual way).
  2. Each term should be used in one and only one way throughout the dissertation.
  3. The easiest way to avoid a long series of definitions is to include a statement: ``the terminology used throughout this document follows that given in [CITATION].'' Then, only define exceptions.
  4. The introductory chapter can give the intuition (i.e., informal definitions) of terms provided they are defined more precisely later.

Terms And Phrases To Avoid:


  • adverbs
      Mostly, they are very often overly used. Use strong words instead. For example, one could say, ``Writers abuse adverbs.''
  • jokes or puns
      They have no place in a formal document.
  • ``bad'', ``good'', ``nice'', ``terrible'', ``stupid''
      A scientific dissertation does not make moral judgements. Use ``incorrect/correct'' to refer to factual correctness or errors. Use precise words or phrases to assess quality (e.g., ``method A requires less computation than method B''). In general, one should avoid all qualitative judgements.
  • ``true'', ``pure'',
      In the sense of ``good'' (it is judgemental).
  • ``perfect''
  • ``an ideal solution''
  • ``today'', ``modern times''
      Today is tomorrow's yesterday.
  • ``soon''
      How soon? Later tonight? Next decade?
  • ``we were surprised to learn...''
      Even if you were, so what?
  • ``seems'', ``seemingly'',
      It doesn't matter how something appears;
  • ``would seem to show''
      all that matters are the facts.
  • ``in terms of''
  • ``based on'', ``X-based'', ``as the basis of''
  • ``different''
      Does not mean ``various''; different than what?
  • ``in light of''
  • ``lots of''
  • ``kind of''
  • ``type of''
  • ``something like''
  • ``just about''
  • ``number of''
      vague; do you mean ``some'', ``many'', or ``most''? A quantative statement is preferable.
  • ``due to''
  • ``probably''
      only if you know the statistical probability (if you do, state it quantatively
  • ``obviously, clearly''
      be careful: obvious/clear to everyone?
  • ``simple''
      Can have a negative connotation, as in ``simpleton''
  • ``along with''
  • ``actually, really''
      define terms precisely to eliminate the need to clarify
  • ``the fact that''
      makes it a meta-sentence; rephrase
  • ``this'', ``that''
      As in ``This causes concern.'' Reason: ``this'' can refer to the subject of the previous sentence, the entire previous sentence, the entire previous paragraph, the entire previous section, etc. More important, it can be interpreted in the concrete sense or in the meta-sense. For example, in: ``X does Y. This means ...'' the reader can assume ``this'' refers to Y or to the fact that X does it. Even when restricted (e.g., ``this computation...''), the phrase is weak and often ambiguous.
  • ``You will read about...''
      The second person has no place in a formal dissertation.
  • ``I will describe...''
      The first person has no place in a formal dissertation. If self-reference is essential, phrase it as ``Section 10 describes...''
  • ``we'' as in ``we see that''
      A trap to avoid. Reason: almost any sentence can be written to begin with ``we'' because ``we'' can refer to: the reader and author, the author and advisor, the author and research team, experimental computer scientists, the entire computer science community, the science community, or some other unspecified group.
  • ``Hopefully, the program...''
      Computer programs don't hope, not unless they implement AI systems. By the way, if you are writing an AI thesis, talk to someone else: AI people have their own system of rules.
  • ``...a famous researcher...''
      It doesn't matter who said it or who did it. In fact, such statements prejudice the reader.
  • Be Careful When Using ``few, most, all, any, every''.
      A dissertation is precise. If a sentence says ``Most computer systems contain X'', you must be able to defend it. Are you sure you really know the facts? How many computers were built and sold yesterday?
  • ``must'', ``always''
  • ``should''
  • ``proof'', ``prove''
      Would a mathematician agree that it's a proof?
  • ``show''
      Used in the sense of ``prove''. To ``show'' something, you need to provide a formal proof.
  • ``can/may''
      Your mother probably told you the difference.

Voice:


    Use active constructions. For example, say ``the operating system starts the device'' instead of ``the device is started by the operating system.''

Tense:


    Write in the present tense. For example, say ``The system writes a page to the disk and then uses the frame...'' instead of ``The system will use the frame after it wrote the page to disk...''

Define Negation Early:


    Example: say ``no data block waits on the output queue'' instead of ``a data block awaiting output is not on the queue.''

Grammar And Logic:


    Be careful that the subject of each sentence really does what the verb says it does. Saying ``Programs must make procedure calls using the X instruction'' is not the same as saying ``Programs must use the X instruction when they call a procedure.'' In fact, the first is patently false! Another example: ``RPC requires programs to transmit large packets'' is not the same as ``RPC requires a mechanism that allows programs to transmit large packets.''

    All computer scientists should know the rules of logic. Unfortunately the rules are more difficult to follow when the language of discourse is English instead of mathematical symbols. For example, the sentence ``There is a compiler that translates the N languages by...'' means a single compiler exists that handles all the languages, while the sentence ``For each of the N languages, there is a compiler that translates...'' means that there may be 1 compiler, 2 compilers, or N compilers. When written using mathematical symbols, the difference are obvious because ``for all'' and ``there exists'' are reversed.


Focus On Results And Not The People/Circumstances In Which They Were Obtained:


    ``After working eight hours in the lab that night, we realized...'' has no place in the dissertation. It doesn't matter when you realized it or how long you worked to obtain the answer. Another example: ``Jim and I arrived at the numbers shown in Table 3 by measuring...'' Put an acknowledgement to Jim in the dissertation, but do not include names (even your own) in the main body. You may be tempted to document a long series of experiments that produced nothing or a coincidence that resulted in success. Avoid it completely. In particular, do not document seemingly mystical influences (e.g., ``if that cat had not crawled through the hole in the floor, we might not have discovered the power supply error indicator on the network bridge''). Never attribute such events to mystical causes or imply that strange forces may have affected your results. Summary: stick to the plain facts. Describe the results without dwelling on your reactions or events that helped you achieve them.

Avoid Self-Assessment (both praise and criticism):


    Both of the following examples are incorrect: ``The method outlined in Section 2 represents a major breakthrough in the design of distributed systems because...'' ``Although the technique in the next section is not earthshaking,...''

References To Extant Work:


    One always cites papers, not authors. Thus, one uses a singular verb to refer to a paper even though it has multiple authors. For example ``Johnson and Smith [J&S90] reports that...''

    Avoid the phrase ``the authors claim that X''. The use of ``claim'' casts doubt on ``X'' because it references the authors' thoughts instead of the facts. If you agree ``X'' is correct, simply state ``X'' followed by a reference. If one absolutely must reference a paper instead of a result, say ``the paper states that...'' or ``Johnson and Smith [J&S 90] presents evidence that...''.


Concept Vs. Instance:


    A reader can become confused when a concept and an instance of it are blurred. Common examples include: an algorithm and a particular program that implements it, a programming language and a compiler, a general abstraction and its particular implementation in a computer system, a data structure and a particular instance of it in memory.

Terminology For Concepts And Abstractions


    When defining the terminology for a concept, be careful to decide precisely how the idea translates to an implementation. Consider the following discussion:

    VM systems include a concept known as an address space. The system dynamically creates an address space when a program needs one, and destroys an address space when the program that created the space has finished using it. A VM system uses a small, finite number to identify each address space. Conceptually, one understands that each new address space should have a new identifier. However, if a VM system executes so long that it exhausts all possible address space identifiers, it must reuse a number.

    The important point is that the discussion only makes sense because it defines ``address space'' independently from ``address space identifier''. If one expects to discuss the differences between a concept and its implementation, the definitions must allow such a distinction.


Knowledge Vs. Data


    The facts that result from an experiment are called ``data''. The term ``knowledge'' implies that the facts have been analyzed, condensed, or combined with facts from other experiments to produce useful information.

Cause and Effect:


    A dissertation must carefully separate cause-effect relationships from simple statistical correlations. For example, even if all computer programs written in Professor X's lab require more memory than the computer programs written in Professor Y's lab, it may not have anything to do with the professors or the lab or the programmers (e.g., maybe the people working in professor X's lab are working on applications that require more memory than the applications in professor Y's lab).

Drawing Only Warranted Conclusions:


    One must be careful to only draw conclusions that the evidence supports. For example, if programs run much slower on computer A than on computer B, one cannot conclude that the processor in A is slower than the processor in B unless one has ruled out all differences in the computers' operating systems, input or output devices, memory size, memory cache, or internal bus bandwidth. In fact, one must still refrain from judgement unless one has the results from a controlled experiment (e.g., running a set of several programs many times, each when the computer is otherwise idle). Even if the cause of some phenomenon seems obvious, one cannot draw a conclusion without solid, supporting evidence.

Commerce and Science:


    In a scientific dissertation, one never draws conclusions about the economic viability or commercial success of an idea/method, nor does one speculate about the history of development or origins of an idea. A scientist must remain objective about the merits of an idea independent of its commercial popularity. In particular, a scientist never assumes that commercial success is a valid measure of merit (many popular products are neither well-designed nor well-engineered). Thus, statements such as ``over four hundred vendors make products using technique Y'' are irrelevant in a dissertation.

Politics And Science:


    A scientist avoids all political influence when assessing ideas. Obviously, it should not matter whether government bodies, political parties, religious groups, or other organizations endorse an idea. More important and often overlooked, it does not matter whether an idea originated with a scientist who has already won a Nobel prize or a first-year graduate student. One must assess the idea independent of the source.

Canonical Organization:


    In general, every dissertation must define the problem that motivated the research, tell why that problem is important, tell what others have done, describe the new contribution, document the experiments that validate the contribution, and draw conclusions. There is no canonical organization for a dissertation; each is unique. However, novices writing a dissertation in the experimental areas of CS may find the following example a good starting point:

    • Chapter 1: Introduction

        An overview of the problem; why it is important; a summary of extant work and a statement of your hypothesis or specific question to be explored. Make it readable by anyone.

    • Chapter 2: Definitions

        New terms only. Make the definitions precise, concise, and unambiguous.

    • Chapter 3: Conceptual Model

        Describe the central concept underlying your work. Make it a ``theme'' that ties together all your arguments. It should provide an answer to the question posed in the introduction at a conceptual level. If necessary, add another chapter to give additional reasoning about the problem or its solution.

    • Chapter 4: Experimental Measurements

        Describe the results of experiments that provide evidence in support of your thesis. Usually experiments either emphasize proof-of-concept (demonstrating the viability of a method/technique) or efficiency (demonstrating that a method/technique provides better performance than those that exist).

    • Chapter 5: Corollaries And Consequences

        Describe variations, extensions, or other applications of the central idea.

    • Chapter 6: Conclusions

        Summarize what was learned and how it can be applied. Mention the possibilities for future research.

    • Abstract:

        A short (few paragraphs) summary of the the dissertation. Describe the problem and the research approach. Emphasize the original contributions.

Suggested Order For Writing:


    The easiest way to build a dissertation is inside-out. Begin by writing the chapters that describe your research (3, 4, and 5 in the above outline). Collect terms as they arise and keep a definition for each. Define each technical term, even if you use it in a conventional manner.

    Organize the definitions into a separate chapter. Make the definitions precise and formal. Review later chapters to verify that each use of a technical term adheres to its definition. After reading the middle chapters to verify terminology, write the conclusions. Write the introduction next. Finally, complete an abstract.


Key To Success:


    By the way, there is a key to success: practice. No one ever learned to write by reading essays like this. Instead, you need to practice, practice, practice. Every day.

Parting thoughts:


    We leave you with the following ideas to mull over. If they don't mean anything to you now, revisit them after you finish writing a dissertation.


      After great pain, a formal feeling comes.
      A man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it.
      Keep right on to the end of the road.
      The average Ph.D. thesis is nothing but the transference of bones from one graveyard to another.

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