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It may be useful to think of your thesis as an extended technical report in which the introduction, central sections, and concluding section form separate chapters. Descriptions of the major content sections follow.


The abstract provides readers with an accurate summary of the scope and content of the thesis. It should briefly describe your project, its significance, the method of your research or product development, your results, and your contribution to the field. The most common problem with thesis abstracts is that they abstract only the introductory elements of the thesis, failing to provide enough technical information and/or omitting any discussion of results.

Consider the abstract as a very short version of your thesis which could be published as a separate document. Use the past tense, minimizing technical language and ensuring that any technical terms you do use are either familiar to all potential readers or adequately defined. Include only information also found in the thesis.

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Acknowledge the help you received from those who worked with you on your project or who provided significant help in terms of advice, information, constructive criticism, financial support, or facilities.

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Introductory Chapter

The introduction explains in general terms what the thesis is about and provides a context for your work. To decide what information your reader requires in terms of background context consider the following points:

  • A thesis reporting on research requires a description of the state of the art and an explanation of how your research contributes to the field.
  • A thesis describing a hardware development project requires an explanation of what motivated the project and a justification for investing time and money in it.
  • All theses must provide relevant theoretical and/or historical background information necessary for the reader to understand the project, to place it in its appropriate context, or to judge its contribution to the field.
  • In the introduction, also explain what you have accomplished and what contributions you have made to the field. In addition, briefly describe the successes and, if appropriate, the shortcomings of your project. Finally, conclude with a road map for the rest of the thesis which orients your readers to what is to follow by indicating the organization and content of the thesis.

    You might consider the introduction as the single most important chapter as it will attract the reader into the more substantive chapters or, in the worst case, will turn the reader off. Write a quick version of the introduction; then you can work on the rest of the thesis. Later, come back and revise your original introduction.

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    Central Chapters

    The central chapters of your thesis are shaped by the nature of your project rather than by a standard format. Organization and content are determined by the decisions you make concerning the appropriate order in which to present your material, the relative importance of that material (whether it will appear under a major heading, sub-heading, or sub-subheading), and the level of detail required. Organizing and developing these chapters requires careful thought, imagination, advance planning, and a willingness to revise your initial plan or outline as the work progresses or as you write the thesis.

    Although your thesis must contain sufficient detail so that someone could replicate or build upon your work, these central chapters should contain only as much detail as is necessary to describe your project fully and demonstrate its significance. Place such turgid details as mathematical derivations, computer programs, or elaborate circuit diagrams in appendices.

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    Concluding Chapter

    The final chapter summarizes the preceding ones, but it also discusses any constraints, failures, or weaknesses of your project, emphasizes its contribution to the field, and, if appropriate, indicates possible future research or describes on-going product development. Strive for a strong final word, perhaps by stressing the potential impact of your accomplishments or describing what you or others might accomplish if work on the project were to continue.

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    Refer to Referencing Conventions for the recommended method of citing sources within the document and of listing references in the Reference section. For theses, this author-date system is preferable to the IEEE format which is designed to save space and is not as reader friendly. However, your Academic Supervisor may prefer using an alternative method.

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    Place as much turgid detail as possible in appendices (for example, mathematical derivations, computer programs, elaborate circuit diagrams). Your thesis should contain all the detail necessary for replication, but much of this detail should appear in appendices rather than in the central chapters. Your chapters should provide sufficient detail and context so that your readers can appreciate the full significance of your accomplishments, but an appendix is the appropriate place for those details which are useful only to someone who plans to apply your work (perhaps by acting upon a proposal for future work presented in your final chapter).

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    If you reproduce copyrighted material, including illustrations, you may need written permission from the copyright holder. Within certain limits, a number of publishers allow copying for educational purposes under the CAN copy agreement. You can ask one of the reference librarians about it.

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