Amy Guy

Raw Blog

Thursday, April 18, 2013

[Notes] 'How to write a thesis' workshop

Just notes from a three-hour workshop about how to write an Informatics thesis, on the 16th of April.

State contributions (to knowledge) explicitly.  Intro, conclusions; each chapter should have some (probably not all) contributions discussed.  Be obvious; use headings.

Knowledge - background:

  • justify choices
  • explain methods
  • acknowledge alternatives
  • evaluate

Evidence, well-reasoned arguments, acknowledge limitations.

Clear openings for future work.  Be clear where they are.

Make it reproduceable.

Short / concise.  Examiners like short theses.

Introduce what's interesting and important.

When outline thesis, look at structure of main argument, not of document.

Background material must have point.  Only include as much detail as you need to make point.
Points, eg:

  • Explain method you use.
  • Novelty of your approach. Similarities with existing work.
  • Justify choices (evaluate other work).
  • Don't tear down others' work. 'Build on'.
  • Cite examiners, they've probably published something relevant.. (but not for the sake of it).

Then we had five minutes to write down what our PhDs are about and what we have already found out.  I wrote:

How do the futures of the Semantic Web and amateur digital content creation fit together?
Can Semantic Web tools and technologies be used to enhance collaborative creative partnerships and encourage fruitful outputs?

There are knowledge sharing systems and collaborative tools for scientific fields and in education, but nothing for creative artsy things.

Attitudes towards data sharing and privacy amongst content creators are in flux.  There are lots of projects and energy around open data and decentralised social networks that allow data to become portable and not tied to one platform.  One of TBL's visions for the Semantic Web is the dissolution of data silos and 'walled' applications that disadvantage the user, and as such the promotion of the 'ownership' of a user's data by the user themselves, rather than the software or organisation that uses the data.

There are lots of reasons people make content.  There are lots of reasons people don't make content (who could / would like to).

[Notes resume]
Use backreferences; don't repeat yourself.

Info / advice
Style: Toward Clarity & Grace (book)
The Craft of Research (book)

When to start writing thesis?

  • Do you already have papers?  Slot them into a thesis template asap.
  • Maybe a year beforehand.  Slower pace is better.

Don't assume appendices will be read.  More for extra info if needed by people trying to reproduce your work (not your examiners).

Too many direct quotes look like you don't understand and are avoiding explaining yourself.

Keep copies of web resources and cite access dates in case they change / disappear.
Figures might be copyright if you just copy them from papers, even if you cite them.  Remake them, and put 'adapted from' as citation.


  • Depends on your supervisor.  Discuss.  Student might be able to suggest someone to examine.
  • Maybe a balance between internal and external knowledge.
  • Won't be someone junior, even if they're considered an expert in the field.
  • Helpful if supervisor knows how that person will behave in viva.  Might be a good reason to avoid someone you think would be perfect from their background.
  • Conflict of interest regulations.  You can know them personally though.  External can't have been affiliated with UoE in the last three years, or substantially involved in your research (like co-authoring a paper).  No ex-supervisors, from any university.

No grading system (ie no different levels of passed PhD).  Might be external prizes if you want extra recognition.