Thesis and Report Writing Guidelines

(for Bachelor theses, project papers, internship reports, and Master's theses)

Problem Statement and Plan

Before you start a project, in particular one you came up with yourself, you should have a problem statement (1–2 pages). In this you should outline the following things:

  • what is the general area you want to work in? why is it important?
  • what is the state of the art, what have people been doing so far (some references)
  • why do you want to do something different and what? why is that new/cool/better/different/more elegant/more efficient/etc.?
  • what is the problem you want to solve? why does it solve the issues/problems with the previous approaches/methods/solutions and how does it do that?
  • what is the methodology/steps that you want to use to approach the problem?
  • what is the plan for the timeframe of your project?

Structure of the Thesis or Paper

  • a usual thesis/paper structure follows the form: introduction, related work, concept, realization, evaluation and results, conclusion and future work (these are only guidelines, depending on your topic you may need to differ from these)
  • most major chapters (or sections in a shorter paper) should have some form of summary: what have you learned?

How to Start (Introductions)

  1. write down your contributions; this should be a bulleted list (typically 3-4 items) of you most important results, what is new about your work
  2. confirm this with your co-author(s), adjust if necessary
  3. then start drafting an introduction (including a title and an abstract)
  4. confirm this with at least one of your co-authors, rewrite if necessary
  5. then ask others to comment

General Guidelines for Writing

  • when doing technical writing, generally use a WHAT-WHY-HOW structure; this applies to several levels:
    • the whole paper:
      • WHAT: abstract + part of intro
      • WHY: rest of intro, related work, maybe a motivation section
      • HOW: rest of technical sections of the paper
    • the introduction:
      • WHAT: 1st paragraph (when drafting your introduction, start by "In this paper we ..."; this can be rephrased later)
      • WHY: 2nd paragraph (when drafting your introduction, start by "This is important because ..."; this can be rephrased later)
      • HOW: 3rd paragraph (can be 2-3 paragraphs) (when drafting your introduction, start by "We make this happen by ..."; this can be rephrased later)
      • special for the intro: add a contribution statement: "In summary, our contributions are ..."
    • the abstract:
      • WHAT: first sentence: "This paper describes ..."
      • WHY: second/third sentence: "This allows us to ..."
      • HOW: rest: "We realize this ... by ..."
    • sometimes also in a paragraph/statement:
      • e.g., in a contribution statement: "In summary, our main contribution is that we have invented the wheel (WHAT), a round physical object that allows us to build vehicles for transportation (WHY) by attaching four of these wheels to a box in which the passengers sit (HOW)."
    • typically, the WHAT is the shortest, WHY is slightly longer, and HOW is the longest
    • do not be religious about this structure, use it as a general guideline
  • use an image/teaser in the introduction if this is possible in your case (depends on topic/conference/journal)
  • do not motivate your work by "There has not yet been much work in area X." but rather with a clear need of a community/field/application domain
  • avoid putting too much emphasis on yourself and your own previous work

Related Work

  • cite all the related work properly that you base your own work on
  • discuss why it is relevant and what is similar or different to your own work
  • use images (from other papers) to illustrate the related work, credit the authors with a reference in the image caption
  • give details for each publication (authors, title, year, page numbers, publisher, publisher address (town); for articles volume and number and month; for things other than books, articles, or papers also the type of publication)
  • BibTeX helps for formatting this properly and consistently
  • when you are looking for PDFs of papers:
    • first try the digital libraries we have access to: ACM, Elsevier/ScienceDirect, IEEE Xplore, Wiley Online Library, parts of SpringerLink
    • these typically only work fully from the local institution's domain, but they do provide the needed bibliographic information
    • look for PDFs of the papers on the authors' home pages
    • google for parts or for the full title of the paper, google both with the title put in quotes and without quotes
  • generally, using material that you did not write/create yourself without citation or reference (i.e., plagiarism) is not accepted and will be prosecuted, plagiarism scanners may be used

Concept and Realization

  • these are scientific documents, concentrate on the research issues, what are the problems and how did you solve them?
  • this does not mean to ramble on about this or that bug, but conceptual problems and solutions
  • how does your method/approach differ, how is it better than related techniques?
  • what are the innovative techniques or methods that you have used, what is novel?
  • give details on your technique/method and interesting (new) implementation aspects (e.g., discussing a class structure may be important for software engineering or a software documentation but not so much for graphics/visualization)
  • use illustrations to clarify your concept and realization (e.g., concept sketches, screenshots, pictures of your system in use, etc., as applicable)
  • if you can and if it applies, provide a video (e.g., a screen capture) as well

Language and Style

  • write in a concise and easy to understand way, avoid overly long sentences
  • if your reader does not understand what you try to tell him or her, than it is not the reader's fault but usually yours
  • be consistent, e.g., use the same personal pronouns throughout your document ("I discuss" vs. "we discuss" vs. impersonal "is discussed")
  • use proper expressions, do not use "don't", "ain't", "it's" etc.
  • avoid the use of the future tense when you give an outlook of what you will talk about: "In Section 3 I discuss ..." rather than "In Section 3 I will discuss ..."
  • there should be no sectioning part in your document where there is a header without text (e.g., the header of Section 3.1 should not directly follow the header of Chapter 3, but there should be some explaining text in between)
  • each figure, table, and reference should also be somewhere referenced in the text
  • write in a gender-neutral way, a user is not necessarily male (or female)
  • spell-check, grammar-check, and proof-read your document before handing it in
  • if possible, let someone else proof-read your document, too

Size of Document

(to be seen more as guidelines rather than strict expectations)

  • Bachelor thesis: approx. 15–20 pages
  • research project: approx. 10 pages, paper format, use the TVCG format, see the description on the TVCG page
  • Master's thesis: approx. 55–75 pages

Typesetting your Document

  • again be consistent, make sure that everything is numbered, typeset, and referenced correctly
  • make sure that your document has all necessary parts (page numbers, title, table of contents, text, list of references, lists of tables and figures, appendix; as appropriate)
  • while you are free to chose any system you like, LaTeX may help you to easily achieve this consistency
  • a good LaTeX template for a thesis is classicthesis, more information about classicthesis can also be found here

Other Resources