Why it’s better to avoid back-references in your thesis


Introduction

In this post, I would like to discuss something which I have already discussed in a previous post. I might post this on the next page. But you should probably read the Introduction first.

Confusing? I hope so! Nonetheless, I sometimes encounter structures or sentences like these in dissertations. I call these: “back-references”, and they’re the topic of this post:

What are back-references
How to avoid using back-references
I’ve already used back-references. What can I do?

What are back-references

Academic writing is difficult, no doubt. You have to put an abstract idea into words, in a way such that others will understand exactly what you mean. Often you understand what you mean, since you have constructed your text in your own personal way: you know exactly where in your text you have said what, especially if you have been working on a manuscript for many months.

However, the people that will actually read your thesis (such as your supervisor) will often not have this intimate knowledge of your text. They will simply take it at face value, and they count on your ability to logically unpack your arguments. One at a time, each one building on the next. In short: your readers will expect that you have written the text for them.

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Which sections should I include in my Bachelor’s or Master’s thesis


Contents

No matter whether you are writing a thesis for a Psychology, Business, Sociology or Medical Science program: a thesis largely looks the same across all disciplines. A typical thesis has 5 sections:

After the Conclusion your thesis usually is not finished: at the very least, you will have to include a Reference section or so-called ‘Bibliography’. But perhaps you also want to include one or more Appendices. These are discussed at the end of this post, together with a complete overview of the structure of a typical thesis.

1. Introduction

The Introduction section is the first and arguably the most important section of your thesis. Here, you introduce your topic and you discuss how you will study this topic: your research proposal.

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Using subsections and subsubsections in your thesis


Introduction

It’s difficult to explain science: ideas are inter-connected, topics flow from one to the other, and theories can get very extensive. Many students therefore include subsections (e.g. 2.2) and subsubsections (e.g. 2.2.1) to help structure their discussion. The question is: does this structure your story? Does it really improve the readability of your text? I’ll give you my perspective on this matter in this post:

The purpose of adding sections in your thesis
What’s the difference between sections, subsections and subsubsections?
Sections should help the reader, not the writer
Does this mean I can’t use subsections in my thesis?
Okay! Anything else I should know about subsections?

The purpose of adding sections in your thesis

Just to put your mind at ease: No, there’s nothing wrong with adding sections to your thesis! They’re a great way to structure your discussion, or to neatly isolate parts that deserve a more extensive discussion. This is true for ‘major parts’ of a dissertation (e.g. it doesn’t make sense to lump together your literature review with your introduction – that’s why we separate both into two sections), but also for smaller parts inside a discussion. For example, if you want to discuss multiple theories in your thesis, then it makes sense to properly introduce each one by assigning it to a separate subsection or subsubsection.

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How to format tables in your dissertation


Introduction

Whether you want to give an overview of the literature you have reviewed, or you want to present (statistical) results: almost everyone that is writing a thesis will at some point need to include a table. It can be tricky to correctly include these in your report, as there are many (small) things you need to look out for. Especially when it comes to scientific tables.

In this blog post, I discuss some formatting rules that I personally follow whenever I include a table in my papers (in fact the examples posted here are sourced from one of my articles!). If you want to include a table in your thesis, pay attention to the following:

Tables in a thesis
Number tables
Caption
Position of your table
Table font
Table contents
Tip: APA and tables
Tip: Journal
Tip: software to generate tables

Looking for tips on figures and plots instead?

How to format figures and plots in your thesis

Tables in a thesis

A table is a rectangularly shaped container, in which information is arranged using columns and rows. Tables are a great tool to quickly and orderly present data, and therefore are perfectly suited for presenting numerical data such as statistical results. However, tables are also quite common in dissertations that do not use any numbers (at all)! For example, in a literature study a table is often included to show which articles have been included for review.

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How to format figures and plots in your thesis


Introduction

Whether you want to highlight your research with a nice info-graphic or flow-chart, or you want to visually present your (statistical) results: virtually everyone that is writing a thesis will at some point need to include a figure or plot. There are many (small) things you need to look out for when posting figures in your report, especially when it comes to scientific figures.

In this blog post, I discuss some formatting rules that I personally follow whenever I include a table or figure in my papers (in fact the examples posted here are sourced from one of my articles!). If you want to include a figure in your thesis, pay attention to the following:

Figures in a thesis
Number your figures
Caption
Position of your figure
Figure font
Plot: axis label
Color
Tip: Software
Tip: when best to use figures
Tip: number of figures
Tip: Journal

Looking for tips on scientific tables instead?

How to format tables in your dissertation

Figures in a thesis

Figures or plots are graphical presentations of data. However, instead of showing numbers (which often is the case with tables), figures visualize numbers. Most people are better at processing complex data when it is presented in a visual form, making figures a great communication tool to use in a thesis!

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How many times can I cite the same article in my dissertation


Introduction

Writing a thesis means citing other people’s work: scientific articles and books. But how many times can you cite the same article or book in your thesis? That’s the topic of this post:

Avoid overusing a reference
How many times can I cite the same article, then?

Avoid overusing a reference

A common styling pitfall when writing a thesis is referencing the same scientific article over and over again, sometimes even multiple times in the same paragraph. This usually is not necessary, and even frowned upon a little. Here’s a little example:

“In an article by Smith (2018), the author studies how school-performance may lead to depression within adolescents. The author reports that working towards a graduation is a big contributing factor. [..] This result is similar to previous studies such as Johnson (2015) or Greany (2016).

Smith (2018) also states that time-constraints, such as having a student-job, further impact the probability that school-performance is affected (Smith, 2018). [..]

Furthermore, previous research also shows that students that schedule their graduation well in advance, including planning the individual tasks it requires, have a lower probability of becoming depressed (Smith, 2018).[..]”

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What are the differences between a Bachelor’s and Master’s dissertation?


Introduction

Whether it’s a Bachelor’s or Master’s thesis, the process of writing a thesis basically is the same. However, that doesn’t mean that both documents that come out of this process will be exactly the same. In this post, I will discuss 3 points on which a Master’s thesis typically differs from a Bachelor’s thesis:

I’ll also share one of the most common questions I get asked on this topic: “Does this mean that a Master’s thesis is (much) longer than a Bachelor’s thesis?” Check out my answer to this question at the end of this post!

A Master’s thesis uses more advanced literature

Books vs. articles

When they start their Master’s program, most students notice a transition when it comes to how ‘knowledge’ is transferred. Whereas most knowledge would come from books in their Bachelor’s program, suddenly academic literature such as scientific articles are dominant in the curriculum. Indeed, articles are a more advanced way of learning: whereas the author of a text-book has interpreted the findings of studies for you, with articles you have to now interpret the quality, merit and implications of this knowledge yourself!

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How to write a simple abstract for your Bachelor’s or Master’s thesis in 4 easy steps


Introduction

Although the Abstract is probably the shortest part of your thesis, it’s not the easiest! How should you condense your complete Bachelor’s or Master’s thesis to a short summary of about 100-150 words? Let me make your life a bit easier: a good abstract always answers the following 4 questions:

  1. What did you study?
  2. How did you study that?
  3. What were your results?
  4. What does that mean?

At the end of this post, I’ll also share a complete example of a Thesis Abstract that applies these four questions!

1. What did you study

The best way to start your Abstract is to simply state what you studied. One option is to repeat the research question of your thesis, in which case you start your Abstract with a question. For example:

  • Does having a smart room mate increase the grade-point average of students?
  • Why do children of alcoholic parents have a higher probability of becoming alcoholics themselves?
  • Does Twitter-use hurt a company’s stock-market performance?

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Finished your dissertation? Check our 5 point checklist before you submit!


Introduction

Finished! After many months of reading literature, collecting data and doing your research you are finally ready to hand in your thesis and take that well-deserved holiday. Congratulations!

But wait! Whether it’s because of immense excitement, relief or happiness: each year I receive a couple of dissertations from students that miss some elementary parts! Not only may this have a negative effect on the evaluation of your thesis, but often these are minor details that can easily be avoided, especially if you know how to spot them. The following are the five most common things students forget when they hand in their thesis:

1. Page numbers

As trivial as this may sound, every year I receive a couple of dissertations without page numbers! Such a shame and completely unnecessary, as this is something that you can easily add in a word processor. Therefore, make sure that your pages are numbered (except for your cover page), and that the number is visible on all pages of your thesis (excluding your front cover).

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4 alternatives to Microsoft Word for academic writing


Introduction

Most students will write their dissertation using Microsoft Word, arguably the most widely used word-processing software in the world. It’s straightforward to use, many people are familiar with it, and it’s a good choice for scientific writing. But did you know that there are other (free) alternatives for writing your thesis? In this post, I will discuss 4 of the most popular ones:

LibreOffice Writer
Google Docs
LyX
Authorea

A handy overview of each of the key characteristics of these alternatives is presented at the end, that will help you choose which of these alternative is best for you (or whether you should stick to Word). However, let’s start our comparison with: Microsoft Word!

Introducing…. Microsoft Word!

This wouldn’t be much of a comparison without first describing the most popular option for writing a dissertation: Microsoft Word. It’s the industry-standard when it comes to document-writing, and almost everybody has used it at some point. For most of us it’s a very familiar tool, especially when you have grown accustom to its many functionalities: from easily inserting page-numbers to more advanced things such as adding mathematical equations. No surprise that because of this familiarity, many students also use Word for academic writing.

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