This section is not specific to LaTeX. Some of the points have already been mentioned in asides or footnotes. Remember that each college or university or even school within a university may have different requirements, and requirements will also vary according to country, so some of this advice may not apply to you. I am writing from the point of view of an English scientist, and am basing it on my own experience and on the comments of English science-based PhD examiners and supervisors. I cannot guarantee that your own department or university will agree with them. If in doubt, check with your supervisor.
- Find out the thesis style requirements from your supervisor or
your department's website. Many universities still require
double-spaced, single-sided documents
with wide margins.
Double-spacing is by and large looked down on in the world of
typesetting, but this requirement for a PhD thesis has nothing to do
with æsthetics or readability. In England the purpose of the PhD
viva is to defend your workA.1. Before your viva, paper copies of
your thesis are sent to your examiners. The double spacing and wide
margins provide the examiners room to write the comments and
criticisms they wish to raise during the viva, as well as any
typographical corrections. Whilst they could write these comments on
a separate piece of paper, cross-referencing the page in
the thesis, it is more efficient for the comments to actually be on
the relevant page of the thesis. That way, as they go through the
manuscript during your viva, they can easily see the comments,
questions or criticisms they wish to raise alongside the
text. If you present them with a single-spaced document with narrow
margins, you are effectively telling them that you don't want them
to criticise your work!
- Don't try to pad your thesis with irrelevant information. This
includes adding items in your bibliography that are not referenced
in the text, adding figures or tables that are not explained in the
text, and supplying all the source code you have written. The
outcome of your viva will not depend on the physical size of your
thesis, but on the clarity of your writing and on the quality of
- Clearly delineate your thesis through the use of chapters and
sections, outlining your original aims and objectives, an overview
of the subject matter including references to other people's work in
the area, the methods you employed to extend or innovate the field,
your results and conclusions.
- Make sure your references include some recent journal or
conference papers to illustrate that you are aware of new
developments in your field. Remember that due to the nature of
publishing, most books are dated by the time they reach the book
shelves. Journal and conference papers are likely to be more
- Always explain acronyms, technical terms and symbols. It is a
good idea to include a glossary of terms, list of notation or list
of acronyms to avoid confusion (see §6. Generating Indexes and Glossaries).
- If you have equations, make sure you explain the variables
used, and how you go from one equation to the next. Depending on
your field, you might also consider clarifying the mathematics by
providing graphical representations of the equationsA.3.
- If you include any graphs, bar charts, pie charts or any other
form of data plot, make sure it is clearly labelled and no
distortion is introduced (such as using three-dimensional bar charts
or pie chartsA.4.)
- If you have used a computer application to generate numerical
results, make sure you have some understanding of the underlying
process and what the results mean. This doesn't necessarily mean
that you need to understand complex computer code, or complex
algorithms, but what you shouldn't do is say something along the
lines of, “well, I clicked on this button, and it said
What is the purpose of the button? What does
does the result
signify? What value were you expecting or
hoping to get? Numbers on their own are meaningless. If I ran into a
room shouting “I've got 42!” What does that mean? Forty-two what?
Forty-two brilliant reviews? (Great!) Forty-two percent in an exam?
(Not good.) Forty-two spots on my face? (Very bad!)
- Don't waste time worrying about the best way
to word your thesis in your first draft. Write first, then edit it
later or you will never get started.
- If your supervisor offers to critique chapters of
your thesis, don't say no! Such offers are not made
out of politeness, but a desire to ensure that you pass. Don't be
embarrassed and worry that it's not good enough, that's the whole
point in your supervisor helping you improve itA.5.
- Write in a clear concise manner. A thesis is a technical
document, not a novel, so don't be tempted to write something along
the lines of: “I awaited with bated breath, my whole body quivering
with excitement at the eager anticipation that my algorithm would
prove superior to all others, and, oh joy, my experiments proved me
- Don't decorate your thesis with irrelevant clip art. It is
unprofessional and highly inappropriate in the sciences.
- Make regular backups of your work. Be prepared for any of the
following: accidentally deleting your thesis, accidentally
overwriting your thesis with another file, software failure,
hardware failure, viruses, fire and theft. Consider using at least
a two-tier system where you keep one backup in a safe place where
you live and ask a close relative or friend to take care of another backup.
- ... workA.1
- I gather this is not the case in some other countries, where the viva is more informal, and the decision to pass or fail you has already been made before your viva.
- ... up-to-dateA.2
- Having said that, I know someone who submitted an article to a journal, and it took three and a half years before the reviewers came back with comments. In the end, the author withdrew the manuscript because by that time the topic was out of date.
- ... equationsA.3
- When I was a PhD student, I was once rendered speechless when asked to provide a graphical illustration of an equation involving a quadruple summation that had no graphical meaning from my point of view. Perhaps this was a drawback of being a mathematician doing a PhD in an electronics department.
- ... chartsA.4
- The sole purpose of 3D pie charts or bar charts appears to be to look pretty and impress people who have no understanding of mathematics.
- ... itA.5
- but don't expect your supervisor to actually write your thesis!
- ... CawleyA.6
- School of Computing Sciences, University of East Anglia
This book is also available as A4 PDF or 12.8cm x 9.6cm PDF or paperback (ISBN 978-1-909440-02-9).