Thesis Writing: Is a Thesis Just a Long Paper?

University of Oxford Notes of Guidance: Preparation and Submission of a Thesis

These notes of guidelines offer very little in way of succor to the poor graduate student trying to tackle the daunting task of writing a thesis. A scientific thesis can be construed as an extremely long scientific paper with the same components, however there are many important distinctions.

  • I vs. We: Peer-reviewed publications use the royal “we” to infer all the authors on the paper (with the general knowledge that some people contributed more than others depending on their placement in the author list). Thesis writers use the term I and take personal credit for all the work that they have actually done. Of course, due credit is given to work previously carried out by the lab or done in collaboration with other researchers.
  • “As described previously”: A term often used in peer-reviewed journals and accompanied by a reference to either a previous paper from the same group or a different group they stole the method from. This chain of “as described previously” especially accompanied by the term “with a few minor alterations” can go back multiple papers to the point where the technique that one is actually looking at can’t be determined by tracing it back. In a thesis the entire procedure is detailed in nauseating depth. This is incredibly important because a thesis is supposed to be reproducible, even more so than a peer-reviewed publication. Additionally, the specificity of protocols allows the protégé of the student, and there often is one in academic labs, to easily grasp what was done.
  • Literature section: Literature sections in peer-reviewed papers are often called background, and are meant to bring the reader into the specific content within a few short paragraphs. In a thesis the literature review starts out much wider in scope and waxes lyrical for many pages, citing many references (more like a review and less like an article), discussing all components in the wider scheme and then bringing them together to discuss the niche topic.

So far I’ve made a draft each of the Methods and Literature Review sections. This week’s task is to tackle the results section, bringing all the different graphs together and organizing the figures.


Wish me luck!


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