A thesis is the acquisition and dissemination of new knowledge.
In order to demonstrate this the author must demonstrate that they understand what the relevant state of the art is and what the strengths and weaknesses of the SoA are. For someone's work to be knowledge there must be a demonstration that suitable and systematic methods were used to evaluate the chosen hypothesis.
It is important that "new" is not just new to the researcher, but also new to the community - PhDs were sometimes in the past failed because a paper was published by another researcher a few weeks previously dealing with the same work. I don't believe this is as common today, but novelty/originality/new understanding/marshalling existing ideas in ways that provide new insights is what it is all about.
A common attitude is "well, I've done my PhD, now all I've got to do is write it up". Beware! The thesis IS the PhD - it doesn't really matter how great your research has been during the three years - all that really matters is the thesis.
- 1. Introduction
- Set the scene and problem statement. Introduce structure of thesis, state contributions (3-5).
- 2. Background
- Demonstrate wider appreciation (context). Provide motivation. The problem statement and the motivation state how you want the PhD to be judged - as engineering, scientific method, theory, philosophy, &c.
- 3. Related Work
- Survey and critical assessment. Relation to own work.
- 4-6. Analysis, design, implementation and interpretation of results
- 7. Critical assessment of own work
- State hypothesis, and demonstrate precision, thoroughness, contribution, and comparison with closest rival.
- 8. Further Work
- 9. Summary Conclusions
- Restate contribution
Average, good, size for a thesis is 150 pages all in. Perhaps up to 50 extra pages for a big appendix and bibliography. Beware of the trend to write long and boring doctorates (papers, &c), improve your communications skills.
Another important datapoint: 2-3 conference, or 1-2 journal papers in respectable (ACM, IEEE, IOP like) places are good enough for chapters 4,5,6, and therefore the core of a PhD - testing by publication is a VERY good defense (or defence). Also note that the feedback from reviewers is extremely helpful, so all PhD students should be trying to publish their work (the feedback is even more useful when your submissions don't get published!).
Always think - Presentation. Be precise in all things, esp: the statement of the problem, the solution, methods and frameworks. Thoroughness == scientific method. You must show proof that your contributions are valid.
Chapter headings - use 7 or 9! An odd number of (total) chapters gives a balanced appearance to the work (CC has a reference to back this up).
There is a book that I found useful in that it analyses different styles of rhetoric and presentation: Designs In Prose Walter Nash Published by Longman, 1980 ISBN 0-582-29101-1 When he wrote this book, Walter Nash was a senior lecturer in English at the University of Nottingham. He explores both the patterns of prose, from the large-scale design of completed text to the specific structures of component phrases and sentences, and the psychological and technical problems the writer encounters in prose composition. I found it an entertaining book.
some stuff on i) progress ii) content would be neat.... e.g. progress year 1 should finish with 1, 2 and 3 (of your contents) pretty much done and the headings for the rest filled in year 2 consists of 4 and half of 5+6 year 2.5 is finishing this and year 2.5-end is 7,8,9 content. computer science is not a "Natural Science" we construct systems, which we then examine by some means..... so it is a "Virtual Science" the number of possible worlds we can build in computing makes this feasible. this also makes PhDs somewhat odd compared with Natural Science or Engineering....where research tends to explore natural systems' behviour (or even artificial systems, but relatively simple ones made out of natural components) we tend to use abstract tools, usually - analysis, simulation, etc....although sometimes we "do classical research" through measurements.....but first, we build our virtual system, and then have to build a virtual measurement toolkit, and then use it..... we also use autmoatic systems to allow us to analyze the results sometimes, so we can cope with exploring the large design space of a virtual system in a phd lifetime - physcists, chemists and engineers (e.g. cosmologists, genetics, aerospace are learning the value of our approach) there is a downside, in that often, a PhD takes a year to get to see what is worth building - this is why it is often wirth doing a PhD in a larger research project context (just as physicists go and use the accelerator at CERN.....:-) >It would be nice if we could turn these rough notes into >a good collection of advice, so if you've got any contributions >(questions students would like answered or advice from staff >who have examined PhDs) then please email me and I'll add them to >the Web page. a PhD is "training" for research - i.e. you have to say to the examiner 1/ here is some valid research AS WELL AS 2/ here is the fact that i have learned how to do some research to a large extent, chapters 1,2,3, and 7 do this....
I have read the material you put on the Web - although its possible it has changed since I printed it out. I agree with most of it, but I have a few suggestions which I think are important or might help. (1. and 2. incorporated above) 3. A thesis must contain material on where the work needs to go from here. This is partly a critical assessment of how confident you are of the validity of the results, eg. typically a PhD does small-scale evaluation and a larger-scale one will be needed. In some cases further ideas in related areas have come out of the work and should be flagged. (For new PhD students browsing the further work sections of recent theses can be very useful in identifying interesting areas of study.) 4. In many cases experimental design is tricky and should be explicitly covered because it involves trade-offs and judgements by the researcher. 5. I do not think number of chapters is important. I care much more about the content and structure (story). However, I do feel strongly about the length. Over about 100 pages of the body of the thesis I seem to note the strength of the work is inversely proportional to the length. (Pascal: "I would have written a shorter letter but I didn't have the time".) The important point is what you are saying, not putting a very large number of words on paper. I find 120 pages at usual university layout standards about the limit for good to best theses. 6. I often find that the first 20-30 pages are a strong indicator of the strength of the candidate. If they understand the context and they analyse the SoA well, the following work will usually be strongly focussed and well executed. (However, a few people are very good analysts but not so good at developing their own ideas and evaluating them.)
Finally, Jorge says we should check out the following Web page for Advice on Reseach and Writing.