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#### 40 Useful Words and Phrases for Top-Notch Essays

posted Jul 1, 2015, 1:02 PM by Le Tuan Anh   [ updated Jul 1, 2015, 1:03 PM ]

Source: https://www.oxford-royale.co.uk/articles/words-phrases-good-essays.html

The secret to a successful essay doesn’t just lie in the clever things you talk about and the way you structure your points. 

To be truly brilliant, an essay needs to utilise the right language. You could make a great point, but if it’s not intelligently articulated, you almost needn’t have bothered. Developing the language skills to build an argument and to write persuasively is crucial if you’re to write outstanding essays every time. In this article, we’re going to equip you with the words and phrases you need to write a top-notch essay, along with examples of how to utilise them. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, and there will often be other ways of using the words and phrases we describe that we won’t have room to include, but there should be more than enough below to help you make an instant improvement to your essay-writing skills – whether you’re a native English speaker or taking your first steps into writing essays in English.

## General explaining

Let’s start by looking at language for general explanations of complex points.

### 1. In order to

Usage: “In order to” can be used to introduce an explanation for the purpose of an argument.

Example: “In order to understand X, we need first to understand Y.”

### 2. In other words

Usage: Use “in other words” when you want to express something in a different way (more simply), to make it easier to understand, or to emphasise or expand on a point.

Example: “Frogs are amphibians. In other words, they live on the land and in the water.”

### 3. To put it another way

Usage: This phrase is another way of saying “in other words”, and can be used in particularly complex points, when you feel that an alternative way of wording a problem may help the reader achieve a better understanding of its significance.

Example: “Plants rely on photosynthesis. To put it another way, they will die without the sun.”

### 4. That is to say

Usage: “That is” and “that is to say” can be used to add further detail to your explanation, or to be more precise.

Example: “Whales are mammals. That is to say, they must breathe air.”

### 5. To that end

Usage: Use “to that end” or “to this end” in a similar way to “in order to” or “so”.

Example: “Zoologists have long sought to understand how animals communicate with each other. To that end, a new study has been launched that looks at elephant sounds and their possible meanings.”

Students often make the mistake of using synonyms of “and” each time they want to add further information in support of a point they’re making, or to build an argument. Here are some cleverer ways of doing this.

### 6. Moreover

Usage: Employ “moreover” at the start of a sentence to add extra information in support of a point you’re making.

Example: “Moreover, the results of a recent piece of research provide compelling evidence in support of…”

### 7. Furthermore

Usage:This is also generally used at the start of a sentence, to add extra information.

Example: “Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that…”

### 8. What’s more

Usage: This is used in the same way as “moreover” and “furthermore”.

Example: “What’s more, this isn’t the only evidence that supports this hypothesis.”

### 9. Likewise

Usage: Use “likewise” when you want to talk about something that agrees with what you’ve just mentioned.

Example: “Scholar A believes X. Likewise, Scholar B argues compellingly in favour of this point of view.”

### 10. Similarly

Usage: Use “similarly” in the same way as “likewise”.

Example: “Audiences at the time reacted with shock to Beethoven’s new work, because it was very different to what they were used to. Similarly, we have a tendency to react with surprise to the unfamiliar.”

### 11. Another key thing to remember

Usage: Use the phrase “another key point to remember” or “another key fact to remember” to introduce additional facts without using the word “also”.

Example: “As a Romantic, Blake was a proponent of a closer relationship between humans and nature. Another key point to remember is that Blake was writing during the Industrial Revolution, which had a major impact on the world around him.”

### 12. As well as

Usage: Use “as well as” instead of “also” or “and”.

Example: “Scholar A argued that this was due to X, as well as Y.”

### 13. Not only… but also

Usage: This wording is used to add an extra piece of information, often something that’s in some way more surprising or unexpected than the first piece of information.

Example: “Not only did Edmund Hillary have the honour of being the first to reach the summit of Everest, but he was also appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.”

### 14. Coupled with

Usage: Used when considering two or more arguments at a time.

Example: “Coupled with the literary evidence, the statistics paint a compelling view of…”

### 15. Firstly, secondly, thirdly…

Usage: This can be used to structure an argument, presenting facts clearly one after the other.

Example: “There are many points in support of this view. Firstly, X. Secondly, Y. And thirdly, Z.

### 16. Not to mention/to say nothing of

Usage: “Not to mention” and “to say nothing of” can be used to add extra information with a bit of emphasis.

Example: “The war caused unprecedented suffering to millions of people, not to mention its impact on the country’s economy.”

## Words and phrases for demonstrating contrast

When you’re developing an argument, you will often need to present contrasting or opposing opinions or evidence – “it could show this, but it could also show this”, or “X says this, but Y disagrees”. This section covers words you can use instead of the “but” in these examples, to make your writing sound more intelligent and interesting.

### 17. However

Usage: Use “however” to introduce a point that disagrees with what you’ve just said.

Example: “Scholar A thinks this. However, Scholar B reached a different conclusion.”

### 18. On the other hand

Usage: Usage of this phrase includes introducing a contrasting interpretation of the same piece of evidence, a different piece of evidence that suggests something else, or an opposing opinion.

Example: “The historical evidence appears to suggest a clear-cut situation. On the other hand, the archaeological evidence presents a somewhat less straightforward picture of what happened that day.”

### 19. Having said that

Usage: Used in a similar manner to “on the other hand” or “but”.

Example: “The historians are unanimous in telling us X, an agreement that suggests that this version of events must be an accurate account. Having said that, the archaeology tells a different story.”

### 20. By contrast/in comparison

Usage: Use “by contrast” or “in comparison” when you’re comparing and contrasting pieces of evidence.

Example: “Scholar A’s opinion, then, is based on insufficient evidence. By contrast, Scholar B’s opinion seems more plausible.”

### 21. Then again

Usage: Use this to cast doubt on an assertion.

Example: “Writer A asserts that this was the reason for what happened. Then again, it’s possible that he was being paid to say this.”

### 22. That said

Usage: This is used in the same way as “then again”.

Example: “The evidence ostensibly appears to point to this conclusion. That said, much of the evidence is unreliable at best.”

### 23. Yet

Usage: Use this when you want to introduce a contrasting idea.

Example: “Much of scholarship has focused on this evidence. Yet not everyone agrees that this is the most important aspect of the situation.”

## Adding a proviso or acknowledging reservations

Sometimes, you may need to acknowledge a shortfalling in a piece of evidence, or add a proviso. Here are some ways of doing so.

### 24. Despite this

Usage: Use “despite this” or “in spite of this” when you want to outline a point that stands regardless of a shortfalling in the evidence.

Example: “The sample size was small, but the results were important despite this.”

### 25. With this in mind

Usage: Use this when you want your reader to consider a point in the knowledge of something else.

Example: “We’ve seen that the methods used in the 19th century study did not always live up to the rigorous standards expected in scientific research today, which makes it difficult to draw definite conclusions. With this in mind, let’s look at a more recent study to see how the results compare.”

### 26. Provided that

Usage: This means “on condition that”. You can also say “providing that” or just “providing” to mean the same thing.

Example: “We may use this as evidence to support our argument, provided that we bear in mind the limitations of the methods used to obtain it.”

### 27. In view of/in light of

Usage: These phrases are used when something has shed light on something else.

Example: “In light of the evidence from the 2013 study, we have a better understanding of…”

### 28. Nonetheless

Usage: This is similar to “despite this”.

Example: “The study had its limitations, but it was nonetheless groundbreaking for its day.”

### 29. Nevertheless

Usage: This is the same as “nonetheless”.

Example: “The study was flawed, but it was important nevertheless.”

### 30. Notwithstanding

Usage: This is another way of saying “nonetheless”.

Example: “Notwithstanding the limitations of the methodology used, it was an important study in the development of how we view the workings of the human mind.”

## Giving examples

Good essays always back up points with examples, but it’s going to get boring if you use the expression “for example” every time. Here are a couple of other ways of saying the same thing.

### 31. For instance

Example: “Some birds migrate to avoid harsher winter climates. Swallows, for instance, leave the UK in early winter and fly south…”

### 32. To give an illustration

Example: “To give an illustration of what I mean, let’s look at the case of…”

## Signifying importance

When you want to demonstrate that a point is particularly important, there are several ways of highlighting it as such.

### 33. Significantly

Usage: Used to introduce a point that is loaded with meaning that might not be immediately apparent.

Example: “Significantly, Tacitus omits to tell us the kind of gossip prevalent in Suetonius’ accounts of the same period.”

### 34. Notably

Usage: This can be used to mean “significantly” (as above), and it can also be used interchangeably with “in particular” (the example below demonstrates the first of these ways of using it).

Example: “Actual figures are notably absent from Scholar A’s analysis.”

### 35. Importantly

Usage: Use “importantly” interchangeably with “significantly”.

Example: “Importantly, Scholar A was being employed by X when he wrote this work, and was presumably therefore under pressure to portray the situation more favourably than he perhaps might otherwise have done.”

## Summarising

You’ve almost made it to the end of the essay, but your work isn’t over yet. You need to end by wrapping up everything you’ve talked about, showing that you’ve considered the arguments on both sides and reached the most likely conclusion. Here are some words and phrases to help you.

### 36. In conclusion

Usage: Typically used to introduce the concluding paragraph or sentence of an essay, summarising what you’ve discussed in a broad overview.

Example: “In conclusion, the evidence points almost exclusively to Argument A.”

### 37. Above all

Usage: Used to signify what you believe to be the most significant point, and the main takeaway from the essay.

Example: “Above all, it seems pertinent to remember that…”

### 38. Persuasive

Usage: This is a useful word to use when summarising which argument you find most convincing.

Example: “Scholar A’s point – that Constanze Mozart was motivated by financial gain – seems to me to be the most persuasive argument for her actions following Mozart’s death.”

### 39. Compelling

Usage: Use in the same way as “persuasive” above.

Example: “The most compelling argument is presented by Scholar A.”

### 40. All things considered

Usage: This means “taking everything into account”.

Example: “All things considered, it seems reasonable to assume that…”

How many of these words and phrases will you get into your next essay? And are any of your favourite essay terms missing from our list? Let us know in the comments below!

#### 70 useful sentences for academic writing

posted Jul 1, 2015, 12:50 PM by Le Tuan Anh   [ updated Jul 1, 2015, 12:51 PM ]

#### How To Write A Dissertation

posted May 17, 2015, 10:04 PM by Le Tuan Anh   [ updated May 17, 2015, 10:52 PM ]

# Bedtime Reading For People Who Do Not Have Time To Sleep

Source: Douglas E. Comer - https://www.cs.purdue.edu/homes/dec/essay.dissertation.html

## To The Candidate:

So, you are preparing to write a Ph.D. dissertation in an experimental area of Computer Science. Unless you have written many formal documents before, you are in for a surprise: it's difficult!

There are two possible paths to success:

Few take this path. The few who do leave the University so quickly that they are hardly noticed. If you want to make a lasting impression and have a long career as a graduate student, do not choose it.

• Perseverance.

All you really have to do is outlast your doctoral committee. The good news is that they are much older than you, so you can guess who will eventually expire first. The bad news is that they are more practiced at this game (after all, they persevered in the face of their doctoral committee, didn't they?).

Here are a few guidelines that may help you when you finally get serious about writing. The list goes on forever; you probably won't want to read it all at once. But, please read it before you write anything.

### The General Idea:

1. A thesis is a hypothesis or conjecture.

2. A PhD dissertation is a lengthy, formal document that argues in defense of a particular thesis. (So many people use the term thesis'' to refer to the document that a current dictionary now includes it as the third meaning of thesis'').

3. Two important adjectives used to describe a dissertation are original'' and substantial.'' The research performed to support a thesis must be both, and the dissertation must show it to be so. In particular, a dissertation highlights original contributions.

4. The scientific method means starting with a hypothesis and then collecting evidence to support or deny it. Before one can write a dissertation defending a particular thesis, one must collect evidence that supports it. Thus, the most difficult aspect of writing a dissertation consists of organizing the evidence and associated discussions into a coherent form.

5. The essence of a dissertation is critical thinking, not experimental data. Analysis and concepts form the heart of the work.

6. A dissertation concentrates on principles: it states the lessons learned, and not merely the facts behind them.

7. In general, every statement in a dissertation must be supported either by a reference to published scientific literature or by original work. Moreover, a dissertation does not repeat the details of critical thinking and analysis found in published sources; it uses the results as fact and refers the reader to the source for further details.

8. Each sentence in a dissertation must be complete and correct in a grammatical sense. Moreover, a dissertation must satisfy the stringent rules of formal grammar (e.g., no contractions, no colloquialisms, no slurs, no undefined technical jargon, no hidden jokes, and no slang, even when such terms or phrases are in common use in the spoken language). Indeed, the writing in a dissertaton must be crystal clear. Shades of meaning matter; the terminology and prose must make fine distinctions. The words must convey exactly the meaning intended, nothing more and nothing less.

9. Each statement in a dissertation must be correct and defensible in a logical and scientific sense. Moreover, the discussions in a dissertation must satisfy the most stringent rules of logic applied to mathematics and science.

### What One Should Learn From The Exercise:

1. All scientists need to communicate discoveries; the PhD dissertation provides training for communication with other scientists.

2. Writing a dissertation requires a student to think deeply, to organize technical discussion, to muster arguments that will convince other scientists, and to follow rules for rigorous, formal presentation of the arguments and discussion.

### A Rule Of Thumb:

Good writing is essential in a dissertation. However, good writing cannot compensate for a paucity of ideas or concepts. Quite the contrary, a clear presentation always exposes weaknesses.

### Definitions And Terminology:

1. Each technical term used in a dissertation must be defined either by a reference to a previously published definition (for standard terms with their usual meaning) or by a precise, unambiguous definition that appears before the term is used (for a new term or a standard term used in an unusual way).

2. Each term should be used in one and only one way throughout the dissertation.

3. The easiest way to avoid a long series of definitions is to include a statement: the terminology used throughout this document follows that given in [CITATION].'' Then, only define exceptions.

4. The introductory chapter can give the intuition (i.e., informal definitions) of terms provided they are defined more precisely later.

### Terms And Phrases To Avoid:

Mostly, they are very often overly used. Use strong words instead. For example, one could say, Writers abuse adverbs.''
• jokes or puns
They have no place in a formal document.
• bad'', good'', nice'', terrible'', stupid''
A scientific dissertation does not make moral judgements. Use incorrect/correct'' to refer to factual correctness or errors. Use precise words or phrases to assess quality (e.g., method A requires less computation than method B''). In general, one should avoid all qualitative judgements.
• true'', pure'',
In the sense of good'' (it is judgemental).
• perfect''
Nothing is.
• an ideal solution''
You're judging again.
• today'', modern times''
Today is tomorrow's yesterday.
• soon''
How soon? Later tonight? Next decade?
• we were surprised to learn...''
Even if you were, so what?
• seems'', seemingly'',
It doesn't matter how something appears;
• would seem to show''
all that matters are the facts.
• in terms of''
usually vague
• based on'', X-based'', as the basis of''
careful; can be vague
• different''
Does not mean various''; different than what?
• in light of''
colloquial
• lots of''
vague & colloquial
• kind of''
vague & colloquial
• type of''
vague & colloquial
• something like''
vague & colloquial
• just about''
vague & colloquial
• number of''
vague; do you mean some'', many'', or most''? A quantative statement is preferable.
• due to''
colloquial
• probably''
only if you know the statistical probability (if you do, state it quantatively
• obviously, clearly''
be careful: obvious/clear to everyone?
• simple''
Can have a negative connotation, as in simpleton''
• along with''
Just use with''
• actually, really''
define terms precisely to eliminate the need to clarify
• the fact that''
makes it a meta-sentence; rephrase
• this'', that''
As in This causes concern.'' Reason: this'' can refer to the subject of the previous sentence, the entire previous sentence, the entire previous paragraph, the entire previous section, etc. More important, it can be interpreted in the concrete sense or in the meta-sense. For example, in: X does Y. This means ...'' the reader can assume this'' refers to Y or to the fact that X does it. Even when restricted (e.g., this computation...''), the phrase is weak and often ambiguous.
• You will read about...''
The second person has no place in a formal dissertation.
• I will describe...''
The first person has no place in a formal dissertation. If self-reference is essential, phrase it as Section 10 describes...''
• we'' as in we see that''
A trap to avoid. Reason: almost any sentence can be written to begin with we'' because we'' can refer to: the reader and author, the author and advisor, the author and research team, experimental computer scientists, the entire computer science community, the science community, or some other unspecified group.
• Hopefully, the program...''
Computer programs don't hope, not unless they implement AI systems. By the way, if you are writing an AI thesis, talk to someone else: AI people have their own system of rules.
• ...a famous researcher...''
It doesn't matter who said it or who did it. In fact, such statements prejudice the reader.
• Be Careful When Using few, most, all, any, every''.
A dissertation is precise. If a sentence says Most computer systems contain X'', you must be able to defend it. Are you sure you really know the facts? How many computers were built and sold yesterday?
• must'', always''
Absolutely?
• should''
Who says so?
• proof'', prove''
Would a mathematician agree that it's a proof?
• show''
Used in the sense of prove''. To show'' something, you need to provide a formal proof.
• can/may''
Your mother probably told you the difference.

### Voice:

Use active constructions. For example, say the operating system starts the device'' instead of the device is started by the operating system.''

### Tense:

Write in the present tense. For example, say The system writes a page to the disk and then uses the frame...'' instead of The system will use the frame after it wrote the page to disk...''

### Define Negation Early:

Example: say no data block waits on the output queue'' instead of a data block awaiting output is not on the queue.''

### Grammar And Logic:

Be careful that the subject of each sentence really does what the verb says it does. Saying Programs must make procedure calls using the X instruction'' is not the same as saying Programs must use the X instruction when they call a procedure.'' In fact, the first is patently false! Another example: RPC requires programs to transmit large packets'' is not the same as RPC requires a mechanism that allows programs to transmit large packets.''

All computer scientists should know the rules of logic. Unfortunately the rules are more difficult to follow when the language of discourse is English instead of mathematical symbols. For example, the sentence There is a compiler that translates the N languages by...'' means a single compiler exists that handles all the languages, while the sentence For each of the N languages, there is a compiler that translates...'' means that there may be 1 compiler, 2 compilers, or N compilers. When written using mathematical symbols, the difference are obvious because for all'' and there exists'' are reversed.

### Focus On Results And Not The People/Circumstances In Which They Were Obtained:

After working eight hours in the lab that night, we realized...'' has no place in the dissertation. It doesn't matter when you realized it or how long you worked to obtain the answer. Another example: Jim and I arrived at the numbers shown in Table 3 by measuring...'' Put an acknowledgement to Jim in the dissertation, but do not include names (even your own) in the main body. You may be tempted to document a long series of experiments that produced nothing or a coincidence that resulted in success. Avoid it completely. In particular, do not document seemingly mystical influences (e.g., if that cat had not crawled through the hole in the floor, we might not have discovered the power supply error indicator on the network bridge''). Never attribute such events to mystical causes or imply that strange forces may have affected your results. Summary: stick to the plain facts. Describe the results without dwelling on your reactions or events that helped you achieve them.

### Avoid Self-Assessment (both praise and criticism):

Both of the following examples are incorrect: The method outlined in Section 2 represents a major breakthrough in the design of distributed systems because...'' Although the technique in the next section is not earthshaking,...''

### References To Extant Work:

One always cites papers, not authors. Thus, one uses a singular verb to refer to a paper even though it has multiple authors. For example Johnson and Smith [J&S90] reports that...''

Avoid the phrase the authors claim that X''. The use of claim'' casts doubt on X'' because it references the authors' thoughts instead of the facts. If you agree X'' is correct, simply state X'' followed by a reference. If one absolutely must reference a paper instead of a result, say the paper states that...'' or Johnson and Smith [J&S 90] presents evidence that...''.

### Concept Vs. Instance:

A reader can become confused when a concept and an instance of it are blurred. Common examples include: an algorithm and a particular program that implements it, a programming language and a compiler, a general abstraction and its particular implementation in a computer system, a data structure and a particular instance of it in memory.

### Terminology For Concepts And Abstractions

When defining the terminology for a concept, be careful to decide precisely how the idea translates to an implementation. Consider the following discussion:

VM systems include a concept known as an address space. The system dynamically creates an address space when a program needs one, and destroys an address space when the program that created the space has finished using it. A VM system uses a small, finite number to identify each address space. Conceptually, one understands that each new address space should have a new identifier. However, if a VM system executes so long that it exhausts all possible address space identifiers, it must reuse a number.

The important point is that the discussion only makes sense because it defines address space'' independently from address space identifier''. If one expects to discuss the differences between a concept and its implementation, the definitions must allow such a distinction.

### Knowledge Vs. Data

The facts that result from an experiment are called data''. The term knowledge'' implies that the facts have been analyzed, condensed, or combined with facts from other experiments to produce useful information.

### Cause and Effect:

A dissertation must carefully separate cause-effect relationships from simple statistical correlations. For example, even if all computer programs written in Professor X's lab require more memory than the computer programs written in Professor Y's lab, it may not have anything to do with the professors or the lab or the programmers (e.g., maybe the people working in professor X's lab are working on applications that require more memory than the applications in professor Y's lab).

### Drawing Only Warranted Conclusions:

One must be careful to only draw conclusions that the evidence supports. For example, if programs run much slower on computer A than on computer B, one cannot conclude that the processor in A is slower than the processor in B unless one has ruled out all differences in the computers' operating systems, input or output devices, memory size, memory cache, or internal bus bandwidth. In fact, one must still refrain from judgement unless one has the results from a controlled experiment (e.g., running a set of several programs many times, each when the computer is otherwise idle). Even if the cause of some phenomenon seems obvious, one cannot draw a conclusion without solid, supporting evidence.

### Commerce and Science:

In a scientific dissertation, one never draws conclusions about the economic viability or commercial success of an idea/method, nor does one speculate about the history of development or origins of an idea. A scientist must remain objective about the merits of an idea independent of its commercial popularity. In particular, a scientist never assumes that commercial success is a valid measure of merit (many popular products are neither well-designed nor well-engineered). Thus, statements such as over four hundred vendors make products using technique Y'' are irrelevant in a dissertation.

### Politics And Science:

A scientist avoids all political influence when assessing ideas. Obviously, it should not matter whether government bodies, political parties, religious groups, or other organizations endorse an idea. More important and often overlooked, it does not matter whether an idea originated with a scientist who has already won a Nobel prize or a first-year graduate student. One must assess the idea independent of the source.

### Canonical Organization:

In general, every dissertation must define the problem that motivated the research, tell why that problem is important, tell what others have done, describe the new contribution, document the experiments that validate the contribution, and draw conclusions. There is no canonical organization for a dissertation; each is unique. However, novices writing a dissertation in the experimental areas of CS may find the following example a good starting point:

• #### Chapter 1: Introduction

An overview of the problem; why it is important; a summary of extant work and a statement of your hypothesis or specific question to be explored. Make it readable by anyone.

• #### Chapter 2: Definitions

New terms only. Make the definitions precise, concise, and unambiguous.

• #### Chapter 3: Conceptual Model

Describe the central concept underlying your work. Make it a theme'' that ties together all your arguments. It should provide an answer to the question posed in the introduction at a conceptual level. If necessary, add another chapter to give additional reasoning about the problem or its solution.

• #### Chapter 4: Experimental Measurements

Describe the results of experiments that provide evidence in support of your thesis. Usually experiments either emphasize proof-of-concept (demonstrating the viability of a method/technique) or efficiency (demonstrating that a method/technique provides better performance than those that exist).

• #### Chapter 5: Corollaries And Consequences

Describe variations, extensions, or other applications of the central idea.

• #### Chapter 6: Conclusions

Summarize what was learned and how it can be applied. Mention the possibilities for future research.

• #### Abstract:

A short (few paragraphs) summary of the the dissertation. Describe the problem and the research approach. Emphasize the original contributions.

### Suggested Order For Writing:

The easiest way to build a dissertation is inside-out. Begin by writing the chapters that describe your research (3, 4, and 5 in the above outline). Collect terms as they arise and keep a definition for each. Define each technical term, even if you use it in a conventional manner.

Organize the definitions into a separate chapter. Make the definitions precise and formal. Review later chapters to verify that each use of a technical term adheres to its definition. After reading the middle chapters to verify terminology, write the conclusions. Write the introduction next. Finally, complete an abstract.

### Key To Success:

By the way, there is a key to success: practice. No one ever learned to write by reading essays like this. Instead, you need to practice, practice, practice. Every day.

### Parting thoughts:

We leave you with the following ideas to mull over. If they don't mean anything to you now, revisit them after you finish writing a dissertation.

After great pain, a formal feeling comes.
-- Emily Dickinson

A man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it.
-- Samuel Johnson

Keep right on to the end of the road.
-- Harry Lauder

The average Ph.D. thesis is nothing but the transference of bones from one graveyard to another.
-- Frank J. Dobie

#### How to Write a PhD Thesis

posted May 17, 2015, 10:01 PM by Le Tuan Anh

Source: http://newt.phys.unsw.edu.au/~jw/thesis.html

How to write a thesis? This guide gives simple and practical advice on the problems of getting started, getting organised, dividing the huge task into less formidable pieces and working on those pieces. It also explains the practicalities of surviving the ordeal. It includes a suggested structure and a guide to what should go in each section. It was originally written for graduate students in physics, and most of the specific examples given are taken from that discipline. Nevertheless, the feedback from users indicates that it has been widely used and appreciated by graduate students in diverse fields in the sciences and humanities.
• Getting started
• What is a thesis? For whom is it written? How should it be written?
• Thesis Structure

• How to survive a thesis defence
• Writing and publishing a scientific paper

## Getting Started

When you are about to begin, writing a thesis seems a long, difficult task. That is because it is a long, difficult task. Fortunately, it will seem less daunting once you have a couple of chapters done. Towards the end, you will even find yourself enjoying it---an enjoyment based on satisfaction in the achievement, pleasure in the improvement in your technical writing, and of course the approaching end. Like many tasks, thesis writing usually seems worst before you begin, so let us look at how you should make a start.

### An outline

How do you make an outline of a chapter? For most of them, you might try the method that I use for writing papers, and which I learned from my thesis adviser (Stjepan Marcelja): Assemble all the figures that you will use in it and put them in the order that you would use if you were going to explain to someone what they all meant. You might as well rehearse explaining it to someone else---after all you will probably give several talks based on your thesis work. Once you have found the most logical order, note down the key words of your explanation. These key words provide a skeleton for much of your chapter outline.

Once you have an outline, discuss it with your adviser. This step is important: s/he will have useful suggestions, but it also serves notice that s/he can expect a steady flow of chapter drafts that will make high priority demands on his/her time. Once you and your adviser have agreed on a logical structure, s/he will need a copy of this outline for reference when reading the chapters which you will probably present out of order. If you have a co-adviser, discuss the outline with him/her as well, and present all chapters to both advisers for comments.

### Organisation

It is encouraging and helpful to start a filing system. Open a word-processor file for each chapter and one for the references. You can put notes in these files, as well as text. While doing something for Chapter n, you will think "Oh I must refer back to/discuss this in Chapter m" and so you put a note to do so in the file for Chapter m. Or you may think of something interesting or relevant for that chapter. When you come to work on Chapter m, the more such notes you have accumulated, the easier it will be to write.

Make a back-up of these files and do so every day at least (depending on the reliability of your computer and the age of your disk drive). Do not keep back-up close to the computer in case the hypothetical thief who fancies your computer decides that s/he could use some disks or membory as well.

A simple way of making a remote back-up is to send it as an email attachment to a consenting email correspondent, preferably one in a different location. You could also send it to yourself. In either case, be careful to dispose of superseded versions so that you don't waste disk space, especially if you have bitmap images or other large files.

You should also have a physical filing system: a collection of folders with chapter numbers on them. This will make you feel good about getting started and also help clean up your desk. Your files will contain not just the plots of results and pages of calculations, but all sorts of old notes, references, calibration curves, suppliers' addresses, specifications, speculations, letters from colleagues etc., which will suddenly strike you as relevant to one chapter or other. Stick them in that folder. Then put all the folders in a box or a filing cabinet. As you write bits and pieces of text, place the hard copy, the figures etc in these folders as well. Touch them and feel their thickness from time to time – ah, the thesis is taking shape.

If any of your data exist only on paper, copy them and keep the copy in a different location. Consider making a copy of your lab book. This has another purpose beyond security: usually the lab book stays in the lab, but you may want a copy for your own future use. Further, scientific ethics require you to keep lab books and original data for at least ten years, and a copy is more likely to be found if two copies exist.

If you haven't already done so, you should archive your electronic data, in an appropriate format. Spreadsheet and word processor files are not suitable for long term storage. Archiving data by Joseph Slater is a good guide.

While you are getting organised, you should deal with any university paperwork. Examiners have to be nominated and they have to agree to serve. Various forms are required by your department and by the university administration. Make sure that the rate limiting step is your production of the thesis, and not some minor bureaucratic problem.

### A note about word processors

One of the big FAQs for scientists: is there a word processor, ideally one compatible with MS Word, but which allows you to type mathematical symbols and equations conveniently? One solution is LaTeX, which is powerful, elegant, reliable, fast and free from http://www.latex-project.org/ or http://www.miktex.org/. The standard equation editor for MS Word is point and click, so extremely slow and awkward. In many versions, Word's equation editor can be reached via hotkey Alt-equals, and takes pseudo latex typed input (eg X_1 converts to X subscript 1) upon the next space or operator. It uses some different formats - eg () rather than the {} of latex to group things and interprets divisions rather than having to use \frac. Here's a link: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/murrays/archive/2008/02/17/hidden-math-features-in-word-2007.aspx
It has been useful to know these as it seems biologists and latex don't mix!

### A timetable

I strongly recommend sitting down with the adviser and making up a timetable for writing it: a list of dates for when you will give the first and second drafts of each chapter to your adviser(s). This structures your time and provides intermediate targets. If you merely aim "to have the whole thing done by [some distant date]", you can deceive yourself and procrastinate more easily. If you have told your adviser that you will deliver a first draft of chapter 3 on Wednesday, it focuses your attention.

You may want to make your timetable into a chart with items that you can check off as you have finished them. This is particularly useful towards the end of the thesis when you find there will be quite a few loose ends here and there.

### Iterative solution

Whenever you sit down to write, it is very important to write something. So write something, even if it is just a set of notes or a few paragraphs of text that you would never show to anyone else. It would be nice if clear, precise prose leapt easily from the keyboard, but it usually does not. Most of us find it easier, however, to improve something that is already written than to produce text from nothing. So put down a draft (as rough as you like) for your own purposes, then clean it up for your adviser to read. Word-processors are wonderful in this regard: in the first draft you do not have to start at the beginning, you can leave gaps, you can put in little notes to yourself, and then you can clean it all up later.

As you write your thesis, your scientific writing is almost certain to improve. Even for native speakers of English who write very well in other styles, one notices an enormous improvement in the first drafts from the first to the last chapter written. The process of writing the thesis is like a course in scientific writing, and in that sense each chapter is like an assignment in which you are taught, but not assessed. Remember, only the final draft is assessed: the more comments your adviser adds to first or second draft, the better.

Before you submit a draft to your adviser, run a spell check so that s/he does not waste time on those. If you have any characteristic grammatical failings, check for them.

## What is a thesis? For whom is it written? How should it be written?

Obviously your examiners will read the thesis. They will be experts in the general field of your thesis but, on the exact topic of your thesis, you are the world expert. Keep this in mind: you should write to make the topic clear to a reader who has not spent most of the last three years thinking about it.

Your thesis will also be used as a scientific report and consulted by future workers in your laboratory who will want to know, in detail, what you did. Theses are occasionally consulted by people from other institutions, and the library sends microfilm versions if requested (yes, still). More commonly theses are now stored in an entirely digital form. These may be stored as .pdf files on a server at your university. The advantage is that your thesis can be consulted much more easily by researchers around the world. (See e.g. Australian digital thesis project for the digital availability of research theses.) Write with these possibilities in mind.

It is often helpful to have someone other than your adviser(s) read some sections of the thesis, particularly the introduction and conclusion chapters. It may also be appropriate to ask other members of staff to read some sections of the thesis which they may find relevant or of interest, as they may be able to make valuable contributions. In either case, only give them revised versions, so that they do not waste time correcting your grammar, spelling, poor construction or presentation.

### How much detail?

The short answer is: rather more than for a scientific paper. Once your thesis has been assessed and your friends have read the first three pages, the only further readers are likely to be people who are seriously doing research in just that area. For example, a future research student might be pursuing the same research and be interested to find out exactly what you did. ("Why doesn't the widget that Bloggs built for her project work any more? Where's the circuit diagram? I'll look up her thesis." "Blow's subroutine doesn't converge in my parameter space! I'll have to look up his thesis." "How did that group in Sydney manage to get that technique to work? I'll order a microfilm of that thesis they cited in their paper.") For important parts of apparatus, you should include workshop drawings, circuit diagrams and computer programs, usually as appendices. (By the way, the intelligible annotation of programs is about as frequent as porcine aviation, but it is far more desirable. You wrote that line of code for a reason: at the end of the line explain what the reason is.) You have probably read the theses of previous students in the lab where you are now working, so you probably know the advantages of a clearly explained, explicit thesis and/or the disadvantages of a vague one.

### Make it clear what is yours

If you are writing in the passive voice, you must be more careful about attribution than if you are writing in the active voice. "The sample was prepared by heating yttrium..." does not make it clear whether you did this or whether Acme Yttrium did it. "I prepared the sample..." is clear.

### Style

The text must be clear. Good grammar and thoughtful writing will make the thesis easier to read. Scientific writing has to be a little formal---more formal than this text. Native English speakers should remember that scientific English is an international language. Slang and informal writing will be harder for a non-native speaker to understand.

Short, simple phrases and words are often better than long ones. Some politicians use "at this point in time" instead of "now" precisely because it takes longer to convey the same meaning. They do not care about elegance or efficient communication. You should. On the other hand, there will be times when you need a complicated sentence because the idea is complicated. If your primary statement requires several qualifications, each of these may need a subordinate clause: "When [qualification], and where [proviso], and if [condition] then [statement]". Some lengthy technical words will also be necessary in many theses, particularly in fields like biochemistry. Do not sacrifice accuracy for the sake of brevity. "Black is white" is simple and catchy. An advertising copy writer would love it. "Objects of very different albedo may be illuminated differently so as to produce similar reflected spectra" is longer and uses less common words, but, compared to the former example, it has the advantage of being true. The longer example would be fine in a physics thesis because English speaking physicists will not have trouble with the words. (A physicist who did not know all of those words would probably be glad to remedy the lacuna either from the context or by consulting a dictionary.)

Sometimes it is easier to present information and arguments as a series of numbered points, rather than as one or more long and awkward paragraphs. A list of points is usually easier to write. You should be careful not to use this presentation too much: your thesis must be a connected, convincing argument, not just a list of facts and observations.

One important stylistic choice is between the active voice and passive voice. The active voice ("I measured the frequency...") is simpler, and it makes clear what you did and what was done by others. The passive voice ("The frequency was measured...") makes it easier to write ungrammatical or awkward sentences. If you use the passive voice, be especially wary of dangling participles. For example, the sentence "After considering all of these possible materials, plutonium was selected" implicitly attributes consciousness to plutonium. This choice is a question of taste: I prefer the active because it is clearer, more logical and makes attribution simple. The only arguments I have ever heard for avoiding the active voice in a thesis are (i) many theses are written in the passive voice, and (ii) some very polite people find the use of "I" immodest. Use the first person singular, not plural, when reporting work that you did yourself: the editorial 'we' may suggest that you had help beyond that listed in your acknowledgments, or it may suggest that you are trying to share any blame. On the other hand, retain plural verbs for "data": "data" is the plural of "datum", and lots of scientists like to preserve the distinction. Just say to yourself "one datum is ..", "these data are.." several times. An excellent and widely used reference for English grammar and style is A Dictionary of Modern English Usage by H.W. Fowler.

### Presentation

There is no need for a thesis to be a masterpiece of desk-top publishing. Your time can be more productively spent improving the content than the appearance.

In many cases, a reasonably neat diagram can be drawn by hand faster than with a graphics package, and you can scan it if you want an electronic version. Either is usually satisfactory. A one bit (i.e. black and white), moderate resolution scan of a hand-drawn sketch will be bigger than a line drawing generated on a graphics package, but not huge. While talking about the size of files, we should mention that photographs look pretty but take up a lot of memory. There's another important difference, too. The photographer thought about the camera angle and the focus etc. The person who drew the schematic diagram thought about what components ought to be depicted and the way in which the components of the system interacted with each other. So the numerically small information content of the line drawing may be much more useful information than that in a photograph.

Another note about figures and photographs. In the digital version of your thesis, do not save ordinary photographs or other illustrations as bitmaps, because these take up a lot of memory and are therefore very slow to transfer. Nearly all graphics packages allow you to save in compressed format as .jpg (for photos) or .gif (for diagrams) files. Further, you can save space/speed things up by reducing the number of colours. In vector graphics (as used for drawings), compression is usually unnecessary.

In general, students spend too much time on diagrams---time that could have been spent on examining the arguments, making the explanations clearer, thinking more about the significance and checking for errors in the algebra. The reason, of course, is that drawing is easier than thinking.

I do not think that there is a strong correlation (either way) between length and quality. There is no need to leave big gaps to make the thesis thicker. Readers will not appreciate large amounts of vague or unnecessary text.

### Approaching the end

A deadline is very useful in some ways. You must hand in the thesis, even if you think that you need one more draft of that chapter, or someone else's comments on this section, or some other refinement. If you do not have a deadline, or if you are thinking about postponing it, please take note of this: A thesis is a very large work. It cannot be made perfect in a finite time. There will inevitably be things in it that you could have done better. There will be inevitably be some typos. Indeed, by some law related to Murphy's, you will discover one when you first flip open the bound copy. No matter how much you reflect and how many times you proof read it, there will be some things that could be improved. There is no point hoping that the examiners will not notice: many examiners feel obliged to find some examples of improvements (if not outright errors) just to show how thoroughly they have read it. So set yourself a deadline and stick to it. Make it as good as you can in that time, and then hand it in! (In retrospect, there was an advantage in writing a thesis in the days before word processors, spelling checkers and typing programs. Students often paid a typist to produce the final draft and could only afford to do that once.)

### How many copies?

Talk to your adviser about this. As well as those for the examiners, the university libraries and yourself, you should make some distribution copies. These copies should be sent to other researchers who are working in your field so that:
• they can discover what marvellous work you have been doing before it appears in journals;
• they can look up the fine details of methods and results that will or have been published more briefly elsewhere;
• they can realise what an excellent researcher you are. This realisation could be useful if a post- doctoral position were available in their labs. soon after your submission, or if they were reviewers of your research/post-doctoral proposal. Even having your name in their bookcases might be an advantage.

Whatever the University's policy on single or double-sided copies, the distribution copies could be double-sided paper, or digital, so that forests and postage accounts are not excessively depleted by the exercise. Your adviser could help you to make up a list of interested and/or potentially useful people for such a mailing list. Your adviser might also help by funding the copies and postage if they are not covered by your scholarship. A CD with your thesis will be cheaper than a paper copy. You don't have to burn them all yourself: companies make multiple copies for several dollars a copy.

The following comment comes from Marilyn Ball of the Australian National University in Canberra: "When I finished writing my thesis, a postdoc wisely told me to give a copy to my parents. I would never have thought of doing that as I just couldn't imagine what they would do with it. I'm very glad to have taken that advice as my parents really appreciated receiving a copy and proudly displayed it for years. (My mother never finished high school and my father worked with trucks - he fixed 'em, built 'em, drove 'em, sold 'em and junked 'em. Nevertheless, they enjoyed having a copy of my thesis.)"

### Personal

In the ideal situation, you will be able to spend a large part---perhaps a majority---of your time writing your thesis. This may be bad for your physical and mental health.

Typing
Set up your chair and computer properly. The Health Service, professional keyboard users or perhaps even the school safety officer will be able to supply charts showing recommended relative heights, healthy postures and also exercises that you should do if you spend a lot of time at the keyboard. These last are worthwhile insurance: you do not want the extra hassle of back or neck pain. Try to intersperse long sessions of typing with other tasks, such as reading, drawing, calculating, thinking or doing research.

If you do not touch type, you should learn to do so for the sake of your neck as well as for productivity. There are several good software packages that teach touch typing interactively. If you use one for say 30 minutes a day for a couple of weeks, you will be able to touch type. By the time you finish the thesis, you will be able to touch type quickly and accurately and your six hour investment will have paid for itself. Be careful not to use the typing exercises as a displacement activity.

Exercise
Do not give up exercise for the interim. Lack of exercise makes you feel bad, and you do not need anything else making you feel bad while writing a thesis. 30-60 minutes of exercise per day is probably not time lost from your thesis: I find that if I do not get regular exercise, I sleep less soundly and longer. How about walking to work and home again? (Walk part of the way if your home is distant.) Many people opine that a walk helps them think, or clears the head. You may find that an occasional stroll improves your productivity.

Food
Do not forget to eat, and make an effort to eat healthy food. You should not lose fitness or risk illness at this critical time. Exercise is good for keeping you appetite at a healthy level. I know that you have little time for cooking, but keep a supply of fresh fruit, vegetables and bread. It takes less time to make a sandwich than to go to the local fast food outlet, and you will feel better afterwards.

Drugs
Thesis writers have a long tradition of using coffee as a stimulant and alcohol or marijuana as relaxants. (Use of alcohol and coffee is legal, use of marijuana is not.) Used in moderation, they do not seem to have ill effects on the quality of thesis produced. Excesses, however, are obviously counter-productive: several espressi and you will be buzzing too much to sit down and work; several drinks at night will slow you down next day.

Others
Other people will be sympathetic, but do not take them for granted. Spouses, lovers, family and friends should not be undervalued. Spend some time with them and, when you do, have a good time. Do not spend your time together complaining about your thesis: they already resent the thesis because it is keeping you away from them. If you can find another student writing a thesis, then you may find it therapeutic to complain to each other about advisers and difficulties. S/he need not be in the same discipline as you are.

### Coda

Keep going---you're nearly there! Most PhDs will admit that there were times when we thought about reasons for not finishing. But it would be crazy to give up at the writing stage, after years of work on the research, and it would be something to regret for a long time.

Writing a thesis is tough work. One anonymous post doctoral researcher told me: "You should tell everyone that it's going to be unpleasant, that it will mess up their lives, that they will have to give up their friends and their social lives for a while. It's a tough period for almost every student." She's right: it is certainly hard work, it will probably be stressful and you will have to adapt your rhythm to it. It is also an important rite of passage and the satisfaction you will feel afterwards is wonderful. On behalf of scholars everywhere, I wish you good luck!

## A suggested thesis structure

The list of contents and chapter headings below is appropriate for some theses. In some cases, one or two of them may be irrelevant. Results and Discussion are usually combined in several chapters of a thesis. Think about the plan of chapters and decide what is best to report your work. Then make a list, in point form, of what will go in each chapter. Try to make this rather detailed, so that you end up with a list of points that corresponds to subsections or even to the paragraphs of your thesis. At this stage, think hard about the logic of the presentation: within chapters, it is often possible to present the ideas in different order, and not all arrangements will be equally easy to follow. If you make a plan of each chapter and section before you sit down to write, the result will probably be clearer and easier to read. It will also be easier to write.

Your institution may have a form for this (UNSW does). In any case, this standard page gives the university library the right to publish the work, possibly by microfilm or other medium. (At UNSW, the Postgraduate Student Office will give you a thesis pack with various guide-lines and rules about thesis format. Make sure that you consult that for its formal requirements, as well as this rather informal guide.)

Declaration
Check the wording required by your institution, and whether there is a standard form. Many universities require something like: "I hereby declare that this submission is my own work and that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, it contains no material previously published or written by another person nor material which to a substantial extent has been accepted for the award of any other degree or diploma of the university or other institute of higher learning, except where due acknowledgment has been made in the text. (signature/name/date)"

Title page
This may vary among institutions, but as an example: Title/author/"A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Science/The University of New South Wales"/date.

Abstract
Of all your thesis, this part will be the most widely published and most read because it will be published in Dissertation Abstracts International. It is best written towards the end, but not at the very last minute because you will probably need several drafts. It should be a distillation of the thesis: a concise description of the problem(s) addressed, your method of solving it/them, your results and conclusions. An abstract must be self-contained. Usually they do not contain references. When a reference is necessary, its details should be included in the text of the abstract. Check the word limit. Remember: even though it appears at the beginning, an abstract is not an introduction. It is a résumé of your thesis.

Acknowledgments
Most thesis authors put in a page of thanks to those who have helped them in matters scientific, and also indirectly by providing such essentials as food, education, genes, money, help, advice, friendship etc. If any of your work is collaborative, you should make it quite clear who did which sections.

The introduction starts on page 1, the earlier pages should have roman numerals. It helps to have the subheadings of each chapter, as well as the chapter titles. Remember that the thesis may be used as a reference in the lab, so it helps to be able to find things easily.

Introduction
What is the topic and why is it important? State the problem(s) as simply as you can. Remember that you have been working on this project for a few years, so you will be very close to it. Try to step back mentally and take a broader view of the problem. How does it fit into the broader world of your discipline?

Especially in the introduction, do not overestimate the reader's familiarity with your topic. You are writing for researchers in the general area, but not all of them need be specialists in your particular topic. It may help to imagine such a person---think of some researcher whom you might have met at a conference for your subject, but who was working in a different area. S/he is intelligent, has the same general background, but knows little of the literature or tricks that apply to your particular topic.

The introduction should be interesting. If you bore the reader here, then you are unlikely to revive his/her interest in the materials and methods section. For the first paragraph or two, tradition permits prose that is less dry than the scientific norm. If want to wax lyrical about your topic, here is the place to do it. Try to make the reader want to read the heavy bundle that has arrived uninvited on his/her desk. Go to the library and read several thesis introductions. Did any make you want to read on? Which ones were boring?

This section might go through several drafts to make it read well and logically, while keeping it short. For this section, I think that it is a good idea to ask someone who is not a specialist to read it and to comment. Is it an adequate introduction? Is it easy to follow? There is an argument for writing this section---or least making a major revision of it---towards the end of the thesis writing. Your introduction should tell where the thesis is going, and this may become clearer during the writing.

Literature review

Ideally, you will already have much of the hard work done, if you have been keeping up with the literature as you vowed to do three years ago, and if you have made notes about important papers over the years. If you have summarised those papers, then you have some good starting points for the review.

How many papers? How relevant do they have to be before you include them? Well, that is a matter of judgement. On the order of a hundred is reasonable, but it will depend on the field. You are the world expert on the (narrow) topic of your thesis: you must demonstrate this.

A political point: make sure that you do not omit relevant papers by researchers who are like to be your examiners, or by potential employers to whom you might be sending the thesis in the next year or two.

### Middle chapters

In some theses, the middle chapters are the journal articles of which the student was major author. There are several disadvantages to this format.

One is that a thesis is both allowed and expected to have more detail than a journal article. For journal articles, one usually has to reduce the number of figures. In many cases, all of the interesting and relevant data can go in the thesis, and not just those which appeared in the journal. The degree of experimental detail is usually greater in a thesis. Relatively often a researcher requests a thesis in order to obtain more detail about how a study was performed.

Another disadvantage is that your journal articles may have some common material in the introduction and the "Materials and Methods" sections.

The exact structure in the middle chapters will vary among theses. In some theses, it is necessary to establish some theory, to describe the experimental techniques, then to report what was done on several different problems or different stages of the problem, and then finally to present a model or a new theory based on the new work. For such a thesis, the chapter headings might be: Theory, Materials and Methods, {first problem}, {second problem}, {third problem}, {proposed theory/model} and then the conclusion chapter. For other theses, it might be appropriate to discuss different techniques in different chapters, rather than to have a single Materials and Methods chapter.

Here follow some comments on the elements Materials and Methods, Theory, Results and discussion which may or may not correspond to thesis chapters.

Materials and Methods
This varies enormously from thesis to thesis, and may be absent in theoretical theses. It should be possible for a competent researcher to reproduce exactly what you have done by following your description. There is a good chance that this test will be applied: sometime after you have left, another researcher will want to do a similar experiment either with your gear, or on a new set-up in a foreign country. Please write for the benefit of that researcher.

In some theses, particularly multi-disciplinary or developmental ones, there may be more than one such chapter. In this case, the different disciplines should be indicated in the chapter titles.

Theory
When you are reporting theoretical work that is not original, you will usually need to include sufficient material to allow the reader to understand the arguments used and their physical bases. Sometimes you will be able to present the theory ab initio, but you should not reproduce two pages of algebra that the reader could find in a standard text. Do not include theory that you are not going to relate to the work you have done.

When writing this section, concentrate at least as much on the physical arguments as on the equations. What do the equations mean? What are the important cases?

When you are reporting your own theoretical work, you must include rather more detail, but you should consider moving lengthy derivations to appendices. Think too about the order and style of presentation: the order in which you did the work may not be the clearest presentation.

Suspense is not necessary in reporting science: you should tell the reader where you are going before you start.

Results and discussion
The results and discussion are very often combined in theses. This is sensible because of the length of a thesis: you may have several chapters of results and, if you wait till they are all presented before you begin discussion, the reader may have difficulty remembering what you are talking about. The division of Results and Discussion material into chapters is usually best done according to subject matter.

Make sure that you have described the conditions which obtained for each set of results. What was held constant? What were the other relevant parameters? Make sure too that you have used appropriate statistical analyses. Where applicable, show measurement errors and standard errors on the graphs. Use appropriate statistical tests.

Take care plotting graphs. The origin and intercepts are often important so, unless the ranges of your data make it impractical, the zeros of one or both scales should usually appear on the graph. You should show error bars on the data, unless the errors are very small. For single measurements, the bars should be your best estimate of the experimental errors in each coordinate. For multiple measurements these should include the standard error in the data. The errors in different data are often different, so, where this is the case, regressions and fits should be weighted (i.e. they should minimize the sum of squares of the differences weighted inversely as the size of the errors.) (A common failing in many simple software packages that draw graphs and do regressions is that they do not treat errors adequately. UNSW student Mike Johnston has written a plotting routine that plots data with error bars and performs weighted least square regressions. It is at http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/3rdyearlab/graphing/graph.html). You can just 'paste' your data into the input and it generates a .ps file of the graph.

In most cases, your results need discussion. What do they mean? How do they fit into the existing body of knowledge? Are they consistent with current theories? Do they give new insights? Do they suggest new theories or mechanisms?

Try to distance yourself from your usual perspective and look at your work. Do not just ask yourself what it means in terms of the orthodoxy of your own research group, but also how other people in the field might see it. Does it have any implications that do not relate to the questions that you set out to answer?

### Final chapter, references and appendices

Conclusions and suggestions for further work
Your abstract should include your conclusions in very brief form, because it must also include some other material. A summary of conclusions is usually longer than the final section of the abstract, and you have the space to be more explicit and more careful with qualifications. You might find it helpful to put your conclusions in point form.

It is often the case with scientific investigations that more questions than answers are produced. Does your work suggest any interesting further avenues? Are there ways in which your work could be improved by future workers? What are the practical implications of your work?

This chapter should usually be reasonably short---a few pages perhaps. As with the introduction, I think that it is a good idea to ask someone who is not a specialist to read this section and to comment.

It is tempting to omit the titles of the articles cited, and the university allows this, but think of all the times when you have seen a reference in a paper and gone to look it up only to find that it was not helpful after all.

Should you reference web sites and, if so, how? If you cite a journal article or book, the reader can go to a library and check that the cited document and check whether or not it says what you say it did. A web site may disappear, and it may have been updated or changed completely. So references to the web are usually less satisfactory. Nevertheless, there are some very useful and authoritative sources. So, if the rules of your institution permit it, it may be appropriate to cite web sites. (Be cautious, and don't overuse such citations. In particular, don't use a web citation where you could reasonably use a "hard" citation. Remember that your examiners are likely to be older and more conservative.) You should give the URL and also the date you downloaded it. If there is a date on the site itself (last updated on .....) you should included that, too.

Appendices
If there is material that should be in the thesis but which would break up the flow or bore the reader unbearably, include it as an appendix. Some things which are typically included in appendices are: important and original computer programs, data files that are too large to be represented simply in the results chapters, pictures or diagrams of results which are not important enough to keep in the main text.

Some sites with related material
Some relevant texts
Stevens, K. and Asmar, C (1999) 'Doing postgraduate research in Australia'. Melbourne University Press, Melbourne ISBN 0 522 84880 X.
Phillips, E.M and Pugh, D.S. (1994) 'How to get a PhD : a handbook for students and their supervisors'. Open University Press, Buckingham, England
Tufte, E.R. (1983) 'The visual display of quantitative information'. Graphics Press, Cheshire, Conn.
Tufte, E.R. (1990) 'Envisioning information' Graphics Press, Cheshire, Conn.

Distribution

If you have found these documents useful, please feel free to pass the address or a hard copy to any other thesis writers or graduate student organisations. Please do not sell them, or use any of the contents without acknowledgement.

Suggestions, thanks and caveats

This document will be updated occasionally. If you have suggestions for inclusions, amendments or other improvements, please send them. Do so after you have submitted the thesis---do not use this invitation as a displacement activity. I thank Marilyn Ball, Gary Bryant, Bill Whiten and J. Douglas, whose suggestions have been incorporated in this version. Substantial contributions will be acknowledged in future versions. I also take this opportunity to thank my own thesis advisers, Stjepan Marcelja and Jacob Israelachvili, for their help and friendship, and to thank the graduate students to whom I have had the pleasure to be an adviser, a colleague and a friend. Opinions expressed in these notes are mine and do not necessarily reflect the policy of the University of New South Wales or of the School of Physics.

A FAQ and some observations about the web

Why and how did I write this document? The need for it was evident so, as one of my PhD students approached the end of his project, I made notes of everything that I said to him about thesis writing. These notes became the plan for the first draft of this document, which has been extended several times since then. I am surprised that it has hundreds of readers each day. However, this is an important message about the web. It takes time and thought to make a good resource but, if you do, it can benefit a lot of people. When this document was first posted, the web was relatively new and feedback showed that people were often surprised to find what they sought. Now there is a tendency to take the web for granted: one is almost disappointed not to find what one is seeking. However, the web is only as good as the collective effort of all of us. The readers of this document will be scholars, experts and educators: among the many contributions you will make to knowledge and your communities, there may be contributions that should be made freely available, all over the world. Keep this observation about the web in the back of your mind for later, when you are not writing a thesis.

• © 1996. Modified 2/11/06 Joe Wolfe / J.Wolfe@unsw.edu.au, phone 61- 2-9385 4954 (UT + 10, +11 Oct-Mar).

#### Describing a process

posted May 15, 2015, 11:20 PM by Le Tuan Anh   [ updated May 15, 2015, 11:22 PM ]

It is less common in the writing test, but sometimes you will get an IELTS process diagram to describe.

1. Introduce the diagram
2. Give an overview of the main point/s
3. Give the detail

However, there are different types of task 1 (line graphs, pie charts, maps etc) and each requires knowledge of a certain type of language.

This lesson will look at how to write an IELTS process diagram for task 1.

### What is an IELTS Process Diagram?

To begin, look at this question:

 You should spend about 20 minutes on this task. The diagram illustrates the process that is used to manufacture bricks for the building industry. Summarize the information by selecting and reporting the main features and make comparisons where relevant. Write at least 150 words.

A process will have a number of stages that are in time order.  So you should start at the beginning, and describe each stage through to the last one.

In the example above, this is fairly clear. It begins with the digging of the clay, and ends with delivery.

Processes are not always this clear, and you may have to look more carefully to spot the beginning, and there may also be two things happening at the same time.

So it is important that you look at other sample processes to get a good understanding of how they can vary.

### Introduce the Diagram

As with any task 1, you can begin by paraphrasing the rubric:

The diagram explains the way in which bricks are made for the building industry.

As you can see, this has been taken from the question, but it has not been copied. You need to write it in your own words.

### Highlight the main points

An IELTS process diagram is different to a line, bar, pie chart or table in that there are not usually key changes or trends to identify.  However, you should still give an overview of what is taking place.

The  ‘public band descriptors’ state that to achieve a band 6 or more for ‘task response’ the student must provide an overview in a task 1.

As there are no trends to comment on, you can make a comment on, for example, the number of stages in the process and how it begins and ends:

Overall, there are eight stages in the process, beginning with the digging up of clay and culminating in delivery.

### Giving the detail

Now you need to explain the IELTS process diagram, and there are two key aspects of language associated with this:

Time Connectors

A process is a series of events, one taking place after the other.  Therefore, to connect your stages, you should use ‘time connectors’.  Here is the rest of the answer with the time connectors highlighted (notice that you simply go from the beginning to the end of the process):

To begin, the clay used to make the bricks is dug up from the ground by a large digger. This clay is then placed onto a metal grid, which is used to break up the clay into smaller pieces. A roller assists in this process.

Following this, sand and water are added to the clay, and this mixture is turned into bricks by either placing it into a mould or using a wire cutter. Next, these bricks are placed in an oven to dry for 24 – 48 hours.

In the subsequent stage, the bricks go through a heating and cooling process. They are heated in a kiln at a moderate and then a high temperature (ranging from 200c to 1300c), followed by a cooling process in a chamber for 2 – 3 days. Finally, the bricks are packed and delivered to their destinations.

These connectors are the same you would use to write a graph over time when you explain a series of changes.

These are some common IELTS process diagram connectors:

 To begin Following this Next Then After After that Before** Subsequently Finally

** If you use before, this means that you will be mentioning a later stage before an earlier stage, so you need to use it carefully.  If you can use it properly though, it will get noticed.

Here is an example using stages four and five:

Before being dried in the oven, the mixture is turned into bricks by either placing it into a mould or using a wire cutter.

The Passive

When we describe an IELTS process, the focus is on the activities, NOT the person doing them.

When this is the case, we use the passive voice, not the active.

This is a brief explanation of how to use the passive voice, but if you are new or unsure about using it, you should do some further study and practice.

Most sentences use this structure:

Subject + Verb + Object

(S) A large digger (V) digs up (O) the clay in the ground.

In the active voice (as above), the digger is doing the verb i.e. the digger is doing the digging.

When we use the passive voice, we make the object (the clay) the subject, and make the subject (the digger) the object. We also add in the verb ‘to be’ and the past participle (or Verb 3).

(S) The clay in the ground (V) is dug up (O) by the digger.

So throughout most of your description for your IELTS process diagram, you should be using the passive voice.

This is difficult as some verbs cannot take the passive. For example, 'to go' cannot be passive, so it is kept in the active voice:

...the bricks go through a heating and cooling process.

This is why you need to make sure you practice the passive so you know exactly how to use it.

Also, as you will see from the description, it is more usual to to comment on who or what is doing the action so the 'by...." phrase is excluded.

Here is the same example description with uses of the passive highlighted:

To begin, the clay (which is) used to make the bricks is dug up from the ground by a large digger. This clay is then placed onto a metal grid, which is used to break up the clay into smaller pieces. A roller assists in this process.

Following this, sand and water are added to the clay, and this mixture is turned into bricks by either placing it into a mould or using a wire cutter. Next, these bricks are placed in an oven to dry for 24 – 48 hours.

In the subsequent stage, the bricks go through a heating and cooling process. They are heated in a kiln at a moderate and then a high temperature (ranging from 200c to 1300c), followed by a cooling process in a chamber for 2 – 3 days. Finally, the bricks are packed and delivered to their destinations.

Sometimes it may be appropriate just to use the same language that you are given in the IELTS process diagram to describe it, but you should try to vary it.

You may be able to use nouns from the diagram as your verbs.  For example, the noun packaging in stage seven becomes:

Finally, the bricks are packed

# Rhetorical Functions in Academic Writing: Describing processes

## Examples

Here is a description of the process of sorting letters.

 First of all, letters and packets are collected in bags from pillar boxes, post offices and firms, in post office vans. They are then taken to the sorting office, where the bags are emptied and the letters separated from the packets. Following this step, the letters are put through machines so that the stamps can be cancelled. In this process the date and place of sorting are put over the stamps on each envelope. In the next stage, the sorting of the letters takes place, according to the county they are addressed to. This is done by placing them in the appropriate pigeon hole. Subsequently, the letters are taken from the pigeon holes and placed in baskets, which are then put onto a conveyor belt. While on this conveyor belt, the baskets are directed to the appropriate secondary sorting section by means of coding pegs. At the secondary sorting frames, the letters are put into towns in the county. Later, the letters are tied in bundles and a label is put on showing the towns they are addressed to. Finally, the letter bundles are placed in bags, which have the Post Office seal, Post Office Railway number and Destination Code number on them, and then these are sent to the railway station.

Notice that the passive form of the verb is widely used. This is because in this type of writing, we are usually more interested in the process than in the people doing the work. Observe all the link words.

### Example 1

 MAKING A TRANSISTOR 1 FIRST MASKING The silicon base is first coated with silicon dioxide, which does not conduct electricity, and then with a substance called photoresist. Shining ultraviolet light through a patterned mask hardens the photoresist. The unexposed parts remain soft. 2 FIRST ETCHING A solvent dissolves away the soft unexposed layer of photoresist, revealing a part of the silicon dioxide. This is then chemically etched to reduce its thickness. The hardened photoresist is then dissolved to leave a ridge of dioxide. 3 SECOND MASKING Layers of polysilicon, which conducts electricity, and photoresist are applied, and then a second masking operation is carried out. 4 SECOND ETCHING The unexposed photoresist is dissolved, and then an etching treatment removes the polysilicon and silicon dioxide beneath it. This reveals two strips of p-type silicon. 5 DOPING The hard photoresist is removed. The layers now undergo an operation called doping which transforms the newly revealed strips of p-type silicon into n-type silicon. 6 THIRD MASKING AND ETCHING Layers of silicon dioxide and photoresist are added. Masking and etching creates holes through to the doped silicon and central polysilicon strip. 7 COMPLETING THE TRANSISTOR The photoresist is dissolved, and a final masking stage adds three strips of aluminium. These make electrical connections through the holes and complete the transistor. In this transistor, known as an MOS type, a positive charge fed to the gate attracts electrons in the p-type silicon base. Current flows between the source and the drain, thereby switching the transistor on. A negative charge at the gate repels electrons and turns the current off.

### Example 2

 Carbon, the basic element of organic chemistry, undergoes a natural cycle in the environment. It exists in the form of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. From there it is absorbed by plants to build carbohydrates in green leaves. When plants burn, and animals breathe out, carbon dioxide passes back into the air. Also in decaying plant and animal remains, carbohydrates are broken down to release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

### Example 3

 THE PHOTOCOPIER Static electricity enables a photocopier to produce almost instant copies of documents. At the heart of the machine is a metal drum which is given a negative charge at the beginning of the copying cycle. The optical system then projects an image of the document on the drum. The electric charge disappears where light strikes the metal surface, so only dark parts of the image remain charged. Positively charged particles of toner powder are then applied to the drum. The charged parts of the drum attract the dark powder, which is then transferred to a piece of paper. A heater seals the powder to the paper, and a warm copy of the document emerges from the photocopier. A colour copier works in the same basic way, but scans the document with blue, green and red filters. It then transfers toner to the paper in three layers coloured yellow, magenta and cyan. The three colours overlap to give a full colour picture.

### Example 4

 PAPERMAKING Printing is of little use without paper. A sheet of paper is a flattened mesh of interlocking plant fibres, mainly of wood and cotton. Making paper involves reducing a plant to its fibres, and then aligning them and coating the fibres with materials such as glues, pigments and mineral fillers. 1 FELLING Trees are felled and then transported to paper mills as logs. 2 DEBARKING The bark has first to be stripped off the logs without damaging the wood. 3 PULPING Pulping reduces the wood to a slurry of loose fibres in water. The logs are first sliced into chips and then treated with chemicals in a digester. These dissolve the lignin binding the wood fibres together. Alternatively, machines may grind the logs in water to produce pulp. The pulp is then bleached. 4 MIXING The pulp goes to the mixer, where materials are added to improve the quality of the paper. The additives include white fillers such as china clay, size for water-proofing, and coloured pigments. The mixer beats the fibres into a smooth pulp. 5 FORMING THE WEB Liquid pulp is fed from the flowbox onto the mesh belt. Water drains through the holes in the mesh; the drainage is accelerated by suction. The dandy roll presses the fibres together into a wet ribbon known as a web. 6 PRESSING Belts move the web between the press rolls, which remove more water and compress the paper. 7 DRYING The damp web moves through the dryer, where it passes between hot cylinders and felt-covered belts that absorb water. It then passes through the calender stacks before being wound on reels or cut into sheets.

### Example 5

 THE REFRIGERATOR A domestic refrigerator uses the cooling effect of an evaporating liquid. A refrigerant liquid (such as Freon, a compound of carbon, fluorine and chlorine) is pumped through cooling coils (the evaporator) in which it expands (evaporates) and absorbs heat from the surroundings. The evaporator is formed into the ice-making compartment of the refrigerator. After passing through the cooling coils in the evaporator, the vapour is then compressed by a compressor (usually driven by an electric motor) and condensed back to a liquid when the absorbed heat is given out. The cycle of events is then repeated over and over again. The refrigerator is really a heat engine working in reverse. In order to take heat out of the low-temperature interior of the refrigerator and transfer it to the higher temperature of the surrounding air, work must be done. If it is to work continuously, a refrigerator must be supplied with energy from outside. This external energy is usually electricity, which operates the electric motor driving the compressor, but it could be a gas flame. In the food chamber of a domestic refrigerator the temperature is just above the freezing point of water, about 1° or 2°C: in the ice-maker and in the deep-freeze it is usually around -15°C. (Adapted from: The Penguin book of the physical world, London, 1976)

### Example 6

 The Steam Engine A steam engine utilises the energy contained in steam under high pressure. The energy that is released when steam expands is made to produce rotary motion which can be used for the driving of machinery. The steam from the boiler is admitted into the cylinder in which there is a piston and in which the steam expands, causing the piston to move (Fig. la). When the piston has travelled to the end of the cylinder and thus completed its stroke (Fig. lb), the now expanded steam is allowed to escape from the cylinder. At the same time the steam is changed over, live steam under pressure being admitted to the other side of the piston, causing the latter to travel back, past its starting point (Fig. lc), until it has reached the other end of its stroke (Fig. Id). A steam engine of this kind is called "double-acting" because the force of the steam is applied alternately on two sides of the piston. While the piston is being forced in one direction by the expanding steam, the spent steam is pushed out of the cylinder on the other side of the piston. Reversing, i.e., the change-over of the steam supply so as to ensure the admission of live steam to the appropriate side of the piston and the discharge of the spent steam on the other side, is effected automatically by a control device called a slide valve. (Adapted from: How things work 1, Paladin, 1972)

### Example 7

 Car Braking System The braking system of a car is a good example of how a hydraulic system works. When the brake pedal is pressed a piston operates which forces brake fluid out of the master cylinder and along four narrow pipes to the slave cylinders attached to the brake drums or discs so that the same pressure is applied to the brakes in each wheel. This brings the car to a smooth halt. Provided the system is kept filled with brake fluid, hydraulic brakes work instantly because liquids cannot be compressed to any great extent. If air leaks into the system, the brakes become much less efficient. This is because, unlike liquids, gases are compressible and some of the movement of the brake pedal is taken up in squeezing the air bubble. (From: The Penguin book of the physical world. Penguin, 1976)

## Language

### Sequence

 Firstly, The first step is First of all, The first stage is To begin with, ... begins with Initially ... commences with Beforehand, Before this, Previously, Prior to this, Earlier, At the same time, During Simultaneously, When this happens While Secondly, Thirdly etc After this, Next, The next step is Then, In the next stage, Subsequently, In the following stage, Later, Following this, As soon as the committee has finished its work, ... Eventually, ... until ... Lastly ... finishes with ... Finally, concludes with In the last stage, The last step is ...

### Passive

 The silicon base is coated with silicon dioxide. Letters and packets are collected. The bark has to be stripped.

### Method - how something is done.

First of all, letters and packets are collected in bags from pillar boxes.

This is done by placing them in the appropriate pigeon hole.

The baskets are directed to the appropriate secondary sorting section by means of coding pegs.

The drainage is accelerated by suction.

The vapour is then compressed by means of a compressor.

### Position - where something happens

They are then taken to the sorting office, where the bags are emptied.

The pulp goes to the mixer, where materials are added to improve the quality of the paper.

The steam from the boiler is admitted into the cylinder in which there is a piston.

### Purpose

Following this step, the letters are put through machines so that the stamps can be cancelled.

This is then chemically etched to reduce its thickness.

From there it is absorbed by plants to build carbohydrates in green leaves.

In order to take heat out of the low-temperature interior of the refrigerator, work must be done.

#### Transition words

posted May 15, 2015, 8:42 PM by Le Tuan Anh   [ updated May 15, 2015, 8:42 PM ]