How To Write A Dissertation
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.
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:
- A thesis is a hypothesis or conjecture.
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”).
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.
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.
The essence of a dissertation is critical thinking, not experimental data. Analysis and concepts form the heart of the work.
A dissertation concentrates on principles: it states the lessons learned, and not merely the facts behind them.
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.
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 dissertation 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.
What https://www.the-essays.com/college-essay-paper Should Learn From The Exercise:
All scientists need to communicate discoveries; the PhD dissertation provides training for communication with other scientists.
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:
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).
Each term should be used in one and only one way throughout the dissertation.
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.
Terms And Phrases To Avoid:
Define Negation Early:
Grammar And Logic:
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):
References To Extant Work:
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:
Terminology For Concepts And Abstractions
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
Cause and Effect:
Drawing Only Warranted Conclusions:
Commerce and Science:
Politics And Science:
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.
A short (few paragraphs) summary of the dissertation. Describe the problem and the research approach. Emphasize the original contributions.
Suggested Order For Writing:
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:
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