the thesis-writing process can help you become
a more effective writer, you need to focus not
just on content, but also on clear and persuasive
writing. Every thesis must tell a compelling story.
It should explain what you did, not just tell what
Use this thesis checklist to evaluate your work as you write and then
as a final check before you turn in the finished product.
_____ 1. The thesis contains all the parts your university
requires (usually Abstract, Acknowledgments, Table of Contents, List
of Figures and Tables, Introduction, Background / Literature Review,
Materials and Methods [if applicable], chapters detailing your work,
Discussion / Conclusion, Bibliography, any Appendices). Some variation
is possible. You may not need a separate chapter for Materials and Methods,
for example, and not all theses need Appendices.
_____ 2. The Abstract (written last) defines the problem
you worked on, clearly states its importance and the method(s) you used
to solve it, puts your work into the context of previous work in your
field, clearly identifies your findings and their importance, and suggests
possible applications. Your unique contribution is clearly delineated.
The Abstract literally abstracts the important points in your thesis.
It does not merely state what the thesis is about; instead, it summarizes
the contents. Finally, your abstract must not exceed the word limit (150
words for a Master’s degree, 350 words for a PhD).
_____ 3. You can write the Acknowledgments any time, but
most people write them after the bulk of the thesis has been completed
so that you know who has been helpful. Gratitude and diplomacy both demand
that you start by thanking your thesis committee, naming your advisor
first. Then move either to other faculty who were helpful or to the team
members or students you worked with before embarking on this solo thesis
project. Then thank friends, if you wish, and end by expressing your
most heartfelt gratitude to your family, especially to a long-suffering
spouse or partner. This section is the only one in which you express
much emotion, and it is acceptable here, but don’t overdo it.
_____ 4. The page numbers in the Table of Contents and List
of Tables or Figures are accurate. The titles are specific enough to
signal what is included. Check the accuracy of your List of Symbols,
Acronyms, and Definitions if you have included any of those.
_____ 5. The Introduction and Conclusion (written after finishing
the chapters detailing your research) expand on the Abstract, going into
greater detail than is possible in the short Abstract. The first line
of the Introduction states the problem and your contribution to solving
it. The Introduction gives an overall picture of the contents of the
thesis and usually ends with a brief listing of each chapter’s
The Conclusion summarizes your findings and discusses their implications;
it often ends by suggesting future work. Anyone who reads the Introduction
and the Conclusion has an expanded version of the Abstract and a complete
summary of the thesis’s contents.
_____ 6. TThe Background / Literature Review situates your work
within the larger context of your field. This chapter explains how your
work grew out of earlier, related research and, in doing so, details
the major developments and contrasting approaches in your specific field.
You make clear what was the seminal work and then explain both chronologically
and thematically the important findings that preceded and motivated your
research project. You identify key contributions, issues, and disagreements,
and you show the “links” between the research findings of
others. Throughout the chapter, you indicate clearly why we are reading
about a specific reference and how it relates to your own research.
This tightly argued chapter forms the basis for understanding and validating
the importance of your work. It illustrates your skill as a scholar who
can identify key papers in your field and then evaluate them.
If your thesis relies heavily on your own previously published papers,
you may want to incorporate the Literature Review in the body chapters
for each of the papers, so that you have a separate Lit Review for each
paper. In any case, however, the Literature Review should be in much
greater depth in your thesis than is possible in a short paper written
_____ 7. The Materials and Methods chapter contains sufficient
details so that someone else could replicate your work. All chronology
_____ 8. The body chapters detail your research. The level
of detail is sufficient so that your outside reader, who is not intimately
familiar with your field, can understand your argument:
questions must be answered no matter what field
you are in. For example, you cannot just string
together a bunch of equations and let your reader
figure things out. Don’t merely state; explain!
You must lead your reader through your reasoning
and your actions to your results. You must clearly
identify your contributions, including equipment
or procedures you designed, as well as your research
did you do?
did you do it?
did you do it?
was the result?
should we care about what you did? Why is
the work important?
_____ 9. Your Bibliography (or Works Cited) follows the format
acceptable to your field. (If you’re not certain what is preferred,
check an edited journal in your field. APA and Chicago Manual of Style
are common in science and engineering.) The Bibliography contains ALL
the works cited in your thesis, including visuals, and nothing that is
not actually cited. Proofread it for accuracy and consistency.
_____ 10. You have checked your sentences, paragraphs, sections,
and chapters to see if meaning is clear and logically sequential, not
to you, but to your outside reader. If you sense that something isn’t
clear, believe that it isn’t, and fix it. Ask someone else to read
it and note any unclear sentences or sections.
______ 11. You have checked for logical flow from sentence to sentence,
paragraph to paragraph, section to section, chapter to chapter. You have
topic sentences that signal a paragraph’s content. Your introductions
to each section and chapter signal their contents to the reader.
_____ 12. Visuals and Figures appear within a page after
they are mentioned in the text and not before they are mentioned. Titles
are sufficiently detailed; the caption clearly tells the reader what
to notice so that it is not necessary to refer to the text in order to
understand the illustration.
Similarly, the explanation in the text is clear enough to understand
without referring to the visual. The visual should complement the text.
_____ 13. You have proofread for spelling and grammatical errors.
If you added words to your dictionary every time you introduced a new
one, spellchecking will be far easier. Even so, you will need to proofread
to see if you have used the right word. Do not rely on a grammar check
program, which misses many errors and sometimes even suggests an incorrect
_____ 14. Headings, sub-headings, lists, and captions are
consistent in style and provide useful content. Font size and style,
placement of figure and table titles, and margins all meet university
requirements and are consistent.
If you set up a style sheet when you first started writing, you will
have many fewer problems when you are preparing the final draft. If you
use the required margins from the time you began writing, too, you won’t
now have trouble with graphs, tables, and equations wrapping. Rice requires
a 1.5 inch left-hand margin for binding purposes; a thesis with a narrower
left margin will be rejected.
You probably should not right justify because it makes the text more
difficult to read. [It is easy to reset margins on Microsoft, but most
LaTeX styles right-justify by default. To turn off the LaTeX right justify
command, type \raggedright near the beginning of the document.]
_____ 15. Make certain you have given author citations for
all quotations, paraphrases, and borrowed or adapted visuals. Plagiarism
is an academic crime.
_____ 16. Follow university regulations in setting up and
publicizing your defense.
_____ 17. Find out and follow the required steps for completing
and submitting the thesis. Some deadlines are negotiable; others are
not negotiable under any circumstances. For example, you may be able
to give your committee the completed draft a couple days after the suggested
deadline. But the deadline for turning in to the university the completed
copies with the title pages signed by your committee is completely rigid.
All fees must be paid and all the paperwork must be completed by the
university deadline as well.
Copyright Janice L. Hewitt, Ph.D. Rice University, 2001