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Going from a practical thesis to a more theoretical one?

With the Covid-19 situation, a lot of SciTech students have to change their theses from one based on practical work to a more literature/theory based thesis. Here are some tips that may come in handy (most of these are really useful even if you did not change your thesis):

  1. Work closely with your supervisor to change the perspective of your problem statement. If you have a few lab results already, keep them if possible and extend the literature part of your thesis. If you need to redefine your entire problem statement, make sure to choose a topic that you are genuinely interested in finding out more about.
  2. Start searching now, treat it as your new lab work. Plan your search, choose 2-3 relevant databases and get to know them. Learn search techniques, work systematically and save your searches (most databases lets you make a profile where you can save searches, records etc.). Write about the process in the Methods section.
  3. Spend a good amount of time getting to know your field. Focus on high quality and relevant sources. Always log in through remote access to see all the digitally available sources. Read the reference lists of good sources to find more literature.
  4. Read literature review articles within your field of study, they sum up the current situation when they were written. See examples under another tab in this box.
  5. Focus on your discussion. It's your moment to shine - to show your understanding, to present different views, to discuss strengths and weaknesses, etc.
  6. Many sources to keep track of? Use a reference management software such as EndNote or Zotero for Word, and BibLaTeX for LaTeX, to keep track of your sources. Make sure that all your sources are cited correctly (read more below).
  7. Work smart - use the Library. Use the digital resources available to you (left menu) and don't hesitate to ask for our help if you need it. If you want someone to read and give you feedback on your text, book an appointment with the Study Lab (Norwegian or English). Contact the Library if you have questions about searching, references, EndNote, Zotero, LaTeX, etc.

Guidelines for academic language

  1. Precise
  2. Clear and direct
  3. Coherent: The different parts of your thesis should make sense when put together
  4. Good language fluency
  5. Should not contain conversational language, avoid metaphors unless they are really needed
  6. Objective
  7. Avoid contractions, like don't and it's, use do not and it is instead

Structure

The IMRaD structure is used widely in academic writing, and with good reason. It provides a good frame for your text, and helps you convey your results in a natural order through the text. Note that in some cases it might be a good idea to combine different parts. Read more about the IMRaD structure in the presentation "Searching, referencing and academic writing" in the part about academic writing. 

 

Most databases let you limit your search, e.g. with year and document type, like here in Scopus:

Tips and tricks

Don't wait for inspiration - just get going. Start with something you find easy, and set small goals for yourself. If you are a structured person, try starting with the structure of your thesis. What chapters and subchapters do you need? Note keywords under the different chapters/subchapters, and use them to start building your text.

Take notes while you are working. Make sure to record what you do, whether that is working in a lab or doing a literature search, and write about it soon after you have done it. Do not trust that "I will for sure remember this later, so I don't need to take notes." Never works.

Start writing early. It is tempting to focus only on your practical work, and even to use it as an excuse not to start writing. Do not fall for that temptation. Even if you don't have any results yet, you can always start on your introduction, methods and theory.

Keep writing. Be strategic, know yourself. Do the tasks you do not like at a time of day when you are well rested, whether that is in the early morning or at midnight. Make time for your writing. 

And remember, you can (and should) always go back to read again (and rewrite if needed).

Final touches

When you are getting close to the deadline of your thesis, make sure to have these things under control:

  1. Read and reread your text. Make sure it is coherent and understandable. Get someone else to read it for you and give you feedback. Rewrite if necessary. 
  2. Check if you have the formalities under control - like the correct front page. You can find information here (bachelor students - information in Norwegian only) and here (Master students). 
  3. Check your formatting and layout. Are all figures, tables and formulas where they should be? Are they all correctly labeled and are they described in your text? Are the page numbers correct? Did you include all the appendices? Are all your citations correct both in the text and in the reference list? Have you used the required citation style, font and line spacing? And so on.
  4. Writing a Master's thesis? Remember to submit it in UiS Brage in addition to Inspera, find information in Norwegian and English.

Why do we cite?

To learn how to properly cite sources is an important part of an academic education. We build our work upon what others have done before us, and it is common decency to credit them for the work that they have done - just as we would like others to give us credit if they use our work. And so we cite to acknowledge the work of others.

Citing relevant* and high quality sources also increases the quality of your own work. It places your work in a larger intellectual context, and gives you recognition for the work you have done.

Another advantage of citing your sources is that it gives the reader an opportunity to find and read the sources you have used for themselves. The goal should be to show the reader where you found the information you are building your work on. That way your reader can continue to explore the parts they find interesting or surprising by reading the original source. 

Last, but not least, cite correctly to avoid plagiarism, which means taking credit for other people's thoughts or ideas. That can have serious consequences, like excluding you from further studies for a year, so make sure to cite your sources properly.

*Make sure that your sources are not only high quality, but also relevant to what you are writing about. Your ability to discuss your work in the light of other's in a good way is one of the key skills you need when writing an academic text.

When do I cite?

When you write a paper/thesis you need to tell the reader which words, thoughts, ideas etc. that are your own, and what you have borrowed from someone else. You tell them that by always referring to/citing the source (=the place where you find the information you are using, can be a book, a scientific article, etc.) when you use something that is not your own.

You do not need to cite when you use your own thoughts and ideas, but remember that you have to cite yourself it you use work you have handed in previously.

You also do not need to cite when you use what is considered common knowledge within your field. It is not always easy to know what is regarded as common knowledge, but as a rule of thumb it is better to cite one to many sources than one to few.

How do I cite?

There are many different ways to cite sources, each called a reference style. A reference style is a set of rules that tell you what the citations should look like. The references will look different depending on the source, e.g. a reference to a book will look different than an article when you see them listed in the reference list.

You must refer to all sources twice:

  1. In your text (short), where you have used information from your source.
  2. In the reference list at the end of your assignment (usually placed after your conclusion, but before the appendices). This entry should contain all the information the reader needs to find the source and read it for themselves if possible.

Ask your supervisor if there is a special reference style used within your field of study. APA 6th is used frequently in UiS, IEEE is also used within certain fields. If you are an IER student you should check out the subject page for Geology to find the suitable reference style there. The important thing to remember is to use one reference style throughout the entire text.

If you use a source in general you can cite the entire source. If you use information from a specific part of the source, you should do that in one of two ways:

  1. Direct quotation: Copy a (short) part of the text. Show that it is a direct quotation by using quotation marks (") at the beginning and end of the quote for shorter quotes, or by placing the quote in a block by itself, indented compared to the rest of the text.
  2. Indirect quotation/paraphrasing: Rewriting someone else's words/thoughts/ideas in your own words. Make sure to really rewrite it, not just change a couple of words while keeping the same sentence structure. Check out some examples in the presentation on the left on this page.

Tips:

  1. The Citation Compass, Search and Write and VIKO (links to the left) shows you many examples of several different citation styles.
  2. Use a reference management software if you have many sources to keep track of. There are several, the University Library can help you with EndNote, Zotero and BibLaTeX.

EndNote

EndNote is a reference management software. Best for master students dealing with long reference lists.

Use EndNote to

  • Keep track of the literature you read
  • Export references and pdf’s from library databases
  • Easily drop citations into your text and automatically create reference lists
  • In EndNote Online you can cooperate with your fellow students sharing a library

Get started:

Why use Zotero?

  • Zotero helps you cite while you write
  • Create a reference list with one click
  • Zotero helps you organize your literature: required reading, lecture notes etc.
  • Sync across your devices, and share with others
  • Change citation style at any point

Get started:

BibLaTeX

BibLaTeX is a reference management system used in combination with LaTeX. If you do not plan on using LaTeX, this is not an option for you. It requires a bit of technical understanding, but it is pretty straight forward once you get the hang of it.

Get started: