Strategies for writing a successful thesis

Preparation of the thesis

Responsibility for the layout of the thesis and selection of the title rests with you and should be guided by discussion with your supervisor.

You are required to state unambiguously the sources of your information and the extent to which the work of others has been used. In support of your thesis, you may also submit any relevant publication(s) of which you are the sole or joint author. However, you may not present as the thesis any work which has been presented for any other degree at Monash or another university, unless this work has been published and is merely in support of the thesis. See the Handbook for Doctoral and MPhil degrees.

Writing the thesis

Apart from ensuring that you have frequent meetings with your supervisor, and that you know about all your responsibilities and the services others can provide, you may wish to read the following words of advice on writing about your research.

Get to know the software available to help you

For most students, it will be very important to know how to use a computer for writing the thesis or project. Courses are available at the Computer Centre, the Short Course Centre, and often also in the faculty at Clayton Campus. Find out how the software can help you to do tasks like fill in citations, maintain a consistent style, create a Table of Contents, and import work done on other software. This can be done using Word and Endnote (both available on the network) or Latex and Bibtex, which are especially appropriate if your thesis is highly mathematical.

You must also get to know how to use the systems in the library and the faculty (on-line on students' computers) and the various CD-ROMs which provide information needed to find publications. Courses are available for these. Ask the Library staff listed in Key Contacts in the front of this handbook.

Writing and seminar presentation assistance

General guidance for writing of theses should be provided by your supervisor. Seminars and classes on communicating your research are held for Engineering research students each semester. Individual consultations are available when intensive work to develop research language and communication skills is needed. This service is available to all research students in the faculty, and is used by native speakers of English as well as by those for whom English is a second language. Remember that writing a thesis without adequate English language skills is very difficult. Don't leave it until you start writing up to consult with Language and Learning staff if you need help.

Please contact Language and Learning lecturer: Jane Moodie, Room 220, Building 72, Ph: 9905 5488.

The Monash Institute of Graduate Research (MIGR also offers an extensive annual seminar and workshop program for postgraduate research students, known as the exPERT program. The program focuses on key aspects of employment and research training and the development of generic and transferable skills. For details see here.

Decide on the set of writing conventions you will follow

Conventions are the rules you need to follow in writing regarding citations, bibliographies, style (eg, language free of gender bias), page setup, punctuation, spelling, figures and tables, and the presentation of graphics. In the faculty, the Author/Date/Page system of referencing is in general use, with a few exceptions. Note that computer programs such as Endnote are available on faculty computers, so you may like to find out which systems of conventions it employs and choose accordingly. Programs such as Word include templates for dissertations (and other kinds of writing); these may, like Endnote, help you to maintain a consistent use of conventions throughout your thesis. You should discuss conventions with your supervisor at the beginning stages.

Look at other theses in the field

Many theses are available for you to look at in the Hargrave - Andrew Library and from departmental libraries. These are also available from your supervisor(s). Look at ones in your field to get ideas about the main features of their:

  • organisation
  • language use
  • use of subsections and styles for the hierarchy of headings/subheadings
  • page numbering and font

It will help you a great deal in the final stages if you have decided early on the conventions, the font and the use and style of subheadings and headings, and use them consistently.

Writing assistance

The following publications provide guidance on writing up your research. They are categorised according to the kind of help they provide. Advice should be sought from the supervisor as to which publication is the most relevant to your discipline. Information is also available from Jane Moodie, the Language and Learning lecturer within the Faculty of Engineering, who is located in Room 220, Building 72. Jane can assist with writing analytically and on approaches to writing for writers of both non-English speaking and English speaking backgrounds. Seminars on writing the thesis and research papers are offered during each semester and one-to-one consultations are also available.

In addition, a guide for research degree students is available online.

General writing guides

Guides to conducting research

Phillips, E.M. and Pugh, D.S. (1987) How to get a PhD: A handbook for students and their supervisors, Open University Press, Milton Keynes.
Cryer, P. (1996) The Research Student's Guide to Success, Open University Press, Buckingham

Guides to writing theses

Evans, D. and Gruba, P. (2002) How to write a Better Thesis, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Victoria.
Madsen, D. (1992) Successful Dissertations and Theses, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
Mauch, J. E. and Birch, J. W. (1983) Guide to the Successful Thesis and Dissertation. Conception to Publication: a Handbook for Students and Faculty, Marcell Dekker, Inc., New York.

Guides to technical writing

Huckin,T. and Olsen, L. (1991) Technical Writing and Professional Communication for Nonnative Speakers of English, McGraw-Hill
Thorough guide to writing technical reports and research papers, as well as professional writing in English. It also has good sections on giving oral presentations and running meetings, and on grammar and style.
Lannon, J.M. (1987) Technical Writing (4th edition), Scott, Foresman and Co.; USA.

Guides to Writing Research Papers

Day, R. (1989) How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper, Cambridge University Press, England.
Michaelson, H. (1990) How to Write Engineering Papers and Reports, Oryx Press, England.
Swales, J. and Feak, C. (1994) Academic Writing for Graduate Students: A Course for Nonnative Speakers of English, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Swales, J. and Feak, C. (2000) English in Today's Research World A Writing Guide, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Weissberg, R. and Buker, S. (1990) Writing Up Research: Experimental Research Report Writing for Students of English, Prentice Hall Regents

Study Guide for International Students

Ballard, B. and Clanchy, J. (1984) Study Abroad: A Manual for Asian Students, Longman; Malaysia.

Grammar references

Murphy, R. (1992) English Grammar in Use, CUP; Cambridge.
Swan, M. (1989) Practical English Usage, OUP; Oxford.
Master, P. (1986) Science, Medicine and Technology: English Grammar and Technical Writing, Prentice Hall Regents