What is a thesis? Who are we writing it for? How should it be written?

Your thesis is a research report. This report concerns a problem or a series of problems in a specialty. It should describe what was previously known, what you did to resolve the issue (s), what your results mean, any new issues raised by your research, and how these new issues can be resolved. A thesis is very different from a student assignment: the reader of an assignment is usually the one who asked the question. He already knows the answer (or one of the answers), not to mention the origin, the documentation, the assumptions and theories and the strengths and weaknesses of these.

How many details?

More than for a scientific article. Once your thesis is bound and your friends have read the first three pages, chances are that the only people likely to read your work in the future are those who are researching it. You have already read student theses in the lab where you are now, so you already know the advantages of a thesis that explains clearly, and/or the disadvantages of a vague thesis.

Make it clear what is yours

If you are using a result, observation, or generalization that is not yours, you must indicate where in the scientific literature this result is reported. Exhaustive and precise references allow us to verify the basics of each addition to the structure of science, or at least to trace them to a level that we deem to be reliable. References also tell the reader which parts of the thesis are descriptions of what one already knew, and which parts are your additions to that knowledge. In a thesis, written for a reader who is not necessarily familiar with the specialist literature in your field, this should be particularly clear.

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The style of your thesis is important, but if the idea of ​​accepting the advice of an English speaker on this bothers you, skip to the next section. The text must be clear. A well-written thesis will be easier to read, which will bring you some advantages. Scientific writing should be a little formal — certainly more formal than the text you read.


It is not necessary to turn your thesis into an editing masterpiece. Your time and energy can be spent more effectively on improving content than appearance. Often, a clear and acceptable diagram can be drawn by hand faster than with graphics software. If you are going to pose the thesis in electronic form, you can scan the handmade version, and, in black and white, it will not know a huge file.

In general, students spend too much time on diagrams — time that could have been spent critiquing discussions, making explanations clearer, looking for errors, and thinking more about the meaning of the results. The reason is that drawing is easier than thinking.

Readers are not impressed with a thesis that is too long. They won’t be happy to have to read a lot of vague or unnecessary text.

Introductory pages

In the original version of this document, I give a list of introductory pages according to the rules and traditions of English-speaking universities. For a thesis, I advise you to ask the doctoral studies office of your institution if they have any rules, and also to look at examples of recent theses that have not suffered from bureaucratic problems. Usually, a thesis has a title page that presents:

the name of the institution

the type of thesis

the name of the doctoral student

the title of the thesis

the date of the defense

the names of the members of the jury, with the president and rapporteur (s), indicated.

It is followed by an (optional) acknowledgment page, a table of contents, and then the chapters of the thesis.


Of all your thesis, this part will be the one that will have the largest audience. It’s best to write it towards the end, but not at the last minute because you’ll need to throw it several times. Also, the summary is so important that it is definitely worth asking an English-speaking colleague or friend to edit your version. The summary should be a distillation of the thesis: a concise description of the problem (s) being addressed, your method of solving it (s), your results, and conclusions. An abstract should be independent. Usually, it does not contain references. When a reference is needed, its details should be included in the text of the summary. Check the length limit with your college.


Most of the Ph.D. students put, in one page, their thanks to those who have helped them directly in scientific subjects, and also to those who have helped them indirectly by providing such essential qualities as food, education, genetic heritage. , financial support, help, advice, friendship, etc.

Table of contents

The introductory chapter begins on page 1. If you would like to number the previous pages, do so with Roman numerals. It is very useful to put the headings of subdivisions of each chapter, as well as the titles of the chapter. Remember that the thesis can be used as a reference in the lab, so it’s important to be able to easily find what you’re looking for.


What is the topic and why is it important? Explain the problem (s) as simply as you can. Remember that you have been working on this project for a few years, so you know it very well. Try to mentally step back and take a more general view of the problem. How does your problem relate to the main themes of your discipline?

Literature paper

Where does the problem come from? What do we already know about it? What other methods have we tried to solve it? In principle, you will have done a lot of hard work already, if you have looked at the newspapers on the subject as you promised yourself to do three years ago. If you have already summarized the papers that are important to you, you have a good starting point for the review.

How many articles to cite? How relevant do they have to be included? This is a difficult question. A hundred is reasonable for many theses, but it depends on the field. You are the world expert on the (narrow) subject of your thesis: you must demonstrate this in your journal.

A rough political point: don’t forget to cite relevant articles published by the members of your jury, or by the heads of the labs to whom you can send a copy of the thesis in the next year.