Collected Guidelines for Master's Theses
This page attempts to explain how to write a Master's Thesis at NPS: the
process, timelines, content, style, and format. I compiled it with the help
from Susan Sanchez, Mike McCauley, Cynthia Irvine, John Powers, Amela Sadagic,
Neil Rowe, Kevin Squire, Daphne Kapolka, and Sam
Buttrey. Thank you! Mathias.
First and foremost, check the official NPS thesis requirements, currently at
That web page also lists many useful resources, including workshops, document
templates, and guidelines. The following links and tips are grouped by their
main content, but most documents cover more than one topic.
Process and timeline
The CISR has some excellent
advice for good practices throughout your degree, from proposal to thesis and
from advisor interaction to writing: http://cisr.nps.edu/downloads/thesis_guidelines.pdf
An OR memo, but it is quite specific to OR.
I highly recommend reading and following Prof. Gerald G. Brown's advice in How
to Write About Operations Research (local copy, possibly outdated), even
if your thesis is not in OR. Do it.
Prof. Neil Rowe makes suggestions for topics by thesis chapter:
(In my experience, the typical page counts are generally not sufficient for a
Master's Thesis. Ingenious theoretical results might be described in such brevity,
but not experimental and systems work.)
John Power's guidelines
for ECE theses are excellent, please follow them!
Some individual style issues:
- Avoid writing in the 1st
person! "We" is fine and often preferable over too much passive
- Use active voice. Passive
verb constructions can be ambiguous.
- Stay in present tense
throughout. Don't write "Chapter 9 will cover" but "Chapter
- Punctuation (periods and
commas) go inside quotation marks.
- Put a hard return between
figure or table caption and text.
- Do not split text around a
figure or table.
- Figure captions need to be
complete sentences and explain the main point of the figure. Many readers
first flip through a thesis looking at the figures. Cryptic 3-word
captions don't capture and describe the essential meaning of an image.
Since captions are usually included in the List of Figures, it is best to
write a one-line caption "headline" (which will go in the List
of Figures) and a more wordy explanation that will only show up in the
caption under the figure.
- Capitalize C in Chapter, F in
Figure and T in Table when referring to chapters, figures or tables in the
text and use roman numerals vs numbers or
spelling out, etc. for chapters.
- When using i.e., e.g. etc.
always put a comma before and after.
- Master's degree has an
apostrophe and Postgraduate is one word.
- If you use
"however," make sure there's a comma before and after, unless
you start a sentence with it and frankly that's not very good grammar.
While on the subject, avoid starting a sentence with "And" or
- When typing a date, do not
use "st" or "th"
as in December 1st or 4th. Commas go after Month/date, year. No comma
- Spell out numbers 1 through
- Footnote numbers go outside
- When typing equations in text
and use "where" or "if," etc. and it's not a new
paragraph then the word starts at the margin.
- Avoid "would,"
"could" and "should" since they often lead to
ambiguous expressions. "Might," "can," "need
to" and other constructs are more direct.
- Only short (one page max)
figures of pseudo code, sample code, and algorithms go right into the
thesis. Everything else has to be in the Appendix, if it is worth
including at all. All appendices together should not exceed 50 pages.
See the guidelines at the official NPS thesis page, currently at http://www.nps.edu/research/research1.html.
The choice between LaTeX and Word/OpenOffice is yours. I write most of my technical papers in
LaTeX and prefer it generally, but I've also had some
10 years of getting used to it. If you decide to use LaTeX,
use the following style and templates: npsthesis.sty, sf298.tex, mycover.tex, myrepdoc.tex.
Our very own Rudy Darken has compiled a long list
of helpful resources for grad students <broken link>
in general, including tips for doing research and help for technical writing.
A great set of tips, particularly for international
students, was created by NPS Instructors Ron Russell and Beth Summe.
The Dudley Knox Library has a web page with NPS
thesis resources, including books and RefWorks.
For citations, you can use RefWorks for which NPS has a license, then there's EndNote
(commercial) and Zotero
book: Introduction to Academic Writing (Second
Edition) by Alice Oshima, Ann Hogue, ISBN-10:
book: Writing Academic English (Fourth Edition) by
Alice Oshima, Ann Hogue, ISBN-10: 0131523597
Ron Azuma's famous computer science graduate
school survival guide.
David Patterson's talk on How to Have a Bad
Career In Research/Academia is amusing and
instructive. He has other useful information on that webpage.
William D. Shoaff's guide on How to Write a Master's Thesis
in Computer Science.
Prof. John W. Chinneck's guide on How to Organize
Iowa State University
has a hugely extensive meta-list of advice on Graduate Research,
Writing, and Careers in Computer Science
Another meta list: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~mleone/how-to.html