Writing Your Paper

PhD Dissertation

The PhD dissertation is a serious scholarly work that must be a new contribution to knowledge. The exact research of course varies widely, but each dissertation must have some similar elements. Below is a list of some:

  1. Excerpts from the dissertation must be publishable in a peer-reviewed journal. Acceptance for publication is not a criterion for completing the dissertation, but it is anticipated that all students will submit materials from their dissertation for publication to appropriate journals. A good dissertation should result in two or three peer-reviewed papers.
  2. The research should be pursued to a successful conclusion. Research that fails to achieve meaningful goals will be considered inadequate to satisfy the dissertation requirements. Even though a student may follow the methods outlined in the prospectus, if the results are disappointing, the research may not be found acceptable. This is simply a risk of doing research.
  3. Specific original contributions from the research should be identified and explicitly stated. Tutorial efforts, product development, applications software, etc., though perhaps indispensable to the research, are not by themselves adequate contributions. New theoretical developments, experimental results and conclusions, generalizations, new viewpoints, etc., are examples of contributions to knowledge. The commercial or industrial benefit of the work is considered incidental to the academic value of the research, and has no bearing on the acceptability of the dissertation.

MS Thesis

The MS thesis is serious scholarly work in the same sense as a PhD dissertation. However, it can represent the finest state-of-the-art knowledge more than creating new knowledge.

  1. Excerpts from the dissertation should be publishable in a peer-reviewed journal. Acceptance for publication is not a criterion for completing the thesis, but it is anticipated that a good thesis should result a peer-reviewed paper.
  2. The research should be pursued to a demonstrable conclusion. While is is anticipated that a good thesis will have a successful conclusion, the emphasis in a thesis is more toward mastering skills than in creating new knowledge.

Writing a Thesis or Dissertation

The dissertation must conform in form and style with the University and Departmental regulations. Dissertation style guidelines are available in the Departmental office.

LaTex is the publication language of choice for physics and astronomy journals. We recommend that students learn it and use it for their thesis/dissertation. A set of helpful tutorial material and templates for Windows is available to help. Using the templates helps ensure that the format is correct.

It is also possible to produce a dissertation or thesis using Microsoft Word. An example of a thesis done in Word, courtesy of Stephanie Magleby, is available here.