Degree thesis: how to write it – few basic rules

How do you write a thesis? Each degree course finds its conclusion and its crowning in the “discussion of the thesis”. This is the topical moment of a student’s course of study, whose scope in terms of work is such as to require months of preparation.

The transition from the old to the new teaching regulations of European universities has influenced both the programs of the individual examinations and the quantity and quality of the theses required: specifically, the 3 + 2 formula (ie a three-year degree plus a two-year specialist degree) entered into force with the new system it has seen an increase in the number of exams to be taken (though less substantial programs), but also in the number of theses (two: a short thesis for the three-year period and a longer one for the two-year period).

We propose here to draw up a series of basic rules always useful in the writing of a thesis, be it a three-year or specialist degree.

What is a degree thesis

A dissertation is a written paper, with a variable number of characters or folders, centered on a topic agreed with the supervisor, ie with the professor with whom it was decided to work on it. The speaker in turn, during the graduation session, presents the student’s thesis to the committee, after which the discussion involving the student and the commission is discussed.

It is customary to distinguish, by convention, between the compilation thesis (or curriculum) and the research (or experimental) thesis: the first, simpler, consists in the collection of sources concerning the chosen topic and in an adequate synthesis, in line with the thesis structure; the second one, instead, consists in the use of sources and own ideas to reinforce the chosen topic and to reach original, innovative conclusions.

First phase: the materials
Once the topic of the thesis has been agreed with the speaker, the first thing to do is to look for the materials, mostly in written form (but more and more are the multimedia contents: photos, video, audio, etc.), which concern the subject.

Given the unpredictable amount of materials that may affect the subject matter, unless you have clear enough ideas it is wise to seek advice from the speaker, who can either direct the student about what is important to investigate, or give explicit directions bibliographic, that is to suggest the first materials (books or other) to find.

A danger to be averted is to allow oneself to be overwhelmed by a great deal of materials to be examined. The student must have the ability to select the texts, ie he must be able to put together a limited number of materials to be examined over time, which is also limited, at his disposal. Obviously a constant and fruitful dialogue with the speaker can help a lot in research. It is fundamental not to digress too much, not to move away from the focus of research if it is not strictly necessary, that is, when what appears to be distant from the theme can prove invaluable in the elaboration of ideas and in the drafting of the thesis.

The main place to find the materials is the library, an alternative place increasingly rich in materials is the web. It is also necessary to know how to evaluate the quality of materials, to distinguish what is written with rigor, how much is verifiable, how questionable it is: there are materials that are necessary or useful to the thesis, but there are also harmful materials, it is the capacity of the student or the intervention of the rapporteur to avoid the worst.

Second phase: the structure

After collecting, studying and selecting the materials, the student should have clear enough ideas to face the thesis: you can move from study to writing.

The writing of the thesis does not lend itself to a romantic approach, that is, to “write from the cast taken from the sacred fire”. The thesis is an essay, a text in its scientific way, and for this it requires a clear and planned structure.

To simplify things, it is advisable to start with an index. The index is also the work plan. Nothing complex, it is enough to start from a conventional index: in a thesis, an introductory chapter, a concluding chapter, and a bibliography in closing cannot be ignored.

Between the introductory and the concluding chapters, those chapters that articulate the development of the thesis, which carry on, develop those ideas that must then be gathered in the conclusion: at the end of all, the thesis is the demonstration of a thesis, a theory , whether it is an experimental thesis or a compilation thesis.

We can consider the structure of the thesis as a map in which the path from the preliminary arguments to the decisive ones is clear, up to the final, the point of arrival in which the sums of the whole are drawn.

Clearly, during writing the structure can get complicated and become more refined with additions of chapters and paragraphs not foreseen in principle: the structure is indicative, not coercive.

Third phase: writing
After having conceived the structure, that is, in fact, the thesis project was drafted, we can move on to writing. As we have seen, before writing there is a long preparatory phase: the better it is dealt with, the easier it will be to get ready for writing.

Writing a thesis requires compliance with the following points:

1 – precision: given the claim of scientificity of the text that we are going to write, we must write everything with maximum precision, reporting, where required, the sources (obviously we must not risk passing as an own idea or affirmation emerged from the collected materials, hence the need for notes and bibliography);

2 – the sober style: for the aforementioned reasons, stylistic quirks cannot be granted, and a narrative or poetic approach to writing is excluded; the thesis is an essay, the style must be that of an essay, that is sober, possibly elegant, precise in the choice of words, homogeneous in the entire text;

3 – clarity: here we return to the structure: the division into chapters and paragraphs must be clear and consistent throughout the text, the reader must be facilitated, must not risk, while reading, getting lost in a maze of chapters and paragraphs not rigorously organized, confusedly juxtaposed; but we also return to style, a style that should preferably be simple, of that elegant simplicity that makes reading easy, useless and deleterious, resorting to a complicated period or to a language in which we do not pay attention to the necessary but resort to the superfluous, perhaps for aesthetic purposes that have nothing to do with the purpose of the thesis;

4 – text formatting: all the text must be set graphically following the usual orientations of the thesis; here it is the speaker who imposes on the student the choices regarding the type of font to be used, the size, the line spacing, the edges, but also the method to follow for the writing of the notes and for that of the bibliography.

If during writing these points are respected, a formally impeccable text should be reached, which would be the minimum objective to be achieved. Then there are the ideas, the arguments, the theoretical apparatus, all that leads us to make the thesis original, beautiful, fascinating, or, on the contrary, forgettable.

Introduction and conclusion

We can consider as “introduction” and “conclusion” two separate chapters, possibly without internal paragraphs.

A typical mistake is to repeat in “conclusion” what has already been said in “introduction”, changing only the form, the writing mode.

Just follow the definitions: the “introduction” has the function of anticipating, in a preliminary way and without indulging in details, what you want to demonstrate with the thesis; the “conclusion” has the function of pulling those threads unraveled during the thesis, the topics dealt with, to make explicit what we wanted to demonstrate with them, therefore requires a more elaborate and complex argumentative mode than the “introduction”, it must be more full-bodied and reaching the definitions, what was said and done with the thesis.

Some graphic rules
As we have said, precision is a fundamental point to be respected during the thesis writing. This is where the graphic rules that are usually followed and which vary, albeit slightly, according to the universities and the speakers, are included.

The margins of the thesis vary greatly, common to all is the number of centimeters greater than the left margin compared to the right, motivated by the binding.

The font to use is Times New Roman, body 12 or 14, line spacing 1.5. For notes the body must be lower – 10 or 12 – and single line spacing.

The titles of the chapters must be written in a larger body (a rule that does not apply to the titles of paragraphs and subparagraphs) and, of course, in bold.

As for the quotations, there are two ways to follow: if they are short, they must be placed within the text in low quotation marks («»); if they are long, they must be separated from the text by forming paragraphs with 1 cm indentations, in a lower body than the one used and with single spacing. The omissions must be indicated with three points in square brackets […].

The texts from which the citations are taken are generally reported in a note like this: author’s surname, name (extended or dotted), title in italics, possible translator’s report (trad. It. Of), city of the publisher, name of the publisher, page number (s) (p. or pp.). There are different ways to specify the date of the first edition of the book compared to that of the first edition, or the date of reprinting with respect to that of the first edition. Sometimes the title in the original language of the book whose edition is consulted is also used. In a similar way the books in the bibliography are reported.

The bibliography

The penultimate act of writing the thesis is the bibliography: it is the simplest act as it is a schematic text. The bibliography, by definition, is a list of works of various kinds: books, articles, multimedia contents. The bibliography must include both the texts directly used (ie those cited) and the texts simply consulted (ie those not mentioned, but which are consulted because they relate to the topics covered).

If addressed only at the end of the thesis, the bibliography can also become a complicated matter: you should browse the text written by the principle to point out the texts cited each time. Easy that in this boring operation you risk forgetting something, you risk sinning strictly.

On the contrary, one can be rigorous by using a simple and immediate method: write the bibliography in parallel with the thesis, report the texts in the bibliography just after citing them in the thesis.

It is important to structure the bibliography adequately. Given the heterogeneity of the materials studied, the bibliography must be written in a sectional manner, that is, by operating meditated divisions within it. Naturally the structure changes according to the thesis and the degree course. In case of using sources from the web to the bibliography, the sitography, or the list of online sources, must be added. In case of quotation or titles of works in foreign languages, these must be reported in original.

The index

Written the introduction, the internal chapters, the conclusion, the bibliography, the index remains: it is simply a matter of reporting the titles of chapters, paragraphs and subparagraphs with the relative page number.

The index is also a work of rigor, which requires a certain aesthetic care, whose elegance serves as the calling card of the work. At the end it is laid out for convenience, when everything has been written, corrected and ordered on the page, and yet it is usually placed at the beginning of the thesis. At this point the thesis is over.

We have omitted a particular and here we place it, in closing: it is assumed that the drafting of the thesis took place under the careful supervision of the supervisor, supervision that guarantees, if not the quality, at least the acceptability for the purpose of the promotion in session graduation.