Organizing your thesis is pretty simple when you get down to it. Don't make it more complicated than it needs to be. If you are confused about what to do, you might consider following the structure recommended below. This comes via way of Brian Smith, a former MIT faculty member now at Penn State. He was given this advice by Bruce Buchanan. I think it's reasonable as well.
Prof. Buchanan's advice is that any engineering thesis can be reduced to the following six chapters. Sometimes other structures can be warranted, but you can't go wrong with the structure below.
|1) Introduction||What's the problem you're trying to solve? Argue why your work has a surprising, unexpected result or solves a problem that nobody has solved before or can be proven to work substantially better than any other solution anyone has tried or raises some questions that nobody has thought about before.|
|2) Extended Example||Give an example of your system and how it works.|
|3) Theory & Rationale||Why are you doing what you're doing? Concisely but comprehensively, what is the prior work that your work is based upon or that your work supercedes? You are justifying your decisions based on prior work and arguing why your approach is needed, but you are not providing a full literature review. Look in the background sections of published papers to see how this compare and contrasting is typically achieved. You are connecting your work to the work of others and setting up your discussion of design decisions in the next section. That said, all the important prior work should be references. You just don't need a summary of each work. Only what makes it relevant.|
|4) Design & implementation||How was what you built built and why? What have you improved upon as described in Chapter 3? I|
|5) Evaluation||How well does your system actually work with respect to solving the problem you lay out in Chapter 1? Explain this, being extremely carefully in how you document the experiments you have performed. How do you know that what you have created actually works? Analyze the problems that you encountered: both those you solved and those you didn't.|
|6) Conclusion||Summarize your main arguments and how you have supported your hypotheses. What would you do differently if you were going to take another pass at this problem. You do not need an extensive section on pie-in-the-sky future work.|
In addition, I would suggest that for a MEng/SM thesis these chapters, in total, should be approximately the length of a long conference paper submission. Extra implementation detail should be included in an extensive set of appendices.
Stephen Intille's Thesis Development and Writing Tips
Last updated: 11/16/04