Unit 2 Thesis structure

Learning outcomes

By the end of this unit you should:

  • have practised giving a short presentation
  • understand the IMRD structure
  • have started drafting the introduction of your graduation thesis

Activity 1: Short presentation

Work in pairs or small groups. Take it in turns to give a short presentation (1 or 2 minutes) that introduces you, your lab, your research field and your research topic.

Your professor may ask you to present to the whole class, so use this as an opportunity to practise in a low-stress environment.

Activity 2: Self evaluation of short presentation

Reflect on your presentation. Award yourself a grade on each of these three criteria.

# Criteria Very good Good Fair Poor Very poor
1 Content (i.e. enough details) 5 4 3 2 1
2 Fluency (i.e. no dead air) 5 4 3 2 1
3 Eye contact (i.e. looking at the audience) 5 4 3 2 1

Activity 3: Types of graduation thesis

Read this section carefully so that you can answer any questions set by your professor.

Each area of computer science and engineering adopts different conventions and guidelines to follow regarding format, layout, organisation and language. The structure of your graduation thesis will depend on the type of thesis.

There are four common types of graduation thesis.

  1. applied, e.g. developing and evaluating software
  2. empirical, e.g usability and accuracy studies
  3. experimental, e.g. studies that test hypotheses using control and experimental groups
  4. theoretical, e.g. mathematical proofs

Work in pairs or small groups. Discuss the type of thesis that is most common in your lab. Which type of thesis do you think you will write?State your reasons.

Activity 4: Sections in graduation thesis

Read this section carefully so that you explain it to a classmate.

The names of the sections used vary greatly between different sub-disciplines in computer science and engineering. They also vary within sub-disciplines. There are however four general types of sections. The first section describes why the research is needed, the second show how the research is done, the third describes what you found or created, and the final section tries to answer the question "so what?". The names of the four generic sections and their key question words are:

  1. Introduction: Why?
  2. Method: How?
  3. Results: What?
  4. Discussion: So what?

These sections are so common that we often use the term IMRD to describe the typical structure of research articles and graduation theses.

Without looking at any notes, explain the four generic sections in a graduation thesis.

Activity 5: Commonly-used sections and subsections

Read this list of section and subsection names. When you check research articles and graduation theses produced in your lab or by your supervisor, notice which sections are commonly used. Your mid-term research poster is likely to use some of these section names as headings.

The names are categorized by generic section, but each name may be used as a section or subsection. At the start of a graduation thesis there is an additional section called Abstract and at the end there is a section called References containing all the sources referred to.

  1. Abstract
  2. Introduction: Introduction, Background, Problem, Research gap, Research niche, Proposal, Overview, Related works
  3. Method: Method, Procedure, Specifications, Development, Evaluation
  4. Results: Results, Findings
  5. Discussion: Discussion, Conclusion, Summary, Future work
  6. References

Work in pairs or small groups. Discuss the content of your mid-term research posters. Find out which sections both you and your classmate(s) used.

Activity 6: Structure of a graduation thesis (example)


There are many possible ways to organize a thesis. This is provided as an example to show you one way how sections may be divided into subsections. Do not use this example as your template. The best template for your thesis is a graduation thesis produced by members of your lab who worked on a similiar research project.

Section Content and subsections
Front matter Title, author, contact detail, supervisor
Abstract Abstract
Introduction Background
  Hypothesis or research question
Method Data identification
  Data collection
  Statistical analysis
Results Most important result
  Second most important result
  Third most important result
  Summary of results
Discussion Comparison and contrast, explanations, generalizations 1
  Comparison and contrast, explanations, generalizations 2
Conclusion Summary of most important results and their related explanations and generalizations
  Future work
References Bibliography of cited works

Activity 7: Discover thesis patterns

Each graduation theses (and each research article) has a pattern based on the structure of the sections and subsections. Three possible patterns are show below.

Patterns of sections

Discover different possible patterns in graduation theses using the Feature Visualizer .

Work in pairs or small groups and discuss what you discovered.

Activity 8: Completing your graduation thesis

Answer the following question. How do you eat an elephant?


Many students find that is is difficult to write around 2500 words, and so they delay and delay writing as long as possible. Writing a graduation thesis is like eating an elephant. They are both huge tasks. Both tasks are difficult to do. Neither task can be finished quickly. The usual answer to the question: "How do you eat an elephant?" is "One bite at a time". The same can be said for your thesis. "How do you write your thesis?" "One word at a time".

Your very first aim is simple: write just one word, and then your next aim is the second word, and so on. This course aims to help you break 2500 words into smaller managable chunks of writing.

To finish 1% of your thesis, you just need to write 25 words.

Activity 9: Answer the key questions

Answer the following questions. The answers will help you write the introduction to your thesis.

  1. (background) Can you explain the general research area in words that a non-specialist can understand?
  2. (research field) What is the general area of research for your lab?
  3. (importance) How can this research help people now or in the future?
  4. (research topic) What is the specific area of research for your Graduation Thesis project?
  5. (rationale) Why are you interested in this? Why is this important to you?
  6. (purpose) What is the main purpose of the research?
  7. (actions) What will you do in this project?

Try to expand each answer by adding more information. For example, an answer to the third questions could be expanded like this.

  • This research can help users learn.
  • This research can help users learn statistical theory more quickly.
  • This research can help users learn statistical theory more quickly. This is achieved by using multimedia explanations.
  • This research can help users learn statistical theory more quickly. This is achieved by using multimedia explanations, including text, image, audio and video resources.


Do you know:

  1. the four types of graduation thesis?
  2. the four generic sections in a graduation thesis?
  3. how many pages you need to write for your graduation thesis?
  4. what type of thesis you will write?
  5. whether you will use LaTeX or Word?
  6. What headings will you use?

If you do not, make sure that you do before your next class.