Essay and dissertation guidelines
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Rather than a single, lengthy section identifying the topic and giving appropriate educative background material, consider breaking the “introduction” into sections. The “introduction proper” (i.e. the bit you head as “Introduction”) may in such a case be only one or a few pages. It should quickly and plainly “establish the territory” of the work, by:
• indicating the central issues to be addressed in the report,
• articulating the problem you aim to solve (or gap in knowledge you hope to close) and,
• indicating how you intend to solve the problem (or how you will close the gap).
An Intro structured in this way becomes a concise overview of the main body of the paper—a map, if you will, to “prime” the mind of the reader. This way, very quickly, the reader will gain a perspective on the issues to be addressed and why they are worth reading about, and will have an idea of where he/she will be taken in the course of reading the remainder of the paper. Before turning your attention to the main body of the paper, you may find that further introductory material is needed. If so, it is worth considering including this material as a section(s) separate from the “introduction proper” as described above. So, for example, if your report is about post-embryonic neurogenesis in the cortex of the brain, much of the body of the report may require that the reader understands some of the key methods by which this phenomenon may be studied. One approach therefore might be to provide at the outset (after the “introduction proper”) a short section focused on this methodology so that the body of the report following can be devoted primarily to evaluation of evidence.
The Body of the Paper
Here you should “present your case”: you will move from an introductory/explanatory mode into evaluation and analysis. As described above, it may be useful to impose a structure on the material in part through the use of headings and sub-headings. It is important that your accounts of the issues are fair and balanced. While you may wish to emphasise “one side of the story”, make sure to let the reader know that you appreciate the existence of alternative viewpoints or interpretations. In such cases, as appropriate, let the reader know what evidence you think is strongest, and why you think one side of the argument is stronger. Such activity can be summarised as “critical analysis”—an essential element of a good dissertation and something that should be plainly evident if you hope to get a grade above C+.
In a final section of the report, you should try to draw together the ideas and evidence that you have put forward in the body of the report and to relate them back to the central issues or problem that you identified in the Introduction. In some cases, it may be appropriate to present this section as “Conclusions”, but more often, because the paper will reach no true resolution, it will really be a “Closing Summary”. You should consider things such as: What are the implications of your analysis? What are the limitations? What more needs to be done toward solving the problem or closing the knowledge gap?
Figures and Tables
It is very likely that you will want to include at least some diagrams, graphs, tables, etc. in your dissertation. In some cases, you might produce or compile these yourself, but often you will probably want to include diagrams from some of the published source material that you have consulted. In laying out the dissertation, please DO NOT include figures and tables within the text. Instead, include these on separate pages. Generally, you should include only a single element (figure or table) per page, but it may be acceptable to include more than one provided the page is not too crowded. On the same page as the figure or table, you should also include a brief caption that explains the content. The caption should start with the label “Figure X” or “Table X”, where X is a numeral (NOT Roman) reflecting the order of mention in the text (so the figure that is mentioned first in the text of the paper is “Figure 1”; the first table is “Table 1; etc.). This should be followed by an informative, but brief title. Following the title should be the body of the caption: a sentence or two (or a few more) that describes the figure or table. If the figure or table has been obtained from a web site or publication, or is derived from published data, the caption must also include a citation to indicate its source, full bibliographic details of which should be included in the References section.
Here you should list alphabetically all references cited in the text of the dissertation. If any references were consulted, but are not cited in the text, you should include these in a separate list, headed “References (not cited)”. There are probably as many bibliographic reference formats as there are journals, and it is pointless to argue over which format is the “one and only” correct way. It is, however, imperative that you employ an acceptable format and that you use it consistently. Some minimal requirements and suggested formats are given in the section on referencing found later in the Handbook under the heading, Guidelines on Style. So long as your method meets the minimal requirements, you are free to use whatever particular style is appropriate within your field of study. However, please note that regarding in-text citation, the Harvard system (where “Author, year” is used) is MUCH preferred over the Vancouver style (where bracketed or superscripted numbers refer to references in the end list).
At least one Appendix is required in your dissertation: a glossary of abbreviations and terms, presented in alphabetical order. Each item should be spelled out (if needed) and briefly defined. This will assist readers (especially the Second Internal Examiner and the External Examiner) who may not be not expert in your field and who may become fatigued by jargon and/or “alphabet soup”! It is difficult to specify precisely what sorts of terms should be included; you will need to use your judgement. An example of what need not be included: terms such as DNA and PCR are indeed abbreviations, but they are so well known that it would be silly to include them! In any event, please don’t go overboard here: it would be rare for a project to require more than 2 sides of A4 for this and in most cases you will need much less. If necessary, you should cite the source(s) of your definitions, just as you would cite the source of any other detailed information or ideas in the body of the paper. The number and scope of any additional appendices will vary depending on the nature of your project. In many cases, none will be needed. Discuss with your Supervisor whether or not you should be presenting material in appendices.
Guidelines on Style
These guidelines are intended to help you in dealing with some of the trickier aspects of writing your thesis. Generally speaking you must not deviate from the instructions given herein. Should you do so, it will be taken by the markers as an inability on your part to follow normal scientific convention and you will lose marks.
Numbers & Units
Following are some selected examples of acceptable practice in reporting numbers and units. It is not intended to give a comprehensive account on this topic. If your discipline demands it, you may vary from these instructions, but you should indicate the authority on which you do so (e.g. you may cite a style manual or the information on preparation of manuscripts from a refereed scientific journal).
General Advice on Numbers and Units
Do not start sentences with a numeral: Wrong: “10 butterflies landed on the bush during the 1 h observation…” Correct: “Ten butterflies…” If possible, don’t start a sentence with a number at all: Wrong: “100 µL of Buffer B was then added…” Better: “Buffer B (100 µL) was then added…” Always abbreviate units when reporting numerical information. Normally, there is no difference between singular and plural forms. Normally, there should be a space between the number and the unit. Some examples illustrating these points: “Quadrats measuring 4 m square….” “This particular type of cell is normally about 20 µm in diameter.” “The solution was brought to a volume of 500 mL, so that NaCl was 0.15 M.” “Reactions were performed at 37 °C.” An exception: “…1%…”, not “…1 %…” If you are using units in a non-numerical context, the units should be spelled out: “All measurements are reported in millimetres unless otherwise indicated.”
Use mg mL-1 rather than mg/mL. Write “10 mg of trypsin mL-1 ” rather than “10 mg mL-1 trypsin”.
Although obsolete according to SI, Molarity (M; mol L-1 ) remains widely used and is therefore acceptable. Alternatively, use µg mL-1 etc. When reporting solutions as “%”, qualify with “w/v”, “v/v”, or “w/w”, as appropriate.
Report molecular mass in Daltons (Da), e.g. 31 500 Da or 31.5 kDa; or as relative molecular mass, Mr, without units: Mr 31 500. Do not use “molecular weight”. (Note that Mr is the ratio of the mass of a molecule to 1/12th the mass of 12C. Mr is therefore dimensionless.)
Use Curies (Ci) or Bequerels (Bq). Report dpm, not cpm. For isotopically labelled compounds:
• If the isotope is of an element inherent in the compound, write the symbol for the isotope in square brackets, e.g. “[3 H]thymidine” (that is, the tritium atoms in thymidine are replacements of H atoms that are normally found in thymidine).
• If the compound does not normally contain the isotopically labelled element, use e.g. “131Ialbumin” (that is, albumin does not normally contain iodine-131, but has been modified so that it does).
Illustrations and Tables
Illustrations These should be numbered in a single series in the order in which they are referred to in the text. Refer to these in the text as “Fig. 1(a)”, not FIG 1A, etc.; or as “(Fig. 1a)” not “(Figure 1A)”. Indicate magnification with a bar scale.
These should be numbered in a single series in the order in which they are referred to in the text; e.g. “Table 1”, etc.
Citing References in Your Text
It is essential to cite sources and references properly. This is done by including wherever relevant in the text the author’s name(s) and the date of publication in parentheses. When citing print publications (e.g. journal articles and books), use the following forms: (Coast, 1996) for a single author, (Baggott & Graeme-Cook, 1997) for two authors, (Baggott and Graeme-Cook, 1997; Cunningham and Rayne, 1998) in year order for more than one citation (Goldsworthy et al., 1995) for more than two authors (first author named, subsequent authors referred to by “et al.”).
The paragraph below (invented!) indicates how you might include citations to print sources within a body of text: “The discovery of living dinosaurs can be considered a milestone in cancer research (Spielberg et al. 1995), especially as Snark et al. (1999) have confirmed the existence of these animals. As Bird (1997) warned, transfer of this DNA to domestic cattle has had disastrous consequences (Jekell & Hyde, 1998). Only regulation by an appropriate professional body would seem to be the way forward (HFEA, 1999).” References to print publications almost always include the author’s last name, the date of publication, and sometimes the page number of the reference. Often, for web sources, some or all of these elements may be missing and so references to such sources will usually include only an author’s last name or an organization name. If no name is available, use the URL. Also add the date of publication or last update if available and the date you accessed it. Examples of how to include web references in text are below: As outlined by Green (2004) the current theory is … Many examples of this were found (Department of Health, 2005) which led to … Psychology students today are finding that more training is required (http://www.psychstudents.org.uk, 2003) before they can …. The section following indicates how you should write out your references in a reference list.
The Reference List:
Print Publications Publications referred to in the text of a paper/report must be listed in alphabetical sequence at the end of the work. The examples below show acceptable formatting for citations of: a meeting/symposium abstract; a single author paper; a two author book; a two author book chapter (an edited volume); and a multi-author paper. All of these are print publications. Baggott, G.K. & Graeme-Cook, K.G. (1997) Variable shell conductance during natural incubation. Poultry and Avian Biology Reviews, 8: 158. Coast, G.M. (1996) Neuropeptides implicated in the control of diuresis in insects. Peptides, 17: 327-336. Coast, G.M. and Webster, S.G. (eds.) (1998) Recent Advances in Arthropod Endocrinology. Society for Experimental Biology Seminar Series Vol. 65, C.U.P., Cambridge. Cunningham, J.M. & Rayne, R.C. (1998) Radiochemical measurement of NOS activity by conversion of [14C] L-arginine to citrulline using HPLC separation. In: Nitric Oxide Protocols (ed. M.A. Titheradge). Humana Press, Totowa, NJ, USA. pp. 75-81. Goldsworthy, G.J., Lee, M.J. & Hyde, D. (1995). Inhibition of acetate uptake and changes in intracellular calcium in dispersed cells from the fat body of Locusta migratoria in response to adipokinetic peptides. Physiological Zoology, 68: 129-135. Please note that all of the above make use of a hanging indent: the first line starts farther to the left than the subsequent lines within a given citation. Remember scientific species and genus names must be italicised. Sometimes, following the alphabetical sort, a second pass of sorting is required (e.g. two papers with exactly the same authors, listed in the same order). In such a case, you should order these papers chronologically, oldest first. The Reference List: Web Publications You should incorporate any citations of web-based materials into the same reference list as your cited print-based publications. To build your citation, try to find as many of these as possible from the web site:
•Creation date and/or date last updated (try looking at the bottom of the web page)
• Title of page or whole web site
• URL (web address of page) e.g. http://www.bbk.ac.uk/lib/
• Also note the date you accessed it. Put this in square brackets e.g. [4th March 2005] This is important as the content may have changed by the time another person looks at the web site
Format for citing:
Author. Date. Title of web page (in italics) [online] Available from: www.url.ac.uk [accessed 03/03/06]
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. 2003. Embryo Research [online] Available from: http://www.hfea.gov.uk/HFEAPublications/HFEAleaflets/Embryo Research.pdf [accessed 09/03/06
Reporting Measures and Statistics
Some examples within this section have been borrowed from: http://abacus.bates.edu/~ganderso/biology/resources/writing/HTWstats.html
When reporting a mean, you should report along with it a measure of variability: either standard deviation (SD), or standard error of the mean (SEM). The number of measurements made in calculating the mean should be given. Some ways of conveying this information in writing follow (with points of difference between the two examples highlighted for illustrative purposes in bold): “Total length of brown trout (n=128) averaged 34.4 cm (SD 12.4 cm) in May, 1994, samples from Sebago Lake.” “Total length of brown trout (n=128) averaged 34.4 cm ±12.4 cm in May, 1994, samples from Sebago Lake.” The second style necessitates specifically saying in the Methods what measure of variability is reported with the mean.
Frequency data should be summarized in the text with appropriate measures such as percents, proportions, or ratios. “During the fall turnover period, an estimated 47% of brown trout and 24% of brook trout were concentrated in the deepest parts of the lake (Table 3).”
Reporting Results of Inferential Tests
In this example, the key result is shown in bold and the statistical result, which substantiates the finding, is underlined. “Mean total length of brown trout in Sebago Lake increased significantly (3.8 cm) between May (34.4 cm ±12.4 cm, n=128) and September, 1994 (38.2 cm ±11.7 cm, n=114), (two sample t-test, p < 0.001).”
It is best to use the word “significant” only in reference to statistical significance. Otherwise, use words such as “considerable”, “remarkable”, etc.
There are no degrees of statistical significance (i.e. a difference cannot be “extremely significant”): a difference either is or is not statistically significant according to the particular test employed.