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Writing master thesis abroad definition

Jun 10, 2018

A thesis for Distinction in Biology should be a presentation, written primarily for the non-specialist reader, of the significance, results and conclusions of a productive research project. The thesis is a written exam to be evaluated by the Faculty in Biology and must answer the following questions: What did you do? Why did you do it? What is the significance of your results? What else would you do, were you to continue the project?

In answering the above questions, you have an opportunity to demonstrate your understanding and intellectual ownership of a project; not simply your productivity in the lab. The volume of results or completeness of the study is not critical for a successful thesis. Instead, we will be looking for the following:

Format of the Thesis

The basic format of the thesis should resemble that of a scientific journal article and should include the following sections: Introduction & Background; Methods; Results; Discussion; and References. In some instances, it may be useful to sub-divide the Methods & Results section to reflect and correspond to each separate "Specific Aim". However, if you chose to take this route, remember that there should still be a general Introduction and Discussion sections that address the project as a whole. The thesis should not consist of several "mini-papers" stapled together.

1. Introduction Section

The introduction & background section should provide the non-specialist with a clear understanding of the subject and the nature and rationale for the specific project (i.e. general & specific aims). As part of writing for a non-specialist, be sure to include definitions of any specialized terms that are critical to your work. The thesis should be completely free of unexplained jargon!

Begin with an explicit statement of your general aim (hypothesis). A review of pertinent literature then serves to define the context and import of your general aim. Alternatively, the statement of the general aim may follow logically from the review of literature. Typically, this section will be longer and more comprehensive than that found in an article for publication. It will be followed by a listing of your specific aims and a brief explanation of why you chose the specific experimental approaches for each.

2. Methods & Results Section

The presentation of methods and results may follow the format recommended by your research supervisor for publication in an appropriate journal. However, limit your thesis to experiments and their results that are the product of your own work. It is strongly recommended that these sections be written in the first person to make clear that you are presenting your specific work.

If you must allude to work done by collaborators as part of your presentation, be sure to cite the precise source. For example: "The sample was collected using needle biopsy by Dr. So&So;" or "There was a significant increase in activity as compared to control experiments performed earlier by Dr. What's-her-name". In general, comparison of your results with the results of others should be reserved for the Discussion.

In some projects, methods and results may involve proprietary information (eg, drugs under development), or information intended for later publication. Your thesis will only be shared only with your thesis committee the Department of Biology. It will not be ‘published’ in a publication, nor posted to a searchable web site without approval of the student and PI, and your poster will only be displayed at the poster session on campus. However, you should consult with your PI before including any sensitive names or data in your thesis or poster. You may ‘anonymize’ the names of reagents or genes, if need be.

It is not uncommon that some projects will still be in preliminary stages, with little in the way of reportable results, by the deadlines specified for submission of your thesis and poster. This does not automatically disqualify a thesis for distinction, as progress in a research project varies on a case by case basis. Consult with your Biology thesis committee (i.e, your faculty reader or the DUS) to discuss the best way to structure your methods and results section if this is the case.

3. Discussion Section

The Discussion Section should provide the non-specialist with a clear interpretation of the experimental results. Avoid simple repetition of the results, focusing instead on their significance in the context of the general aim and the findings of others. It is perfectly okay to be speculative here - this is your opportunity to demonstrate that you are really thinking about the big picture.

Devote a portion of this section to addressing future directions for your project. You should comment on how any uncertainties in your results might be resolved. In addition, you should suggest additional experiments and approaches that you might take if you were to continue the project.

Your Faculty Reader should provide feedback on an initial draft of the thesis submitted by the first draft deadline. The Faculty Evaluation Form will give you a sense of how your Reader will evaluate your draft. Expanded guidelines and evaluation rubric can be found as part of the Biology Thesis Assessment Protocol: Thesis Evaluation Rubric (PDF).

Submission Guidelines

The format of the final copy should follow these guidelines:

Sample Theses

Examples of Distinction papers from previous years are available for examination in the Undergraduate Studies Office (Rm 135 BioSci).  Four samples are also available below as PDF files.

Additional Resources

We're always going to argue about abortion. It's a hard choice and it's controversial, and that's why I'm pro-choice, because I want people to make their own choices. Hillary Clinton Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people. William Butler Yeats The people who influence you are the people who believe in you. Henry Drummond Education promotes equality and lifts people out of poverty. It teaches children how to become good citizens. Education is not just for a privileged few, it is for everyone. It is a fundamental human right. Ban Ki-moon Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting. Franklin D. Roosevelt The number one benefit of information technology is that it empowers people to do what they want to do. It lets people be creative. It lets people be productive. It lets people learn things they didn't think they could learn before, and so in a sense it is all about potential. Steve Ballmer Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it's amazing what they can accomplish. Sam Walton There is no force in the world that can block the powerful march of our army and people, who are holding high the banner of the suns of great Comrade Kim Il Sung and great Comrade Kim Jong Il and continuing to advance under the leadership of the party and with strong faith in sure victory. Kim Jong-un Treat others as you wish to be treated. Don't just be nice, but be kind to other people. That can be so rewarding. Mary Lambert

Find yourself confounded by thesis statements? Writing an excellent thesis statement doesn't require magic or luck, but it does require a few key elements we'll lay out for you in the lesson that follows.

The Thesis Explained

Presumably you know what a thesis is by now. If not, go and watch 'What is a Thesis Statement?' Seriously, what are you waiting for? Go! Yeesh.

Okay, for the REST of you, let's recap what a thesis does, and then we'll break down what makes it tick so you can duplicate it. Today we've decided to kick it old school with our pal (and famous Greek mythological warrior) Theseus, the thesis... guy. He'll help lead us down the LABYRINTH of writing a good thesis. Are you ready, Theseus?


Haha! That's right, Theseus. But I think you'd better let me take it from here.

A strong thesis does three things:

  1. Answers a question with a claim that needs to be proved.
  2. Tells the audience what to expect in the rest of your essay going forward.
  3. Is specific.

Now, how you express these three elements depends on the type of essay you're being asked to write, so let's look at a couple of situations.

When You're Given an Essay Prompt

To answer the first point, before you can answer the question posed by the prompt, you have to answer how you feel about the question for yourself. In other words, do a little brainstorming to see if you agree or disagree.

So let's say your prompt is as follows:

'There is no great success without failure.' - Develop an essay that explains how much you agree or disagree with the previous statement using examples from your reading, experiences, or observations.

First, decide whether you agree or disagree with the prompt. Maybe you think winning is all that matters, or maybe you think failing has its own virtues. What do you think, Theseus?

Phainomai tous kalistous logous einai... (Theseus is chased off by a Minotaur.)

Maybe there are shades of grey in between - it's okay to talk about that, too - but your thesis is going to tell us YOUR position. So, following the formula for a strong thesis, we'll try our own.

Success is defined by winning, not failure, but failure is an essential part of learning to succeed.

Does this satisfy the three requirements? It appears to answer the question - the writer thinks that failure is permissible and good - and it appears to make a claim that needs to be proved - namely, why it's essential to success. The audience can expect an essay about failure, but it's a little broad and lacks specifics. We'll address how to revise this thesis a little bit later.

When You're Not Given an Essay Prompt

If you're not given an essay prompt - or are given a more ambiguous one - a thesis statement still serves the exact same purpose we've already laid out. The only difference is that you're coming up with both the question (the prompt) and the answer (the thesis) on your own.

Let's say your teacher asks you to discuss the meaning of the story of Theseus and the Minotaur in an essay. Without any other direction, where do you go from there? Well, first you have to research the topic story and try to develop a persuasive argument. Maybe you decide that Theseus is a symbol of revolution, and that the labyrinth represents the difficulty of navigating politics, and the Minotaur represents the monster that lies at the heart of all governments.

With these symbols in hand, perhaps you ask the question: Is the story of Theseus and the Minotaur representative of something beyond a simple myth? And you decide that yes, each major character and challenge represents something about the process of revolution. Then you narrow down the specifics - Theseus is a revolutionary, the maze represents the difficulty of navigating politics, et cetera - so your eventual thesis looks like this:

The tale of Theseus and the Minotaur is a metaphor for revolution, with Theseus, the Minotaur, and the labyrinth each symbolizing a different aspect of the process of social upheaval.

This thesis answers the question the writer poses and makes a claim that needs to be proved (what the story symbolizes and how), lets the reader know what is going to be discussed, and then gives several specifics (we know we'll be talking about three major symbols and how they relate to social upheaval and revolution), making this a serviceable thesis.

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One thing I should note here is that you shouldn't try to bite off more than you can chew with your thesis, and that's another reason why it pays to be specific. Discussing symbolism in a short tale is appropriate for a short or medium-length essay. Discussing all instances of symbolism in an epic-length poem like The Iliad is better suited to a whole book. If your thesis seems too broad, find a way to narrow it down.

Revising Your Thesis

No thesis is born perfect, but during a timed test - where you may have only 30 minutes to an hour to brainstorm, organize, write, and edit your full essay - you may have to try to get it right the first time. All other times, however, you should revise your thesis.

When revising your thesis, ask yourself:

Let's try the earlier thesis and see if we can make it better.

Success is defined by winning, not failure, but failure is an essential part of learning to succeed.

This appears to make a certain argument - namely, that failure is an important part of learning to succeed - so it appears to satisfy the first category. It's essentially a slight rephrasing of the prompt, which is okay, even if it's not very exciting.

What about the second component? Can you fully explain the argument? I don't think so, unless you're going to explain every failure you can possibly have in life and why it's good for you. You're going to have to be more specific. As it is, the thesis might be worth talking about, but it's too broad to say for sure. Let's try being more specific.

Michael Jordan, President Abraham Lincoln, and a group of Singaporean scientists all have one thing in common: They think that failure is not only normal, but necessary for success - and you should too.

This thesis answers the question the writer poses and makes a claim that needs to be proved. It takes the position that failure is necessary for success and even directly confronts the reader that they should believe the same thing, thus pulling the reader into the essay. It also gives three (odd) specific examples up front that you know they're going to talk about in the essay. This combination of specifics and challenging the reader makes this an effective thesis.

Lesson Summary

Remember that a great, well-written (and revised) thesis:

  1. Answers a question and makes an argument.
  2. Sets the reader's expectations.
  3. Has one main, overarching point and does not promise more than it can deliver in the space provided.
  4. Is specific and concrete.
  5. Is worth talking about and can be well argued.

Lesson Objectives

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

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