Writing your thesis
Warning: This always takes much longer than you think it will, so you should start writing your thesis well in advance of the submission date. You will need to hand in 3 bound copies of the project.
The thesis should not exceed 10,000 words. It should be divided into the following sections:
Table of Contents
Abstract (approximately 1/2 to 1 page)
Introduction (approximately 10 to 20 pages)
Materials and Methods (approximately 10 pages)
Results (approximately 10 pages)
Discussion (approximately 10 pages)
References (approximately 10 pages)
The thesis should be typed, with lines double spaced and with suitable margins to permit binding. Each major section (Introduction, Material and Methods etc.) should start at the top of a new page. Paragraphs should be made clearly visible either by indenting the first line (by 5 spaces) or by leaving an additional blank line between paragraphs.
Before you start writing your thesis, it is a good idea to look at some previous theses to see what the finished ones look like. Ask your supervisor to recommend the best examples.
You should list on a separate page all the abbreviations that you have used in your thesis. Many of these are standard, e.g.
PBS - phosphate buffered saline
Ig - immunoglobulin
FITC - fluorescein isothiocyanate
Try not to invent too many abbreviations of your own, as it can make it hard work for your examiner to read. In addition, the first time that you use an abbreviation in the main text, you must define it, e.g.
Antibodies were diluted in phosphate buffered saline (PBS)
The next time you can simply use the abbreviation, e.g. Sections were rinsed three times in PBS
You must be consistent. Once you have defined an abbreviation, always use the same abbreviation and do not revert to the original words.
This should give a brief summary of the purpose of your study, the techniques that your chose to use, the major findings and a discussion of the technical aspects and academic significance of these results.
This should provide the background literature to the area in which you did your research, together with a discussion of the specific work, published and unpublished, that led to your own research project. A final paragraph should introduce the specific topic of your research work.
Materials and methods
This section should describe the reagents, cells etc. that you used and the methods that you carried out. This should give sufficient detail such that someone could read the protocol and then repeat the experiment themselves.
Commercial reagents should have their source (i.e. the company and country) in brackets after they are mentioned for the first time, but not on subsequent occasions, e.g.
Monoclonal antibody LP34 (Dakopatts, Denmark) was used to detect epithelium. Epithelial cells in the thymic medulla labelled more strongly with LP34 than those in the cortex.
However, the country should only be given the first time a company is mentioned. On subsequent occasions the name of the company is sufficient, e.g. Monoclonal antibody T2 (Dakopatts)
Obviously the exact way in which you present your data will depend upon the nature of your data. However, the following general rules apply to all studies. Your data should be concisely described in the text. Details should be presented as Figures (e.g. graphs, photomicrographs) and Tables. Figures and Tables should each be numbered (e.g. Fig. 1, Fig. 2 etc., Table 1, Table 2 etc.) and should be referred to in the appropriate position in the text, e.g.
Monoclonal antibody MR6 gave weak labelling of the epidermis in normal skin (Fig. 1) but strong staining of most Basal Cell Carcinomas (Fig. 2; Table 1).
It is also a good idea to present your data in 2 ways - as basic raw data in a Table or photographs, and collated/analysed, e.g. graphs, histograms etc. In this way your examiner can judge both the data and your analysis of it.
For numerical data, you should apply statistical analysis where appropriate. For photographic data, remember that you will need 4 copies of each figure (1 for each copy of your thesis). Photography can be very expensive so ask staff for advice on the most economical method.
There are two aspects to a discussion:
Technical and academic
For the technical part you should discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the techniques that you used. You should also discuss the problems (there are always some!) that you encountered, why you think these arose and how you tried to solve them.
For the academic part you should summarise the major findings of your research data, and then discuss your interpretation of these data and what you feel is their significance in the context of work that has been published in the literature.
Finally, you should discuss future work that could be done to answer the unanswered questions that remain at the end of your work, and the direction in which you think this research might lead.
When you write your thesis you will be using information that already exists, due to the work of other scientists. When you make a major statement that is based on someone's work you should quote the relevant publication; this may be an original article, a review or possibly a book. In the text, a reference should be quoted in brackets at the end of the relevant sentence, by giving author(s) and date; where there are 3 or more authors, only the first author followed by "et al." is given, e.g.:
1 author paper: B cells develop within the mammalian bone marrow (Smith, 1992).
2 author paper: T cells develop within the thymus (Smith and Jones, 1992).
3 author paper: T and B cells develop from a common haemopoietic stem cell (Smith et al., 1992).
[NB et al. is the abbreviated form of et alia meaning, in Latin, 'and others'. Et al. (and all other Latin phrases such as in vivo, in vitro) should be written in italics, or underlined if your computer cannot do italic script e.g. et al. or et al.]
Where 2 or more papers are quoted together at the end of a sentence they should be in chronological order, separated by a semi colon, e.g.: The thymic microenvironment plays a critical role in T lymphocyte development (Smith, 1990; Smith and Jones, 1991; Smith, et al., 1992).
Where the same author has published 2 papers in the same year they should be called a. and b., according to the alphabetical order of the second author, e.g.: Jones, et al., 1988a (for Jones, Bishop and Smith, 1988) Jones, et al., 1988b (for Jones, Dodd and Pilkington, 1988)
All the references quoted should then be collected together at the end of the thesis arranged in alphabetical order. Here, all the details (including all authors, full title, volume number and first and last page numbers) should be given as follows:
Jones, P.M., Smith, E.J., Buchanan, J., Rivers, P.M. and Head, L.T. (1989). The art of writing an M.Sc. thesis. J. Immunol. 43: 21-37.
Each journal has a standard abbreviation, e.g.:
Nature - Nature
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. - Proceedings of the National Academy of Science
Science - Science
Cell - Cell
EMBO J. - EMBO Journal
J.Virol - Journal of Virology
J. Gen. Virol. - Journal of General Virology
Virol - Virology
When you want to refer to a chapter in a book:
McGarvey, M.J., Houghton, M. and Weiner, A.J. (1998). Hepatitis C Virus; Structure and Molecular Virology. In A.J. Zuckerman and H.C. Thomas (eds) Viral Hepatitis (Second Edition). Churchill Livingstone, London, pp 245-270.
When you want to refer to a whole book:
Strauss, J.H. and Strauss E.G. (2002). Virus and Human Disease, Academic Press, San Diego.
Do not quote a reference that you have not read; reading the abstract is not sufficient. If there is an important article in a journal not taken by either the St Mary or South Kensington libraries, talk to your supervisor about it as it may be possible to obtain an inter-library loan or photocopy. Do not put a reference in the Reference section of your thesis unless you have quoted it in the text.
The research project takes 6 months. The submission date will be advised by the Programme Director. It is essential that the thesis is submitted on time.
Your oral examination will be held in mid September. You should use your time between submission and examination to read your thesis and read generally in the relevant areas.