I am nearing the end of a semester-long bachelor thesis in computer science. My supervisor suggested I set aside the last month (around 20 working days) for actually writing the thesis document. As such, I have begun this period now.

Why is a thesis important?

Given limited time, I am confused as to why I need to write a good thesis. I am not against writing it, I just want to understand why a good thesis is important so that I can optimize my time accordingly and focus on the important sections.

For instance, if I were writing a paper for a conference, my goal would be to convince potential reviewers (as well as the research community in general) about the merit of my proposed ideas and their novel contributions. As such, I know the intended audience and the intended message for such a paper. Along these lines, who is the intended audience and what is the intended message for a bachelor thesis? Firstly, I doubt many would be interested in reading a bachelor thesis, so this confuses me when I think about who I am writing this thesis for. Secondly, should I consider the intended message as convincing the reader of my ideas, in which case the thesis essentially becomes a long research paper?

I am dealing with these questions because I've found that I can write better and more persuasive matter when I think from the reader's point of view with a clear message to convey to him/her. But currently, I am neither clear about the audience nor about the point to make with my thesis.

I spoke to my supervisor about this. He said the thesis document is a report of all the research activities I did during the time allotted for it, which includes all experiments irrespective of their results. In contrast, a research paper focuses on one method which worked very well. With this in mind, one could say that the intent of my thesis is to inform, so that all experiments (with positive or negative results) serve as some kind of knowledge contribution to the research community. However, this still leaves the question of who the reader is, what should I assume about them, etc.

Which sections are the most important in my thesis?

Part of the reason for asking the former question is to obtain an answer for this question. Which sections are the most important in a thesis and why? From my understanding, the sections which stand out (like the abstract, introduction and conclusion) are the most important as they're the most likely to be read by potential thesis examiners, peers, etc.

Is there any other section that I should especially focus on?

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    Welcome to Academia.SE. I'm afraid questions about undergraduate matters are considered off-topic here, so your question is not well-suited to this site. – Jessica B Nov 21 at 13:40
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    @JessicaB I had read the scope mentioned here, where only questions about undergraduate admissions and undergraduate life (examples indicated extra-curricular life) were considered off-topic. Moreover, I found the bachelor tag, which is why it never occurred to me that my question could be off-topic. Please correct me if I'm misinformed :) – Bruce Wayne Nov 21 at 14:07
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    @JessicaB: Please also remember this. (And even with the old convoluted rules, this question would have been on-topic, since it does translate to master’s theses.) – Wrzlprmft Nov 21 at 14:56
  • The real problem is that this is ten questions, not one. – David Ketcheson Nov 21 at 16:22
  • Somehow lost in all the comments and answers (but maybe I've missed it) is anything about what I would have thought was the most important reason for doing this, namely learning how to effectively write technical/scientific exposition. Whether you go directly into industry or continue in academics, you're going to have to write about what you and others have done (e.g. grant applications, a summary of your company's team's work on some recent project, papers for publication, performance reviews of people under you in which you have to describe their work, etc.). – Dave L Renfro Nov 21 at 20:13

The audience

The correct, but somewhat cynical answer is that the main audience for a thesis or dissertation is the examiners. They'll have to grade it (or at least sign off on it), so you want to convince them to give you the grade you want. The next audience you'll want to target is actually yourself.

Some years from now you'll have forgotten some of the details. You can try to track them down again, but if you've written stuff down in a format that's helpful to you it's going to be a lot quicker and less painful. Basically, if you write the document well it can be a great reference. (I admittedly haven't opened my bachelor thesis many times, but I looked something up in my Masters thesis just yesterday.) Sometimes the thesis can also be useful for students doing their projects on the same topic, in the same research group, etc.

The other big point is that writing the thesis is supposed to be practice for future writing of e.g. dissertations or papers.

What sections are most important?

From the practice angle, all of them. To convince your examiners, probably introduction, results and conclusions - but different people will have different priorities. However, it's a case where you have a few people who are supposed to read your thesis, so an excellent abstract is less important than in a research paper. Basically, you want to show that you understand the field, and have done good work.

Let me suggest that the audience consists of two people. Your advisor and yourself. Your advisor is an important part of the audience since he will grade it and (hopefully) give you feedback on both the content and the writing.

You are part of the audience since at the point you are in academia, you simply need the practice of technical writing and carefully organizing your thoughts and arguments.

However, some things you say imply that this is more of an "experience report" than a true thesis, and that may be the core of your dilemma.

Research is a plunge into the unknown. Sometimes we find that what we thought was true turns out to be false. That is knowledge, just the same as learning that it was true. Of course, you need to provide the evidence that leads you to your final conclusion in either case. But no research is a "failure" unless it is carried out improperly or carelessly.

But the advice to lay out what you have learned in a coherent way is good advice. Write for your advisor. Write for yourself. Maybe more will come of it, but that is all that is needed at this level.

You don't say what program you are enrolled in, but I am going to answer this from a sciences point of view. Undoubtedly much of this will also apply to other subjects.

The final year research project is often the culmination of the entire degree program. Within such a module you are expected to demonstrate that you can behave, think, write and perform like a scientist. In contrast to other modules, where the aim is to demonstrate that you can learn, understand and apply the knowledge that others have accumulated, here you must demonstrate that you can generate your own knowledge and approach the world with a "scientific" frame of mind.

In the ideal world, all undergraduates would have exciting, well-designed thesis topics, which, if correctly executed at a level that can be expected from an undergraduate, would produce interesting conclusions irrespective of which way the results turn out. We do not live in this world. Thus, in an undergraduate project, you must be able to demonstrate the required attributes, even if not everything you did (or anything you did) produced exciting results.

I do not think it is cynical to suggest that the target audience for your thesis is the person marking it (be that your supervisor or some other examiner). The purpose is to convince said person that you can use your assigned topic to show your ability to think, act and write like a professional scientist. Convince them that you can set your topic and your results in the relevant existing knowledge, that you understand the design of the experiments, that you understand the limitations of the data collected, if things didn't work that you either understand why they didn't, OR have strong ideas for how you might investigate the causes of the failures and that you understand what your results say about your original topic.

The way you do this is by writing a document that looks like the sort of document a professional scientist might write (or more accurately, the platonic ideal of a professional scientist might write).

I recently finished a Bachelor's thesis in physics, and the faculty I asked for advice generally agreed with what has been said: that your target audience is the examiners and yourself. While correct, I know that I found that a bit demoralizing--this was a project I'd been working on four years and cared a lot about, and writing about it for a group of professors who just wanted to get through it as quickly as possible seemed like a let down--so I took some advice for my adviser and wrote it for a future incoming student in the lab (whether such a student is ever likely to read my thesis or not didn't really matter). Basically, I wrote for myself four years ago, before I joined the lab, discussing everything I'd learned about the project and how the lab worked and explaining all of the nuances of our research that I'd learned the hard way, as well as of course discussing the results of my research project, suggestions for future work, etc. Imagining an actually interested audience who could learn something from my work made the process a lot less painful, and I think it also made my thesis significantly better, because it forced me to actually take the time to explain why I did each step of the project and the theoretical backing behind the experiment, rather than assuming that my audience had prior knowledge of these topics. (I worried a lot that I included too many "intro-level" details about my project, but all of my evaluators actually gave positive feedback on that.)

So, the point I wanted to make here is, yes, your adviser/evaluators are your "actual" audience, but if that seems intimidating or unhelpful to you, you can always imagine a different audience to give your work more of a purpose. As others have said, the main purpose is to show that you have done significant work, learned scientific thinking, and can explain it all clearly, and that should come through regardless of who you have in your head as your audience.

The convincing part should be done by the research, the text should only be a clear representation of that. If you have a result, then I may find that convincing because you told my how you got there and I found that approach convincing. I should not find that result convincing because you said that in a certain way. The text is important because it should be clear, but the convincing is not done by the text. For example, be sparing with adjectives: you give the evidence, the reader decides for her or himself whether that is strong evidence (or not).

When I grade a bachelor thesis I don't value the abstract. The introduction and conclusion play very specific roles. The introduction poses the research question, the conclusion answers the research question. I do grade those parts, but I pretty much ignore the rest. Most of the grading happens in between. I need to see a clear line, which typically helped a lot if you follow the standard format in your discipline. Maybe you are allowed to deviate from that, but experience tells us that that almost always ends in a disaster. If some part is weaker, then that will cost you.

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