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So I am currently writing my thesis in nanophysics (in particular, applications of nanomagnetism). My adviser and I had a few discussions about the inclusiveness (i.e., self-containment) of the material, quality of figures, etc. He does not seem to care about neither of these points, and just wants the thesis to be done so that 'I carry on with my research'...

I am now wondering:

  • Is it typical (or preferred) for the masters thesis to be rigor/self-contained, in terms of literature review? (I said masters only, because I assume it should typically be the case for a PhD dissertation - no?)
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    There is no such thing as a self-contained math exposition, unless you go all the way back to the axioms. When we write a proof, we always have a target readership in mind. We stop adding details at the point where the average reader would be completely convinced and could easily fill in the gaps. This holds true whether you are writing an article or a textbook; only the target audience changes. Writing proofs is human-to-human interaction; you ultimately have to convince your readers of the correctness of your assertions. Commented Feb 6, 2016 at 12:16
  • (writing proofs is human-to-human interaction -- and, probably, the only successful human interaction that we mathematicians are able of.) :p Commented Feb 6, 2016 at 12:17

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The best advice I heard about this is: Write the thesis in the way you would like to have had it at hand when you started your thesis. Imagine yourself in a situation that you are a master's student and want to learn about the very topic of your actual thesis. What detail do you need? What background should you give? What literature should you refer to?

I often hear students say that their advisors do not really care about these issues, and indeed it's somehow true. As an advisor, you care much more about the content. This does not mean that the presentation does not matter, but it is not that much about what background you give, but how. Do you treat simple things at length but brush over more difficult things without proper reference? Do you provide proofs for standard facts but use advanced concepts without any argument?

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