Currently working on my master's thesis, I know that I have to consider that I am writing for an appropriate audience, that is, I write for people who have at least a bachelor's degree in my field (mathematics).

However, I need to use standard results that one learns in third year (in my institution, at least). In particular, these results can be found in any "basic" textbook in the field my work is lying in.

I face a particular dilemma: either just citing the name of the theorem when I use it in the main work without giving any reference, or rewriting the theorem in the Appendix for the reader's convenience (with appropriate reference to a "basic" textbook).

Of course, my supervisors will know these results, but my peers may not remember them and a master's thesis is often expected to be self-contained. I don't expect many people to read my work, of course, but still, I want it to be as "perfect" as possible.

This question is related but it seems the OP is speaking about a basic theoretical concept they would briefly discuss in the main work. Precisely, it would not belong in the appendix, which makes the question different as I am not discussing these basic results: I just use them.

Question: is it acceptable to rewrite classical, basic results in the appendix section of a master's thesis and citing basic reference works about these results for the reader's convenience and/or for the work to be as self-contained as possible?

I shall of course ask this question to my advisor but I wanted to have different advices from professionals on this.


If you're just going to repeat the statement of the theorem for the reader's convenience, then I would just include it in the text at the point where it is used. I wouldn't send the reader to the appendix, unless the statement is exceptionally long (say a page).

If you decide you want to include a proof of the theorem, then I would put the proof in the appendix (and repeat the statement of the theorem there as well). This is not too unusual in a master's thesis, if you feel it would be a good exercise for yourself to prove the theorem. But it should be your proof; don't just copy a textbook proof verbatim.

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  • Thank you for your answer. Including the theorem where it is used can be a better idea, indeed. I was/am afraid to recall results that could be considered as too basic to be reminded to the reader but I suppose I shouldn't. – MoebiusCorzer Jan 2 '17 at 18:47

My answer is very similar to the one I gave to the question I linked to in a comment: There is usually no reason not to include something in a thesis. Your thesis is a place for you to give a coherent account related to your work on a topic. There are (usually) no page restrictions, and it should serve as a reference document for future readers.

Many theses include a lot of review material, beyond just what might be contained in a literature survey. A thesis has to contain new material, of course, but it does not all need to be novel, and there can be a lot of merit in giving detailed explanations of known results, if the readers are not necessarily going to be familiar with them in detail.

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  • 2
    "There is usually no reason not to include something in a thesis": I somehow disagree here. What I usually tell to my students is that there is no reason to include something that it's written much better elsewhere. Either offer a different point of view, a better explanation, a more up-to-date review or just put an appropriate reference. – Massimo Ortolano Jan 2 '17 at 19:38
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    @Massimo Ortolano. True: I always tried to convince the students not to write a 30 page trivial introduction to the general subject. It does not add any value to the thesis and bores the supervisor. – J Fabian Meier Jan 3 '17 at 13:44

You are looking for a decision between two alternatives - to cite you:

  1. just citing the name of the theorem when I use it in the main work without giving any reference, or
  2. rewriting the theorem in the Appendix for the reader's convenience (with appropriate reference to a "basic" textbook).

I'd go with alternative number 3:

  1. give the theorem, along with a reference that allows the interested reader to follow up - that is, something like "(Foobar, 2016, Theorem 3.14)".

It makes sense to give this information, especially for propositions that non-experts may not know immediately. Conversely, I don't see the point of rewriting a theorem and its proof in an appendix. If you are too literal in copying, you are close to plagiarizing (unless you clarify that you are copying something verbatim - but then, why do this?), and if you reformulate, you run the risk of introducing errors of your own. Better to rely on standard textbooks.

Yes, a thesis should be self-contained, but of course it never is, and if you use a result from a standard textbook, then this should be easily available to any interested reader.

Of course, if you need to refer to more obscure material, possibly in a foreign language, or if you need to discuss the referenced result in some way, perhaps to point out an error in a proof, then it makes sense to devote more space to it. In an appendix, if the discussed material is not really germane to your main topic.

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  • "copying something verbatim - but then, why do this" the reader of a PhD may not have access to paywalled content. – Ian Jan 3 '17 at 0:37

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