one of the two tasks of my master's thesis, is to look into existing knowledge that deals with the overarching topic, summarize the knowlegde and discuss whether that knowledge can be applied to solve the specific problem. The specific problem is solved primarily with a numerical approach, this is the main task of my thesis. A comparison of the theoretical knowledge and numerical solution will be the outcome.

As it turned out, there exists a great book that covers about 80% of the general knowledge on the theoretical part. Knowledge that i haven't had before, as nothing specific about this topic was covered in any lectures i have visited. So 80% of what i have learned, is out of that book. The author is well regarded in this field, the book is one of the most recent publications on this subject and is therefore up to date. Hence, the book is my main reference for the theoretical part.

About a quarter of my thesis is just a summary of the relevant parts of said book. I thought about secondary references, but as I'm using the IEEE citation style, secondary references are not allowed. I managed to get hold on a few publications mentioned in the book, but most of them are just outdated and their shortcommings are well discussed in the book.

  • Is it ok to have one main reference that covers such a big part? I'm using other references to complement where needed, but there are only a few.
  • How can i go about citing it without placing the same reference number after every few sentences? Or is it ok to place the reference number that often?
  • I thought about stating at the beginning of a section, that the presented knowledge is from Author's book [1] and that it is given as a condensed version in the following. In the following text, i would then write e.g.: "As Author states...." or "As presented by Author" without placing the reference number. Is this a good approach?

Maybe i'm overthinking the whole thing, but i'm just not sure on how to approach this.

Thank you! BR

2 Answers 2


Overriding answer: ask your advisor.

In expository work like this, what I've usually seen done is that you start the section with a note saying something like "The material in this section is primarily drawn from Handbook of Reticulated Splines by P. Smith [47]." After that, you don't bother to decorate every sentence with "[47]" or "as Smith states", except where you feel it is particularly important for clarity or the reader's convenience (e.g. you want to quote Smith's exact words, or point the reader to something on a specific page of the book, or you want to discuss Smith's approach in contrast to someone else's).

But again, ask your advisor in case they have some other ideas as to how you should handle it.

  • Thank you for your comment. Adviser has been asked, he is OK with it.
    – matejmarti
    May 12, 2017 at 9:05
  • Would it be bad form to up-vote this for no other reason than the use of "reticulated splines"? I do have other reasons, but that one would have sufficed. May 13, 2017 at 9:41

Are you sure you can retell what's in that book in a better way than the author wrote it in the first place? If so, proceed as you described. If not, I suggest you pull out very little from that book to put into your thesis, but encourage the reader to read the reference.

Your job, in writing your thesis, is to present your original contribution. You must present some background for that, of course, but not to the point of rewriting another work, unless there's something inscrutable about the other work, and you need to rewrite it to make it understandable.

Now, if you wanted to critique some ideas presented in that book, or go into some aspect(s) in greater depth -- that might be a different matter.

  • 1
    In my department (electrical engineering, so I think similar to the OP) the guideline is generally to write the thesis in such a manner that it is understandable by anyone in the field of electrical engineering. Sometimes, this leads to situations where you need to spend a good bit of time to "teach" the basis of a field to the "general" electrical engineer (for example, the topic of plasmonics or negative-refraction-index meta-materials would take at least a few pages to explain)
    – Joren Vaes
    Apr 20, 2018 at 11:47

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