42

I'm writing an Msc dissertation on planning space projects and I would like to add interesting bits of information on the opening page of each chapter. Though the image and the accompanying information are not directly linked to the central thesis, they add some interest around the main arguments.

Will this be looked upon unfavorably? As an academic reading this work, will this bother you or make you feel distracted / think this is unnecessary?

For example, I have this on the introduction page:

Intro

  • 21
    Regardless of the answer, Unis have generally a very strict format specification that you can not change for these types of documents – Ander Biguri Aug 23 '17 at 13:19
  • 17
    How did the examiners answer this question? (You did ask them, didn't you?) – JeffE Aug 23 '17 at 14:17
  • 21
    If I had the means of asking my examiners, I would have done do. My inability to do so, is the very reason, I ask on this forum. Many who have had valuable points to make, have done so. – AK16 Aug 23 '17 at 14:54
  • 4
    @AK16 if it's got a figure number and is referred to in the text, that's probably enough justification for the picture. – Chris H Aug 23 '17 at 15:50
  • 5
    > why do they require a strict format because they relish whatever precious little power they can exert over the few human beings they momentarily hold captive. – Kaz Aug 23 '17 at 21:03
80

In the end this is somewhat a matter of opinion. I personally do appreciate a nice and professionally looking layout. I am not sure however if adding images that are unrelated to the thesis itself are that helpful. If you want to start each chapter with a quote or image (which can be a nice touch), I would recommend to at least try to find someting that is related to the content of the chapter.

Most important in the end however is of course the scientific content of the thesis. If the content itself is under par, no amount of beautification is going to help you. The last thing you would want to do is to give others the impression that you spent more time on the appearance of your thesis than on the scientific content.

  • 48
    "The last thing you would want to do is to give others the impression that you spent more time on the appearance of your thesis than on the scientific content." +1. That is really the thing you want to avoid – EigenDavid Aug 23 '17 at 11:26
  • 2
    Thank you for your comments, which I agree 100%. I have made good arguments, the strength of which, hopefully, does match the quality of formatting. Also, this dissertation, being a topic in the social sciences, loose connections can always be made between even disjoint ideas. In this dissertation, I present scale (size, complexity,etc.) as a deterrent to planning effectively on space projects and this image may help project the scale at which these projects operate. – AK16 Aug 23 '17 at 11:28
  • 7
    Pieter and David are 100% right in practice that you need to be careful about giving the impression that you're not focussed on the science. Nonetheless I'd like to push back a bit and say that I don't think this is a good thing about scientific culture. It'd be more pleasant to be a scientist if everyone else put a little more effort into presenting the work better, and it might make science more appealing to more people. And this attitude is downright pernicious when applied to teaching. (Again I'm not criticizing Pieter and David, since they've given good advice for a young scientist.) – Noah Snyder Aug 23 '17 at 18:16
  • 4
    So, rule of thumb: Mars crater yes; Hello Kitty no. – Kaz Aug 23 '17 at 21:04
  • There are also people in academia who will value that one has put the time so that the work one reviews is looking better. – Džuris Aug 23 '17 at 22:20
24

In Dutch universities it is customary to have dissertations (well, doctoral ones at least) printed in nice booklets with creative graphics on the front cover which may only be tangentially related to your actual thesis - abstract art, photos of natural phenomena etc. Everyone does this.

Now, inside your dissertation is not that common, but as long as you don't go over the top it should be ok.

Specifically, in your example, you wrote:

the image and the accompanying information are not directly linked to the central thesis, they add some interest around the main arguments.

That's very vague. So, you put an image before the introduction; I'd say you should be able to actually reference that image in the introduction as an illustration of some point you're making, or of the relevant background, or of the scenario about which you've developed the thesis.

Thus if your thesis is about craters, or orbital vehicles, or exo-geology, or image processing where you use such images as inputs - then you're good; but if your thesis is about, oh, I don't know, something in topology, you might want to give this up.

  • 3
    More broadly, the universities in the Netherlands all used to do that (Groningen, Twente, Utrecht at the least). It seemed to me that most students embraced it as a little diversion and fun while putting their thesis together. – Jon Custer Aug 23 '17 at 12:26
  • Thank you for your valuable advice. In this dissertation, I present scale (size, complexity,etc.) as a deterrent to planning effectively on space projects and this image may help project the scale at which these projects operate. However, in light of your suggestion, I might skip these images. – AK16 Aug 23 '17 at 12:49
5

The fact that you are asking on ASE suggests that you know that this is not a common practice in your field/department. I think it's a lovely idea, but examiners have a way of being extremely judgmental about anything that deviates from standard practice.

In some sense, your thesis isn't "yours," but a product of the department. If it's something you can take to a publisher, save the design ideas for your book.

  • Yes, Elizabeth. I think you are right in that examiners are very particular in what they want to see. Any non-conformance, may come across as an affront to the establishment. I am taking this advice and getting rid of the non-essential embellishments immediately. – AK16 Aug 23 '17 at 16:12
  • 2
    There is of course nothing stopping you from posting a second version of your thesis on your website. ☺️ – Elizabeth Henning Aug 23 '17 at 16:31
  • 1
    True..Why take the risk? I'll be left wondering whether I lost marks because of the unnecessary stuff. I can always make myself a copy with whatever images I want. – AK16 Aug 23 '17 at 16:41
  • I don't know about your experiences, I've heard horror stories from arts and social sciences students. But in physics none of the examiners cared about the formal rules and rated solely content. With the extreme exception of single thesis which was horrible (the chosen font had missing characters that were replaced by fallback font and appeared huge, there were empty tables and pages, there were >10 pictures without explanation of what is displayed there etc.) – Džuris Aug 23 '17 at 22:24
  • I disagree with "your thesis is a product of the department". You and only you owns the copyright to your thesis. It is yours and yours alone. That other people helped create its content is irrelevant to that. On the other hand, in order for the thesis to be accepted for a PhD degree, the department may enforce some design and or structure before they consider it. But that does not make the thesis a product of the department. – rubenvb Aug 24 '17 at 8:05
3

From my experience and friends/acquintances I have an impression that in arts they usually adhere quite strictly to the standards and set a required number of letters and/or pages for the thesis. In the exact sciences the situation is the opposite. The examiners either ignore the looks or value aesthetics instead of standards. And your thesis would really be valued.

There are three persons that could give you a precise answer on this, please consult them if possible:

  • Dean. This is the person overlooking everything in the faculty and setting the tone. This person has probably decided if adhering to the standards or
  • Director of programme... or something like that. For every study programme there is a person that organizes everything - plans courses, finds the examiners etc. This is a person that actually tells the examiners "please check thoroughly if they adhere to this standard". Or maybe the director ignores the standards and only tells examiners "please focus on the content unless the formatting is blatantly ugly".
  • Faculty secretary or whoever you hand the thesis to. This person will know in which cases the theses are handed back to students. However, they tend to exaggerate. Either because the students twist the truth ("rejected for formatting? oh boy, you really have to have everything inch by inch as written here..." when actually the font changes both the size and typeface from section to section) or they simply want to put you as far as possible from the rejectably bad formatting.

When I had to write my first thesis, the dean made a gathering and told everyone something like "please understand that the university standard is written so they could reject terribly formatted theses, take those guidelines with a grain of salt". He told us that the default LaTeX style will be better than the guidelines and we can surely ignore the Times New Roman requirement.

At the end of the day, it's unlikely that the thesis will be rejected for technical reasons. If it is, the secretary will usually be the one to reject it on the spot by saying "please re-print these pages, I can't accept it". If it goes to the examiners, an enjoyable look will most likely ... be enjoyed.

Don't know how it happens at your place, but I had a comission to whom I had to tell the contents of the thesis. Then one examiner who had to read the entire thesis, told his evaluation on the written work. The comission then decided their thing while handing each other the thesis for brief looks. I think that good pictures would be the only thing they could notice and evaluate at that point. At either point it is unlikely the decision would be skewed either ways because of pictures. Would you yourself think worse of someone for that? But you wouldn't rate a bad work higher either if it had nice pictures.

Unlike most others I suggest - surely do it! You will have a copy of your thesis for the rest of your life to enjoy. If you can get it through with the pictures, go for it! I really didn't understand my mates saving few bucks for cheaper cover, thinner paper and grayscale printing. If you like your thesis beautiful, you will not regret making it beautiful when you look back 10 years later.

P.S. I hope the picture is grayscale because of the original. Because I surely suggest you to use colour and to print the thesis in colour.

1

Like others I'd strongly suggest you check with the powers that be in your institute, but in the absence of a definitive answer from them, keep it minimalist.

I'm writing an Msc dissertation on planning space projects and I would like to add interesting bits of information on the opening page of each chapter.

The words "summary" and "abstract" leap to mind.

Rather than an interesting picture or text, summarize the content of the chapter in bullet points.

This will be helpful to the reader and not be distracting from your thesis.

Though the image and the accompanying information are not directly linked to the central thesis, they add some interest around the main arguments.

Material not relevant to your thesis should be avoided, IMO. It might be seen as distracting and some reviewers may see it as a deliberate attempt to cover a lack of content (even if there is plenty of content - people get odd ideas into their heads and they're hard to dislodge).

So I'd suggest keeping it as plain and neutral as possible in terms of presentation.

  • Thanks Stephen, what you say makes absolute sense and I've gotten rid of unnecessary embellishments. The result looks bland but now, I don't have be anxious till I get my results. – AK16 Aug 24 '17 at 18:10
1

As others say, it's just a matter of opinion. However, since this is a scientific work, its validity should be constituted by the content, not the design. You may want to consider whether the design will affect the judgement on the validity or not.

1

Don't do it. Examiners are busy people, and only want to read what is crucial to the thesis topic. While they can ignore these pointless pieces of information, how are they supposed to know that? They will be forced to read everything you put in there.

You could alternatively say in the preface that these pictures do not need to be read, but that would make you look as silly as you are: "This stuff is pointless, so you don't have to bother reading it, but I am putting it in anyway, hoping to score some cheap bonus points".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.