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1 GUIDELINES FOR MASTER S THESES IN THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES Laura Hauta-aho, Hanna-Riitta Kymäläinen and Leena Lindén August 2016 2 Contents 1 INTRODUCTION GOALS OF THE THESIS STRUCTURE OF THE THESIS CONTENT OF THE THESIS Title page Abstract Table of contents Abbreviations and concepts Introduction Literature review Research objectives Materials and methods Results Discussion Conclusions Acknowledgements List of references Appendices REFERENCING REFERENCES Authors Date of publication Title of publication Serial publications Monographs TABLES AND FIGURES LAYOUT EXAMINATION AND GRADING OF THESES MATURITY TEST PUBLISHING OF FINAL THESIS APPENDIX 1: SCIENTIFIC NAMES AND ABBREVIATIONS APPENDIX 2: RECTOR S GUIDELINES FOR HANDLING CASES OF SUSPECTED PLAGIARISM APPENDIX 3: EXAMPLES OF DOCUMENTING REFERENCES APPENDIX 4: EXAMPLES OF PRESENTING RESULTS IN TABLES AND FIGURES... 29 3 1 INTRODUCTION These guidelines were drawn up for students of the Department of Agricultural Sciences and their supervisors. The Department came into being on 1 January 2010, following the merger of three units: agricultural engineering, animal science and applied biology. Each of the former units had their own writing instructions, which formed the basis for these guidelines. Though primarily drawn up with an eye on Master s thesis writing, the guidelines may also be used for practical assignments and similar tasks as applicable. The draft version was submitted to the Department s teaching staff for comments in addition to being discussed at meetings between major subject teachers and in the departmental committee for the development of teaching. These guidelines were compiled by Laura Hauta-aho, Leena Lindén and Hanna-Riitta Kymäläinen. Any corrections or suggestions for improvement may be sent to Leena Lindén and Hanna- Riitta Kymäläinen 2 GOALS OF THE THESIS When working on a thesis, one should aim at clear and accurate reporting, using unambiguous language and a precise, academic style. The goal is that a person unfamiliar with the topic but with the required background to understand the content could replicate the study based on the report. The purpose of the thesis process is to promote learning but also to demonstrate the competence acquired. Writing enhances thinking and writing skills improve through practice. In accordance with the standing regulations of the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, the Master s thesis (with a scope of 40 credits) is to focus on a problem of scientific relevance and importance to the Faculty s areas of responsibility. The thesis should demonstrate the student s ability for scientific thinking, competence in the relevant research methods, familiarity with the topic and proficiency in academic writing. (Section 18) In addition to these general goals, theses also have other objectives and subtargets. For example, the study guide of the Faculty lists the following learning outcomes for the 4 course on Scientific Writing, KTT406, illustrating various aspects of academic writing: The student will learn the reasoning behind the scientific style of writing through the combination of analysis of a published paper and writing a preliminary version of part of the Master s thesis in an appropriate scientific style. The student will understand the principles behind the structure of the scientific paper and how to apply them in the student s own work. The outcomes will assist the student in the preparation of the Master s thesis. 3 STRUCTURE OF THE THESIS As a minimum, the Master s thesis includes the following sections: title page, abstract, table of contents, introduction, literature review, research objectives, materials and methods, results, discussion of results, conclusions and list of references. The main and subheadings in the literature review part should be similar to the main and subheadings of the thesis content. In addition, the thesis may contain a list of abbreviations or concepts, a summary, acknowledgements and appendices all under separate headings. The goal is to write the Master s thesis in the style of a scientific article. 4 CONTENT OF THE THESIS 4.1 Title page The thesis title is placed at the centre of the title page, and the following information in the bottom right corner: Name of the author, Master s thesis, University of Helsinki, Department of Agricultural Sciences, major subject or specialist option, month and year of completion. 4.2 Abstract The abstract is a short, independent description of the thesis content. It answers the following questions: what did the research focus on, why and how was it carried out, what were the main results and conclusions? No references are cited in the abstract. Abstracts are drawn up on specific form templates, available on the Faculty of Agriculture and 5 Forestry web site and in the Department s model file for Master s theses. The abstract is placed after the title page and written using single line spacing. Under Further information on the abstract form, indicate the name(s) of the thesis supervisor(s). The keywords under the abstract text are important since they are used when archiving theses in databases. Choose four to eight words that describe the content of your work as explicitly and comprehensively as possible. Words contained in the thesis title are not automatically considered to be keywords, so if important, they must be repeated in this field. Index term lists, such as FAO s Agrovoc-vocabulary ( and CAB Thesaurus (, are good sources for keywords. 4.3 Table of contents The table of contents provides an overview of the structure of the thesis and the relationships between the topics discussed. It contains the headings and subheadings, as well as the number of the first page of each chapter. Headings are numbered hierarchically (e.g., 3, 3.1, 3.1.2), and the text should be structured so it does not call for more than three heading levels. None of the headings should be identical to the title of the thesis, and there should always be at least two parallel subsections. No period is added after the last or only number of the heading nor after the heading itself. The table of contents also shows the initial page numbers for references and appendices. The headings and page numbers in the table of contents must be identical to the thesis content. We recommend that you use the Table of Contents function found in word processing applications to ensure the table is easy to update when finalising your thesis. 4.4 Abbreviations and concepts Good language use is characterised by the avoidance of abbreviations. However, they may sometimes be justified and necessary. For example, if a long foreign-language name of an organisation or chemical compound occurs frequently, abbreviations may make the text easier to read. Theses dealing with molecular biology often contain complex names of genes and proteins, which are abbreviated according to international guidelines (Appendix 1). If the thesis contains numerous abbreviations or concepts that need to be 6 defined, these are listed before the introduction. The list could be styled as follows (for further examples, see Appendix 1): ACI American Concrete Institute ATP Adenosine triphosphate α Central angle 4.5 Introduction The introduction briefly describes the background of the thesis, the reasons for selecting its topic and often the way in which the topic has been limited. If the study is a part of a larger research project, the introduction also indicates the name and sponsors of the entire project and all the parties involved. The purpose of the introduction is to capture the reader s attention and provide preliminary information about the matters discussed. The section concludes with a description of the reasons for conducting the study. Avoid an excessively long introduction. The recommended length is three to four paragraphs or one to two pages. The introduction is usually finished towards the end of the project when writing your conclusions, or as the very last section. The abstract, introduction and conclusions are the most frequently read sections, and many readers base their opinion of the entire thesis on them. 4.6 Literature review The literature review consists of a body of text and may include tables and figures. It introduces the theoretical framework and previous research related to the topic in a concise and critical manner, presenting key perspectives and substantive research findings. A system description is usually included in technologically oriented theses. The content of the review is organised using headings, which are best structured early on in the project. The headings provide a framework for the thesis and help you understand the interrelations between the topics, delimit the content and search for source literature. The literature review requires a great deal of work. The author must have good insight into the research field in order to pick out relevant literature that deals directly with the topic. Source literature consists primarily of original scientific publications. Readers must easily be able to distinguish between the thesis author s own interpretation or conclusions 7 and previously published research that has passed scientific scrutiny. It may be useful to summarise the literature at the end of the review. If the topics of your Master s and Bachelor s theses are related, you can utilise the information compiled for the Bachelor s thesis in the Master s literature review. However, you are not allowed to directly copy text from the Bachelor s to the Master s thesis. The literature review of the Master s thesis is usually clearly more compact than that of the Bachelor s thesis. 4.7 Research objectives The goals of the Master s thesis are described under a separate heading after the literature review. While they are already mentioned in the introduction, this is where the objectives are explained clearly and in detail. A thesis often has a single overarching goal, which can be divided into more detailed, numbered subgoals. The research topic can also be defined and any research hypotheses introduced in this context. The section on research objectives is short, often consisting of a single paragraph. 4.8 Materials and methods This section describes your research materials and methods in such detail that the study could be replicated on the basis of the information provided. However, every minor detail need not be explained if it is not significant to the results. This section usually begins with a description of the research material, followed by an account of environmental factors essential to research, such as the cultivation site, geographical location, soil type or substrate quality, nutrient status and weather conditions during field experiments. The section concludes with a description of the methods used for measurements and analyses and the statistical processing of results. This section is commonly written in the past tense. Use the first-person singular and the active or passive voice depending on the point of view you wish to express. The active voice, for example, highlights the subjective choices involved in research work and is often the recommended option in scientific journals. Whatever your choice, follow it systematically throughout the Materials and methods section. 8 The size of the research material and the method of compilation (experiments or sampling) must be explained thoroughly. In the case of experiments, provide information about the test subjects, number of replicates, procedures the subjects underwent, sampling and measurements performed. In technology-related studies, the tested theory, equations and structure of calculation applications often need to be described. In the case of designbased research, provide information about the design methods, principles and calculation equations and methods. Generally known and used research methods need not be explained in detail a reference to a source in which the method is described is adequate. However, any deviations from the source reference s method or test conditions must be described precisely. When mentioning any research equipment by name, follow it by the make, manufacturer and country of manufacture in brackets. Also mention the manufacturer, country of manufacture, as well as the batch number of chemicals, if there is any risk of variation in the product quality from batch to batch. Examples: Nitrogen content was determined using the Dumas combustion method in a CHN carbon-nitrogen analyser (Leco Inc., St Joseph, MI, USA). The amylose standard was obtained from ICN (batch 14059, ICN Biomedicals, Costa Mesa, CA, USA). Also indicate the accuracy of measurement devices and any uncertainties related to them. This is essential for the reliability of the results and the entire study. Reliability is not selfevident, but it and the usefulness of the results can be assessed as long as any sources of error and their impact are known. Your supervisor will provide further advice concerning your research topic. Any equations and formulas used in the study are presented on their own line in the Materials and methods section. Use the equation editor in your word processing application to write and sequentially number equations. After this, refer to equations with their number, similarly to figures and tables. Example: =, (1) where ρ = density (kg/m 3 ) m = mass (kg) V = volume (m 3 ). 9 The Materials and methods section concludes with a description of the methods used for statistical analysis. No source references are needed for commonly used methods (such as one-way analysis of variance), but if the method is new or less known, provide a source containing a detailed description of the method. The software used for statistical analyses is also described similarly to equipment and chemicals. Example: Analyses of variance and correlation were performed using SPSS (version 16.0, SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA). 4.9 Results The results are presented clearly and concisely. If the study contains any preliminary experiments, their results should be described first. These are followed by the principal results corresponding to the research objectives. The results are presented consistently in the simple past tense and are not interpreted at this stage. Descriptions of materials and methods are not repeated in the Results section, and there is usually no need for source references in this context. Moreover, the section does not present any conclusions or discuss the reliability of results. The statistical reliability of results is indicated in a suitable manner, for example, using the probability (P), confidence interval or coefficient of determination (r 2 ). The results are described in the body text, with the main results further highlighted in figures and tables. The labels and texts in figures and tables must enable the reader to interpret the results without resorting to the body text. Do not elaborate on the content of figures and tables in the text itself; briefly describe the result and add a reference to the figure or table in question. An example of a well-formulated presentation: The fertilised seedlings were longer than the control seedlings (Table 1). Avoid the following style: The height of seedlings is depicted in Table 1. Keep in mind that all figures and tables must be mentioned in the body text and be placed close to the text referring to them. In addition, paragraphs must always begin with text, never with a figure or table. Further instructions are provided in section 7. 10 The author may also choose to present some of the detailed results in appendices. In this case, only the main findings are described in the body text, and readers may turn to the appendices for more specific numerical data. However, extensive bodies of measurement should not be included as such. The author is expected to pick out the relevant data and present it in a form the reader can easily interpret. It should not be left to the reader to interpret findings based on figures or appendices. Calculation methods and equations must be described in such a way that the reader can replicate them, but the results can be given directly without the intermediate steps. In the absence of equations, references to equations or examples, it may be difficult for the reader to understand how the author arrived at the final results Discussion This section examines the significance of the findings in terms of the research objectives and in light of previous research. Comparing your results with those of others helps you make interpretations and generalisations, as well as draw conclusions. You should also examine the reliability and applicability of your results and make any suggestions for further research. Subheadings are often needed in this section, and sometimes it may be a good idea to present and analyse the results in the same chapter. The results are usually analysed in the same order they were presented. In other words, first deal with the main findings. However, the goal is also to discuss the results as a whole. Use the simple past tense when describing your own research stages and results. Also use the past tense when referring to specific source literature, as in the following examples: Gusta et al. (1997) used a measurement method based on long-term cold storage to study the winter hardiness of winter cereals or A measurement method based on long-term cold storage was used to study the winter hardiness of winter cereals (Gusta et al. 1997). Opt for the present tense when discussing explanations, evaluating the general applicability of the results, presenting possible applications or drawing conclusions. Aim at an objective style in your statements. Instead of merely repeating the results, interpret them. For example, instead of writing: Treatment 1 gave a dry matter content of 12% and treatment 2 a content of 18%. This 11 was due to..., opt for: The differences between the dry matter contents of treatments 1 and 2 were caused by... Answer the following questions to help drawing up this section. Did you solve the research problems or question? Did your results support the research hypothesis? How do the results agree with previous research? What new information did the research reveal? How can the results be put to use? Did the research bring up new topics for study? Were the research methods well suited to solving the original research question? What type of cases can the methods be used for? 4.11 Conclusions Start the Conclusions section by returning to your research objectives. In the Master s thesis, conclusions cast a brief, summarised look at the objectives and results of the writer s research. Instead of repeating the results, you are expected to present a synthesis of them. Even negative results may be valuable and significant. Do not introduce new results or refer to figures or tables in this section. The final sentence should be a positive one Acknowledgements If the thesis is related to a research project, this is where you thank project participants, funders and any material suppliers. You may also acknowledge any key persons and your thesis supervisors. Write the names in full (in Finnish texts, titles and honorifics are also written unabbreviated). When writing in English, use the abbreviations Dr. and Prof. You can conclude this section with a personal note, thanking, for example, your friends and family for their support and encouragement List of references The list of references contains all the references mentioned in the text, organised in alphabetical order by the author s last name. An exception to this are personal 12 communications, which are not included in the list, as well as sources of information, which have been read and consulted but are not referred to in the thesis. Source references us
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