Department of Mechanical, Materials & Manufacturing Engineering

Guidelines on Stage 3/4 Projects

Brief Notes on Writing a Dissertation or Project Report

The following was written for research students. If anything below clashes with the instructions for undergraduate projects then disregard it.

Matthew Arnold on good writing -
"First have something to say; then say it as simply as possible."

  • Layout

  • Content

  • Writing the Thesis

  • Mathematical Quantities

  • Figures

  • Word Processors


    The tried and tested layout for a thesis in a science or engineering subject is as follows:

    Abstract [6]
    2.Experimental Method[1]

    Stick to this scheme unless you have good reason to depart from it. The recommended order of writing is shown in the square brackets. You will find this the best order because it starts with the most concrete material and moves on to the most abstract.


    Overall, you should have these questions in mind when you start writing:

    1. Why was the work done?

    2. What was done?

    3. How was it done?

    4. What was found?

    5. What is the significance of the results?

    6. What are the most important conclusions?

    Question 1. is addressed in the Introduction. Questions 2. and 3. are addressed in the Experimental Method chapter. Questions 2. and 4. are addressed in the Results chapter. Question 5. is addressed in the Discussion. Question 6. is answered in the Conclusions. The Abstract is different to the rest of the thesis. It is addressed to a potential reader of the thesis who may be looking for information on a specific topic. The abstract describes what is in the thesis and it will enable the reader to decide whether it is worthwhile to take the trouble of looking at the thesis in more detail.

    Writing the Thesis

    Before you start writing, try to imagine another person reading the thesis - the Reader. The person you imagine should not be your supervisor. Imagine someone who is generally knowledgeable but who knows nothing at all about the details of your project. Your task should be to explain the work in detail as clearly as possible.

    Remember that the worst thing you can do is to confuse the second examiner. It all has to be as clear as possible. Demonstrating your cleverness or diligence is no good unless the reader can understand what you are saying. Don't cause trouble by making the reader search back and forth to check the points you are making.

    Mathematical Quantities

    Printing in good mathematical journals and textbooks follows a strict protocol. You should try to copy this because it makes the text much clearer. The most important thing is that symbolic quantities are always represented in italics. For instance, "... the momentum G of a body of mass m with velocity v is mv...". Note that units, numbers and brackets are never printed in italics: 1.25(r2 - a2) is wrong; it should be printed 1.25(r2 - a2).


    All figures must have numbered captions. Without being too long, a caption must also adequately describe what is in the figure. In fact, it should be possible for an experienced reader to have a good idea of the contents of the thesis by looking at the figures and captions in isolation.

    Word Processors

    There are plenty of perfectly good word processor programs available which will sll allow you to type up your dissertation, etc yourself. This has the big advantage of enabling you to lay out the text, figures, etc in just the way you want.

    It is probably a good idea to use Word since that is what most other people use at the moment. You can then use Excel to generate your graphs and import them without too much trouble. Figures are more difficult, but can be produced fairly easily using the graphics editor provided by the "drawing toolbar" within Word or by importing an AutoCAD file. Photographs can be imported, but they require large files and are not usually necessary.

    The important thing to remember is that the content of your report is more important that the presentation, so do not waste time on repeated drafts that do nothing more than give a marginal improvement to the appearance. BAR Contents | Introduction | Timetable | Project Plan | What is Expected of You | The Project Diary | The Dissertation | Marking Scheme | Notes on Writing a Dissertation BAR

    This page is maintained by Dr J M Hale
    Last updated March 2000