Master's thesis

The research process

Selecting the topic for your thesis


The first step of the research process consists of selecting the topic that interests the writer and is challenging enough yet does not require more than a fair amount of work. Students do well to start considering their topic in good time before the thesis work officially starts, preferably at the beginning of their advanced module. The courses and seminars of the advanced module can contribute significantly to discovering a topic, and it is can be very useful for the thesis work that there are courses and seminars at the department that support the topic area students have chosen.
The topics can be divided into four categories: theses made under the auspices of research groups at the department, individual topics given by the department, topics set by students themselves, and topics related to the work duties of students, which are often interesting for the employer of the student, as well.
To ensure that there are supervisors available for the thesis topics, the Department of Computer Science tries to connect them to the research carried out at the department. In addition to the persons in charge of sub-programmes, thesis writers can discuss their topics with the teachers of advanced courses and with researchers at the department.
For the educational purposes of the thesis work, it is important that there is scientific literature (original research articles) available on the topic. This means that course literature can usually be taken only as a starting point; a thesis cannot be built wholly on WWW sources, either. However, a Master's thesis is not expected to present new research findings of its own. The in-depth reading on the selected topic that is part of thesis work may change the writer's original approach and topic definition, in some cases even affecting the title of the work. The final definition of the topic and specification of how widely it will be discussed to meet the skill and work requirements for a Master's thesis will be made when the thesis disposition is made and supervised.
What kind of topic is suitable for a Master's thesis? It is not easy to give explicit criteria for this. A thesis may be an analysis based on literature, for example, or consist of experiments or construction. For an idea of the standard required of thesis work, read theses on the same topic area that are available in the library. Writers had best avoid topics that require too much skill or work; they can be saved for Licentiate or Doctoral theses. At best, the topic of a Master's thesis is a problem that is interesting both for the writer and the supervisor, orders under the research programme of one of the research groups working at the department, and requires a sufficient knowledge base from the courses and seminars in the advanced module.
When writing theses for a workplace, the writer should consider the proper delimitation of the topic, outlining a realistic schedule, and analysing the distribution of responsibilities in the group participating in the work and the priorities of the projects being carried out in the company. Thesis-level work is usually carried out in the R&D units of larger computer companies, not in the groups designing ordinary applications. Companies often have a fairly variegated idea of the requirements for a Master's thesis, so thesis writers should thoroughly discuss the nature of the work, evaluation criteria, and standards both at the workplace and the department.
Some ideas for thesis topics can be presented on e.g. the web pages of the sub-programmes. However, these lists are not complete or limiting by any means. The topics are often tailored at the intersection of the writer's skills and a research project's goals. When mapping topic areas, it is a good idea to check e.g. the research pages of the department's website.


The work


The work effort required for finishing your thesis is estimated at around 1,070 hours (40 credits). The work effort for a minor-subject thesis is usually smaller, around 530 hours (20 cr). To write a thesis, you need to concentrate on only that work. It is extremely challenging to get on with your thesis speedily if you are working or studying at the same time. It is recommended that you attend a seminar on your thesis topic while writing it, but otherwise it is best to make sure you can concentrate on writing your thesis fulltime for long enough (at least three months). If your thesis work is delayed, the thesis can lose its topicality and the subject matter may have to be redefined. This means that if the thesis work is delayed, it often means a larger total workload.
Please note the following about the presentation and level of depth of the thesis. It should be written so that another student at the same stage can understand it. The thesis shows the writer’s readiness to think and communicate scientifically, their command of research methods, and their understanding of their own field. A well-written thesis progresses logically and understandably. Special terms should be explained and used correctly. Claims should be formulated exactly and their objective should be clear. The claims must be based on explicit facts, so that the thesis has presented sufficient material that is central to the topic before this material is applied or conclusions are drawn from it. Besides an enumeration of facts, a good thesis is expected to contain some original writing.
The text must present an independent thought process: setting a specific objective, a systematic description of problems and solutions, conclusions, designs and evaluation come together to form a clearly structured whole. The sources will give you the material for compiling this continuum, because this thesis is not expected to contribute anything new and creative. Writing the text for your own thesis, however, requires you to be able to internalise the material you gather from your sources and structure it yourself, while the result will usually be quite poor if you follow the structure and topic


The research process


The research process consists of four stages:
  • acquainting yourself with the topic,
  • setting the explicit objective for the thesis,
  • solving the set problem, and
  • evaluation, i.e. drawing conclusions.
The results of the first two stages should be presented in your thesis plan, and the final thesis should contain the result of the whole process. Please note that the thesis will not report the work in chronological order, but is built on the research problem and its solution.
The thesis topic is often expressed in an inexact way so that the writer can consider different ways of dealing with it together with the supervisors, and if necessary, can change the focus on the topic. The acquainting stage is about one third of the total workload of the thesis-writing process. Before a specific objective can be set for the thesis, the writer must find out which topics have been dealt with before. This will help you understand the significance of your own work. In addition, you will avoid pointless work in solving problems that have already been solved.
The results of the acquaintance stage are often summarized in the thesis as an extensive overview of previous research with relevant literary references. The goal is to have gathered most of the reference literature for the thesis at this stage. Structuring the summary according to themes shows that the writer has understood the main points and results of previous research, while a chronological order or a catalogue of the research as separate instances usually indicates a lack of deeper understanding.
Based on the thesis plan, the examiners should be able to predict the contents and standard of the thesis. This is why the same presentation structure must be used in the thesis plan as in the thesis itself. The higher the quality of the thesis plan, the better the supervisors will be able to support the rest of the work with their comments.
While reading up on the topic, the thesis writer will be able to form a concept of the specific goal of their thesis work. The form of problem and its solution may have many variations, such as
  • a comparative analysis of literature,
  • analysis of a formal problem and its algorithmic solution,
  • applying one or several model solution(s) on a software task (design, implementation, or comparison of solutions),
  • analysis of the functionality or performance of a system.
The whole backbone and structure of the thesis are built on the research problem and its solution. After presenting the problem and its solution, you must evaluate your own solution and formulate conclusions on the results in order to bring the thesis process to an end.
There are many manuals on the research process, thesis structures, and the writing process.

On planning the work and managing the project


The writer of a thesis is an independent project manager of their own work. The project manager is in charge of such things as scheduling the work. In addition to the time it takes to complete a Master’s thesis, the work schedule must take into consideration such things as other course work and e.g. a job. The weekly working hours must be realistic. There are few who are able to carry out the intense and creative work a thesis involves in addition to a 40-hour work week. The schedule should also include regular meetings with your supervisor from the start.


About research ethics


Researchers and thesis writers must also prove they are mature when it comes to research ethics. You can consider this by reading the following, for example:
When writing a thesis, one of the main points relating to research ethics is how you present your own and other people’s data. Any information from your sources that is not part of your professional general knowledge must be annotated with the proper references. Reference techniques are discussed in more detail during the Scientific Writing course.
It may be especially hard to draw the line between your own and other people’s work if you are writing your thesis as part of a larger team or project at work or in a research group. Even then you have to try to specify very clearly which parts consist of your own work and which is the team's work. In any case you must write your thesis yourself in its entirety, but naturally you can employ the expertise of others to fix both the contents and the language.
20.09.2012 - 16:40 Webmaster
03.11.2011 - 17:46 Marina Kurtén