The main component of your MSc studies is your dissertation. During your research you, together with your supervisor will come up with a thesis. The end result of your program is then a dissertation that substantiates your thesis. You will also need to defend your thesis orally in front of an examination committee.

Thesis proposal

The first step towards your dissertation is your thesis proposal. A thesis proposal should represent a considerable effort. It should lay the ground work for the thesis research by providing convincing arguments that the problem is worth solving and can be solved. It allows you to “stake out a claim” in a potentially crowded area. It provides a good yardstick against which you can measure your own progress or lack of it, and it helps you focus your energy when you feel you are waffling.

The timing of a thesis proposal is important. It should be presented during the first year, ideally at the end of your second term in the program. If it is done much earlier, it is likely that the problem will not have been well-enough defined or that you will not have done enough background work and/or made enough progress in the area to convince yourself and others that you can solve it. If the proposal comes much later, then either there is too little time to do the work before the money runs out or it is a spurious proposal produced after the fact, when the thesis is nearly done.

A thesis proposal consists of a document, that is then presented in the graduate seminar. The proposal is “public” within the department (so that everyone can know what the candidate is investigating and why), and must be approved by the department.

A thesis proposal in computer science should address at least the following six points:

  • Your thesis i.e., a statement of the problem and why it should be solved.
  • Reference to and comments upon relevant work by others on the same or similar problems.
  • Your ideas and insights for solving the problem and any preliminary results you may have obtained.
  • A statement or characterization of what kind of solution is being sought.
  • A plan of action for the remainder of the research.
  • A rough outline of the dissertation itself.

Naturally, neither your supervisor, nor the university, nor your examiners are going to hold you to the details presented in the proposal. The nature of research is that it provides the biggest surprises to those who are most strongly convinced of some fact or idea. Nevertheless, a candidate who is unable to answer the six points above is not ready to embark on the work, let alone follow it, control it, adapt it and force it to some kind of conclusion.

Production of proposals

There is no specific format for the proposal. The text however must be typeset single-spaced, using a reasonable font size (10-12 point) and reasonable margins. Ornate type styles are not acceptable. Italics may be used only for emphasis, or where appropriate (e.g. scientific names).

Your proposal would then be typically 10 pages long, including references. Submit your proposal to the graduate coordinator, who will then schedule a presentation time for you.


The end result of your program is a thesis, which must be appropriately defended in your dissertation. A Master’s dissertation may me organized in a variety of ways. While the optimal organizational form differs depending upon the author and on the nature of the project, it should follow the general form outlined below. Above all, a dissertation should be an outstanding piece of scholarship. You should also think strategically about how this work is to be organized, so that you together with your supervisor will be able to efficiently transform the dissertation into published research.

The Master’s dissertation should be an original research paper that is suitable for submission to a peer-reviewed academic journal. You are the sole author. Master’s dissertations will vary in length, depending upon the nature of your thesis. However, you should keep in mind that a typical peer-reviewed journal paper ranges from 20 to 50 pages, including tables, figures, and references. Ideally, you should submit the dissertation to a peer-reviewed journal soon after a successful defense, though your work becoming part of a larger journal paper is not unheard of. Before you submit the paper to a journal, you should consider making revisions in response to feedback offered by faculty members serving on your thesis committee.

This being said, the dissertation must comprise overall a coherent account of a unified research project rather than a collection of results. It must be expressed in a satisfactory literary form consistent with the discipline and display a scholarly approach to the subject and a thorough knowledge of it. In particular, the critical review of previous work should be presented in a more detailed manner than in a journal paper and will often include more citations. The dissertation will therefore end up being larger than a journal paper.

As already mentioned, a critical review of previous work related to the subject must be included in your dissertation. A concluding summation of the contribution made in the dissertation must also be present. Specifically, your dissertation must be built along the following structure:

  • Title Page (sample)
  • Abstract (not more than 350 words)
  • Co-Authorship (as applicable)
  • Acknowledgments
  • Table of Contents (including bibliography, appendices, etc.)
  • List of Tables
  • List of Figures and Illustrations
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: Literature Review
  • Chapter 3 to n: Body of Dissertation
  • Chapter n+1: Summary, Conclusions
  • Bibliography or References
  • Appendices

Publication or acceptance for publication of research results before presentation of the dissertation in no way supersedes the University’s judgment of the work at a thesis defense.

Production of dissertations

The text must be typeset single-spaced with 3.8 cm or 1 ½ inch margins. This applies to figures and tabulations as well. Ornate type styles are not acceptable. Italics may be used only for emphasis, or where appropriate (e.g. scientific names).

The same type font and size must appear throughout. A standard font of 10-12 points is required, but a smaller typesize may be used for graphs, formulas, and appendices. Sheet size is 21.5 x 28 cm. (8 1/2 x 11 inches). The style of footnotes and references must be consistent throughout the dissertation.

Introductory material before the first chapter must be separately numbered using small Roman numerals. The main body of the dissertation, including the text, bibliography and appendices, must be numbered continuously using Arabic numerals. The main body of the dissertation starts with the first page of the first chapter, and should be numbered accordingly.

Dissertations must be carefully proof-read so as to eliminate all typographical errors and mistakes in spelling or grammar before submission for examination. Dissertations which are rendered obscure or difficult to read because of such errors are unacceptable for examination and may be returned to the candidate for correction and resubmission.

We encourage the use of LaTeX in the preparation of your dissertation and proposal. The buthesis.sty LaTeX package contains a set of macrodefinitions that modifies the ‘book’ standard document class to conform with the departmental dissertation style requirements. For more information about LaTeX please visit the LaTeX resource page.