Useful advice for writing a thesis

Before you start

If you want to write a clear and comprehensive academic text, you need to follow these rules:

You must have something to say

The most important prerequisite of an academic text is an idea. If the idea is important enough, it will last, even if it is formulated in a clumsy and confusing way. However, if you want to articulate our idea as precisely as possible, and therefore save your time and the readers', you must follow certain principles discussed in more detail below.

You must know who you want to say it to

Another important prerequisite of good academic writing is the audience. If you take notes for ourselves, you usually write differently than when you write a research report, paper, thesis, book, or a letter. You decide on the style of your writing, the amount of information, and the degree of detail according to your target audience.

You must thoroughly think through and create the contents of your message, as well as decide on the order in which you wish to present our ideas to the readers

As soon as you know what you want to say and to whom, you must structure the material. An ideal structure should create a logically accurate and psychologically digestible whole in which everything is in place and the parts fit into each other. All connections are clear and it is apparent what is what.

To achieve this, you must carefully structure the contents. You need to decide what the main chapters and sub-chapters are going to be, and on the connection between them. If you make a diagram of such a structure, it should look like a tree, rather than a chain. When arranging and organising the contents, the issue of what to include is just as important as the issue of what to exclude. Too much detail could discourage the readers, but so could none.

The result of this stage should be an outline of the text consisting of the main ideas, and the details you are going to include.

You need to start writing in a structured way and working on as comprehensible format as possible at the same time, which includes good style and perfect labelling

So, once you have an idea, you know who your audience is, you have a goal and an outline of the text, you can start writing. While working on the first draft, you should try to include all your ideas and opinions regarding the individual chapters and sub-chapters. Each idea has to be explained, described, and proven. The main idea should always be formulated in the main clause, not in a subordinate one.

You should take a structured approach to our writing as well. As you are getting the structure of the work clear, you are also creating a framework which you are gradually completing. You should use such a DTP programme that allows for a structured layout of the text (pre-defined types of headings and blocks of text).

Some formal rules of writing

Your goal is to create clear and comprehensive work. Therefore, you should express yourself accurately, with the appropriate level of Czech (or English), and in good style according to the generally accepted customs. The text should allow the readers to quickly understand the issue, anticipate their struggles, and prevent them. Perfect grammar, correct punctuation, and rightly chosen words are essential parts of good writing style. You should try not to make your text monotonous by to using a small selection of words, and by using some of your favourite words too often. It should be natural that if you use loanwords, you must be familiar with their exact meaning. However, you should be careful to use Czech words correctly as well. For example, there are rules concerning the word zřejmě (apparently, obviously). Is the thing you are referring to really apparent? Have you made sure that what is apparent is really true? You should also be careful about using the subject "it" with passive voice too often. For example, avoid the Czech 'it has proved itself that.' completely. It is acceptable to use the pronoun we, which suggests that you are discussing or generalising the issue together with the readers. In theses and dissertations, you should use the first person, I (for example when defining the share of your own work compared to the texts you reference); however, using the first person singular too much should be avoided.

You should also choose the symbols you use for labelling carefully. What we mean by that is the choice of abbreviations and symbols used to, for example, describe types of components, to designate the main functions of a programme, name control keys on the keyboard, to name the variables in mathematical formulas etc. Accurate and thorough labelling can make the work much easier for the readers. It is advisable to provide a list of abbreviations and symbols at the beginning of the work. Thoroughness is important not only for the labelling, but also for references and the overall layout.

That is connected to the formatting of the text. By that we mean highlighting the text, using different formats. Formatting should be chosen for each type of labelling. For example, keys can be placed in rectangles, identifiers from the source texts might be typed in a typewriter-like font etc. (see also typographical principles).

If you include facts, you should also include their origin and our attitude to them. When you claim something to be true, you should always explicitly state which part of the statement has been proven, which will be proven in your text, and what you have taken over from scholarly literature with reference to the source. It should always be clear to the readers whether the idea is yours or whether you are using ideas from other sources.

You should never waste the readers' time by explaining trivial and unimportant information. You should also avoid stating the same several times, in different words. Some previously written parts of the text might seem to go in too much detail or unnecessary whatsoever while editing. Omitting such parts, or making them shorter, will make the text much easier to understand! However, this also means that the time it took to write it was wasted.

It will never be perfect

Once you have written everything you wanted, you should take a break for a day or two, then read the draft again, and make last changes and modifications. You should be aware that there will always be something unfinished, and there is always better way to explain some things, but every stage of the editing process must come to an end.

Typography and language principles

The A4 page format is usually used for technical reports, i.e. texts such as theses and dissertations; the print is usually one-sided. However, you may opt for double-sided printing as it is friendlier to the environment. If you do, it is necessary to set different indentation for odd and even pages, because, with hardback binding, the margins should be bigger on the spine side as the pages are difficult to open there.

The top and bottom margins should be the same or, alternatively, you can move the print slightly up (i.e. make the top margin smaller than the bottom one). Remember that at the binding, the margins will be cut a little.

For A4 printing, it is best to use font of the size 11 point for the basic text. Set the width of the page to 15 to 16 centimetres and the height to 22 to 23 centimetres (including any headers and footers). The line spacing should be 120 percent of the font size used, which is the optimal value for the speed of reading a continuous text. If you are using LaTeX, keep the implicit settings of the spacing. Follow the relevant binding requirements when writing a thesis or dissertation.

Choose different font sizes for headings, according to the standard typography principles. If your chosen DTP programme does not define the standard heading levels, you can apply the following recommendations:

For basic text of 11 point size Recommended font size (point) Command in LaTeX Note
Chapter 1 25 \chapter{} There might or might not be a full stop after the number of the chapter. Opinions differ on that. Choose whatever you like best. Each chapter starts on a new page. If you use double-sided printing, it is often required that it starts on a right (odd) page.
1.1 Sub-chapter level 1 14 \section{} No full stop after the number of the sub-chapter. Full stops are used to separate the numbers at different levels.
1.1.1 1.1.1 Sub-chapter level 2 12 \subsection{}
Sub-chapter level 3 11 \subsubsection{} From this level on, the headings are usually not numbered and are not included in the table of contents. Three levels of sub-chapters should be sufficient to define the structure of the work. If you have a feeling that this is not true, think about whether your approach is really the right one. The heading at this level is still on a separate line.
Paragraph 11 \paragraph{} The text of the paragraph heading is written in semi-bold or bold (see below), with the following text being attached immediately after its end. The whole paragraph is indented from the previous one by a vertical space of the height of one line (including the spacing). The paragraph heading is not indented from the left margin.
Sub-paragraph 11 \subparagraph{} The same as for the paragraph applies to the heading of a sub-paragraph, with one exception - the heading is indented from the left margin by the usual value. Thus, a sub-paragraph with a heading differs from the usual paragraphs by the fact that its heading is in semi-bold or bold, and the first line is separated from the previous paragraph by a vertical space of the height of the line left out.

Typically, all types of headings are semi-bold or bold (chose one and keep this consistent throughout your text). The spacing should be chosen so that the following text in regular paragraphs is placed on a fixed index, i.e. on lines with a predefined and fixed spacing.

The organisation of the individual parts of the text must be clear and logical. It is necessary to differentiate the names of the chapters and sub-chapters - type them in lower-case letters, except for the capital first letters. For each paragraph of the text, indent the first line of the paragraph by about one to two quads (always by the same, preselected value), i.e. about two widths of capital M of the basic text. In such a case, the last line of the previous paragraph and the first line of the next paragraph are not separated by a vertical space. The spacing between these lines is the same as the spacing between the lines within the paragraph.

When inserting images, choose their dimensions so that they do not overlap the area for printing the text (i.e. text margins all around the page). For large pictures, use a separate page. If there are pictures or spreadsheets larger than A4, place them in the text in the form of a folding paper embedded in the enclosure or in the pocket on the back of the binding.

Pictures and tables must be numbered. The numbering is either chosen within the whole text or - which is more practical - continuously within each chapter. In the second case, the number of the table or picture consists of the number of the chapter and number of the picture/table within the chapter - numbers are divided by a full stop. The numbers of sub-chapters are not a part of the numbering of pictures/table.

Pictures and tables each use their own numbering independent from one another. That means that in the in-text references, along with the number, we must also include the information whether it is a picture or a table (e.g. "... see table 2.7..."). Indeed, following this principle is actually natural.

To reference pages, chapters and sub-chapters, picture and table numbers and other similar examples, we use special DTP programme functions to ensure that the correct number is generated even if the text is moved due to changes in the text itself or by adjusting the printing parameters. An example of such a function in LaTeX might be reference to the number corresponding to the placement of the label in the text -leader (\ref{navesti} - according to the location of the leader a number of a chapter, sub-chapter, picture, table or similar element is defined), the page containing the label (\pageref{navesti}) or the bibliography reference (\cite{identifier}).

Equations to which we refer in the text will be provided with serial numbers at the right margin of the corresponding line. These serial numbers will be placed in parentheses. The equation numbering may be continuous in the work as a whole or in the individual chapters.

If you are in doubt when printing a mathematical work, try to keep the LaTeX-defined printing system. If your work contains a large number of mathematical formulas, we recommend using the LaTeX system.

In Czech, do not use space where digits are combined with letters in one word or one character - for example 25krát (25x).

Punctuation marks - a full stop, comma, semicolon, colon, question mark, and exclamation mark, as well as closing brackets and quotation marks are attached to the preceding word without space. There is a space after them. However, that does not apply to decimal commas/points. Opening brackets and quotation marks are attached to the following word and there is no space - (like this) and "this".

There is a difference between a hyphen and a dash. Dash is longer. In the TeX (LaTeX) system, hyphen is written as a single "hyphen" character (for example "Brno-město"), when typing the texts for pairs or intervals, use a pair of "dash" characters ("Sparta -- Slavia match"; " 23--25 crowns"); for a distinct separation of a part of a sentence, for a distinct separation of an inserted sentence, to communicate implied ideas and in other situations (see Pravidla českého pravopisu - Czech Grammar Handbook), use the longest type of dash, which in the source text is represented by a three-character "dash" (for example, Other term --- as insignificant as it might seem --- will be informally defined in the following paragraph."). There is a different punctuation mark for the mathematical 'minus' mark as well. In the TeX system, a normal minus mark (i.e. the "hyphen" mark) is used in the source text. Typing in a mathematical background, where the formula is enclosed between 'dollars', will ensure generating of the correct output (e.g. "replace $\alpha - 1$ in the formula...").

There are no spaces around a forward slash. For example: The 2001/2001 academic year.

The rules of abbreviations are set in Pravidla českého pravopisu. For this reason and others, it is useful to have the book at hand. To provide basic information, we will provide a list of the most used abbreviations:

Mr / Mrs mister, missis
Building No.building number
m. one's own hand
a. s.Czech joint-stock company
s. s r. o.Czech limited liability company of medicine (from the Latin phrase medicinae universae doctor)
CSc.Candidate of Sciences (from the Latin phrase candidatus scientiarum)
RNDr.Doctor of natural sciences (from the Latin phrase rerum naturalium doctor)

The degrees of associate professor (docent in Czech) and professor (profesor in Czech) are written in lower case letters and abbreviated doc. and prof. respectively Degrees of Ing., Bc., Dr., RNDr. etc. are written after the above degrees, and are capitalised. Degrees of Ph.D., CSc., DiS. etc. are used after the name and separated by a comma. If you have any doubts, check with Pravidla českého pravopisu.

Abbreviations of common phrases:

etcand so on
i.a.inter alia
i.e.that is other words
e.g.for example

Abbreviations are derived from the full word, therefore lat. means Latin; dep. = department; Span. = Spanish

What is a standard page

The term standard page concerns the length, or rather volume, of the work, not the number physical pages. Historically, it designated the number of pages of a manuscript written on a typewriter on special pre-printed forms, keeping the average length of 60 characters and 30 lines per page. Due to the entry of proof markers, line spacing 2 was used. These data (number of characters per line, number of lines, and the spaces) are unrelated to the final printed text. They are only used to assess the length. Therefore, one standard page means 60*30 = 1,800 characters. Pictures included in the text will be counted towards the length of the work as an equivalent of the text that would fill the same space in the final printed document.

The approximate length of the work in standard pages in Microsoft Word can be found via the Wordcount functionality in the Tools menu; just divide the number under Characters (with spaces) by 1,800. Only the text in the core of the work is included in the length of the work. Other parts, such as abstract, key words, the declaration, table of contents, references, and enclosures, are not included. It is therefore necessary to select the core of the work first and then use the Wordcount functionality. Estimate the approximate scope of pictures. Similar procedure can be applied in OpenOffice. If you are using LaTeX, getting the estimate is more difficult. For a rough estimate of the number of standard pages, use the total of the sizes of the source files divided by circa 2,000 (normally, the constant would be 1,800; however, the source files contain labelling orders not included in the total word count). For the estimate to be more precise, extract the whole text from the PDF file (for example using the cut and paste method, or Save as Text...), and divide the number of characters by 1,800.


[Prav13] Group of authors: Pravidla českého pravopisu, Academia, Prague, 2013. ISBN 978-80-200-1327-9
[Gram13] František ŠTÍCHA: Akademická gramatika spisovné češtiny, Academia, Praha, 2013. ISBN 978-80-200-2205-9
[HPR+96] Group of authors: Jak publikovat na počítači, SCIENCE, Veletiny, 1996. ISBN 80-901475-77

If you feel like there is some information missing, please contact Bohuslava Křenu or look at the rules of other faculties. You can also consult the following citation rules: ČSN 01 6910 Layout of documents drawn up in text editors and ČSN ISO 7144 Documentation - Formal layout of dissertations and similar documents.

Processed by: Zdena Rábová, Petr Hanáček, Petr Peringer, Petr Přikryl and Bohuslav Křena
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