22.THT | Fall 2015 | Undergraduate

Undergraduate Thesis Tutorial


A sample prospectus produced by a student in this course is provided at the end of the table. Additional sample work by prior years’ students is on the Guides, Templates and Tools page.

Thesis Topic and Elevator Pitch

Create a document with three items:

  1. Your proposed thesis topic, summarized in 3–5 sentences
  2. The name and full title of your proposed thesis advisor
  3. Your elevator pitch describing your work, based on our discussion and workshop in class

Please upload your document in PDF form.

Central Hypothesis

Write the central hypothesis of your proposed research, based on our discussions in class. This should be a total of 3–5 sentences, and should contain the following information:

  1. What is the main question you will address?
  2. What is your proposed idea and / or method for addressing this question?
  3. How do you justify your approach, and why is it necessary?
Hypothesis Revision and Signoff

For this assignment, you need only provide two things:

  1. A revised central hypothesis, after discussing it with your thesis advisor
  2. A signed copy by your advisor, or an email to me from your advisor certifying that he / she has approved your central hypothesis

Please make sure to discuss your hypothesis with your advisor before completing this assignment.

Rough Drafts of Thesis Prospectus and Outline

Thesis Prospectus

Write a full draft of all sections of your thesis prospectus here. Make sure to follow all the relevant MIT style guidelines, it will save you lots of time later. Be sure to include the following sections:

  1. Introduction and Central Hypothesis: What is the problem that you’re trying to solve, why is it important, and what specifically will you be testing?
  2. Background and Literature Review: What have others done in this area before you? Explain all the science needed to understand what you will do, write to an average science / engineering undergraduate as your target audience.
  3. Proposed Methodology: How will you accomplish your tasks and test your hypothesis?
  4. Preliminary Results (if any, it’s OK if you don’t have any yet)
  5. Tentative Schedule: What are your major milestones, and by when will you complete them? Are you leaving any additional time in case something proceeds more slowly than planned?
  6. Bibliography: Be absolutely sure to conform to a proper referencing style. Journals require authors, journal, volume / issue, pages, year. Books also require the publisher, the Isbn number, and the page(s) used.

Thesis Outline

Write a fully detailed outline of all the relevant sections and sub-sections in your undergraduate thesis. This will help to organize your thoughts, frame what you want to do, and ensure that you’re covering enough background.

This assignment is, in essence, writing the fully detailed Table of Contents of your thesis, plus 2–3 sentences in each sub-section of what each one will contain.

Please see the example theses from prior year students for an appropriate amount of detail in a Table of Contents.

Communication Lab Reviews

Make an appointment with one of the fellows in the NSE Communication Lab, for the purposes of reading through your thesis prospectus and outline for content and overall structure.

Revise your prospectus and outline according to the suggestions by the Communication Lab fellow(s).

We will separately request confirmation from the fellows that you attended a session. Attendance is mandatory to receive a grade for this assignment.

Detailed Thesis Outline Submit a new draft of your thesis outline, with more detail filled in. This should include a sentence about every 1–3 paragraphs, which should read like an executive summary of what you will be studying. The introduction and background sections in particular should be fully outlined, as you will be writing them in their entirety in later assignments.
Thesis Introduction and Background Sections

Using your highly detailed thesis outline from the previous assignment, write a fully fleshed-out version of the introduction and background sections of your thesis. By now you should have surveyed the literature, to describe the following:

  1. What is the problem you are trying to solve?
  2. How does it fit into the big picture?
  3. How will you solve it (what is your central hypothesis)?
  4. What theory beyond general science / engineering is required to understand what you will do?
  5. What have others done in this field before you?
  6. What missing information is required to solve this problem? In other words, what gaps in the literature and previous studies exist?
WRAP Review

Schedule an appointment with MIT’s Writing, Rhetoric, and Professional Communication (WRAP) Program to go over your thesis prospectus, outline, and intro / background sections.

Submit the comments and suggestions from the WRAP here, along with a revised version of any documents for which the WRAP has requested a revision. We will separately ask the WRAP for confirmation that you attended a session. Confirmation of attendance is required to receive a grade for this assignment.

Final Thesis Prospectus

Submit a finished copy of your thesis prospectus, with all pages signed and nothing missing. These will be graded carefully, as they are the final output of this course.

Sample student work: Tran, Vivian Y. “Treatment of Neutron Resonance Elastic Scattering Using Multipole Representation of Cross Sections in Monte Carlo Simulations.” (PDF) (Courtesy of Vivian Y. Tran. Used with permission.)

Course Info

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Written Assignments with Examples
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