How to Write a Case Study

Most good empirical software engineering papers that contain a study follow the same structure for its presentation. As far as I know, this structure was not invented by a single researcher, but developed gradually over the course of many publications.

Professional readers expect your case study to follow this structure, too. The audience that really matters for your publication—your thesis supervisor, his PhD advisor or program committee members—all are professional readers.

The goal of this article is to describe this structure: the basic building blocks of thesis chapters or paper sections that make up case study presentations. Continue reading “How to Write a Case Study”

How You Can Predict If Your Presentation Will Suck

As part of my roles as a PhD student, thesis supervisor and post-doc, I have literally listened to more than five hundred presentations. Unfortunately, many were very bad, making them an uncomfortable experience for both the presenter and the audience.

Over the years, I have made it a habit of asking speakers (both of good and bad presentations) whether they did a presentation rehearsal. Almost all good ones did. Without exceptions, all bad ones did not. From my experience, preparation in general and rehearsal in particular, are the most important factors influencing thesis presentation quality.

Intriguingly, this observation holds independent of whether the content is from a Bachelor’s, Master’s or PhD thesis. Rehearsal thus matters more than previous presentation experience.

This observation has been made by many others before me [1]. Then why have many, if not most of the presentations I have attended obviously not been rehearsed?

Continue reading “How You Can Predict If Your Presentation Will Suck”

How to Draft Your Presentation

When I listen to a thesis presentation, I need to get the big picture before I care about the details. Until I have understood the problem statement, for example, I do not care how an algorithm works or how its average-case amortized runtime complexity beats existing solutions. Not even if it is presented with a nifty visualization.

In other words, if the big picture of a presentation—its structure—is messed up, no amout of clever visuals can save it. The first priority is thus to get the presentation structure right.

Continue reading “How to Draft Your Presentation”

Thesis Architecture

The outline is the architecture of your thesis. It decomposes your document into components (called chapters) with dependencies between them (called references). As for software, the architecture plays a crucial role for the success of your project.

Since text is hard to refactor (much harder than source code), it is tedious manual work to fix an outline that does not work properly later. Minimize this risk by 1) using a standard architecture and 2) early validation of a prototype (through supervisor feedback). Continue reading “Thesis Architecture”

Cracking the Hidden Thesis Topic Market

At TUM, topics for available thesis projects are advertised on faculty web pages. I expect the situation to be similar in other universities.

I refer to the collection of open thesis topics as the thesis topic market. The topics on the web pages are its visible part. However, there is also a hidden topic market that contains topics that are available but never get advertised. Continue reading “Cracking the Hidden Thesis Topic Market”

Topic Roulette

For many, the process for choosing a thesis topic looks like this:

  1. Browse open topics (e.g. on faculty pages)
  2. Choose the one that reads best (and is still available)

This process reminds me of ordering food in a restaurant:

  1. Browse food menu
  2. Choose the one that reads best (and is on offer)

If I am familiar with the restaurant, this process works great.

Things are different, however, if I try a new type of food for the first time. Say Afghan food. How hot is “hot” in this restaurant? What should I expect in terms of quantity—can I order starters, or will that ruin my chances for a desert? What is palau anyway? Continue reading “Topic Roulette”