Guidelines MSc Thesis

General Learning outcomes

In general, WU learning outcomes are categorized in four groups: research competence, thesis report, colloquium, and examination.

More specifically, learning outcomes as formulated by AEW are:

Research skills

  1. explore the problem by means of studying relevant literature
  2. critically reading literature
  3. formulate a theoretical framework
  4. delineate the research problem
  5. design a research strategy
  6. realistically plan all research activities
  7. collect empirical research data through experiments, measurements, observations, interviews or literature
  8. efficiently analyze (large) data sets also with models and statistics
  9. evaluate quantitative results with error propagation
  10. relate observations to your own theoretical framework
  11. draw conclusions
  12. formulate your own opinion on your research
  13. evaluate the research from a broader perspective

Communication skills

  1. discuss data and results during the course of a thesis
  2. discuss problems faced during the thesis
  3. be open for suggestions from supervisor(s) and/or other students
  4. accept and deal with criticism

Writing skills

  1. write a research report or a draft scientific paper
  2. structure the report or paper (does the title cover the content, are the different chapters in accordance with their importance, presence of readable summary)
  3. meet criteria for correct language use (choices of words, grammar, spelling)
  4. take care for scientific verification
  5. present tables, figures, maps and/or illustrations in the right way
  6. take care of a proper final lay-out of the report or paper

Presenting skills

  1. give a structured oral presentation
  2. schedule the content of an oral presentation
  3. give a presentation within a limited timeframe
  4. present readable graphs & tables

General set-up of a thesis
The total period spent on a thesis can be divided into 3 phases: proposal writing, performing the research and thesis writing. Different activities will take place with different products for the phases (Table 2).

Table 2: Different phases in the MSc with activities and products.
Phase Activity Product
Proposal writing Orientation, Problem analysis, Literature search, Work plan, Presentation Written research proposal, Start presentation
Performing the research Experiment, Field work, Modeling, Data gathering & data analysis, Data interpretation Data, Preliminary results
Thesis writing Putting the pieces together, Writing report, Preparation of presentation Thesis report, Final presentation

Proposal writing
Usually you start with a general idea about the thesis and you may have had some discussion with your supervisor. A detailed project plan, however, still needs to be written. This phase lasts in general 4 to 6 weeks depending on the kind of topic, your knowledge etcetera.
You will explore the background of a given research problem, critically review scientific literature, delineate your problem, formulate scientific questions and reflect on methodology. Table 3 shows most elements that should be in a research proposal. Length of proposal is 5 to 8 pages A4. Furthermore, you will present your plan orally for the chairgroup (start presentation: 5 min talk & 5 min discussion).

Table 3. Contents for research proposal
Subject Content
Project title As concise as possible formulated
Introduction Including background of problem, state of the art according scientific literature, scientific & social relevance, Formulation of scientific research questions and hypotheses which have to follow logically from the previous parts
Methods Description of available data, fieldsites & models that will be used, design of field inventory, design of experiments, modelling activities, Description of statistical methods to analyze data
Planning A week to week planning, related to the research activities and research questions

Performing the research

After writing the proposal, the practical work starts (field work, modelling, experiment). Data will be collected and analyzed. During this phase the supervisor will be informed regularly on the progress made. If thesis work is done abroad students have to adapt to working conditions such as institutional hierarchy, ethics, dress code etcetera that are often different from Dutch conditions.

Thesis writing

Usually 4 to 6 weeks are needed to write the final report or paper. In close co-operation with the supervisor the choice for a report or paper will be made. The report has to be written in English or Dutch. When you have a first complete draft of your thesis ready (with all chapters and annexes but some smaller elements may still be missing) ask your supervisor for comments on structure and contents. The supervisor usually needs 1 week for this proof reading. After having discussed the comments with your supervisor, you have at least one chance to improve your draft. Together with your supervisor you make appointments regarding the procedure for proof reading. You have to ask the secretariat from the chair group for a thesis number, that appears on the cover of your thesis. The number of hardcopies will be determined in cooperation with the supervisor. A PDF version of the final report or paper is also required.
The task of writing a thesis sometimes lures students into using other’s work, ideas, facts, texts etcetera and presenting it as their own. It is important to understand that plagiarism is considered as a very serious offence against academic norms and, hence subject to equally serious punishment. Therefore, read the Wageningen University & Research plagiarism policy in the Student Charter (2.8 Students and copyright, p. 24-25, and 5.3.3. Fraud and plagiarism, p. 56-47) and Appendices Student Charter (Article 33h, p.117)).

The thesis report has the following contents:

  1. Cover page
  2. Preface (optional)
  3. Abstract (max 1 page)
  4. Introduction: problem definition, state-of-the-art, theory/concepts, objectives, research questions
  5. Material & Methods: description of how the problem was studied, which materials were used, type of statistical analyses
  6. Results: what where the findings?
  7. Discussion: Discuss your findings with those from literature, what are good/weaker points in your study
  8. Conclusions & Recommendations: answer your research questions and formulate recommendations
  9. References & Annexes

Click here (Example Thesis report.pdf) for an example report.

Final presentation

After the draft thesis is finished, the student has to give a colloquium. Reserve a date with your supervisor in time. Presentations at AEW are scheduled on Thursday mornings and reservations can be made at the secretariat. Twenty minutes are reserved for the oral presentation followed by 10 minutes discussion. It is strongly advised to have a test colloquium a few days before.

Final meeting

In a final meeting, your supervisor will question and discuss your thesis, its relevance, and your opinion about your own work. During this meeting the mark will be given.


The standard form Thesis evaluation Wageningen University & Research (click here for downloading) will be used. The standard rubric for the assessment will be applied by your supervisor (click here for downloading).