VU hydrology logo
BSc and MSc Thesis writing for Students

Linux mascotte

How to write your BSc / MSc thesis

Reporting is an art. It takes a lot of time and practice. Because most students have little experience with report writing, we provide a document with guidelines for writing your Bachelor's, Master's or PhD thesis. The manual provides tips and examples on how to write a good report.

There are several ways how you can report. Most students use MS-Word for reporting but this is presumably not the best program to deal with large texts, many figures and tables. In addition, the user of Word has to deal with the structure of the report, formatting, keeping track of numbering, inserting of literature references, etc.

A good alternative is the use of the LaTeX typesetting program. LaTeX is a high-quality typesetting system, with features designed for the production of technical and scientific documentation. LaTeX is also the de facto standard for the communication and publication of scientific documents. This means that Elsevier, Kluwer, and other major publishers provide style files for writing scientific papers in LaTeX.

This web page will give you all the information that you need to start reporting using LaTeX or other software. First you'll have to install some software on your computer. If you have done this, you can download and use the thesis writing manual, or several LaTeX template files that I've made for the BSc and MSc reports. The manual gives you some information on how to write a good report. In the zipped template files, you'll find pdf files that show the template's layout. If you decide to use other software than LaTeX, you should try to adhere to the structure and layout in these templates.

Installation of software.

A popular LaTeX version for MS Windows is MiKTex. MiKTeX (pronounced mick-tech) is an up-to-date implementation of the TeX and related programs for Windows (all current variants) on x86 systems. TeX is a typesetting system invented by Donald E. Knuth. MiKTeX's main features include:

  • easy to install
  • complete: 1108 packages (fonts, macros, ...) are included
  • living: the package repository is updated periodically
  • easy package management: missing packages can be installed automatically; a wizard helps you to keep your MiKTeX system up-to-date
  • fast previewing: the TeX output viewer Yap allows for an optimized edit-compile-view cycle (if the TeX authoring system in use supports source specials)
  • MiKTeX is open source and therefore freely available

The MiKTeX distribution consists of the following components:

  • TeX: the classic TeX compiler
  • pdfTeX, e-TeX, pdf-e-TeX, Omega, e-Omega, NTS: various TeX variants
  • Dvipdfm/Dvipdfmx: converts TeX output into PDF documents
  • MetaPost: converts picture specifications into PostScript commands
  • a complete set of macro packages and fonts (e.g., ConTeXt, LaTeX, ...)
  • Yap: a viewer for TeX output
  • TeXify: a TeX compiler driver
  • MiKTeX Options: assists in configuring MiKTeX
  • Lots of utilities: tools for the creation of bibliographies & indexes, PostScript utilities, and more.

Before you can use LaTex, you need to download and install MiKTex on your computer. You have to be logged in with administrator rights on your computer to do this. Installation is in two steps. When you start the installer it will first, after some questions, download the necessary files to a directory that you specify. When that is done, restart the installer and give the directory as the source where the miktex files were downloaded to in the first step. It is easiest if you do a "complete installation". Installation then begins and takes quite a while.

To generate PDF files with LaTeX, you now need to download and install both Ghostscript and Ghostview (GSview) programs. Ghostscript is an interpreter for the PostScript (TM) language and GSview is a graphical interface for Ghostscript. For documents following the Adobe PostScript Document Structuring Conventions, GSview allows selected pages to be viewed or printed. Versions are available for Windows, OS/2 and Linux.

Although you could use notepad or any other ASCII editor to make LaTeX documents, it is easier to download and use the dedicated TeXMaker editor. TexMaker is a free, modern and cross-platform LaTeX editor for linux, macosx and windows systems that integrates many tools needed to develop documents with LaTeX, in just one application. To avoid misunderstandings: TexMaker is not a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) interface for LaTeX and will never be, because the developers think that providing such an interface for LaTeX can not benefit from the advantages of LaTeX.

Alternative editors for LaTeX are TeXnikCenter, WinTex, the Visual Latex Editor LEd, WinShell and WinEdt. Of course you can also use the very powerful XEmacs ASCII editor.

For TeXnicCenter, Download the setup file and install the software. When you start up TeXnicCenter for the first time you may have to give the directory where Miktex has been installed. In this case browse to the "bin" directory of Miktex. In my case this was C:\Program Files\MiKTeX 2.9\miktex\bin. The programme will then ask you to make profiles for pdf, dvi, etc. Just say yes and you are ready to work with TeXnicCenter...

Start report writing.

Guidelines for writing your thesis

The following links are to a guide on your research project and to its LaTeX source files. The latter may serve as an example for preparing a document and making tables, lists and or using graphics.

IMPORTANT: The guide above contains a BSc and MSc report checklist in Appendix B. Please check your report against the items in this list to improve your report (and receive a higher grade) before handing it in to your supervisors!

Thesis template files for LaTeX

Several LaTeX template files were made for writing BSc and MSc reports and there is also a manual for report writing. You can download these by clicking on the following links. The files are zipped and you need to unzip them somewhere on your computer. Open the *.tex file with TeXnicCenter to start working.

Each zip file holds a directory with subdirectories for the images in your report (directory: images) and for the library file (directory: library) for creating your bibliography automatically (see below).

Now you are ready. Start up TeXnicCenter and open the template file that you have just downloaded and start writing....

Use of BibTex for automatic bibliography generation in your report

We have a database that holds articles/book references that you can use with LaTeX/BibTex to automatically generate your reference list (bibliography). The database is searchable and if you do not find the reference that you want to quote, you can easily add your own new reference, so that others can also use it in the future. The present version holds mostly hydrological literature, but you can change that. There are links to scientific paper and you can also include them yourself.

Go to to access our online BibTex library. The database is password protected. VU University Hydrology or Earth Sciences students can obtain a username and password from We would encourage you to make good use of BibTex as it makes including references in your reports much easier.

How to get help

The Latex Project Organisation provides a lot of documentation that should help you write your report. Good sources are also students who have worked with LaTeX before. If you need a short explanation or experience problems with installation, you can also call (+31 20 5987319) or visit Maarten Waterloo in room E219.

Contact M.J. Waterloo for usernames/passwords.

Webmaster: M.J. Waterloo

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional
Last modified: Tue Jul 1 09:15:08 CEST 2014