Guide: Writing

What to Read

Literature Review

Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review, Philip E. Bourne, 2013,
High level tips for writing a literature review.
How to Write a Literature Review Paper?, B. V. Wee and D. Banister, Transport Reviews, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 278–288, Mar. 2016, doi: 10.1080/01441647.2015.1065456.
You can take a class from Bert van Wee on this process.
Engineering: The Literature Review Process
A guide from Arizona State University on writing and engineering literature review.


Writing a Scientific-Style Thesis: A Guide for Graduate Research Students, NUI Galway, Dr. Dermot Burns, 2017
A comprehensive guide to writing a thesis.

Scientific Writing

"The Science of Scientific Writing" by George D. Gopen and Judith A. Swan, 1990
Quick read that gives tips to improve your scientific writing style.
"How to write a good (enough) report by Andy Ruina
Prof. Ruina's pragmatic take on writing with a goal of clear communication of your ideas.

Common Issues


Conciseness typically equates to clarity. Edit things down, keep removing until only the essential information is present.

When to use a figure

If you refer to a figure in the text, that figure should be nearby the text so that the reader can read your interpretation of the figure while looking at it.

All figures should be referenced and discussed in the text, i.e. don't just throw in a figure because you made and it looks nice.

Only insert a figure when it enhances the story you are telling in the text.

Figure and Table Captions

Figures and tables and their associated captions should be able to be removed from the text and a reader should still be able to "read" the figure or table. This means that the caption should help the reader know how to read the figure. Anything that isn't obvious from the figure's design should be include, e.g. "The solid black lines represent the real part of the eigenvalue loci for the fifth eigenmode." The caption should not include discussion or interpretation of the figure, that belongs in your primary text.

Creating figures

Students often create figures that are saved from figure creation software without any adjustments to the default settings. The default settings are never appropriate. Search the internet for how to make publication quality figures with your preferred software. For example here are some



Common issues:

  • The figure is poorly scaled for actual paper sizes.
  • Bitmap images have either too high or too low resolution. Make your resolutions 300 dpi (dot per inch).
  • Font sizes are too small on axis labels and legends, for example.
  • Grey backgrounds are left in the figure (common for Matlab).
  • Readers cannot discern individual lines or dots in the plot. For example, you may have a time series line plot of an accelerometer over 30 minutes. Showing all 30 minutes is simply a blob of color that is not useful. Show only 1 minute or 30 seconds so that the reader can see the data in a useful context.


Take time to typeset your math equations and number each equation for referencing in the text. Follow mathematical notation standards to make it easy for the readers.

Do not use \(a*b\) or \(a\times b\) to indicate scalar multiplication, \(ab\) is clear and more than sufficient.


This is how you do quotes in LaTeX!

`single quoted stuff'
``double quoted stuff''

Backticks on the left quotes are necessary to obtain correctly formatted quotation marks.


There is no reason to include long scripts and programs in your thesis. If a product of your thesis project is code, it is best to archive your code in the proper file formats to something like Zenodo or Figshare and then cite in your thesis. You can also upload an archive of the code to the TU Delft thesis repository. It is appropriate to include code if you want the reader to read it. For example you may demonstrate an algorithm by showing a short snippet of code.


Appendices are not just a clearing house to dump all the extra figures and tables you generated. Appendices are ancillary chapters and sections of your work. They provide supporting, but not necessary, information for the story in your main chapters. For example, if you say in a main chapter "We measured the stiffness of 10 bicycle tires and use those values in the model, see Appendix A." then appendix A should be a new section with written content that explains this measurement procedure and the results. If it was in the main text it would distract the reader from your main points, e.g. model description, but if the reader questions your stiffness values they can then read the appendix to see how you arrived at the values.

Referencing commercial equipment

I applied a 6 hz Butterworth low pass filter to the signal using the butter() function available in Matlab 2019a (Natick, USA).

File size

There is little reason for the PDF of a thesis to be larger than 10 Mb. If your document is larger than 10 Mb then you have most likely embedded images that are much too large. Reduce the size of images before embedding. A 300 dpi image that fits on an A4 page should only be a few hundred kilobytes.


There are many writing styles; some styles fit with the norms in scientific writing and some do not. It is extremely important to make your academic reports and papers as easy to understand as possible. Some style choices will help you write more clearly.

Here are some recommendations:

  • Write in active voice unless the context really needs passive voice to make things clearer.
  • Write in present tense unless necessary to write in other tenses.

Allen Downey has some nice style notes:

Active Voice vs Passive Voice

You should write in active voice as your primary mode. Writing in active voice is generally simpler and clearer. Use passive voice sparingly. There should be a specific reason to use passive voice. Most major journals' style guides now request active voice. The Wikipedia article "English passive voice" is a good starting point to learn about the differences in active and passive and style recommendations. Allen Downey also has a couple quick reads that may help convince you of the merit of using active voice in scientific writing:

Initialisms and Acronyms

Don't use them. For every acronym or initialism you invent, it causes the reader to have to jump back to your definition every time they see it. The more you invent the more painful this is. There are two cases where it may be ok to use them: 1) the initialism or acronym is very commonly known to the expected audience, e.g. "PID" is an initialism that any control engineer would know, 2) you invent a single initialism or acronym for your paper due to repeating the phrase a very large number of times. Never use initialisms or acronyms in titles or abstracts. Always define any initialism or acronym (that your or others invented) on the first use of the phrase. If your sentences have more than one or two acronyms or initialisms present, you should likely write the phrases out to ease reading. Initialisms and acronyms make it easier for the writer but not the reader.