Honours Thesis Information

Please also see Guidelines for Writing a Thesis for important information on writing your thesis and choosing a supervisor.

Each Honours student in the School must undertake an Honours Project, as part of their Honours year. This involves:

  • Independent study under the supervision of a member of staff.
  • The writing of a thesis giving an account of what was studied.
  • The presentation of some of this material in a 25-50 minute seminar which will be attended by staff and other students.

The objectives of the project are:

  • To give the student an opportunity to engage in some study which is driven more by their curiousity than by a given syllabus.
  • To expose the student to mathematics beyond the standard syllabus and to get some view of what is happening at the research front.
  • To help develop some of the basic research skills including use of the library and computer databases.
  • To develop the skill of writing technical material well.
  • To develop the skill of presenting technical material orally.

Many of these skills will be of great benefit whether or not the student progresses to further study in mathematics. Of course, for the student who does go on to do mathematical research, these skills are vital. It should be noted that although the project is an important part of a student's research training, the aim of the project is not to produce original new theorems. Occasionally a project will contain some original results, but this is certainly not a required component.

Remember that different projects can have quite different natures. Some are surveys of a particular area of mathematics, some look at the history behind a famous problem, others may require calculating some examples, or filling in gaps in published works.

What is Expected 

The thesis will be assessed for quality in four major areas (see below), each of which is important. The mark for the thesis will be made up as follows: 90% based on the written thesis, and the remaining 10% will be determined by an oral presentation. The written thesis and the oral presentation will be assessed by three markers, one of which is the supervisor.  Each marker will provide a written assessment and grade(s) for the written thesis based on the following:

  • Exposition: Clarity of the presentation. Sufficient introductory and summary material. Organisation and style of the presentation.
  • Literature coverage: Adequate coverage of related material in the field. Placing the topic in a wider context.
  • Critical analysis and insight: Understanding of the problem and/or model. Quality of the discussion. Discussion of the advantages and limitations of the problem/method.
  • Originality: E.g. by modifying or extending earlier theory or methods, or by developing new examples, or by an application to a new area. Are there new results, insights, methods or applications?

The weighting of the various assessment components will vary depending on the type of thesis. For example, the literature coverage will be more important in a survey type project than in one which contains original results. All theses are expected to address all four areas, however.

Oral Presentation and Thesis Seminar

Typically in Weeks 11 or 12 of the last semester of their Honours year, students each present a seminar of 25 - 50 minutes on their thesis to members of the mathematics staff, interested visitors and other students. This presentation is worth 10% of the thesis mark, and each of the three thesis examiners will attend and record a grade for the presentation. The presentation will be assessed on: Knowledge displayed; motivation presented for the study of the topic; description of contributions/achievements; description of results; clarity of verbal discussion; clarity of slides/figures; quality of presentation (e.g. eye contact, pace); keeping to time; and responses to questions.

  • Your talk should be self-contained. As with the thesis, it should be aimed at the level of your fellow Honours students.
  • Discuss with your supervisor which aspect of your project would make a good talk. The hard thing is deciding what to leave out while still telling a coherent story.
  • Start the talk with a non-technical introduction so that everyone understands what your project is. Pitching the talk at a higher level may be necessary later in the talk, but try not to get to the stage when only you and your supervisor understand what is going on. Remember that it is very easy to overestimate what the audience understands (haven't your lecturers been doing that to you for years!?).
  • Go to other seminars during the year. If you can, go to the seminars of Honours students who are ahead of you. Take notes of what works and what doesn't work in their seminars. If you get annoyed by, for example, them taking overheads on and off too fast, make sure that you don't repeat the mistake.
  • Have a run through with your supervisor at least a week before the talk is scheduled.
  • Don't worry too much. This is not an examination, and we are not trying to catch you out. We all remember how nervous we were before our first talk, and will take that into account.

There will usually be some questions asked at the end of the talk. Don't feel that you have to know the answer to all of them. Questions are asked because the questioner wants to know the answer, not because they want to see whether you know.

Honours Thesis Grade

The final Honours mark consists of thesis grade (which contributes 18/48) and five courses (contributing a total of 30/48).  This mark is then rounded up to produce your final Honours mark, which determines your grade.

  • 85+ : Honours I
  • 75 - 84:  Honours IIA
  • 65 - 74: Honours IIB
  • 50 - 64: Honours III


You should begin to plan the 'shape' of the thesis before the start of your second semester. You supervisor should have a fairly mature draft by the end of Week 8 of your last semester, but you should probably give them a chapter sooner than this so they can check your writing style.

The following is a general guide to how work on your thesis should progress. If you think that a major variation is warranted, please discuss this with either your supervisor or the Honours Coordinator.

  • Select supervisor and topic - before the start of your Honours year
  • Research, reading, discussion, understanding - mainly first semester
  • Outline of thesis & significant piece of writing - by the beginning of your last semester
  • Give a substantial draft to supervisor - end of Week 8 of your last semester
  • Talk - last two teaching weeks of your last semester
  • Final submission - the Friday of the last teaching week (week 13) in the final semester of honours candidature.

Thesis Due Date

The honours thesis is due at 5pm on the final day of Week 13 in the final semester of honours candidature. By this deadline, the student should hand in 3 soft-bound copies of the thesis and email a PDF file of the final version to the relevant Honours coordinator. For more details on how the thesis should be presented, including the type of binding, see the next section.

The rule below will be applied if the thesis is late with no good reason. In the case of illness or other extenuating circumstances, the late penalty will be determined by agreement between the three thesis assessors and the Honours Coordinator.

The final thesis mark f will then be calculated by the following formula:

Here is the recommended mark (before taking lateness into account), and n is the number of days that the thesis is overdue.

Honours Thesis Format

This section provides some guidance as to the physical presentation of an Honours thesis at UNSW. To quote the rules:

Students are required to submit four copies of their thesis, typed and in a protective binder or cover (for example, spiral bound). Students are responsible for the production of their theses. Almost all students type their theses using LaTeX. The School runs periodic classes on how to get started in LaTeX and you should take advantage of these as early as you can.

Getting a good looking thesis can be helped by having a good style or 'document class' file and a decent example to copy.  A style file and an example thesis is provided below.

Your thesis should be in 12pt font, singly spaced (or one-and-a-half spaced). Typically, a thesis should be between 40 and 60 pages in length. If you think that you have a good reason to write a shorter or longer thesis, discuss this with your supervisor. Theses are not judged by their weight! It is better to write a shorter thesis in which you understand everything than a longer one where you are rather hazy on the details.

The following files can help you to get your thesis writing started. (You will only need one of the UNSW crest files, depending on whether you are using the pdflatex or latex command to compile your thesis.)

Additional Information

Rules for dealing with illness and other unavoidable issues

  • If your progress has been affected by illness or an unforeseen issue, you may apply for Special Consideration by following the standard University rules. You should also provide your Honours Coordinator with a letter explaining your situation. Medical certificates or other written evidence to support your request should be supplied where appropriate. You should ask your supervisor to submit a report on the extent to which your progress has been interrupted.
  • Only in exceptional circumstances will any thesis be accepted later than 6 months after the deadline. Any student who has not submitted their thesis before the start of the semester following the deadline will need to re-enrol as a part-time student.
  • Thesis deadlines for part-time students are determined on a case-by-case basis when work on the thesis is commenced. Students will usually be expected to have completed their thesis after four semesters of part-time enrolment. Depending on how the student structures the split between coursework and thesis, this period may be varied.