The Master’s degree at The Department of Biosciences

The Department of Biosciences offers three academic programs (length 2 years) leading to a master’s degree: 1) Biodiversity and systematics; 2) Biology; and 3) Molecular Biosciences. You will find more information about the programs on the webpage of the Department of Biosciences.

I. The research project description

A master’s degree program in the natural sciences usually includes a study design to test your research question and hypothesis, sampling of material, experimental work in a laboratory and/or the field, and subsequent computer analyses (e.g. statistical analyses). Before you start your master’s degree program, you must write a project description. This will help you to document your project objectives, plan and execute the study, and achieve the goals within the recommended time frame.

Writing a good project description requires a considerable amount of planning and thought. A project description should include detailed information about the research questions, relevant background information, study design, materials used (e.g. cell cultures, animals, patient material), the methods used to investigate/analyze them and the statistical tests used to analyze the resulting data. The timeline for different parts of the work with defined milestones is also an important part of the description. Ethical considerations, funding sources, supervisor(s) and university affiliation are also included.

The following section describes the guidelines for disposition, outline and content of the project description.


The title of your project description must be specific and informative about the content.


  • Name of the author (you) and your affiliation
  • Author’s address and contact information

Supervisor(s) and research group

  • Name of the supervisor(s) and their affiliation
  • Name of the research group and the affiliation


Background, objectives, hypotheses.

The project description must describe the project objectives—state your research question/hypothesis and why it is relevant to do this research. Give an overview of published relevant literature and cite relevant publications objectively and fairly. Figures and tables should be relevant and referenced in the text. Figures should be well-described in a caption placed under the figure. Tables should also be numbered and include a title heading.

Materials and Methods

The materials and methods that you will use to test your research question are described here. It is necessary to write detailed methodological descriptions in order to understand and evaluate the results. Readers should be able to repeat the experiment(s) by following your methodological descriptions. It is therefore important to describe the study design, sampling, the controls, the analytical procedures, and the actual experiments and number of replicate experiments performed. The statistical analyses must also be described in order to ensure a sufficient and controlled study design. Include also databases used for information retrieval. An outline can be as follows:

  • Location
  • Organisms, population, patient group
  • Sampling
  • Experimental design, procedures, reproducibility, controls
  • Analyses: Methodological and statistical
  • Resources (databases) and methods for scholarly information retrieval

Expected results

What is the expected outcome of your research?

Ethical considerations

If you are using e.g. human or animal tissues, live animals, field experiments that can have an impact on the environment etc., ethical approvals must be obtained. Compliance with ethical standards in your research area is a legal requirement. You must therefore understand and adhere to the pertinent laws and regulations in connection with this.

Risk analysis

Is required and submitted to the MN Faculty (not included in the project description).


Your aims outlined as milestones and deadlines.

The detailed plan for your project will be important for both the project leader and yourself. Be specific and set up a plan and timeline for your research, courses to be taken, and the time required for different research activities, e.g., when and how long it will take to collect and interpret data as well as writing the thesis/article.

Financial support, sponsors, and budget

Here you will list your sources of financial support and sponsors of the work. It will also be of interest to include a budget for experiments and field work as well as travel expenses (e.g. in connection with attendance at national and international scientific conferences).

Research group collaborations

National and international collaborators should be described briefly.


The reference list must list all the literature that is cited in the text. Be aware of the ethics of academic integrity in connection with source referencing. References to different literature formats, e.g. original journal articles, reviews, books and edited books must include sufficient and correct information. For reference styles, see chapter below.


II. The Master thesis

Your thesis will introduce your scientific question and provide background information about it, and will then present the materials and methods, results and discussion. The outline may be subject-specific, but the presentation generally reflects the IMRaD structure of an original scientific article, divided into Introduction, Methods and Materials, Results, and Discussion (see Figure 1).

The IMRaD-structure reflects the scientific process:

  1. Introduction:  Why was this study undertaken? What was the research question, what was the hypothesis to be tested? The introduction should also include background information and updates about the research area.
  2. Material and Methods: How, when and where was the study conducted, what was the studied object (organisms, patient groups etc.). Experimental methods, data analyses/statistics should be described in sufficient detail; it is however possible to refer to previously-published articles describing the same methods in the interest of conciseness. Databases and methods for information retrieval may be included. This section is important because it provides the reader with the opportunity to objectively control and undertake the same experiment.
  3. Results: What did you find in the study? Present only your own results (qualitative and quantitative data). In the natural sciences the results are often presented in the form of tables and figures.
  4. Discussion: What do the results imply and why are they important? Present your interpretation and discuss whether the results support or reject your hypothesis. How does your work fit in with what other researchers have reported? Finally, write a short conclusion and mention some perspectives for future research.

Figure 1. The IMRaD-structure of a scientific original article


In addition to IMRaD-text that tells the main scientific story, the manuscript will include important information such as Title, author(s), author’s affiliation, and references (also known as Meta-information to the IMRaD-structured text--see Figure 1).



III. Citing in the text and making a reference list

The Reference list / Bibliography is an important part of the manuscript. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (2014) provides a extensive overview of a scientific text structure, including referencing.

To find and cite relevant literature are important parts of the scientific method and communication (Ingwersen 1999; Fineout‐Overholt et al. 2008; O'Mathúna et al. 2008). A complete reference list in scientific articles is an important tool to help researchers share knowledge and compare results and conclusions. One of the most important function of citations is to give the reader the possibility to find the original texts, follow up the experiments (Høeg 1971), and help assess the quality of the scientific work. It is important to distinguish between original literature (Elrod and Somerville 2007; Soundararajan et al. 2008) and secondary literature typical for reviews and books (O'Mathúna et al. 2008).

All universities require that the master student cite and use the references correctly. The criteria for citations might vary between faculties and departments. You must therefore be familiar with the guidelines at your department when writing your master thesis.

Reference styles

Two main “schools” of reference styles exist:

  • The Author-Date style, also called Harvard style, with author(s) and year of publication embedded in the text, and an alphabetical listing in the reference list.
  • The Numbered style, also called Vancouver style, with a number for each reference in the text, and chronologically presented in the reference list.

Your choice of reference style for your master thesis or article will depend on the subject, the traditions at your faculty/department, and the publishing journal. You will find information about reference styles in “Write and cite” on UiO’s webpage (University of Oslo Library 2014).

At the Department of Biosciences, the tradition is to use an Author-Date style for master theses. Many scientific journals like Cell and Molecular Ecology require their own version of an Author-Date style, while prominent journals like Science and Nature require the use of a particular Numbered style.

The University Library offers courses and personal assistance to help you find relevant literature and gives advice on the use of the reference software EndNote. EndNote contains a wide variety of bibliographic styles and is widely-used by researchers. EndNote is one of many reference software tools available. Hernandez et al. (2008) provide an evaluation of some of the different reference tools.

To identify a plagiarist. The figure (Pirello & Fitz) is from Gaigg (2015).



Elrod, S. L. and Somerville, M. M. (2007). "Literature-based scientific learning: A collaboration model." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 33(6): 684-691.

Falnes, P. Ø., Johansen, R. F. and Seeberg, E. (2002). "Alkb-mediated oxidative demethylation reverses DNA damage in escherichia coli." Nature 419(6903): 178-182.

Fineout‐Overholt, E., O'Mathúna, D. P. and Kent, B. (2008). "How systematic reviews can foster evidence‐based clinical decisions." Worldviews on Evidence‐Based Nursing 5(1): 45-48.

Gaigg, M. (2015). "Go figure: 10 comic strips that have something in common." Accessed 19.01.15.

Hernandez, D. A., El-Masri, M. M. and Hernandez, C. A. (2008). "Choosing and using citation and bibliographic database software (bds)." Diabetes Educ 34(3): 457-474.

Høeg, O. A. (1971). Vitenskapelig forfatterskap. Oslo, Universitetsforlaget.

Ingwersen, P. (1999). "Cognitive information retrieval." Annual review of information science and technology (ARIST) 34: 3-52.

International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. (2014). "Preparing for submission."   Retrieved 15.08.14, from

O'Mathúna, D. P., Fineout‐Overholt, E. and Kent, B. (2008). "How systematic reviews can foster evidence‐based clinical decisions: Part ii." Worldviews on Evidence‐Based Nursing 5(2): 102-107.

Soundararajan, M., Bailey, C. P. and Markwell, J. (2008). "Use of a laboratory exercise on molar absorptivity to help students understand the authority of the primary literature." Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education 36(1): 61-64.

University of Oslo Library. (2014). "Mathematics and natural sciences: Choice of reference style. ."   Retrieved 03.04.14, from

Publisert 19. jan. 2015 14:05 - Sist endret 7. aug. 2015 14:57