Codarts logoManual Thesis and Thesis-presentation for the Bachelor studies at Codarts, University of the Arts.

Originally written by Bart Gruson and Joan ten Hoonte (2002-2005), this thoroughly revised and adapted version is by Oscar van Dillen (2006-2009).


The thesis in the third or fourth year is a mandatory part of the final examination of the Bachelor-program at Codarts.

The main goal of this study-assignment is:

The student demonstrates the ability to independently research and present the results of a main-subject-related research question, both in a written and in an orally presented form. The thesis must have a musical-practical field of interest, related to the student’s main-subject.

In accordance with the nature of the training to become a musician it is mandatory to not only submit the survey results in writing, but also to present them orally, in the form of a lecture, lesson, a lecture-recital, a slide or video presentation, an interactive CD-ROM or otherwise.

This manual supplies basic information on procedures, layout and assessment, and offers help to start up the work.

In the first part useful tips and explanations based on a tested work-model are listed. The second part supplies information on the assessment criteria of the thesis and the presentation, whereas the third part focuses on the procedures to follow. At the bottom you will find a link to finished theses on this website.

The thesis

Before you actually start your research or writing work it would be a good idea to put down on paper what you intend to do. In other words: you are supposed to make a survey structure. You formulate a theme and a problem definition, partial questions, useful theories and you choose a survey method. Furthermore you reason why it makes sense to research your problem definition.
This is a difficult stage, and will require some thorough thinking.

The following phase of the survey consists of the collecting and processing of the data and the interpretation and report of the results. The steps in the execution phase naturally depend strongly on the nature of your survey. It is beyond the goal of this manual to elaborate on all possible forms.

Finally you are required to convey the survey results in the form of a presentation. Apart from the spoken form (a regular lecture), more modern forms are possible (e.g a multi-media presentation) or “musical” forms, presenting both pieces of music and facts (as in a lecture-recital).

Structure of the research

Step 1: Choosing a field of interest

Choose a field of interest well in time. Take a subject in which you are specifically interested, you already have some knowledge about through study, internship or work, or of which you know certain questions have been left unanswered up until now.
The advantage is that you are reasonably informed on your subject. However, the danger is that you work gets (too) substantial.

Explore by reading up in a specific field of study. Think of the subjects and articles you came across in your classes.

Warning: The thesis is a follow-up of the writing assignments, done for education psychology, methodology and music theory subjects in previous years, so the field of study should be another!

Discuss the subject of your choice with fellow-students and teachers, but especially with your thesis counselor and main-subject teacher. They are is the first persons to consult concerning the content of your thesis.

Your subject doesn’t need to be new but of course may shed some new light.
To decide on a subject you need to know what already has been written on a specific topic. If you start reading for this, you are actually looking for a question, rather than looking for answers.

Advice: Do not choose too broad a subject. A small subject is preeminently suitable to deal with big themes. A small subject allows you to really come up with something new.

The Internet may also be used as a source of information. Mind however, that to literally copy texts is not allowed, (except as a quotation and mentioning its source)! When referring to a web-page as a source, provide an exact hyper-link (URL) and mention the date/time you consulted it.

Step 2: Defining a focus question

First you must develop and find the focus question, a central question of research, you want to answer in your thesis, it must be researchable, meaning: it must allow for you to be able to find an answer. The focus question is in fact a ”question”, so it’s wording should end with a ”question mark”! The exact wording of your focus question is often difficult to find, but it is very important for your thesis. So give it a lot of attention.

Words and notions used must be clear unambiguous. Avoid subjective phrases such as “efficient”, “good”, “adequate” or “often”. Instead, be always clear and objective. The English-language Wikipedia has a good article on so-called “weasel-words”, which you will find here.

The wording of your focus question however is not sacred. While researching, new questions often arise. Questions resembling the original, but highlighting different aspects. A reformulation is sometimes necessary.

At any given time in the writing of your thesis you should be able to summarize your investigation in one or two sentences. The most important requirement of a thesis is that the focus question incorporated in it is answered. If your conclusion does not contain a reference to your focus question, then something has seriously gone wrong along the way.

Advice: Stick to your subject. The investigation may slightly shift or get a different emphasis as you go along. Maybe you are even inclined to switch to a totally different subject. When something doesn’t seem to work, something else will always seem more attractive. Avoid straying too far from your main theme.

Step 3: Demarcation

After formulating your problem you need to demarcate it. So: which aspects are and which are not incorporated in the working-out of your problem, and why?

A clear theme and clear focus question help to get a sharp demarcation of your theme.

People are often inclined to work out a problem too vaguely and too widely, because ‘otherwise there is nothing left to write about.’ But before adopting an in-depth approach it is necessary to truly demarcate the problem.

Step 4: Partial questions

Next you ought to ask partial questions. Partial questions are questions that first need to be answered before the actual problem can be addressed.

Partial questions belong to the demarcation of the problem. They force you to a structured approach and greater depth.
After formulating partial questions you have to look at the sequence in which these questions have to be answered and whether or not all of them are relevant.

Partial questions are derived from the focus question and every partial question can take a chapter to answer. With the use of partial questions you answer the focus question step by step. The relevant partial questions put in the proper order lead to a logical classification in chapters of your thesis.

Often a number of concepts used must be well-defined before you can get to the partial questions. In answering partial questions existing knowledge and theories may be beneficial. The advantages of carefully giving definitions and describing theories are consistency and demarcation. Consistency here means that definitions have the same meaning throughout the whole thesis. Clear demarcation gives the thesis more purpose and direction.

Note: If you come across interesting material that doesn’t fit into your classification, you will have to make a choice: either to maintain the classification and let go of this material or is this discovery so important that you want to adjust your classification accordingly. The classification may anyway change somewhat along the way, but be careful with major changes. You could e.g. decide to leave out or add chapters because for example a theme fits better in a different chapter, etc.

Before you continue with your research you need permission for you final theme and focus question, both from your main-subject teacher and your thesis-counselor.

Step 5: Research methods

The research method indicates in what way you want to collect the data necessary to answer your questions. You need to justify your method.
The following research methods are often used:

1. Survey-method
This is one of the best-known research methods. Through systematic questioning (using interview or questionnaire) you are going to gather a large number of data. The advantage is that you can make generalized statements. A disadvantage could be a response that is too small or not representative. An important condition is that you select your questions very thoroughly and you possess some knowledge of statistics to process the results.
2. Experimental research
You will find what is going to happen in a given situation if you systematically change one aspect of it. You should structure an experiment in such a way that the permanent and variable aspects do not mutually affect each other. This demands a thorough structure and very accurate working and thinking.
3. Literature-study
An often used method in which data seem to be readily available. It is vital to indicate exactly the sources you used and the selection criteria you apply in your choice of titles. The results found can be presented schematically (e.g. a historic overview, information per title or a summary of the advocates and opponents of a certain theory).
4. Case-study
A system or process is described in orderly fashion, for example how a decision is made, what the form of a piece of music is, or how a group of people behave in a given situation. You usually do not study a large number of data. You are expected to indicate how you collected your information. You usually cannot make generalized statements, but you can work more in-depth. It is a useful method for a descriptive and exploratory research.

Determining the desired or appropriate research method is often the hardest and sometimes the most time-consuming part of the graduation thesis. Once agreed upon it is time to get to work.

Example – this text
Let’s say I’d like to research how to inform all people involved about theses at Codarts, and create this very text you are now reading. To complete this, the following steps below are given as an example of how to work, how to structure the research, how to focus the efforts.

1. Definition of the focus question (note that a question ends with a question-mark)
* How do I supply clear information on the theses to all those concerned at the Rotterdam Conservatory?
2. Partial questions (note that questions end with a question-mark)
* Which steps do have to be taken to come to a thesis?
* What are the assessment-criteria?
* Which rules apply to monitoring and exams?
3. Definitions
* A thesis is a paper on a main subject-related topic, independently researched, written and presented by a third- or fourth-year student, that is highlighted at graduation Conservatory (HBO) level.
4. Survey-method
* Partial question 1: Literature study, specifically aimed at books, not on articles. Search on title: definition of the focus question, survey structure.
* Partial question 2 & 3: Interviews, consultation of colleagues, exam committee, requirements study guide.
5. Concept of chapter division (as in this text)
1. Introduction
2. The thesis (research structure and execution)
3. Assessment
4. Procedural aspects
6. The actual execution of the survey
Meaning: the actual research and writing of this text, see steps 6-9 below.

Advice: work digitally and make sure to ”always” make safety-copies (backups) along the way, preferably on more than one media, so the risk of actually losing (part of) your work is limited as much as can be.

Steps 6-9

*Step 6: Collecting data
*Step 7: Processing data
*Step 8: Interpretation and report of results
*Step 9: Presentation in written form (and preparation of oral presentation)

When your research work has been done, neatly arrange the results. The presentation – in whatever form – of your research results should in any case contain a written part, the thesis-paper. This paper must be available to the assessment committee two weeks before the thesis-presentation. It must meet minimum demands in terms of lay out – and quality conditions set to the thesis, it may, however, vary in length (thickness) depending on the form of presentation.

Depending on your subject and survey you may need supporting sound and images for your presentation. Since a music is involved one might imagine you actually perform something yourself during the presentation. Mind that you yourself are responsible for the presence of necessary audio-, video- or other equipment you need in the room where your thesis-presentation will take place. Take care of arranging these things beforehand!

Never forget that you will be assessed on how clear and organized you present your results. Next to comprehensiveness, clarity in presentation is the main point. So, also in your presentation, stick to the organization rules: make an introduction, make sure your story has a clear order, clearly define notions and summarize main topics well, end with a conclusion.

Possible forms of presentation are:
*A traditional “defense” in which you summarize the focus point of your research and what your most important findings are, possibly using a summary and sheets.
*A presentation supported by sound and vision fragments (illustrating your argument)
*A presentation in the form of a lecture-recital
*A multi-media presentation
After consulting your thesis counselor and after approval of the main subject teacher and coordinator alternative forms are conceivable and negotiable.

At the end of your presentation the exam-committee is given the opportunity to ask questions.

Be aware that the presentation is public. Your fellow students should be enabled to attend your presentation!

Literature and sources

The literature you use for your thesis (books, articles, survey-results, Internet, etc.) has to be accounted for. The information you reproduce has to be with a detailed sourced acknowledgement from the books, articles, websites etc. you used. If you quote, you do the same and make clear that it is a quote by adding “…”1 quotation marks and provide e.g. a footnote stating where the quote comes from exactly.

It always has to be perfectly clear, which part you wrote by yourself and which part you did not, and where that came from.

At the end of the thesis you should give a complete list of the literature you used.

This should include:

  • The name(s) of the author(s),
  • The title of the source,
  • Year and place of publication of the source.

Please note that if acknowledgement and literature-list are missing, your thesis can not be accepted!


General guidelines

There is no blueprint for the writing of a thesis. Likewise it is just as hard to assess the elaboration of the contents and the presentation. Every thesis is tailor-made and will be regarded as such. In this part you will find all focus-points for the assessment of the written work and its presentation.

The demands on the layout of the thesis are directly related to the function of the thesis. The presentation of survey-results requires correct use of language and a clear classification. Theses must be readable and should not contain irrelevant or redundant parts.

The exam-committee assesses the contents of the thesis on truth and relevancy to the profession. The extent of independence with which the student worked also carries weight.

The presentation of the thesis is mainly assessed on contents, but also on functionality and clarity by the exam committee.

Criteria for assessment

Size and length

A thesis doesn’t need to be bulky to make sense. Often the opposite is true. If shorter, at least one demand is met: it is generally kept readable. Depending on the form of presentation the written part may turn out shorter or longer. When in doubt, consult your thesis-counselor on this.

To give you a general idea of the “ideal size”: 25 – 30 pages (excluding pictures, images, title pages, contents page and other enclosures), if the thesis is typed in a point 12 font, paper size A4, line distance 1 and an all-round page margin of 2.5 cm.


*Contents page
*Page and chapter numbers
*The cover contains the following: title, date, name and main subject of the student
*The title page contains: title of the thesis, date of execution, name of the student and name(s) of counselor(s).


In the introduction:
*Rationale and the focus question.
*The relevancy of the theory and / or practice of the theme.
*How is the focus question defined?
*What are the partial questions? How are they answered?

In every chapter:
*A short introduction (with partial question and structure).
*Report and interpretation of data.
*Conclusion (what do you know now, what don’t you know yet?)

In the conclusion and discussion:
*What are the findings?
*How has the definition of the focus question been demarcated?
*How and in what way did the structure of the survey influence the findings?
*What is the value of the thesis for theory and practice?
*Which questions remain to be answered?
*What possible suggestions can be made for follow-up research?


Although the theme and its elaboration are very clearly understood, all is lost when not conveyed in clear language, so:
*Do not make your sentences too long.
*Do not use unnecessary jargon or difficult words.
*Avoid abbreviations.
*Use consequent and correct spelling.
*Give clear descriptions of the terminology used.

Theses can be written in Dutch or English, other languages are not accepted.


1. Subject contents
*Does the literature consulted link up to the definition of the theme?
*Is this literature recent?
*Is this literature of sufficient (HBO or academic) level?
*Is the thesis internally consistent?
*Is there a clear difference between main points and details?

2. Argumentation
*Is the definition of the theme meaningful?
*Is the definition of the theme new?
*Is the focus question answered?
*To what extent does the thesis actually produce new insights or is it a summary of existing literature?
*Are opinions and original views recognizable and clearly separated from the opinions and views of other (referenced) sources and authors?

3. Method
*Has the student worked mainly independently or also asked for assistance from the counselor and if so, in what way?
*Have the sources been properly accounted for?
*How many sources have been consulted, where and in what way have they been researched?
*Has the choice for a particular research-method been explained and has the method been used appropriately?
*Are limitations to the original research being discussed?
*Have suggestions for further research been given?


*Does the presentation clarify the written part?
*Is the form of presentation functional?
*How is the form of presentation accounted for?
*Are the main points properly highlighted in the presentation?
*Does the student adequately answer the questions?
*Does the student have an overview of the material?

Procedural aspects


*The academy-coordinators are responsible for the organization and contents of the thesis:
*The thesis-counselors offer assistance in the technical aspect of the survey and the writing.
*The approval both of the main subject teacher and the thesis-counselor are needed for the definite theme of the thesis.
*For support regarding contents the student can ask any teacher for advice. Obviously experts outside the Conservatory can also be consulted. In that case it is appropriate to get a letter of recommendation from the coordinator.


The student:

  • must have taken the didactics classes and passed the theory of education exam (if exemptions were not granted) before he/she starts writing the thesis.
  • is solely responsible for the working process. Support by a thesis-counselor is offered by Codarts.
  • picks up a thesis-form with the coordinator when there is a clear-cut idea of the subject. After consultation it is decided who will act as a thesis-counselor. The survey-structure and form of presentation is discussed and temporarily established in the first meeting with the thesis counselor. After this initial talk with the thesis counselor the form needs to be filled in, signed for agreement by the main subject teacher and handed in with the thesis counselor.

Advice: Take into account especially at the end of the academic year that your counselors are extra busy and sometimes hard to contact. Make solid arrangements with your counselor.

  • makes clear follow-up arrangements with the thesis counselor. Agreement and clarity must be reached on the working method and tasks of the counselor. The extent of independence is a factor in the assessment. The counseling arrangements made are to be incorporated into the survey structure.
  • is him/herself responsible for the time planning within the framework of the maximum study duration. In case of (graduation) time pressure no concessions will be made regarding grade-assessment or approval of the thesis.

Advice: Despite the required independence it would be wise to hand in the first chapter for correction fairly quickly, so that any structural writing and thinking errors are spotted right away.

  • can only start reproducing the final draft after approval of the thesis counselor and main subject teacher. The reproduction expenses are for the student. You should hand in four copies of the thesis.
  • informs the coordinator of one’s own accord two months prior to the presentation planned. The final date for the presentation is confirmed as soon as the copies of the thesis are distributed.

The thesis counselor

  • gives technical assistance on writing the thesis. In any case he discusses the research structure, the definition of the focus question, the chapter classification and construction of the argumentation with the student.
  • makes sure that the subject choice of the thesis is supported by the main subject teacher.
  • informs the exam committee before the session on the progress of the working process as far as it took place in his care.
  • informs the coordinator right away if he has indications that the student drops behind with the planning or has any other problem.

The coordinator

  • decides who will assist as a thesis counselor (eventually after consulting the student).
  • is responsible for the appointing and calling the exam committee.
  • plans together with the administration the presentations and calls in the exam committee. The student is timely informed on who is in the committee.
  • draws the attention of the conservatory population to the place, date and time of the presentation and subject


*Of the thesis four copies are handed in, three for the exam-committee and one for the library.
*The thesis is not sent to the exam-committee before the student and thesis-counselor agree on doing so.
*The thesis is handed in at least 2 weeks prior to the exam, so the exam-committee has at least 14 days to read the thesis.
*The student presents and defends the thesis in public during the exam. It goes without saying that as many as possible interested parties from the department are present.
*The thesis-presentation (including final assessment) takes one hour.
*The exam-committee consists of a chairman (the head of the department or the deputy head or the coordinator of the department) and the thesis-counselor plus a main-subject teacher involved, with possibly one or more external experts. The exam-committee carries final responsibility.
*The exam-committee assesses the thesis with a mark ranging from 1 to 10 on a 20 point scale. The final mark will be adjusted according to the quality of the thesis-presentation within a maximum range of -1 or +1.
*The assessment takes place based on the criteria as formulated in the chapter concerned.



Examples of theses:

Frequently asked questions

1. Can I use Wikipedia as a source?
Answer: Basically yes, though under the following strict conditions:

  • The Wikipedia article should not be a stubby or short page; only really proofread accepted pages (Wikipedia itself on using Wikipedia as a research tool), with a list of sources can be used;
  • Use an exact referral URL (what is a URL], linking with a permalink (what is a permalink) (see left menu of Wikipedia) and adding the date and time of retrieval;
  • Never use a Wikipedia entry as your only source, use it in connection to other independent sourcesWikipedia on identifying reliable sources) on the exact same (sub)topic;
  • The list of sources mentioned in the Wikipedia article should be read and doublechecked as well.

2. Do images also count as text-body in the page count for the length of the thesis?
Answer: No. The minimum length of a thesis paper is defined in pages of pure text (measured in font 12pt, normal line distance).
3. What font type must I use?
Answer: You are free to design your own layout, but please keep it functional for its purpose.
4. Can I write a teaching method?
Answer: No, teaching methods fall in the realm of the didactical/pedagogical subjects and courses.
5. Can I copy and paste text from others (quote)?
Answer: Quotation[ Right to quote] on Wikipedia is allowed under normal legally provided conditions: yes, provided the cited paragraphs are within a reasonable limit, clearly marked as quotations and fully referenced, and as long as your thesis is not just a collection of quotations.

Addendum: online sources on music and world music

  • Garland Encyclopedia of World Music in 10 volumes – edited by Bruno Nettl, Ruth M Stone, James Porter and Timothy Rice, Alexander Street Press

Additional links and tools