What is a Thesis?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The term “thesis” is used in two different ways. In the first sense, a thesis is a statement which can be supported or refuted by a variety of arguments, and it is typically included at the beginning of a paper in the form of a “thesis statement” which prepares readers for the contents of the paper. A thesis can also take the form of a formal written paper which is part of the graduation requirements for advanced degrees. This is also sometimes called a dissertation.

Creating a strong thesis is a very important skill in paper writing, because it is the first step in formulating supportive arguments and material.
Creating a strong thesis is a very important skill in paper writing, because it is the first step in formulating supportive arguments and material.

In the first sense, a thesis is an important part of the structure of a paper, and it can be opposed with an antithesis. Creating a strong thesis is a very important skill in paper writing, because it is the first step in formulating supportive arguments and material. By establishing a clear overall argument, an author can also keep a paper on track.

Students typically confer with an advisor prior to determining a thesis proposal.
Students typically confer with an advisor prior to determining a thesis proposal.

Most people who receive a master's or doctorate degree have written the second type of thesis, which is typically based in original research in the field. Doctoral theses tend to be more demanding and extensive than those at the master level, but both demand a high level of professionalism and high quality research. Though most people have to submit a master's level thesis before pursuing a doctorate, this requirement may sometimes be waived.

A typical thesis includes a title page, an abstract, the contents of the paper, and the supporting bibliography and appendices. It is reviewed by a committee which varies in size, but typically includes at least one person from an outside discipline. After reviewing the work, the committee can accept it, reject it and demand revisions, or reject the student from candidacy for an advanced degree altogether, although this is rare.

For people in creative disciplines, this final project can take the form of a performance, an art piece, or another piece of creative work, in which case it is known as a creative thesis. Creative theses are judged by the same challenging standards as more conventional theses, and a committee may require the creator to submit a brief paper along with the creative work. For example, a playwright might submit a paper discussing the research and techniques used to write the play as part of his or her thesis.

A student may receive help choosing a thesis topic, completing research or editing from her academic advisor.
A student may receive help choosing a thesis topic, completing research or editing from her academic advisor.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

rallenwriter

Having just graduated, a quick tip about thesis writing that can't be repeated enough -- start early!

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