A thesis is the final research project conducted as the capstone to a postgraduate degree. In the United States, a thesis refers to the final project for a master’s degree; only the final project for a doctoral degree is called a dissertation. In the United Kingdom, however, the term “thesis” is not widely used. The term “dissertation” is used to refer to either the final project for a master’s degree or the final project for a doctoral degree.
Purpose of The Thesis
The purpose of the thesis is to demonstrate that the master’s student understands the field thoroughly and is capable of carrying out an extended research project. The importance of the thesis project varies from field to field. In the sciences, the thesis is usually considered a critical part of the student’s education because students in the sciences must be able to conduct experiments as well as read research to stay current in their fields. In the arts and humanities, the thesis is important, but the evaluation may not be as rigorous, depending on the field and the university. In some fields, such as technical writing, students may be able to complete a practicum and forgo the thesis entirely.
Timeline for the Thesis
The thesis is usually begun when the student has finished taking courses for the degree. He or she will then spend a semester or more writing the research proposal and conducting the research. After the research project is completed, the student will spend another semester or more writing the thesis. Once the student’s thesis committee has approved the thesis, he or she will be expected to present their research in a public forum. If the committee is satisfied with the quality of the thesis and the presentation, the student is allowed to graduate and receive their degree.
Audience and Tone
The audience for a master’s thesis is their thesis committee and experts in the field. As a result, the tone is academic and professional. Students can and should use terms that are unique to their field. However, they should define these terms for clarity and to demonstrate that they have a good grasp of their meaning.
Planning the Project
Because master’s students are typically not well versed in conducting extended research projects, they often receive considerable guidance from their thesis committee on the planning and execution of the project. The student will draw up a detailed proposal for the project. Once it is approved by the committee, the student may have to seek approval from a university institutional review board as well if they are using human subjects or animals as part of the project.
Parts of the Thesis
The thesis is typically 100 to 150 pages long. The total length depends on the discipline in which the student is seeking a degree, however. The parts of the thesis and the expectations for each section can vary widely according to the field. Students should review several examples of theses in their field as well as seek advice from their committee to ensure that their project meets the committee’s expectations. The general parts of a master’s thesis are:
- Background and Problem Statement. The first section covers the background of the problem and frames a problem statement and a research question that the student will be investigating.
- Literature Review. This section situates the student’s research in terms of the research that has already been conducted by others. Ideally, the research question should investigate a new angle of the subject.
- Methods. The methods section explains in exhaustive detail how the student conducted their research.
- Results. The results section outlines the results of the study. This section contains the raw and analyzed data as well as explains the results.
- Discussion. The discussion section explains the importance of the results. It can also point to directions for future research.
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