A thesis or dissertation is a document submitted in support of candidature for an academic degree or professional qualification presenting the author's research and findings. In some contexts, the word "thesis" or a cognate is used for part of a bachelor's or master's course, while "dissertation" is normally applied to a doctorate, while in others, the reverse is true. Dissertations and theses may be considered as grey literature.
The word dissertation can at times be used to describe a treatise without relation to obtaining an academic degree. The term thesis is also used to refer to the general claim of an essay or similar work.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Structure and presentation style
- 3 Thesis committee
- 4 Regional and degree-specific practices and terminologies
- 5 Thesis examinations
- 6 Submission of the thesis
- 7 Useful Software
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Structure and presentation style
A thesis (or dissertation) may be arranged as a thesis by publication or a monograph, with or without appended papers respectively. An ordinary monograph has a title page, an abstract, a table of contents, comprising the various chapters (introduction, literature review, findings, etc.), and a bibliography or (more usually) a references section. They differ in their structure in accordance with the many different areas of study (arts, humanities, social sciences, technology, sciences, etc.) and the minimal differences between them. In a thesis by publication, the chapters constitute an introductory and comprehensive gist of the appended published and unpublished article documents.
Dissertations normally report on a research project or study, or an extended analysis of a topic. The structure of the thesis or dissertation explains the purpose, the previous research literature which impinges on the topic of the study, the methods used and the findings of the project. Most world universities use a multiple chapter format : a) an introduction, which introduces the research topic, the methodology, as well as its scope and significance; b) a literature review, reviewing relevant literature and showing how this has informed the research issue; c) a methodology chapter, explaining how the research has been designed and why the research methods/population/data collection and analysis being used have been chosen; d) a findings chapter, outlining the findings of the research itself; e) an analysis and discussion chapter, analysing the findings and discussing them in the context of the literature review (this chapter is often divided into two—analysis and discussion); f) a conclusion.
Degree-awarding institutions often define their own house style that candidates have to follow when preparing a thesis document. In addition to institution-specific house styles, there exist a number of field-specific, national, and international standards and recommendations for the presentation of theses, for instance ISO 7144. Other applicable international standards include ISO 2145 on section numbers, ISO 690 on bibliographic references, and ISO 31 on quantities or units.
Some older house styles specify that front matter (title page, abstract, table of content, etc.) uses a separate page-number sequence from the main text, using Roman numerals. The relevant international standard and many newer style guides recognize that this book design practice can cause confusion where electronic document viewers number all pages of a document continuously from the first page, independent of any printed page numbers. They therefore avoid the traditional separate number sequence for front matter and require a single sequence of Arabic numerals starting with 1 for the first printed page (the recto of the title page).
Presentation requirements, including pagination, layout, type and color of paper, use of acid-free paper (where a copy of the dissertation will become a permanent part of the library collection), paper size, order of components, and citation style, will be checked page by page by the accepting officer before the thesis is accepted and a receipt is issued.
However, strict standards are not always required. Most Italian universities, for example, have only general requirements on the character size and the page formatting, and leave much freedom on the actual typographic details.
A literature review examines the existing academic literature to:
a) place the proposed or current work with the stream of academic development and history, and/or
b) to discover the strengths and weakness in the literature, uncovering gaps which may justify the significance of the current work.
A thorough review of literature provides the backdrop to, and reasons for, conducting the research. In addition, the discussion sets up the items in the methodology in a 1:1 correspondence. For example, if a researcher wants to query variable A in a particular population, their review of the literature should discuss the importance of, or other research that has studied variable A.
A thesis or dissertation committee is a committee that supervises a student's dissertation. This committee, at least in the US model, usually consists of a primary supervisor or advisor and two or more committee members, who supervise the progress of the dissertation and may also act as the examining committee, or jury, at the oral examination of the thesis (see below).
At most universities, the committee is chosen by the student in conjunction with his or her primary adviser, usually after completion of the comprehensive examinations or prospectus meeting, and may consist of members of the comps committee. The committee members are doctors in their field (whether a PhD or other designation) and have the task of reading the dissertation, making suggestions for changes and improvements, and sitting in on the defense. Sometimes, at least one member of the committee must be a professor in a department that is different from that of the student.
Regional and degree-specific practices and terminologies
In the Latin American docta, the academic dissertation can be referred to as different stages inside the academic program that the student is seeking to achieve into a recognized Argentine University, in all the cases the students must develop original contribution in the chosen fields by means of several paper work and essays that comprehend the body of the thesis. Correspondingly to the academic degree, the last phase of an academic thesis is called in Spanish a defensa de grado, defensa magistral or defensa doctoral in cases in which the university candidate is finalizing his or her licentiate, master's, or PhD program. According to a committee resolution, the dissertation can be approved or rejected by an academic committee consisting of the thesis director, the thesis coordinator, and at least one evaluator from another recognized university in which the student is pursuing his or her academic program. All the dissertation referees must already have achieved at least the academic degree that the candidate is trying to reach.
At English-speaking Canadian universities, writings presented in fulfillment of undergraduate coursework requirements are normally called papers, term papers or essays. A long paper presented for completion of a 4-year bachelor degree is sometimes called a major paper. Research-based papers presented as the final empirical study of a bachelor with honours degree are normally called bachelor thesis or honours thesis. Major papers presented as the final project for a master's degree are normally called thesis; and major papers presenting the student's research towards a doctoral degree are called theses or dissertations.
At some Canadian universities where French is a primary language of study, students may have a choice between presenting a "mémoire"', which is a shorter synthetic work (roughly 75 pages) and a thèse which is one hundred pages or more. A synthetic monograph associated with doctoral work is referred to as a "thèse". See also compilation thesis. Either work can be awarded a "mention d'honneur" (excellence) as a result of the decision by the examination committee, although these are rare.
A typical undergraduate thesis might be forty pages. Master's theses are approximately one hundred pages. PhD theses are usually over two hundred pages. This may vary greatly by discipline, however.
Theses Canada acquires and preserves a comprehensive collection of Canadian theses at Library and Archives Canada' (LAC) through partnership with Canadian universities who participate in the program.
In France, the academic dissertation or thesis is called a thèse while the word dissertation is reserved for shorter (1,000–2,000 words), more generic academic treatises. To complete a master's degree in research, a student is required to write a mémoire.
In Germany, an academic thesis is called an Abschlussarbeit (for non-doctorate and non-Habilitation degrees) or the basic name of the degree complemented by -arbeit (e.g., Diplomarbeit, Masterarbeit, Doktorarbeit, but Habilitationsschrift not Habilitationsarbeit). Length is often given in page count and depends upon departments, faculties, and fields of study. A bachelor's thesis is often 40–60 pages long, a diploma thesis and a master thesis usually 60-100. The required submission for the doctorate is called a Dissertation or Doktorarbeit. The submission for the Habilitation is called Habilitationsschrift. PhD by publication is becoming increasingly common in many fields of study. The doctor degree is earned with multiple levels of a latin honors remark for the thesis ranging from summa cum laude (best) to rite (duly). A thesis can also be rejected with a latin remark (non rite, non sufficit or worst as sub omni canone).
In India, as in Great Britain, the thesis defence is called a viva voce (Latin for "by live voice") examination (viva in short). Involved in the viva are two examiners and the candidate. One examiner is an academic from the candidate's own university department (but not one of the candidate's supervisors) and the other is an external examiner from a different university.
In India, PG Qualifications such as M.Sc. Physics accompanies submission of dissertation in Part I and submission of a Project (a working model of an innovation) in Part II. Engineering qualifications such as Diploma, B.Tech or B.E., M.Tech or M.Des also involves submission of dissertation. In all the cases, the dissertation can be extended for summer internship at certain research and development organizations or also as PhD synopsis.
In Italy there are normally three types of thesis. In order of complexity: one for the Laurea (equivalent to the UK Bachelor's Degree), another one for the Laurea Magistrale (equivalent to the UK Master's Degree) and then a thesis to complete the Dottorato di Ricerca (PhD). Thesis requirements vary greatly between degrees and disciplines, ranging from as low as 3-4 ECTS credits to more than 30. Thesis work is mandatory for the completion of a degree.
In Pakistan, at undergraduate level the thesis is usually called final year project, as it is completed in the senior year of the degree, the name project usually implies that the work carried out is less extensive than a thesis and bears lesser credit hours too. The undergraduate level project is presented through an elaborate written report and a presentation to the advisor, a board of faculty members and students. At graduate level however, i.e. in MS, some universities allow students to accomplish a project of 6 credits or a thesis of 9 credits, at least one publication  is normally considered enough for the awarding of the degree with project and is considered mandatory for the awarding of a degree with thesis. A written report and a public thesis defence is mandatory, in the presence of a board of senior researchers, consisting of members from an outside organization or a university. A PhD candidate is supposed to accomplish extensive research work to fulfill the dissertation requirements with international publications being a mandatory requirement. The defence of the research work is done publicly.
In Poland, the academic dissertation is called a dysertacja and it is reserved for PhD degrees. A bachelor's degree usually requires a praca licencjacka (bachelor's work), the master's degree requires a praca magisterska(master's work), and a degree in engineering requires a praca inżynierska (engineer's work).
Portugal and Brazil
In Portugal and Brazil, a dissertation (dissertação) is required for completion of a master's degree. The defense is done in a public presentation in which teachers, students, and the general public can participate. For the PhD a thesis (tese) is presented for defense in a public exam. The exam typically extends over 3 hours. The examination board typically involves 5 to 6 Professors or other experts with a PhD degree (generally at least half of them must be external to the university where the candidate defends the thesis, but may depend on the University). Each university / faculty defines the length of these documents, but typical numbers of pages are around 60–80 for MSc and 200–250 for PhD.
Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus
In Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, an academic dissertation or thesis is called what can be literally translated as a "master's degree work" (thesis), whereas the word dissertation is reserved for doctoral theses (Candidate of Sciences). To complete a master's degree, a student is required to write a thesis of about 110–130 pages and to then defend the work publicly.
At universities in Slovenia, an academic thesis called diploma thesis is a prerequisite for completing undergraduate studies. The thesis used to be 40–60 pages long, but has been reduced to 20–30 pages in new Bologna process programmes. To complete Master's studies, a candidate must write magistrsko delo (Master's thesis) that is longer and more detailed than the undergraduate thesis. The required submission for the doctorate is called doktorska disertacija (doctoral dissertation). Prospective students can skip the preparation and presentation of a Master's thesis and continue straightforward towards doctorate.
In Slovakia, higher education is completed by defending a thesis, which is called bachelors thesis "bakalárska práca" for bachelors programme, master's thesis or "diplomová práca" for master's degrees and also doctor of medicine or dentistry degrees and dissertation "dizertačná práca" for Philosophiae doctor (PhD.) degree.
In Sweden, there are at least five different thesis depending on the level of studies, depending on the field of study, the B thesis, which corresponds to 7.5 HP or five weeks of independent studies, C thesis/Bachelor thesis, which corresponds to 15 HP or 10 weeks of independent studies, D thesis/one year master's thesis, which corresponds to 15 HP or 10 weeks of independent studies and E Thesis/two year master's thesis, which corresponds to 30 HP or 20 weeks of independent studies. After that there is two types of post graduate degrees, Licentiate dissertation, half a PhD and a PhD dissertation, of different sizes depending on the area of studies. Swedish PhD studies typically last for four years of effective studies, which combined with a typical total of one year of teaching and lecturing make it a five year project.
Outside the academic community, the terms thesis and dissertation are interchangeable. At universities in the United Kingdom, the term thesis is usually associated with PhD/EngD (doctoral) and research master's degrees, while dissertation is the more common term for a substantial project submitted as part of a taught master's degree or an undergraduate degree (e.g. BA, BSc, BMus, BEd, BEng etc.).
Thesis word lengths may differ by faculty/department and are set by individual universities.
In some U.S. doctoral programs, the term "dissertation" can refer to the major part of the student's total time spent (along with two or three years of classes), and may take years of full-time work to complete. At most universities, dissertation is the term for the required submission for the doctorate, and thesis refers only to the master's degree requirement.
Thesis is also used to describe a cumulative project for a bachelor's degree, and is more common at selective colleges and universities, or for those seeking admittance to graduate school or to obtain an honors academic designation. These are called "senior projects" or "senior theses;" they are generally done in the senior year near graduation after having completed other courses, the independent study period, and the internship and/or student teaching period (the completion of most of the requirements before the writing of the paper ensures adequate knowledge and aptitude for the challenge). Unlike a dissertation or master's thesis, they are not as long, they do not require a novel contribution to knowledge, or even a very narrow focus on a set subtopic. Like them, they can be lengthy and require months of work, they require supervision by at least one professor adviser, they must be focused on a certain area of knowledge, and they must use an appreciable amount of scholarly citations. They may or may not be defended before a committee, but usually are not; there is generally no preceding examination before the writing of the paper, except for at a very few colleges. Because of the nature of the graduate thesis or dissertation having to be more narrow and more novel, the result of original research, these usually have a smaller proportion of the work that is cited from other sources, though the fact that they are lengthier may mean they still have more total citations.
Specific undergraduate courses, especially writing-intensive courses and/or courses taken by upperclassmen, may also require one or more extensive written assignments referred to variously as theses, essays, or papers. Increasingly, high schools are requiring students to complete a senior project or senior thesis on a chosen topic during the final year as a prerequisite for graduation. The extended essay component of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, offered in a growing number of American high schools, is another example of this trend.
Generally speaking, a dissertation is judged as to whether or not it makes an original and unique contribution to scholarship. Lesser projects (a master's thesis, for example) are judged by whether or not they demonstrate mastery of available scholarship in the presentation of an idea.
One of the requirements for certain advanced degrees is often an oral examination. This examination normally occurs after the dissertation is finished but before it is submitted to the university, and may comprise a presentation by the student and questions posed by an examining committee or jury. In North America, an initial oral examination in the field of specialization may take place just before the student settles down to work on the dissertation. An additional oral exam may take place after the dissertation is completed and is known as a thesis or dissertation "defense," which at some universities may be a mere formality and at others may result in the student being required to make significant revisions. In the UK and certain other English-speaking countries, an oral examination is called a viva voce.
The result of the examination may be given immediately following deliberation by the examiners (in which case the candidate may immediately be considered to have received his or her degree), or at a later date, in which case the examiners may prepare a defense report that is forwarded to a Board or Committee of Postgraduate Studies, which then officially recommends the candidate for the degree.
Potential decisions (or "verdicts") include:
- Accepted / pass with no corrections.
- The thesis is accepted as presented. A grade may be awarded, though in many countries PhDs are not graded at all, and in others only one of the theoretically possible grades (the highest) is ever used in practice.
- The thesis must be revised.
- Revisions (for example, correction of numerous grammatical or spelling errors; clarification of concepts or methodology; addition of sections) are required. One or more members of the jury and/or the thesis supervisor will make the decision on the acceptability of revisions and provide written confirmation that they have been satisfactorily completed. If, as is often the case, the needed revisions are relatively modest, the examiners may all sign the thesis with the verbal understanding that the candidate will review the revised thesis with his or her supervisor before submitting the completed version.
- Extensive revision required.
- The thesis must be revised extensively and undergo the evaluation and defense process again from the beginning with the same examiners. Problems may include theoretical or methodological issues. A candidate who is not recommended for the degree after the second defense must normally withdraw from the program.
- The thesis is unacceptable and the candidate must withdraw from the program.
- This verdict is given only when the thesis requires major revisions and when the examination makes it clear that the candidate is incapable of making such revisions.
At most North American institutions the latter two verdicts are extremely rare, for two reasons. First, to obtain the status of doctoral candidates, graduate students typically write a qualifying examination or comprehensive examination, which often includes an oral defense. Students who pass the qualifying examination are deemed capable of completing scholarly work independently and are allowed to proceed with working on a dissertation. Second, since the thesis supervisor (and the other members of the advisory committee) will normally have reviewed the thesis extensively before recommending the student proceed to the defense, such an outcome would be regarded as a major failure not only on the part of the candidate but also by the candidate's supervisor (who should have recognized the substandard quality of the dissertation long before the defense was allowed to take place). It is also fairly rare for a thesis to be accepted without any revisions; the most common outcome of a defense is for the examiners to specify minor revisions (which the candidate typically completes in a few days or weeks).
On the other hand, at universities on the British pattern it is not uncommon for theses to be failed at the viva stage, in which case either a major rewrite is required, followed by a new viva, or the thesis may be awarded the lesser degree of M.Phil (Master of Philosophy) instead, preventing the candidate from resubmitting the thesis.
In Australia, doctoral theses are usually examined by three examiners although some, like the Australian Catholic University and the University of New South Wales, have shifted to using only two examiners; without a live defense except in extremely rare exceptions. In the case of a Master's Degree by research the thesis is usually examined by only two examiners. Typically one of these examiners will be from within the candidate's own department; the other(s) will usually be from other universities and often from overseas. Following submission of the thesis, copies are sent by mail to examiners and then reports sent back to the institution.
Similar to a Master's Degree by research thesis, a thesis for the research component of a Master's Degree by coursework is also usually examined by two examiners, one from the candidate's department and one from another university. For an Honours year, which is a fourth year in addition to the usual three-year Bachelor degree, the thesis is also examined by two examiners, though both are usually from the candidate's own department. Honours and Master's by coursework theses do not require an oral defence before they are accepted.
In Germany, a thesis is often examined with an oral defense (Verteidigung), also called Disputation. This applies to almost all Magister, master's and doctoral degrees as well as to bachelor's degrees. The minimum word count varies but is usually between 15,000 to 17,500 words. Master's Degrees sometimes dictate that 30,000 words must be written.
In Portugal, a thesis is examined with an oral defense, which includes an initial presentation by the candidate followed by an extensive questioning/answering period. Typical duration for the total exam is 1 hour 30 minutes for the MSc and 3 hours for the PhD.
The examining committee normally consists of the thesis committee, usually a given number of professors mainly from the student's university plus his or her primary supervisor, an external examiner (someone not otherwise connected to the university), and a chair person. Each committee member will have been given a completed copy of the dissertation prior to the defense, and will come prepared to ask questions about the thesis itself and the subject matter. In many schools, master's thesis defenses are restricted to the examinee and the examiners, but doctoral defenses are open to the public.
The typical format will see the candidate giving a short (20–40 minute) presentation of his or her research, followed by one to two hours of questions.
At some U.S. institutions, a longer public lecture (known as a "thesis talk" or "thesis seminar") by the candidate will accompany the defense itself, in which case only the candidate, the examiners, and other members of the faculty may attend the actual defense.
Russia and Ukraine
A student in Ukraine or Russia has to complete a thesis and then defend it in front of their department. Sometimes the defense meeting is made up of the learning institute’s professionals, and sometimes the students peers are allowed to view and/or join in. After the presentation and defense of the thesis, the final conclusion of the department should be that none of them have reservations on the content and quality of the thesis.
A conclusion on the thesis has to be approved by the rector of the educational institute. This conclusion (final grade so to speak) of the thesis can be defended/argued not only in the thesis council at, but also in any other thesis council of Russia or Ukraine.
The Diploma en Estudios Avanzados (D.E.A.) can last two years and candidates must complete coursework and demonstrate their ability to research the specific topics they have studied. After completing this part of the PhD, students begin a dissertation on a set topic. The dissertation must reach a minimum length depending on the subject and it is valued more highly if it contains field research. Once candidates have finished their written dissertations, they must present them before a tribunal. Following this presentation, the examiners will ask questions.
United Kingdom, Ireland and Hong Kong
In Hong Kong, Ireland and the United Kingdom, the thesis defense is called a viva voce (Latin for "by live voice") examination (viva for short). A typical viva lasts for approximately 3 hours, though there is no formal time limit. Involved in the viva are two examiners and the candidate. Usually, one examiner is an academic from the candidate's own university department (but not one of the candidate's supervisors) and the other is an external examiner from a different university. Increasingly, the examination may involve a third academic, the 'chair'; this person, from the candidate's institution, acts as an impartial observer with oversight of the examination process to ensure that the examination is fair. The 'chair' does not ask academic questions of the candidate.
In the United Kingdom, there are only two or at most three examiners, and the examination is in many universities strictly in private—however, in the University of Oxford, at least, in theory any member of the University may attend a DPhil viva (the University's regulations require that details of the examination and its time and place be published formally in advance) provided he or she attends in full academic dress. Also, in the UK, the candidate's primary supervisor is not permitted to ask questions during the viva, and their presence is not necessary.
Submission of the thesis
A submission of the thesis is the last formal requirement for most students after the defense. By the final deadline, the student must submit a complete copy of the thesis to the appropriate body within the accepting institution, along with the appropriate forms, bearing the signatures of the primary supervisor, the examiners, and, in some cases, the head of the student's department. Other required forms may include library authorizations (giving the university library permission to make the thesis available as part of its collection) and copyright permissions (in the event that the student has incorporated copyrighted materials in the thesis). Many large scientific publishing houses (e.g. Taylor & Francis, Elsevier) use copyright agreements that allow the authors to incorporate their published articles into dissertations without separate authorization.
Failure to submit the thesis by the deadline may result in graduation (and granting of the degree) being delayed. At most U.S. institutions, there will also be various fees (for binding, microfilming, copyright registration, and the like), which must be paid before the degree will be granted.
Once all the paperwork is in order, copies of the thesis may be made available in one or more university libraries. Specialist abstracting services exist to publicize the content of these beyond the institutions in which they are produced. Many institutions now insist on submission of digitized as well as printed copies of theses; the digitized versions of successful theses are often made available online.
There are several software tools helping students to organize academic literature and PDFs, manage their ideas and information, and draft and write their thesis. Mind Mapping Tools such as Freeplane or XMind help students to create and organize their ideas. They are particular useful in the beginning for planning and outlining a thesis. Academic Search Engines such as Google Scholar help to find relevant literature. PDF Viewers and Editors such as PDF-XChange and Foxit Reader help in reading academic papers in PDF format, and to create notes or highlight text directly in PDF files. Finally, and most importantly, reference managers such as Docear or EndNote help in organizing literature and references.
- Comprehensive examination
- Dissertations Abstracts
- Grey literature
- Postgraduate education
- Compilation thesis
- Comparison of reference management software
- Originally, the word compounds "dissertation" and "thesis" (plural, "theses") were not interchangeable. When, at ancient universities, the lector had completed his lecture, there would traditionally follow a disputation, during which students could take up certain points and argue them. The position that one took during a disputation was the thesis, while the dissertation was the line of reasoning with which one buttressed it. Olga Weijers: The medieval disputatio. In: Hora est! (On dissertations), p.23-27. Leiden University Library, 2005
- International Standard ISO 7144: Documentation—Presentation of theses and similar documents, International Organization for Standardization, Geneva, 1986.
- Douwe Breimer, Jos Damen et al.: Hora est! (On dissertations). Leiden University Library, 2005
- James, E. A., & Slater, T. (2013). A map for writing your dissertation: Proven methods for finishing faster. Thousand Oaks, CA, USA: Sage Publications.
- Thomas, Gary (2009) Your Research Project. Thousand Oaks: Sage, Rudestam & Newton (2007) Surviving your dissertation. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
- Comisión Nacional de Evaluación y Acreditación Universitaria (Spanish)[dead link]
- "Carleton University - Canada's Capital University". Carleton.ca. Retrieved 2010-11-24.
- "Our Universities - About Theses Canada - Theses Canada Portal". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. 2008-10-24. Retrieved 2010-11-24.
- "MSc Engg and PhD in IISc". Ece.iisc.ernet.in. Retrieved 2010-11-24.
- Pearce, Lynne (2005) How to Examine a Thesis, McGraw-Hill International, pp. 79-85
- "Oxford University Examination Regulations, 2007". Admin.ox.ac.uk. Retrieved 2010-11-24.
|Look up thesis in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Dissertation article at LISWiki, a Library science wiki
- en.wikibooks.org/wiki/ETD_Guide Guide to electronic theses and dissertations on Wikibooks
- Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD)
- EThOS Database Database of UK Doctoral theses available through the British Library
- How to write a thesis (Bachelor, Master, or PhD) and which software tools to use