Most degrees end with this work, but what is a thesis?
Sometimes referred to as dissertation (in some countries, this term is used only for the final tasks of doctoral degrees, while in other countries “thesis” and “dissertation” are interchangeable), a thesis is a research project completed as part of a degree or postgraduate degree. Typically, a thesis allows students to present their results in response to a question or proposal they choose themselves. The goal of the project is to test the independent research skills that students have acquired during their stay at the university, and the assessment is used to help determine their final grade. Although there is usually some guidance from the tutors, the thesis project is largely independent.
For most students, this will be the longest, most difficult, and most important job they do in college, and will require months of preparation and hard work (the library can become a second home). However, it can also be very rewarding, especially if you are passionate about the topic you have chosen. Therefore, it is advisable that you make sure to choose a topic that really interests you.
Types of theses
The type of thesis you do will vary depending on your course of study. One of the main differences is between empirical and non-empirical theses.
Empirical theses are those that involve the collection of data, for example, in a psychology degree. This may involve the implementation of professional and ethical guidelines when collecting data from the public. Empirical theses in the subjects of natural and life sciences may involve or be entirely focused on laboratory work.
Non-empirical theses are based on data and arguments existing in the work of others. This probably means spending a lot of time with your head stuck in a book. In this type of thesis, you have to make sure that you don’t just describe what others say, but that you critically analyze the work and explore its practical applications.
Skills you need to demonstrate
Regardless of the type of thesis you write and the topic you choose, you will need to demonstrate the following skills:
- Define and outline a research area with a clear question
- Identify the main issues
- Find relevant information
- Assess its reliability and legitimacy
- Evaluate evidence from all sides of a debate
- Coming to a well-argued conclusion
- Organize and present the results of your work in a critical, convincing and articulated way, following all the guidelines on the format of your essay.
How long should a thesis be?
The length of a thesis varies according to the level of studies and the country, but in general it has between 10,000 and 12,000 words at the undergraduate level, between 15,000 and 25,000 words at the master’s level and up to 50,000 words or more at the doctoral level.
In some advanced degrees (especially in doctorates) you may have to sit for an oral examination, which in some countries is known as viva (short for viva voce, which in Latin means “living voice”). The oral exam usually begins with a brief presentation of your work to two or three teachers, followed by a question-and-answer period that can last up to two hours.
How is it different from a trial?
There are some obvious differences: an essay is relatively short — usually 1,500 to 2,500 words — and someone else tells you clearly what to do. For example: Describe and evaluate the main theories of globalization.
A doctoral thesis also demonstrates the candidate’s mastery of the academic method. This sounds terribly disheartening, but don’t be discouraged. The phrase tells you that you will have to improve your game to write a successful dissertation. The “academic method” means that you are expected to read and research more and better than for a standard bachelor’s degree essay. It means that your work will show precision and skill in its research and discussion of a topic. In the same way, it means that your discussion will show signs of critical analysis, that is, that it will depart from the topic and weigh the pros and cons. It also means that you will show that you understand that, for example, some aspects of certain theories or points of view can be questioned.
How can I find a suitable thesis topic?
When looking for a topic for your thesis, the first thing to consider is whether you are interested enough in the topic to keep research and writing it for a long period of time.
Your underlying motivation in selecting your theme should be originality. This is the main factor that will make your topic attractive and acceptable to a research committee.
However, the originality in a thesis does not have to mean that you come up with an idea that has never been raised before, although if you get it, of course, it will be an advantage for you.
Most theses are based on the originality of the approach and/or perspective rather than on a completely original subject, since in most cases, especially in the field of the arts, it is almost impossible to find them. The best way to find a niche of originality is through research.
How important is research in my thesis?
The importance of research in your thesis cannot be overestimated; it is simply the backbone of your Thesis.
Start reading broadly and deeply about the chosen topic should be the first thing you do when thinking about your thesis proposal. This means reading the basic texts first and then moving on to the most recent work done on the subject to make sure no one has gotten ahead of their own idea, it can happen!
It is important that you first read the basic texts of your topic. All topics have them and you will know them from the previous work you have done on the subject.
These texts are especially useful, not only because they are basic to the subject, but also because you can use the bibliographies of these texts to expand your own research. This is perfectly acceptable, since, if you look closely, you will see that many of the texts are common to all of them; therefore, there is a core of knowledge that informs them all. As the writer of an original thesis, you will be adding to this core and therefore should not feel that it is in any way incorrect to use these sources in your own thesis research.
As you research, keep track of your readings in the format prescribed by your college or university. This will allow you to familiarize yourself with the citation method you should use in your thesis (as they are often very different from each other, you should consult the style guide for the required method before embarking; if you don’t have one, there should be one in your academic library and/or online).
Another advantage of keeping a detailed and meticulous record of your research is that it makes it much easier to compile your bibliography later; in fact, you could say that your bibliography evolves as your research does.
What you’re looking for primarily when reading is a niche that you can fill your own research. Try to read even more critically than usual, looking for spaces in which the questions remain unanswered because it is possible that your own thesis proposal can answer them.
What is a thesis proposal?
A thesis proposal is the document that you prepare to present to the research committee of your academic institution in order for your research to be accepted. See the following link to know how to write it.
How should I prepare, write and present my thesis?
Once the investigative committee has accepted your proposal, you will be appointed a supervisor who will oversee your work throughout its preparation until its completion.
Your supervisor will be of invaluable assistance to you in all phases and you will need to meet with him regularly.
Both you and your supervisor must submit periodic reports to the faculty’s research committee to keep it up to date with your progress (the research committee is nothing more than a group of senior lecturers in the department, appointed by the university’s faculty; sometimes your supervisor will be a member of this committee).
As already mentioned in some detail, research should be the main element of your work and you should collect evidence to use in your thesis.
Basic format of thesis presentation
The basic format of presentation of the thesis is similar to that of the thesis proposal. It may include:
- A page with the title (it should be definitive, now, but it will not be at all unusual for you to decide at the end of your thesis); include the name and title.
- A content page (it explains itself, as already stated, using consecutive page numbers, with the introduction in lowercase Roman numerals – such as “iv” instead of “4”).
- The abstract (it is a one-page summary of what the thesis contains as a whole, with summaries of the chapters).
- Also, the introduction (must present the subject of the thesis, with a clear statement of it and an indication of the methodology to be used).
- The main body of the thesis (divided into several chapters, usually between three and five, depending on the length of the thesis). Each of the chapters of the main body should address a different aspect of the thesis topic, without deviating too much from the central argument. You should ensure that you provide sufficient evidentiary support, correctly referenced in the stipulated format, and that it is analyzed in detail.
- The conclusion (you should summarize your argument, provide a synthesis of your thinking and give an indication of the future research that needs to be carried out).
- The bibliography (must include an exhaustive list, possibly subdivided into primary and secondary sources, of all the readings of your thesis, whether you have cited them in your thesis or not).
- Appendices (they are not always necessary, but if you have used them and referred to them in your thesis, make sure they are structured and presented logically).
What happens after I have completed my thesis?
An internal and an external examiner, appointed by the academic council, will examine the thesis.
In some cases (as in the case of the doctorate), you will have to attend an oral exam (known as “viva”, which is short for “viva voce”, from the Latin “con la voz viva”) in which the jury will ask you to defend your thesis. in fact examiners can decide one of the following options
- Award the title directly to the candidate
- Award the title with revisions, which will have to be approved before the title is finally awarded to the candidate
- Suspend the candidate (this is quite rare because normally the supervisor will advise you to rewrite your thesis until you have the required level).
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