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A dissertation or thesis is a document submitted in support of candidature for an academic degree or professional qualification presenting the author's research and findings. In some countries/universities, the word "thesis" or a cognate is used as part of a bachelor's or master's course, while "dissertation" is normally applied to a doctorate, while in others, the reverse is true.
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.
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a thesis by publication, the chapters constitute an introductory and comprehensive gist of the appended published and unpublished article documents. However, you can see a general thesis sample here.
Dissertations normally report on a research project or an extended analysis of a topic. The structure of the thesis or dissertation explains the purpose, the methods used and the findings of the project. Most world universities use a 5 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 verso of the title page). Pagination can be one of the most difficult parts of completing a thesis.
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. Theses that are incomplete or incorrectly formatted may not be accepted.
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 literature to discover the strengths and weakness in the literature. As well as demonstrating knowledge of existing research, a literature review should also identify gaps in the literature that the thesis as a whole is intended to fill. It 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, consisting of a primary supervisor or advisor and two or more committee members, supervises the progress of the dissertation and may also act as the examining committee, or jury, at the oral examination of the thesis (see below). Or view here at What is a Dissertation.
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.
In the Latin American docta, the academic dissertation can be referred to 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, other theses are usually even longer. 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.
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 BTech or B.E. or M.Tech 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 theses. 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). Theses 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 defense 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 defense of the research work is done publicly.
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.
In Russia, Ukraine, 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). Perspective 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.
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.).
Individual departments and faculties set thesis word lengths.
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 save 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's 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 defence 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:
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, 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. Theses for Honours degrees in three-year Bachelor courses are also examined by two examiners, though both are usually from the candidate's own department. Honours and Master's by coursework thesis also 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 many diploma degrees and to almost all Magister, master's and doctoral degrees, but usually not 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.
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.
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.
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.
A Picture of a 1721 PhD Ceremony at Leiden University
cover page to Søren Kierkegaard's university thesis
René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laennec (1781–1826) thesis title page