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A thesis (from Greek θέσις position) is an intellectual proposition. A thesis statement is the statement that begins a formal essay or argument, or that describes the central argument of an academic paper or proposition.
In academia, a thesis or dissertation is a document that presents the author's research and findings and is submitted in support of candidature for a degree or professional qualification.
Nature of an academic thesis
The thesis is normally the culmination of a candidate's research; submission of the thesis represents the completion of the final requirement for the degree being sought. In certain faculties (such as fine or performance arts), the thesis may be in the form of an artistic performance, a written work (of music, or of fiction, for example), or a painting or other artistic production.
The length of the thesis will vary depending on the specific degree. Theses submitted as part of the requirements for an undergraduate degree are usually much shorter than those submitted as part of a PhD. Length may be calculated in number of words, number of pages, or, when the thesis is written in a character-based language (such as Chinese or Japanese), number of characters.
Theses are most often written in the main language of instruction at the university granting the degree, but students of languages and linguistics, or those undertaking research in foreign languages, are sometimes permitted to submit the thesis in the language studied. In some countries it is a requirement to include at least some material in an international academic language; originally Latin and at one time French or German, this nowadays almost always means English. In countries where English is the predominant language of academic work, especially in the sciences, for example in the Netherlands or Scandinavia, an entire thesis may be submitted in English.
Since the thesis is normally the culmination of the student's work on a particular degree, the writing typically begins when all coursework has been completed. In consultation with the primary supervisor, the student decides on a general topic and undertakes appropriate research. When a draft of reasonable completeness has been finished and approved by the primary supervisor, the thesis is submitted for examination.
For a higher degree, the examination will usually include an oral defense, described below. Once the defense of a PhD has been completed satisfactorily and the thesis approved, copies will be made available in the university library. In some countries, for example the Netherlands or Germany, candidates will have a considerable number of copies printed, and small publishing houses exist whose sole function is to produce theses in this way. In other countries, for example the USA or the UK, only two or three copies are ever produced. In either case, however, the thesis once accepted counts as an academic publication in the sense that it is considered appropriate to cite it in scientific literature.
A typical thesis has a title page, an abstract, a table of contents, and a bibliography. Other components might include acknowledgements, a dedication, indexes and appendices, glossaries, lists of tables, images or figures, lists of abbreviations, and so on.===Canada===
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 an honours degree is sometimes called a major paper, or, more rarely, an undergraduate thesis or honours thesis. Major papers presented as the final project for a masters degree are normally called theses; and major papers presenting the student's research towards a doctoral degree are called theses.
At Francophone Canadian universities, the procedure is roughly the same, however, the term applied to a study associated with masters work is referred to as a "mémoire," and one associated with doctoral work is referred to as a "thèse." 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. Masters theses are approximately one hundred pages. PhD theses are usually over two hundred pages, and may reach nearly five hundred pages in exceptional cases.
At UK universities, the term thesis is usually associated with a Ph.D. (doctoral) or M.Phil. degree, while dissertation is the more common term for the research project required for an M.A. or other postgraduate degree. The equivalent for undergraduate degrees is usually referred to as a research project.
In many US doctoral programs, the term dissertation can refer to the major part of the student's total time spent (along with 2-3 years of classes), and may take years of full-time work to complete. At some universities, dissertation is the term for the required submission for the doctorate and thesis refers only to the master's degree requirement. At many others, the word thesis is used for both.
A thesis defense, also known as "defending one's thesis," oral defense, viva voce, and various other names, is a type of final examination for a Ph.D. candidate, and sometimes for a master's candidate. Certain undergraduate schools, whose students are largely expected to matriculate into graduate programs, also require students to defend theses.
A thesis defense differs from a typical examination in several respects. The biggest difference is that the candidate often knows more about the topic than the examiners ("the committee," or the "jury"), having researched the topic extensively, typically over a number of years; some candidates may have devoted the better part of a decade to the work being examined. The purpose of the thesis defense is to test the candidate's knowledge of his or her subject area and thinking in related areas, and to test the candidate's knowledge of and ability to explain his or her dissertation.
The examining committee normally consists of professors from the university, including the candidate's primary supervisor (without whose presence the defense cannot proceed) and members of his or her advisory committee, as well as professors from other departments or faculties and, sometimes, an external examiner (someone not otherwise connected to the university). 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.
The atmosphere is formal; the candidate typically gives a short presentation on his or her thesis, usually lasting no more than thirty minutes, after which the examiners are free to ask questions, usually proceeding by seating order. Thesis defenses are usually open to the public; they may be attended by friends or family of the candidate, members of the university, especially other students in the candidate's department, and members of the community (note, however, that in many schools masters thesis defenses are restricted to the examinee and the examiners). Audience members are often permitted to ask questions when all the examiners have finished.
At some US institutions a longer public lecture (known as a "thesis talk" or "thesis seminar") by the candidate will precede the defense itself, in which case only the candidate, the examiners, and other members of the faculty may attend the actual defense.
Questions are typically about the content of the dissertation and the claims made therein. Examiners may need clarification on a point or points, or may ask the candidate to explain his or her reasoning or research further. Questions are often friendly, but may also challenge the candidate's views, methods, or conclusions. Part of the evaluation is based on how well the candidate can defend his or her work.
In the U.K., Ireland and Hong Kong the thesis defence is called a viva voce, Latin for "by live voice") examination (viva for short). Involved in the viva are two examiners and the candidate. One examiner is an academic from the candidate's own university department (not any of the candidate's supervisors) and the other is an external assessor from a different university.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany, and Switzerland the oral defense is known as a disputation: an expert in the field, often from another university, is appointed who will present the dissertation, subject it to a critical examination and discuss it with the author. In the context of the disputation, the critical examiner is termed the opponent, and the author of the dissertation the respondent. The dissertation has to be generally available in its final or at least in a preliminary published form a few weeks before the disputation (7 weeks in Sweden), which is open to the public; after the opponent is finished, anyone present is allowed to ask critical questions (anyone who does is called an "opponent ex auditorio"—an opponent from the auditorium). The final grade is decided after the disputation in a meeting between the opponent and a grading committee of three or (sometimes) four people. In theory, also the points raised by opponentes ex auditorio affect the grade. It has happened that such opponent has caused the committee not to pass the respondent, although this would be quite extraordinary nowadays.
At the end of the defense, the candidate and other persons who are not members of the jury are asked to leave the room. The committee then deliberates and reaches a decision (normally unanimous and sometimes called a "verdict"), usually in the form of a number from one to five (this varies from school to school). Potential decisions include:
- Accepted / pass with no corrections.
- The thesis is accepted as presented.
- The thesis must be revised.
- Revisions (i.e. 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 dissertation.
- 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 programme.
- 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 thesis defense makes it clear that the candidate is incapable of making such major revisions.
The candidate is immediately informed of the results; in the event of a successful defense the candidate's supervisor will often greet the candidate with the words, "Congratulations, Doctor X". At this moment a bottle of champagne is often produced. In some universities, the candidate is considered to become a Doctor of Philosophy at the instant that all committee members vote in the affirmative. In others, the degree must first be conferred by the university corporation.
In practice, the latter two verdicts are extremely unusual at most US instutions, since the thesis supervisor (and the other members of the jury) will normally have reviewed the thesis before the thesis defense. Such an outcome is generally 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).
While the decision of the examiners is normally unanimous, the official rules at most US institutions allow the doctorate to be granted with positive votes from all but one of the examiners; it is therefore possible for a candidate to pass with one negative vote. The extremely rare cases where one examiner votes against a successful candidate can have a permanent effect on the relationships among the faculty members involved.
The rare case of not successfully defending may also occur in the Netherlands, where the oral defense ("promotie") typically happens after the thesis has already been approved by examiners. The oral defense is ended after a preset amount of time by the University-appointed 'pedel' or custos who is in charge of the protocol and will end the defense with the words "Hora est!" (latin for it is time or the hour has come).
Examinations at universities on the British pattern are by no means a rubber stamp. Whilst many theses are passed with some minor corrections or revisions required by the examiners, very few are passed with no corrections whatsoever, and indeed a pass-without-correction is considered a particular honour. Moreover, it is not uncommon for British theses to be failed, as well — in which case, either major re-writes are required, followed by a new viva, or else the thesis may be awarded the lesser degree of M.Phil (Master of Philosophy) instead.
In the case of a successful defense, frequently many of the questions and much of the discussion will focus less on the dissertation at hand and more on further avenues of research the author might wish to explore in future.
Submission of the thesis is the last formal requirement for most students. By the final deadline, the student must submit a complete copy of the thesis to the accepting body (often the Faculty of Graduate Studies, but at some US institutions the final copies are submitted directly to the University Library), 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 forms 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).
There are strict requirements for theses, including pagination, layout, type and colour of paper, order of components, and citation style, which vary from school to school. These requirements will normally be checked page by page by the accepting officer before the thesis is accepted and a receipt is issued. Theses which are incomplete or incorrectly formatted will not be accepted. Failure to submit the thesis by the deadline will result in graduation (and granting of the degree) being delayed
- Graduate student
- Comprehensive examination
- Dissertation article at LISWiki, a Library and information science wiki
- International Standard ISO 7144: Documentation — Presentation of theses and similar documents
- Rudestam, K.E. & Newton, R.R. (2000). Surviving Your Dissertation:A Comprehensive Guide to Content and Process. London:Sage.
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