A graduate thesis—also called a master's thesis or a doctoral thesis, depending on the graduate student's degree status—is a lengthy, original document written in the student's field of expertise. Graduate theses are intended to demonstrate a student's knowledge in his or her field, as well as his or her ability to contribute significant work to the data in that field. Graduate theses are thus both culminating projects and rites of passage—they reveal students' readiness to progress to the next levels of their academic careers.
Master's theses and doctoral theses differ primarily in length and depth. A doctoral degree takes longer to complete and requires more in-depth study than a master's degree. In keeping, a doctoral thesis is expected to be significantly longer, more in-depth, and more original than a master's thesis. Besides this, there is little difference between the two. All graduate theses must demonstrate students' advanced knowledge in their areas of study and must present some type of new insight regarding their topics. In this way, a graduate thesis is radically different from a standard graduate paper. Graduate theses must advance some type of original knowledge.
A graduate thesis is intended to be a work of independent and original scholarship; however, all graduate theses should be completed under the guidance of a supervising professor and committee. These individuals are advanced professors in the student's field who assist in every step of the composition process in order to mentor the student and monitor her progress. Every graduate student writing a thesis is required to have such a committee.
The format and style of graduate theses will vary according to a student's field and discipline. However, most graduate theses will follow a general format that includes (1) a few pages of front matter, including a title page, abstract, and table of contents; (2) an introduction; (2) the main body of the document; (3) a conclusion; (4) a list of references; and (5) an appendix, if necessary.
The most important aspect of any graduate thesis is of course the main body. The format of the main body is determined by whether the thesis is a critical analysis or a research study. A critical analysis thesis is typically written in the humanities, and examines a text or theory in an original way. The main bodies of these types of graduate theses can typically take a format of the author's choosing. A research study, on the other hand, usually follows a standard format, consisting of (1) an introduction of the research problem and a statement of the study's purpose; (2) a review of existing literature on the topic; (3) a methodology section explaining the study's procedure; (4) a results chapter outlining the study's findings; and (5) a discussion chapter that suggests the implications of the results.
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