AskDefine | Define theses

Dictionary Definition



1 an unproved statement put forward as a premise in an argument
2 a treatise advancing a new point of view resulting from research; usually a requirement for an advanced academic degree [syn: dissertation] [also: theses (pl)]theses See thesis

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  1. Plural of thesis

Extensive Definition

A dissertation (also called thesis or disquisition) is a document that presents the author's research and findings and is submitted in support of candidature for a degree or professional qualification. The word "thesis" comes from the Greek , meaning "position", and refers to an intellectual proposition. "Dissertation" comes from the Latin dissertātiō, meaning "discourse."

Nature of a dissertation

The dissertation or 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 pursued. 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. Such a work is often termed a "creative thesis."
The length of the thesis will vary depending on the specific degree. Thesis submitted as part of the requirements for an undergraduate degree are usually much shorter than those submitted as part of a PhD. (or other research-oriented doctorate, such as the Eng.D.). 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.
Thesis 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 places 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.

Presentation style

A typical thesis has a title page, an abstract, a table of contents and a bibliography. Other components might include an introduction, materials and methods (in the case of scientific or technical thesis), results, discussion, acknowledgments, a dedication, indices and appendices, glossaries, lists of tables, images or figures, lists of abbreviations, and so on.

Style guides

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, 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". 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.


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 exercises of logical demonstration.


At universities in the United Kingdom, the term thesis is usually associated with PhD/EngD (doctoral) and research Master's degrees, whilst 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 or BEd).
Individual departments and faculties set thesis word lengths. Theses in the humanities and social sciences are typically 8-10,000 words, with theses in the sciences being roughly half that length. The length of an undergraduate or Master's dissertation varies considerably, but is almost always between 10,000 and 30,000 words.


In some United States 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 examinations

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, this examination is known as a thesis or dissertation defense, while in England and other English-speaking countries it is called a viva voce.

Examination results

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 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 program.
  • Unacceptable
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, and therefore 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 re-write 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 examined without a live defense, except in extremely rare exceptions, usually by three examiners, two in the case of a Masters by research. Typically, although this is not a requirement, one of these examiners will be from within the candidate's own department; the others 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.

North America

In North America, the thesis defense or oral defense is the final examination for doctoral candidates, and sometimes for masters candidates.
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 masters 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 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.

UK and Hong Kong

In the UK, Ireland and Hong Kong the thesis defense is called a , (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 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, but this rarely if ever happens nowadays—. 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

Submission of the thesis is the last formal requirement for most students before 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).
Failure to submit the thesis by the deadline may result in graduation (and granting of the degree) being delayed. At most US 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 publicise the content of theses beyond the institutions in which they are produced.


See also

theses in Arabic: أطروحة أكاديمية
theses in Czech: Diplomová práce
theses in Danish: Tese
theses in German: Dissertation
theses in Spanish: Tesis doctoral
theses in Esperanto: Disertaĵo
theses in French: Doctorant
theses in Korean: 논문
theses in Ido: Tezo
theses in Indonesian: Disertasi
theses in Icelandic: Doktorsritgerð
theses in Hebrew: תזה
theses in Dutch: Proefschrift
theses in Japanese: 論文
theses in Polish: Dysertacja
theses in Portuguese: Tese
theses in Romanian: Teză
theses in Russian: Диссертация
theses in Slovenian: Disertacija
theses in Finnish: Väitöskirja
theses in Swedish: Avhandling
theses in Thai: วิทยานิพนธ์
theses in Vietnamese: Đồ án tốt nghiệp
theses in Ukrainian: Дисертація
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