Does Your Advisor Give You A Thesis Problem In Grad School Or Do You Find Your Own?

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Updated August 4, 2020

Nearly all master's degree students in the US will finalize their degree by preparing a thesis paper. Some colleges or programs also allow a student's thesis to be a project of some sort rather than strictly a research paper. A graduate thesis is an important capstone achievement that demonstrates the student's competency with the subject before they receive their degree.

How is a Thesis Paper or Project Chosen?

This can depend a lot on which school you attend. Most programs allow students to choose their own thesis topic so long as it pertains directly to their degree. Programs may also have a list of potential topics that students may choose from. An advisor is usually available to help a student choose an appropriate topic and then assist them in the process of finishing their thesis. This advisor may also be responsible for approving the chosen topic and grading the final result.

When considering a topic, it is important to note the difference between a master's thesis and a doctoral dissertation. These words are often interchanged, but they mean very different things. A dissertation requires that the student conduct original research and add new knowledge to their subject area. A thesis only requires that the student research a topic. This is similar to common research papers. They do not need to add any original information unless they happen to gain it in the process. Obviously, a dissertation is much more difficult. A thesis truly is just a very large research paper or project. More information about these differences can be found here.

What Goes Into a Thesis?

The average thesis paper is usually about 100 pages in length. It follows a particular structure, and it includes some specific main elements. These are the introduction, literary review, body, conclusion, bibliography and appendices. A thesis lacking any of these elements will probably be considered incomplete and in need of correction.

The key to a good thesis is to demonstrate expert knowledge of the chosen topic. A thesis is expected to be an exhaustive and full exploration of the topic. Students are also expected to center their paper around a certain viewpoint or argument based on the topic. This is presented in the introduction along with the paper's thesis statement. The thesis statement is a summary statement of the student's position and purpose for researching the topic.

The body of the paper is usually broken up into three distinct sections.


The methods section is where the student has a chance to describe their research process. This includes why they choose the particular sources they did, and what guided them to each source. If any experimentation was done, this is also the place to describe it and the reasoning behind it.


This is the most detailed section of the paper, and it is all about facts. Here the student relays the precise results and findings of all of their research in a factual way. It is important to leave opinion or discussion about results to the next section. These are facts only.


Here the student can explore their findings and make extrapolations. This is where the student can discuss what they think the results mean and why they believe they got the results that they did. This is the section to really explore the findings of the project. The discussion may also be coupled with the conclusion, and the student can recommend areas for further research, reading or investigation.

Additional information on writing a well-organized thesis or advanced research paper can be found here.

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