With a majority of Master’s programs, graduation is earned after the submission of a Thesis. There are Master’s degrees that do not require a Thesis in the areas of Management. But programs that stem from departments like the arts and humanities, and the sciences, generally ask for a Master Thesis. There is also an option to choose between programs that are Thesis-based or Non-Thesis-based. This resource guide analyzes what a Master Thesis is, its format and structure, guidelines and tips to write one, and much more.
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A common enough question on most students’ minds is, “what is a Master’s Thesis?” The answer to that question is not rocket science! A Master Thesis is a creative document that illustrates (a) how much knowledge the student has assimilated throughout the Master’s program, (b) the student’s fresh, original, creative, and unique research into a subject using proper scientific and research methodology, and (c) the ability of the student to assess, evaluate, and interpret results and outcomes from such research, and finally infer and draw conclusions accordingly.
The following points sum up everything that a Master’s Thesis is:
It is a creative work but based a lot on scientific methodology and data researched from other scientific works.
It covers only one original idea, problem, topic, theory, or proposition.
It demonstrates the ability to evaluate information, think critically, and present findings and results systematically and in a logical manner.
It is usually an academic requirement for graduation.
It is almost always prepared and submitted at the end of the Master’s program.
It provides an opportunity to demonstrate analytical, logical, and reasoning skills through the defense of the chosen idea/topic.
Format and Components of Master’s Thesis
Students need to factor in two key aspects when writing a Master Thesis – Format and Components. While formatting takes care of the presentation part of the Thesis, the components cover all the content that must go in. Together, the two can make the final document a compelling read while adhering to all guidelines and Thesis requirements in general.
Although each college or program may have its requirements for how a Thesis should be written, here is an example of a generic Master Thesis outline:
FORMAT Formatting is essential to make all the content of the Thesis clear, legible, and presentable. There are several formatting aspects that students should make sure they implement throughout their Thesis.
The name of the major should be absolutely correct.
The title of the Thesis must be in CAPITAL letters and double-spaced.
The date must be the month and year of graduation.
Front Matter (sections or pages before the text of the main Thesis)
The front matter must preferably be numbered with lower case Roman numerals.
A ‘Table of Contents’ , with a list of tables, a list of figures, acknowledgments, chapters, references or bibliography, and appendices (with titles), should be included.
The Chapter Titles in the Table of Contents should be identical to the actual Chapter Titles used in the text of the Thesis.
Chapters should be numbered consistently. (example: Chapter Four, Chapter 4, or Chapter IV)
Page 1 should be the first page of the Thesis and must sequentially continue till the end without breaking.
Running headers should preferably be avoided.
Page numbers should not be embellished. (example: Page 7, -7-, or 107a)
Fonts, Margins & Spacing
Fonts should be standardized and legible.
Depending on the font, a size between 10pts. and 13pts. is suggested for body text, and between 14pts. and 18pts. for headings.
The font size of all headings should be consistent. (example: all main headings are 18pts. and sub-headings are 16pts.)
Italic text should be limited to foreign words, book and journal titles, and special emphasis.
Margins should be maintained equally and consistently across all pages, preferably 0.75 inches or 1 inch on all sides.
Line spacing should be consistent and reasonable, of say 1.2pts to 1.5pts.
Each chapter should begin on a new page.
There should be no blank pages in the entire document.
When submitting a soft copy of the Thesis, the Portable Document Format (PDF) should be used, and the file name should be short and simple, without using special characters.
COMPONENTS The main part of a Master’s Thesis is, of course, the content. It is important to cover all generic and necessary components while including those that may have been specifically asked for. The list of components below presents a rough idea of what an entire Thesis would consist of:
(a) Title Page The Title Page will typically consist of only the Title of the Thesis and the month and year of graduation. This page should always be unnumbered.
(b) Committee/Faculty Page The Committee Page lists the names and titles of faculty members who have approved the work.
(c) Abstract or Summary An Abstract is a brief outline of the Thesis that typically includes a summary of the study, techniques, and methods used for research, and the findings or conclusions.
(d) Table of Contents The Table of Contents is a compilation of headings and page numbers that correspond to headings and page numbers in the text of the Thesis.
(e) Lists of Figures, Tables, Maps, Abbreviations, or Multimedia Items Separate pages for figures, tables, etc., should be used to list them out with their captions and page numbers. Ensure that the same captions are used in the text of the Thesis, and the page numbers match.
(f) Preface (optional) A Preface is not mandatory. But if the author finds a need to explain the genesis of the work, or if the author’s contribution to a multiple-authored work needs citing, a preface could be included.
(g) Main Content The Main Content is the bulk, essence, and substance of the entire Thesis. It generally outlines an Introduction, Methodology, Findings and Results, Discussion, and Conclusion.
(h) Acknowledgments (optional) Acknowledgments must be made only if the author has been granted permission to use copyrighted material. In such cases, the grant sources should be acknowledged. If federal funds were used for the Thesis, they too must be acknowledged with a disclaimer that the findings of the Thesis do not necessarily reflect the view of the funding agency.
(i) Bibliography or References All works that were referred to for the Thesis should be mentioned in the Bibliography or References page.
(j) Appendices An Appendix may contain relevant material but is tangential or very detailed (raw data, procedural explanations, etc.). These should be labeled A, B, C, etc., and not 1, 2, 3 or I, II, III.
Important: Students are advised to check with their faculty members and/or their Program Thesis Guidelines (that is often a part of the student’s curriculum) for more and exact information on Thesis requirements. This is because such requirements may vary by college or program.
Top Tips for writing the Master’s Thesis
Preparing for and writing a Master Thesis can be difficult for some. Many students become anxious and nervous when they have to either begin with their research or have finished their research but have to piece it all together in the form of a Thesis. Here are a few top tips for writing a Master’s Thesis with relative ease:
Locate an Easy Idea, Topic, or Problem Area The first step before even contemplating the writing of a Thesis is to find a topic that is easy for the individual to carry out research, write about, and defend. Students must avoid complex Thesis topics that may be hard to research and leave much to be desired.
Ask Pertinent Questions There are some basic questions that one could ask oneself to assess if the topic in hand is easy to pursue and write about, such as:
What is the research problem?
What is its importance?
What are the other comparative works available to read?
What have others researched, found, and concluded?
What are the comparisons that one can make?
What are the yardsticks, parameters, and methods of the study?
Brainstorm Read, read, and read more! The more one reads, the more one’s knowledge increases. Find publications, journals, and other Theses that are relevant to the topic. That done, toss all ideas and thoughts onto some sheets of paper or a book. These could be brief points, keywords, statistical figures, etc., but should be considered important at this stage.
Analyze and Assess & Conclude With any Thesis, it is important to look for trends and patterns that will help understand the significance of results obtained. In their research, students should check for commonalities and distinctions between comparative situations and how to describe them. They should explain trends and patterns while also illustrating unexpected and expected ones. Furthermore, any results should be justifiable coherently, and their significance outlined in the conclusion of the Thesis. In conclusion, one must mention the overall impact of the study and how it furthers one’s understanding of the topic while also highlighting the areas that need further investigation. Predictive potential, if any, can also be added.
Organize and Structure Collected data is key to writing a good Thesis. Find reliable and relevant data sources and findings and design a framework to organize such data and interpret it. Use empirical categories to segregate findings such that they become easier to include in the Thesis. Finally, structure everything to create a logical flow and presentation of all findings, data, interpretations, results, and conclusions.
Write a Draft Compiling all critical components of a Thesis and writing the first draft is always advisable. A first draft can be a compilation and culmination of all the points – from 2 to 5. That done, read the first draft to make changes, correct text, and generally build upon it.
Review a Second Draft Once the first draft has given way to a second and more complete draft, it is best to ask a faculty member, mentor, or senior (such as a doctorate student) to review this draft and provide critical feedback. Based on this feedback, additional changes should be made, after which a third or final draft can be prepared for proofreading.
Thesis Vs Dissertation
Many students interchange the terms Thesis and Dissertation. While they do have their similarities, they are distinctly different in more ways than one. To begin with, since a Thesis is shorter than a Dissertation, it is generally looked upon as the first step towards a Doctorate. In Science-related Master’s programs, students tend to take up advanced coursework and gain hands-on experience working on a research project, but not to the lengths that a Doctoral student would go to. Students are expected and encouraged to put forth their ideas in a Master’s program, but more emphasis is on gaining professional knowledge than conducting original research. In certain disciplines, for example, Chemistry, individuals can write truncated research as a Master’s Thesis without actually having to undergo a Master’s program and eventually go on to pursue a Doctorate.
In conclusion, the Thesis vs. Dissertation confusion can be cleared up by this summation: A Thesis is generally applicable to Graduate students to earn a Master’s degree, while a Dissertation applies to Doctoral students to earn a Ph.D.
Thesis Vs Non Thesis Masters
The battle of Thesis vs. Non-Thesis Masters always flummoxes students when they are applying for a Graduate program. Even though the job market does not concern itself much with either of these tracks of programs, so long as you, the candidate, has one, taking up a Thesis or Non-Thesis track can significantly impact students’ skills throughout their academic career.
A Thesis Master’s program primarily focuses on research. The coursework of this program prepares students for a final thesis by honing their data collection, interpretation, writing, and research skills. Students of a Thesis program typically do more reading and writing, increase their knowledge, and become more specialized in their field of study. Professors serve as guides and mentors, assisting students in their personal development, professional goals, priorities, and in the development of research projects and Thesis. A Master’s Thesis is a perfect starting point for those interested in pursuing a Ph.D., as research skills are essential for writing a Dissertation required to earn a doctorate.
A Non-Thesis Master’s program primarily focuses on coursework. These programs are usually akin to undergraduate programs in their structure, with group tasks and individual tasks, assignments, and examinations. Students are often engaged in projects and learning opportunities that help them deepen their understanding of their field of study. Although research may be included in the curriculum, it is mainly focused on assisting students in developing skills that will help them advance in their careers. In most cases, a Non-Thesis program will have more courses than a Thesis program but can still be completed in a shorter duration.
To find out which type of Master’s is most suitable for an individual, the following questions need to be answered, based on which the right choice becomes more apparent:
What kind of academic skills is one looking to acquire?
What are the academic needs and professional objectives that need to be met?
Does one prefer to learn in a classroom environment or prefer to be more self-directed?
Is one interested in research, and does one want to dive deeper into a particular study area?
The list below further illustrates the difference between a Thesis Master’s and a Non-Thesis Master’s and may also help students with making their decision of which one that suits their needs:
A Thesis Program is better suited for students who:
want to pursue a Ph.D.;
wish to publish their Thesis in one or more Academic Journals;
need to acquire skills that are required to study for or work in research-intensive disciplines;
build critical, analytical, and logical reasoning skills necessary to deduce and infer coherently, and defend and argue effectively;
desire to work in fields that value writing skills, vocabulary, grammar, and syntax.
A Non-Thesis Program is better suited for students who:
are not so interested in research or writing at length;
want to graduate in as little time as possible. (Non-Thesis programs tend to be shorter than Thesis-based ones);
prefer to gain exposure by working with faculty on real-world projects, rather than spending time on research;
desire to take up additional courses to widen their scope, amass more knowledge, and gain hands-on-skills, rather than researching and writing on one topic;
wish to emulate the structure of their Undergraduate degree/s, with more coursework, assignments, and examinations, instead of research.
Do’s and Dont’s for choosing between Thesis and Non-Thesis Masters Programs
Students are often faced with the dilemma of Thesis vs. Non-Thesis Masters. There should be compelling reasons to sign up for a Master Thesis instead of a Non-Thesis Masters, and vice versa. Here are a few things to do and not do when deciding to choose between the two tracks of Master’s degrees:
Candidates who are deciding on a Thesis or Non-Thesis Master’s program should:
Base their decision on current desires and future needs.
Weigh the importance of multidisciplinary knowledge and hands-on project experience versus research and writing skills.
Examine Ph.D. admission requirements, if a Ph.D. degree is to follow their Master’s degree, to see whether most programs require students to have submitted a thesis in their Master’s.
Speak with other experienced people who were faced with the same dilemma, find out how they decided, and whether they are happy with the outcomes of their decision.
Meet with faculty members and/or current students of both tracks, in colleges being considered, for unbiased opinions and deeper insights into the pros and cons of each track.
Candidates who are deciding on a Thesis or Non-Thesis Master’s program should not:
Be intimidated or afraid of failing just because they have never written a Thesis before.
Forget to read past students’ theses to assess whether they can eventually write one themselves.
Consider a Thesis program just because they think it might look good on a Resume.
Take the Non-Thesis route to make life easier for themselves. Any spare time during the Master’s should be used for taking more courses, creating meaningful projects, or attending/participating in academic conferences.
Think that a Non-Thesis Master’s is any less challenging or intensive than a Thesis one.
Taking everything into account, the one-degree path is not better than the other one. Each type of Master’s track – Thesis, or Non-Thesis, offers its benefits, which students must assess themselves. Both tracks provide a high-quality education that will lead to success.
One deciding factor could be that a Non-Thesis Master’s degree will help students change fields when returning to school after a sabbatical or help them advance in their careers faster. A Thesis Master’s degree, on the other hand, could be more invaluable for those who have a desire to pursue a career in research and development or study a Ph.D.
Another factor to think about is the learning style. While a Non-Thesis degree is better suited for students who love coursework, working in group projects, and taking up assignments, students who like to dive deep into topics and are independent thinkers are best suited for a Thesis degree.
In the end, students must identify their individual needs, know their style of learning, and what their ultimate academic and professional goals are.
Note: Students should connect with their school’s faculty or admissions office for more information on the two tracks of degrees. After all, the knowledge and skills one gains from the degree are far more important than the title of the degree!
FAQs about Master Thesis
Q: How long is a Master’s Thesis?
A: As a thumb rule, a Master’s Thesis usually takes up about 60 to 100 pages in all. However, lengths can vary depending on the format, components, topic, and special requirements.
Q: How to write a Master Thesis?
A: The first step to writing a Master’s Thesis is to research the chosen topic, idea, or problem area. Writing follows soon enough, details of which are expounded in this article.
Q: How to defend a Master’s Thesis?
A: Defending a Master’s Thesis is an integral part of writing a Thesis. Students should have sufficiently involved themselves in critical analysis and thinking while researching and writing their Thesis to put forward logical arguments and defend their findings.
Q: What does a Master’s Thesis look like?
A: A Master’s Thesis will generally have components such as a Title Page, Committee/Faculty Page, Abstract or Summary, Table of Contents, Lists of Figures and Tables, Main Content (with an Introduction, Methodology, Findings and Results, Discussion, and Conclusion), Bibliography or References, and Appendices.
Q: How many words for Master Thesis?
A: The number of words is not of much significance, so long as the Thesis covers all aspects of the research, exhibits findings and interpretable data, and draws up defendable conclusions. But in most cases, a Thesis is generally between 60 and 100 pages.
Q: Is a thesis required for a Master’s degree?
A: A Thesis is only required for students who have opted for a Master’s Thesis degree track. Non-Thesis Master’s programs do not require a Thesis to be submitted.
Q: How to come up with a Master’s Thesis Topic?
A: The best way to come up with a Master’s Thesis topic is to find one that is easy to research, on which (easily accessible) Theses have been written before, and for which formulating a defense will not be a daunting task.
Q: How to write a good conclusion Master Thesis?
A: A good conclusion should not leave the reader hanging. It should take a cue from the Introduction and refer to the problem and Thesis question to propose plausible solutions while suggesting other pathways for further investigation.
Q: How to write an abstract for Master Thesis?
A: An Abstract is a brief outline of the Thesis. It should generally outline the study, techniques, and methods used for research, and the results or conclusions, all in a nutshell.
Q: Is writing a Master’s Thesis hard?
A: The level of difficulty for writing a Master’s Thesis is subjective. Students who structure their work, plan well, choose a reasonably easy topic, create a Thesis outline, and focus on covering all aspects of the Thesis question, should not find it difficult to write a Master’s Thesis.
Q: How to cite a Master’s Thesis in APA?
A: To cite a Master’s Thesis in APA, one has to mention the author of the Thesis, Year of Publication, Title of the Master’s Thesis, and a URL (if available).
Q: How long does it take to write a Master’s Thesis?
A: The length of time required to write a Master’s Thesis hinges on the topic, research methodology, number of references, and other relevant factors. Some students are known to have written a Thesis in as little as two weeks, while others have taken six weeks or more to finish one.
Q: Do all Master’s programs require a Thesis?
A: No, Non-Thesis Master’s Programs do not require a Thesis. Most Master’s in Business programs also do not ask for one.
Q: How many references for a Master’s Thesis?
A: The number of references will largely depend on the topic, the research conducted, and other such factors. Additionally, it also depends on how much previous literature exists on the chosen topic. Some students may have used more references from one source than others who referred to multiple sources. In general, however, students are known to have cited 30+ references, with 60+ to a 100 not being uncommon as well.
Q: How to write a Master Thesis introduction?
A: The Introduction is the foundation of the Thesis. It should provide a fair amount of background information to put the scope of the research in its right context, and it should also state the objective of the paper and pose the Thesis question.
Additional Resources for writing Master Thesis
There are many resources students can tap into for help on writing a Master Thesis. However, one should remember that these resources should only serve as information, references, or insights and not be misused to write a Thesis (especially by copying and pasting). Here are a few from many more that are available to get started:
Rutgers University Libraries Rutgers University Libraries have a long list of online resources that are of use when preparing for or writing a Master’s Thesis. There are sample Theses, formatting tips, and common style guides as well.
The Thesis Whisperer The Thesis Whisperer has a wealth of content that is tailored around students and academic supervisors. The website also has insightful articles and links to other resources.
wikiHow wikiHow has a detailed write-up on how to write a Master’s Thesis with pictures. It illustrates how one can choose a topic, select the text, plan an outline, move through the writing process, and finalize the Thesis.
Patter Patter is a very interesting site that claims to be about research education, academic writing, public engagement, funding, and other eccentricities (as it says)!
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