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Definition of a College Thesis Paper


A college thesis paper can be one of two things, either a paper that a college senior writes, or more commonly, a dissertation written by a graduate candidate. This article provides an overview on both types of papers and their uses.

Senior Thesis

Typically, when students major in a field in the humanities, they will be asked to write a thesis as a final project or in lieu of a final exam. Nowadays, this thesis can come in a variety of forms, but it is typically a paper in which students will synthesize all things they have learned in their respective field.

Senior Thesis: Topic

Students choose the topic they write about, although some professors will steer a student toward a generalized area and leave the specifics to the student. For example, if you are an English major, you may be asked by your professor to submit a paper on an author you covered in your more advanced classes, say "Edgar Allan Poe. You as the student have to come up with a more targeted topic relating to Poe, such as "the classical values inherent in the writings of Poe, and its root in Romanticism in the nineteenth century."

Senior Thesis: Other Types

In other areas of the humanities, students may be required to complete a thesis project. If the student is studying creative writing, he will have to complete a short story, a poetry chapbook or a number of chapters to a fiction or nonfiction piece. In film production/media studies, students will sometimes create final short film thesis projects, utilizing their gained abilities in production. In fine arts, student will often have to complete pieces for a gallery exhibition and/or complete a research paper on their art pieces.

Graduate Dissertation

A grad student will spend the majority of their time in grad school to work on the graduate dissertation, which is required to earn a degree. The dissertation length is anywhere from 50 to hundreds of pages long, in comparison to the undergrad thesis, which is about 10 to 20 pages. Most graduate and PhD students often use research in their dissertation in their careers in academia or other research fields.

Graduate Dissertation: Type

A student often works on the thesis with a faculty member who specializes in the student's chosen field and can offer guidance and structure. In the sciences, this is often a quantifiable research or experiment, often worked on in conjunction with other students or faculty. In the humanities, it is a much larger version of the same kind of paper required of college seniors but is more involved and researched.

Graduate Dissertation: Defense and Archival

After the dissertation is completed, the thesis is presented to a departmental committee and must be successfully defended in an oral exam for the degree to be given. The thesis is also bound and archived by the university, where it can be accessed and read by others.

About the Author

Veronica Scott is currently a graduate student at Ohio University, studying film. She holds a BS in Film Studies with a minor in Creative Writing and Art History from the University of Idaho. She has been published in the film magazine Cineaste as well as the McNair Journal.