What Is the Format of a Thesis Paper?

Updated July 12, 2018
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Thesis papers represent the culmination of a person's expertise on a particular subject. Typically, a thesis paper at the undergraduate level will be at least 30 to 40 pages, double-spaced, while an "honors" version of the same thesis will be twice as long. In graduate school, the thesis paper begins to look more like a "dissertation," which is a much longer, deeper, and more complex thesis paper. Overall, a thesis paper can be written on any subject.


Every thesis paper has an introduction, which will typically explain what topic the thesis seeks to explore and why that topic is important. The introduction should also provide the reader with a basic outline of the paper. Because a writer often does not know how a thesis will look in its finished version before writing it in full, the introduction is often disregarded in anything other than basic outline form until the rest of the thesis has been completed.


The methodology section explains how the writer explored their research questions. If interviews were involved in preparation for writing the thesis, this section will help explain why some interviews were included in the actual papers and others were not. This section will also explain how interviews were chosen, how the questions were developed, and what methods the writer chose to use to evaluate the information received. Aside from interviews, this section can also deal with explaining the reasoning behind the quantitative elements of the paper. For a graduate school student, the methodology section will often be the most difficult section to write, because it will be the one most scrutinized by others.

Literature Review

A literature review section would discuss popular and minority positions on the research question. The section serves multiple purposes. First, it provides the reader with an intellectual history of the research question. Second, it demonstrates to the reader that the writer has a mastery of the related scholarship, providing additional credibility to the author's own position. Every academic thesis paper must have a literature review section.


The body of the thesis paper will include a number of analysis sections that answer the initial research question posed at the start of the paper. For example, for a paper on the cause of the Great Recession in the U.S. from 2008 to 2010, the body might include a Historical Background section that illustrates what aspects of the American or international economy led up to the crisis. An analysis section would then come after the background section, exploring the writer's unique position on the causes of the Great Recession.


The conclusion sums up the findings of the paper as concisely as possible. The summary should rehash the major findings of the paper. The conclusion might also include suggestions for areas of further research. For example, a thesis paper on the cause of tension in U.S.-Iran relations might analyze the question from an economic perspective and then suggest that further research should be done on the cultural dimensions of the problem.

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