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What is a thesis | A Complete Guide with Examples


Table of Contents

A thesis is a comprehensive academic paper based on your original research that presents new findings, arguments, and ideas of your study. It’s typically submitted at the end of your master’s degree or as a capstone of your bachelor’s degree.

However, writing a thesis can be laborious, especially for beginners. From the initial challenge of pinpointing a compelling research topic to organizing and presenting findings, the process is filled with potential pitfalls.

Therefore, to help you, this guide talks about what is a thesis. Additionally, it offers revelations and methodologies to transform it from an overwhelming task to a manageable and rewarding academic milestone.

What is a thesis?

A thesis is an in-depth research study that identifies a particular topic of inquiry and presents a clear argument or perspective about that topic using evidence and logic.

Writing a thesis showcases your ability of critical thinking, gathering evidence, and making a compelling argument. Integral to these competencies is thorough research, which not only fortifies your propositions but also confers credibility to your entire study.

Furthermore, there's another phenomenon you might often confuse with the thesis: the ' working thesis .' However, they aren't similar and shouldn't be used interchangeably.

A working thesis, often referred to as a preliminary or tentative thesis, is an initial version of your thesis statement. It serves as a draft or a starting point that guides your research in its early stages.

As you research more and gather more evidence, your initial thesis (aka working thesis) might change. It's like a starting point that can be adjusted as you learn more. It's normal for your main topic to change a few times before you finalize it.

While a thesis identifies and provides an overarching argument, the key to clearly communicating the central point of that argument lies in writing a strong thesis statement.

What is a thesis statement?

A strong thesis statement (aka thesis sentence) is a concise summary of the main argument or claim of the paper. It serves as a critical anchor in any academic work, succinctly encapsulating the primary argument or main idea of the entire paper.

Typically found within the introductory section, a strong thesis statement acts as a roadmap of your thesis, directing readers through your arguments and findings. By delineating the core focus of your investigation, it offers readers an immediate understanding of the context and the gravity of your study.

Furthermore, an effectively crafted thesis statement can set forth the boundaries of your research, helping readers anticipate the specific areas of inquiry you are addressing.

Different types of thesis statements

A good thesis statement is clear, specific, and arguable. Therefore, it is necessary for you to choose the right type of thesis statement for your academic papers.

Thesis statements can be classified based on their purpose and structure. Here are the primary types of thesis statements:

Argumentative (or Persuasive) thesis statement

Purpose : To convince the reader of a particular stance or point of view by presenting evidence and formulating a compelling argument.

Example : Reducing plastic use in daily life is essential for environmental health.

Analytical thesis statement

Purpose : To break down an idea or issue into its components and evaluate it.

Example : By examining the long-term effects, social implications, and economic impact of climate change, it becomes evident that immediate global action is necessary.

Expository (or Descriptive) thesis statement

Purpose : To explain a topic or subject to the reader.

Example : The Great Depression, spanning the 1930s, was a severe worldwide economic downturn triggered by a stock market crash, bank failures, and reduced consumer spending.

Cause and effect thesis statement

Purpose : To demonstrate a cause and its resulting effect.

Example : Overuse of smartphones can lead to impaired sleep patterns, reduced face-to-face social interactions, and increased levels of anxiety.

Compare and contrast thesis statement

Purpose : To highlight similarities and differences between two subjects.

Example : "While both novels '1984' and 'Brave New World' delve into dystopian futures, they differ in their portrayal of individual freedom, societal control, and the role of technology."

When you write a thesis statement , it's important to ensure clarity and precision, so the reader immediately understands the central focus of your work.

What is the difference between a thesis and a thesis statement?

While both terms are frequently used interchangeably, they have distinct meanings.

A thesis refers to the entire research document, encompassing all its chapters and sections. In contrast, a thesis statement is a brief assertion that encapsulates the central argument of the research.

Here’s an in-depth differentiation table of a thesis and a thesis statement.

Now, to craft a compelling thesis, it's crucial to adhere to a specific structure. Let’s break down these essential components that make up a thesis structure

15 components of a thesis structure

Navigating a thesis can be daunting. However, understanding its structure can make the process more manageable.

Here are the key components or different sections of a thesis structure:

Your thesis begins with the title page. It's not just a formality but the gateway to your research.


Here, you'll prominently display the necessary information about you (the author) and your institutional details.

  • Title of your thesis
  • Your full name
  • Your department
  • Your institution and degree program
  • Your submission date
  • Your Supervisor's name (in some cases)
  • Your Department or faculty (in some cases)
  • Your University's logo (in some cases)
  • Your Student ID (in some cases)

In a concise manner, you'll have to summarize the critical aspects of your research in typically no more than 200-300 words.


This includes the problem statement, methodology, key findings, and conclusions. For many, the abstract will determine if they delve deeper into your work, so ensure it's clear and compelling.


Research is rarely a solitary endeavor. In the acknowledgments section, you have the chance to express gratitude to those who've supported your journey.


This might include advisors, peers, institutions, or even personal sources of inspiration and support. It's a personal touch, reflecting the humanity behind the academic rigor.

Table of contents

A roadmap for your readers, the table of contents lists the chapters, sections, and subsections of your thesis.


By providing page numbers, you allow readers to navigate your work easily, jumping to sections that pique their interest.

List of figures and tables

Research often involves data, and presenting this data visually can enhance understanding. This section provides an organized listing of all figures and tables in your thesis.


It's a visual index, ensuring that readers can quickly locate and reference your graphical data.


Here's where you introduce your research topic, articulate the research question or objective, and outline the significance of your study.


  • Present the research topic : Clearly articulate the central theme or subject of your research.
  • Background information : Ground your research topic, providing any necessary context or background information your readers might need to understand the significance of your study.
  • Define the scope : Clearly delineate the boundaries of your research, indicating what will and won't be covered.
  • Literature review : Introduce any relevant existing research on your topic, situating your work within the broader academic conversation and highlighting where your research fits in.
  • State the research Question(s) or objective(s) : Clearly articulate the primary questions or objectives your research aims to address.
  • Outline the study's structure : Give a brief overview of how the subsequent sections of your work will unfold, guiding your readers through the journey ahead.

The introduction should captivate your readers, making them eager to delve deeper into your research journey.

Literature review section

Your study correlates with existing research. Therefore, in the literature review section, you'll engage in a dialogue with existing knowledge, highlighting relevant studies, theories, and findings.


It's here that you identify gaps in the current knowledge, positioning your research as a bridge to new insights.

To streamline this process, consider leveraging AI tools. For example, the SciSpace literature review tool enables you to efficiently explore and delve into research papers, simplifying your literature review journey.


In the research methodology section, you’ll detail the tools, techniques, and processes you employed to gather and analyze data. This section will inform the readers about how you approached your research questions and ensures the reproducibility of your study.


Here's a breakdown of what it should encompass:

  • Research Design : Describe the overall structure and approach of your research. Are you conducting a qualitative study with in-depth interviews? Or is it a quantitative study using statistical analysis? Perhaps it's a mixed-methods approach?
  • Data Collection : Detail the methods you used to gather data. This could include surveys, experiments, observations, interviews, archival research, etc. Mention where you sourced your data, the duration of data collection, and any tools or instruments used.
  • Sampling : If applicable, explain how you selected participants or data sources for your study. Discuss the size of your sample and the rationale behind choosing it.
  • Data Analysis : Describe the techniques and tools you used to process and analyze the data. This could range from statistical tests in quantitative research to thematic analysis in qualitative research.
  • Validity and Reliability : Address the steps you took to ensure the validity and reliability of your findings to ensure that your results are both accurate and consistent.
  • Ethical Considerations : Highlight any ethical issues related to your research and the measures you took to address them, including — informed consent, confidentiality, and data storage and protection measures.

Moreover, different research questions necessitate different types of methodologies. For instance:

  • Experimental methodology : Often used in sciences, this involves a controlled experiment to discern causality.
  • Qualitative methodology : Employed when exploring patterns or phenomena without numerical data. Methods can include interviews, focus groups, or content analysis.
  • Quantitative methodology : Concerned with measurable data and often involves statistical analysis. Surveys and structured observations are common tools here.
  • Mixed methods : As the name implies, this combines both qualitative and quantitative methodologies.

The Methodology section isn’t just about detailing the methods but also justifying why they were chosen. The appropriateness of the methods in addressing your research question can significantly impact the credibility of your findings.

Results (or Findings)

This section presents the outcomes of your research. It's crucial to note that the nature of your results may vary; they could be quantitative, qualitative, or a mix of both.


Quantitative results often present statistical data, showcasing measurable outcomes, and they benefit from tables, graphs, and figures to depict these data points.

Qualitative results , on the other hand, might delve into patterns, themes, or narratives derived from non-numerical data, such as interviews or observations.

Regardless of the nature of your results, clarity is essential. This section is purely about presenting the data without offering interpretations — that comes later in the discussion.

In the discussion section, the raw data transforms into valuable insights.

Start by revisiting your research question and contrast it with the findings. How do your results expand, constrict, or challenge current academic conversations?

Dive into the intricacies of the data, guiding the reader through its implications. Detail potential limitations transparently, signaling your awareness of the research's boundaries. This is where your academic voice should be resonant and confident.

Practical implications (Recommendation) section

Based on the insights derived from your research, this section provides actionable suggestions or proposed solutions.

Whether aimed at industry professionals or the general public, recommendations translate your academic findings into potential real-world actions. They help readers understand the practical implications of your work and how it can be applied to effect change or improvement in a given field.

When crafting recommendations, it's essential to ensure they're feasible and rooted in the evidence provided by your research. They shouldn't merely be aspirational but should offer a clear path forward, grounded in your findings.

The conclusion provides closure to your research narrative.

It's not merely a recap but a synthesis of your main findings and their broader implications. Reconnect with the research questions or hypotheses posited at the beginning, offering clear answers based on your findings.


Reflect on the broader contributions of your study, considering its impact on the academic community and potential real-world applications.

Lastly, the conclusion should leave your readers with a clear understanding of the value and impact of your study.

References (or Bibliography)

Every theory you've expounded upon, every data point you've cited, and every methodological precedent you've followed finds its acknowledgment here.


In references, it's crucial to ensure meticulous consistency in formatting, mirroring the specific guidelines of the chosen citation style .

Proper referencing helps to avoid plagiarism , gives credit to original ideas, and allows readers to explore topics of interest. Moreover, it situates your work within the continuum of academic knowledge.

To properly cite the sources used in the study, you can rely on online citation generator tools  to generate accurate citations!

Here’s more on how you can cite your sources.

Often, the depth of research produces a wealth of material that, while crucial, can make the core content of the thesis cumbersome. The appendix is where you mention extra information that supports your research but isn't central to the main text.


Whether it's raw datasets, detailed procedural methodologies, extended case studies, or any other ancillary material, the appendices ensure that these elements are archived for reference without breaking the main narrative's flow.

For thorough researchers and readers keen on meticulous details, the appendices provide a treasure trove of insights.

Glossary (optional)

In academics, specialized terminologies, and jargon are inevitable. However, not every reader is versed in every term.

The glossary, while optional, is a critical tool for accessibility. It's a bridge ensuring that even readers from outside the discipline can access, understand, and appreciate your work.


By defining complex terms and providing context, you're inviting a wider audience to engage with your research, enhancing its reach and impact.

Remember, while these components provide a structured framework, the essence of your thesis lies in the originality of your ideas, the rigor of your research, and the clarity of your presentation.

As you craft each section, keep your readers in mind, ensuring that your passion and dedication shine through every page.

Thesis examples

To further elucidate the concept of a thesis, here are illustrative examples from various fields:

Example 1 (History): Abolition, Africans, and Abstraction: the Influence of the ‘Noble Savage’ on British and French Antislavery Thought, 1787-1807 by Suchait Kahlon.
Example 2 (Climate Dynamics): Influence of external forcings on abrupt millennial-scale climate changes: a statistical modelling study by Takahito Mitsui · Michel Crucifix

Checklist for your thesis evaluation

Evaluating your thesis ensures that your research meets the standards of academia. Here's an elaborate checklist to guide you through this critical process.

Content and structure

  • Is the thesis statement clear, concise, and debatable?
  • Does the introduction provide sufficient background and context?
  • Is the literature review comprehensive, relevant, and well-organized?
  • Does the methodology section clearly describe and justify the research methods?
  • Are the results/findings presented clearly and logically?
  • Does the discussion interpret the results in light of the research question and existing literature?
  • Is the conclusion summarizing the research and suggesting future directions or implications?

Clarity and coherence

  • Is the writing clear and free of jargon?
  • Are ideas and sections logically connected and flowing?
  • Is there a clear narrative or argument throughout the thesis?

Research quality

  • Is the research question significant and relevant?
  • Are the research methods appropriate for the question?
  • Is the sample size (if applicable) adequate?
  • Are the data analysis techniques appropriate and correctly applied?
  • Are potential biases or limitations addressed?

Originality and significance

  • Does the thesis contribute new knowledge or insights to the field?
  • Is the research grounded in existing literature while offering fresh perspectives?

Formatting and presentation

  • Is the thesis formatted according to institutional guidelines?
  • Are figures, tables, and charts clear, labeled, and referenced in the text?
  • Is the bibliography or reference list complete and consistently formatted?
  • Are appendices relevant and appropriately referenced in the main text?

Grammar and language

  • Is the thesis free of grammatical and spelling errors?
  • Is the language professional, consistent, and appropriate for an academic audience?
  • Are quotations and paraphrased material correctly cited?

Feedback and revision

  • Have you sought feedback from peers, advisors, or experts in the field?
  • Have you addressed the feedback and made the necessary revisions?

Overall assessment

  • Does the thesis as a whole feel cohesive and comprehensive?
  • Would the thesis be understandable and valuable to someone in your field?

Ensure to use this checklist to leave no ground for doubt or missed information in your thesis.

After writing your thesis, the next step is to discuss and defend your findings verbally in front of a knowledgeable panel. You’ve to be well prepared as your professors may grade your presentation abilities.

Preparing your thesis defense

A thesis defense, also known as "defending the thesis," is the culmination of a scholar's research journey. It's the final frontier, where you’ll present their findings and face scrutiny from a panel of experts.

Typically, the defense involves a public presentation where you’ll have to outline your study, followed by a question-and-answer session with a committee of experts. This committee assesses the validity, originality, and significance of the research.

The defense serves as a rite of passage for scholars. It's an opportunity to showcase expertise, address criticisms, and refine arguments. A successful defense not only validates the research but also establishes your authority as a researcher in your field.

Here’s how you can effectively prepare for your thesis defense .

Now, having touched upon the process of defending a thesis, it's worth noting that scholarly work can take various forms, depending on academic and regional practices.

One such form, often paralleled with the thesis, is the 'dissertation.' But what differentiates the two?

Dissertation vs. Thesis

Often used interchangeably in casual discourse, they refer to distinct research projects undertaken at different levels of higher education.

To the uninitiated, understanding their meaning might be elusive. So, let's demystify these terms and delve into their core differences.

Here's a table differentiating between the two.

Wrapping up

From understanding the foundational concept of a thesis to navigating its various components, differentiating it from a dissertation, and recognizing the importance of proper citation — this guide covers it all.

As scholars and readers, understanding these nuances not only aids in academic pursuits but also fosters a deeper appreciation for the relentless quest for knowledge that drives academia.

It’s important to remember that every thesis is a testament to curiosity, dedication, and the indomitable spirit of discovery.

Good luck with your thesis writing!

Frequently Asked Questions

A thesis typically ranges between 40-80 pages, but its length can vary based on the research topic, institution guidelines, and level of study.

A PhD thesis usually spans 200-300 pages, though this can vary based on the discipline, complexity of the research, and institutional requirements.

To identify a thesis topic, consider current trends in your field, gaps in existing literature, personal interests, and discussions with advisors or mentors. Additionally, reviewing related journals and conference proceedings can provide insights into potential areas of exploration.

The conceptual framework is often situated in the literature review or theoretical framework section of a thesis. It helps set the stage by providing the context, defining key concepts, and explaining the relationships between variables.

A thesis statement should be concise, clear, and specific. It should state the main argument or point of your research. Start by pinpointing the central question or issue your research addresses, then condense that into a single statement, ensuring it reflects the essence of your paper.

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While Sandel argues that pursuing perfection through genetic engineering would decrease our sense of humility, he claims that the sense of solidarity we would lose is also important.

This thesis summarizes several points in Sandel’s argument, but it does not make a claim about how we should understand his argument. A reader who read Sandel’s argument would not also need to read an essay based on this descriptive thesis.  

Broad thesis (arguable, but difficult to support with evidence) 

Michael Sandel’s arguments about genetic engineering do not take into consideration all the relevant issues.

This is an arguable claim because it would be possible to argue against it by saying that Michael Sandel’s arguments do take all of the relevant issues into consideration. But the claim is too broad. Because the thesis does not specify which “issues” it is focused on—or why it matters if they are considered—readers won’t know what the rest of the essay will argue, and the writer won’t know what to focus on. If there is a particular issue that Sandel does not address, then a more specific version of the thesis would include that issue—hand an explanation of why it is important.  

Arguable thesis with analytical claim 

While Sandel argues persuasively that our instinct to “remake” (54) ourselves into something ever more perfect is a problem, his belief that we can always draw a line between what is medically necessary and what makes us simply “better than well” (51) is less convincing.

This is an arguable analytical claim. To argue for this claim, the essay writer will need to show how evidence from the article itself points to this interpretation. It’s also a reasonable scope for a thesis because it can be supported with evidence available in the text and is neither too broad nor too narrow.  

Arguable thesis with normative claim 

Given Sandel’s argument against genetic enhancement, we should not allow parents to decide on using Human Growth Hormone for their children.

This thesis tells us what we should do about a particular issue discussed in Sandel’s article, but it does not tell us how we should understand Sandel’s argument.  

Questions to ask about your thesis 

  • Is the thesis truly arguable? Does it speak to a genuine dilemma in the source, or would most readers automatically agree with it?  
  • Is the thesis too obvious? Again, would most or all readers agree with it without needing to see your argument?  
  • Is the thesis complex enough to require a whole essay's worth of argument?  
  • Is the thesis supportable with evidence from the text rather than with generalizations or outside research?  
  • Would anyone want to read a paper in which this thesis was developed? That is, can you explain what this paper is adding to our understanding of a problem, question, or topic?
  • picture_as_pdf Thesis

Grad Coach

How To Write A Dissertation Or Thesis

8 straightforward steps to craft an a-grade dissertation.

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) Expert Reviewed By: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | June 2020

Writing a dissertation or thesis is not a simple task. It takes time, energy and a lot of will power to get you across the finish line. It’s not easy – but it doesn’t necessarily need to be a painful process. If you understand the big-picture process of how to write a dissertation or thesis, your research journey will be a lot smoother.  

In this post, I’m going to outline the big-picture process of how to write a high-quality dissertation or thesis, without losing your mind along the way. If you’re just starting your research, this post is perfect for you. Alternatively, if you’ve already submitted your proposal, this article which covers how to structure a dissertation might be more helpful.

How To Write A Dissertation: 8 Steps

  • Clearly understand what a dissertation (or thesis) is
  • Find a unique and valuable research topic
  • Craft a convincing research proposal
  • Write up a strong introduction chapter
  • Review the existing literature and compile a literature review
  • Design a rigorous research strategy and undertake your own research
  • Present the findings of your research
  • Draw a conclusion and discuss the implications

Start writing your dissertation

Step 1: Understand exactly what a dissertation is

This probably sounds like a no-brainer, but all too often, students come to us for help with their research and the underlying issue is that they don’t fully understand what a dissertation (or thesis) actually is.

So, what is a dissertation?

At its simplest, a dissertation or thesis is a formal piece of research , reflecting the standard research process . But what is the standard research process, you ask? The research process involves 4 key steps:

  • Ask a very specific, well-articulated question (s) (your research topic)
  • See what other researchers have said about it (if they’ve already answered it)
  • If they haven’t answered it adequately, undertake your own data collection and analysis in a scientifically rigorous fashion
  • Answer your original question(s), based on your analysis findings

 A dissertation or thesis is a formal piece of research, reflecting the standard four step academic research process.

In short, the research process is simply about asking and answering questions in a systematic fashion . This probably sounds pretty obvious, but people often think they’ve done “research”, when in fact what they have done is:

  • Started with a vague, poorly articulated question
  • Not taken the time to see what research has already been done regarding the question
  • Collected data and opinions that support their gut and undertaken a flimsy analysis
  • Drawn a shaky conclusion, based on that analysis

If you want to see the perfect example of this in action, look out for the next Facebook post where someone claims they’ve done “research”… All too often, people consider reading a few blog posts to constitute research. Its no surprise then that what they end up with is an opinion piece, not research. Okay, okay – I’ll climb off my soapbox now.

The key takeaway here is that a dissertation (or thesis) is a formal piece of research, reflecting the research process. It’s not an opinion piece , nor a place to push your agenda or try to convince someone of your position. Writing a good dissertation involves asking a question and taking a systematic, rigorous approach to answering it.

If you understand this and are comfortable leaving your opinions or preconceived ideas at the door, you’re already off to a good start!

 A dissertation is not an opinion piece, nor a place to push your agenda or try to  convince someone of your position.

Step 2: Find a unique, valuable research topic

As we saw, the first step of the research process is to ask a specific, well-articulated question. In other words, you need to find a research topic that asks a specific question or set of questions (these are called research questions ). Sounds easy enough, right? All you’ve got to do is identify a question or two and you’ve got a winning research topic. Well, not quite…

A good dissertation or thesis topic has a few important attributes. Specifically, a solid research topic should be:

Let’s take a closer look at these:

Attribute #1: Clear

Your research topic needs to be crystal clear about what you’re planning to research, what you want to know, and within what context. There shouldn’t be any ambiguity or vagueness about what you’ll research.

Here’s an example of a clearly articulated research topic:

An analysis of consumer-based factors influencing organisational trust in British low-cost online equity brokerage firms.

As you can see in the example, its crystal clear what will be analysed (factors impacting organisational trust), amongst who (consumers) and in what context (British low-cost equity brokerage firms, based online).

Need a helping hand?

thesis writing support

Attribute #2:   Unique

Your research should be asking a question(s) that hasn’t been asked before, or that hasn’t been asked in a specific context (for example, in a specific country or industry).

For example, sticking organisational trust topic above, it’s quite likely that organisational trust factors in the UK have been investigated before, but the context (online low-cost equity brokerages) could make this research unique. Therefore, the context makes this research original.

One caveat when using context as the basis for originality – you need to have a good reason to suspect that your findings in this context might be different from the existing research – otherwise, there’s no reason to warrant researching it.

Attribute #3: Important

Simply asking a unique or original question is not enough – the question needs to create value. In other words, successfully answering your research questions should provide some value to the field of research or the industry. You can’t research something just to satisfy your curiosity. It needs to make some form of contribution either to research or industry.

For example, researching the factors influencing consumer trust would create value by enabling businesses to tailor their operations and marketing to leverage factors that promote trust. In other words, it would have a clear benefit to industry.

So, how do you go about finding a unique and valuable research topic? We explain that in detail in this video post – How To Find A Research Topic . Yeah, we’ve got you covered 😊

Step 3: Write a convincing research proposal

Once you’ve pinned down a high-quality research topic, the next step is to convince your university to let you research it. No matter how awesome you think your topic is, it still needs to get the rubber stamp before you can move forward with your research. The research proposal is the tool you’ll use for this job.

So, what’s in a research proposal?

The main “job” of a research proposal is to convince your university, advisor or committee that your research topic is worthy of approval. But convince them of what? Well, this varies from university to university, but generally, they want to see that:

  • You have a clearly articulated, unique and important topic (this might sound familiar…)
  • You’ve done some initial reading of the existing literature relevant to your topic (i.e. a literature review)
  • You have a provisional plan in terms of how you will collect data and analyse it (i.e. a methodology)

At the proposal stage, it’s (generally) not expected that you’ve extensively reviewed the existing literature , but you will need to show that you’ve done enough reading to identify a clear gap for original (unique) research. Similarly, they generally don’t expect that you have a rock-solid research methodology mapped out, but you should have an idea of whether you’ll be undertaking qualitative or quantitative analysis , and how you’ll collect your data (we’ll discuss this in more detail later).

Long story short – don’t stress about having every detail of your research meticulously thought out at the proposal stage – this will develop as you progress through your research. However, you do need to show that you’ve “done your homework” and that your research is worthy of approval .

So, how do you go about crafting a high-quality, convincing proposal? We cover that in detail in this video post – How To Write A Top-Class Research Proposal . We’ve also got a video walkthrough of two proposal examples here .

Step 4: Craft a strong introduction chapter

Once your proposal’s been approved, its time to get writing your actual dissertation or thesis! The good news is that if you put the time into crafting a high-quality proposal, you’ve already got a head start on your first three chapters – introduction, literature review and methodology – as you can use your proposal as the basis for these.

Handy sidenote – our free dissertation & thesis template is a great way to speed up your dissertation writing journey.

What’s the introduction chapter all about?

The purpose of the introduction chapter is to set the scene for your research (dare I say, to introduce it…) so that the reader understands what you’ll be researching and why it’s important. In other words, it covers the same ground as the research proposal in that it justifies your research topic.

What goes into the introduction chapter?

This can vary slightly between universities and degrees, but generally, the introduction chapter will include the following:

  • A brief background to the study, explaining the overall area of research
  • A problem statement , explaining what the problem is with the current state of research (in other words, where the knowledge gap exists)
  • Your research questions – in other words, the specific questions your study will seek to answer (based on the knowledge gap)
  • The significance of your study – in other words, why it’s important and how its findings will be useful in the world

As you can see, this all about explaining the “what” and the “why” of your research (as opposed to the “how”). So, your introduction chapter is basically the salesman of your study, “selling” your research to the first-time reader and (hopefully) getting them interested to read more.

How do I write the introduction chapter, you ask? We cover that in detail in this post .

The introduction chapter is where you set the scene for your research, detailing exactly what you’ll be researching and why it’s important.

Step 5: Undertake an in-depth literature review

As I mentioned earlier, you’ll need to do some initial review of the literature in Steps 2 and 3 to find your research gap and craft a convincing research proposal – but that’s just scratching the surface. Once you reach the literature review stage of your dissertation or thesis, you need to dig a lot deeper into the existing research and write up a comprehensive literature review chapter.

What’s the literature review all about?

There are two main stages in the literature review process:

Literature Review Step 1: Reading up

The first stage is for you to deep dive into the existing literature (journal articles, textbook chapters, industry reports, etc) to gain an in-depth understanding of the current state of research regarding your topic. While you don’t need to read every single article, you do need to ensure that you cover all literature that is related to your core research questions, and create a comprehensive catalogue of that literature , which you’ll use in the next step.

Reading and digesting all the relevant literature is a time consuming and intellectually demanding process. Many students underestimate just how much work goes into this step, so make sure that you allocate a good amount of time for this when planning out your research. Thankfully, there are ways to fast track the process – be sure to check out this article covering how to read journal articles quickly .

Dissertation Coaching

Literature Review Step 2: Writing up

Once you’ve worked through the literature and digested it all, you’ll need to write up your literature review chapter. Many students make the mistake of thinking that the literature review chapter is simply a summary of what other researchers have said. While this is partly true, a literature review is much more than just a summary. To pull off a good literature review chapter, you’ll need to achieve at least 3 things:

  • You need to synthesise the existing research , not just summarise it. In other words, you need to show how different pieces of theory fit together, what’s agreed on by researchers, what’s not.
  • You need to highlight a research gap that your research is going to fill. In other words, you’ve got to outline the problem so that your research topic can provide a solution.
  • You need to use the existing research to inform your methodology and approach to your own research design. For example, you might use questions or Likert scales from previous studies in your your own survey design .

As you can see, a good literature review is more than just a summary of the published research. It’s the foundation on which your own research is built, so it deserves a lot of love and attention. Take the time to craft a comprehensive literature review with a suitable structure .

But, how do I actually write the literature review chapter, you ask? We cover that in detail in this video post .

Step 6: Carry out your own research

Once you’ve completed your literature review and have a sound understanding of the existing research, its time to develop your own research (finally!). You’ll design this research specifically so that you can find the answers to your unique research question.

There are two steps here – designing your research strategy and executing on it:

1 – Design your research strategy

The first step is to design your research strategy and craft a methodology chapter . I won’t get into the technicalities of the methodology chapter here, but in simple terms, this chapter is about explaining the “how” of your research. If you recall, the introduction and literature review chapters discussed the “what” and the “why”, so it makes sense that the next point to cover is the “how” –that’s what the methodology chapter is all about.

In this section, you’ll need to make firm decisions about your research design. This includes things like:

  • Your research philosophy (e.g. positivism or interpretivism )
  • Your overall methodology (e.g. qualitative , quantitative or mixed methods)
  • Your data collection strategy (e.g. interviews , focus groups, surveys)
  • Your data analysis strategy (e.g. content analysis , correlation analysis, regression)

If these words have got your head spinning, don’t worry! We’ll explain these in plain language in other posts. It’s not essential that you understand the intricacies of research design (yet!). The key takeaway here is that you’ll need to make decisions about how you’ll design your own research, and you’ll need to describe (and justify) your decisions in your methodology chapter.

2 – Execute: Collect and analyse your data

Once you’ve worked out your research design, you’ll put it into action and start collecting your data. This might mean undertaking interviews, hosting an online survey or any other data collection method. Data collection can take quite a bit of time (especially if you host in-person interviews), so be sure to factor sufficient time into your project plan for this. Oftentimes, things don’t go 100% to plan (for example, you don’t get as many survey responses as you hoped for), so bake a little extra time into your budget here.

Once you’ve collected your data, you’ll need to do some data preparation before you can sink your teeth into the analysis. For example:

  • If you carry out interviews or focus groups, you’ll need to transcribe your audio data to text (i.e. a Word document).
  • If you collect quantitative survey data, you’ll need to clean up your data and get it into the right format for whichever analysis software you use (for example, SPSS, R or STATA).

Once you’ve completed your data prep, you’ll undertake your analysis, using the techniques that you described in your methodology. Depending on what you find in your analysis, you might also do some additional forms of analysis that you hadn’t planned for. For example, you might see something in the data that raises new questions or that requires clarification with further analysis.

The type(s) of analysis that you’ll use depend entirely on the nature of your research and your research questions. For example:

  • If your research if exploratory in nature, you’ll often use qualitative analysis techniques .
  • If your research is confirmatory in nature, you’ll often use quantitative analysis techniques
  • If your research involves a mix of both, you might use a mixed methods approach

Again, if these words have got your head spinning, don’t worry! We’ll explain these concepts and techniques in other posts. The key takeaway is simply that there’s no “one size fits all” for research design and methodology – it all depends on your topic, your research questions and your data. So, don’t be surprised if your study colleagues take a completely different approach to yours.

The research philosophy is at the core of the methodology chapter

Step 7: Present your findings

Once you’ve completed your analysis, it’s time to present your findings (finally!). In a dissertation or thesis, you’ll typically present your findings in two chapters – the results chapter and the discussion chapter .

What’s the difference between the results chapter and the discussion chapter?

While these two chapters are similar, the results chapter generally just presents the processed data neatly and clearly without interpretation, while the discussion chapter explains the story the data are telling  – in other words, it provides your interpretation of the results.

For example, if you were researching the factors that influence consumer trust, you might have used a quantitative approach to identify the relationship between potential factors (e.g. perceived integrity and competence of the organisation) and consumer trust. In this case:

  • Your results chapter would just present the results of the statistical tests. For example, correlation results or differences between groups. In other words, the processed numbers.
  • Your discussion chapter would explain what the numbers mean in relation to your research question(s). For example, Factor 1 has a weak relationship with consumer trust, while Factor 2 has a strong relationship.

Depending on the university and degree, these two chapters (results and discussion) are sometimes merged into one , so be sure to check with your institution what their preference is. Regardless of the chapter structure, this section is about presenting the findings of your research in a clear, easy to understand fashion.

Importantly, your discussion here needs to link back to your research questions (which you outlined in the introduction or literature review chapter). In other words, it needs to answer the key questions you asked (or at least attempt to answer them).

For example, if we look at the sample research topic:

In this case, the discussion section would clearly outline which factors seem to have a noteworthy influence on organisational trust. By doing so, they are answering the overarching question and fulfilling the purpose of the research .

Your discussion here needs to link back to your research questions. It needs to answer the key questions you asked in your introduction.

For more information about the results chapter , check out this post for qualitative studies and this post for quantitative studies .

Step 8: The Final Step Draw a conclusion and discuss the implications

Last but not least, you’ll need to wrap up your research with the conclusion chapter . In this chapter, you’ll bring your research full circle by highlighting the key findings of your study and explaining what the implications of these findings are.

What exactly are key findings? The key findings are those findings which directly relate to your original research questions and overall research objectives (which you discussed in your introduction chapter). The implications, on the other hand, explain what your findings mean for industry, or for research in your area.

Sticking with the consumer trust topic example, the conclusion might look something like this:

Key findings

This study set out to identify which factors influence consumer-based trust in British low-cost online equity brokerage firms. The results suggest that the following factors have a large impact on consumer trust:

While the following factors have a very limited impact on consumer trust:

Notably, within the 25-30 age groups, Factors E had a noticeably larger impact, which may be explained by…


The findings having noteworthy implications for British low-cost online equity brokers. Specifically:

The large impact of Factors X and Y implies that brokers need to consider….

The limited impact of Factor E implies that brokers need to…

As you can see, the conclusion chapter is basically explaining the “what” (what your study found) and the “so what?” (what the findings mean for the industry or research). This brings the study full circle and closes off the document.

In the final chapter, you’ll bring your research full circle by highlighting the key findings of your study and the implications thereof.

Let’s recap – how to write a dissertation or thesis

You’re still with me? Impressive! I know that this post was a long one, but hopefully you’ve learnt a thing or two about how to write a dissertation or thesis, and are now better equipped to start your own research.

To recap, the 8 steps to writing a quality dissertation (or thesis) are as follows:

  • Understand what a dissertation (or thesis) is – a research project that follows the research process.
  • Find a unique (original) and important research topic
  • Craft a convincing dissertation or thesis research proposal
  • Write a clear, compelling introduction chapter
  • Undertake a thorough review of the existing research and write up a literature review
  • Undertake your own research
  • Present and interpret your findings

Once you’ve wrapped up the core chapters, all that’s typically left is the abstract , reference list and appendices. As always, be sure to check with your university if they have any additional requirements in terms of structure or content.  

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This post was based on one of our popular Research Bootcamps . If you're working on a research project, you'll definitely want to check this out ...

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Qualitative interview 101



thankfull >>>this is very useful


Thank you, it was really helpful

Elhadi Abdelrahim

unquestionably, this amazing simplified way of teaching. Really , I couldn’t find in the literature words that fully explicit my great thanks to you. However, I could only say thanks a-lot.

Derek Jansen

Great to hear that – thanks for the feedback. Good luck writing your dissertation/thesis.


This is the most comprehensive explanation of how to write a dissertation. Many thanks for sharing it free of charge.


Very rich presentation. Thank you


Thanks Derek Jansen|GRADCOACH, I find it very useful guide to arrange my activities and proceed to research!

Nunurayi Tambala

Thank you so much for such a marvelous teaching .I am so convinced that am going to write a comprehensive and a distinct masters dissertation

Hussein Huwail

It is an amazing comprehensive explanation


This was straightforward. Thank you!


I can say that your explanations are simple and enlightening – understanding what you have done here is easy for me. Could you write more about the different types of research methods specific to the three methodologies: quan, qual and MM. I look forward to interacting with this website more in the future.

Thanks for the feedback and suggestions 🙂

Osasuyi Blessing

Hello, your write ups is quite educative. However, l have challenges in going about my research questions which is below; *Building the enablers of organisational growth through effective governance and purposeful leadership.*

Dung Doh

Very educating.

Ezra Daniel

Just listening to the name of the dissertation makes the student nervous. As writing a top-quality dissertation is a difficult task as it is a lengthy topic, requires a lot of research and understanding and is usually around 10,000 to 15000 words. Sometimes due to studies, unbalanced workload or lack of research and writing skill students look for dissertation submission from professional writers.

Nice Edinam Hoyah

Thank you 💕😊 very much. I was confused but your comprehensive explanation has cleared my doubts of ever presenting a good thesis. Thank you.


thank you so much, that was so useful

Daniel Madsen

Hi. Where is the excel spread sheet ark?

Emmanuel kKoko

could you please help me look at your thesis paper to enable me to do the portion that has to do with the specification

my topic is “the impact of domestic revenue mobilization.

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Thesis/Dissertation Writing Guide

Thesis/Dissertation Writing Guide

  • 35-minute read
  • 12th February 2021

How to Write a Great Thesis or Dissertation

This guide will explain how to write a great undergraduate or master’s thesis or dissertation (see our Essay Writing Guide  for advice on shorter academic documents).

Use the list to the left to select an aspect of thesis writing to learn more about.

What Is a Thesis?

A thesis is a longer, in-depth paper written at the end of an undergraduate or master’s degree. It will be on a subject you choose yourself and involve self-directed research, although with some help from a tutor or advisor. The thesis may make a significant contribution towards your final grade, so it is very important. We will use the word “thesis” throughout this guide, but some also call this final project a “dissertation.” 

The idea of an undergraduate thesis (also known as a “senior project” or “senior thesis”) is to demonstrate the skills and knowledge developed during your studies. Not every undergraduate will need to do a senior thesis, but they are common in some schools and may be required if you’re planning on enrolling for a postgraduate course.

A master’s thesis is the final project on a master’s degree. It will usually be longer and more detailed than an undergraduate thesis. You may also be required to make an original contribution (i.e., put forward a new argument) as well as demonstrating your knowledge.

Depending on your subject area, your thesis may be empirical or non-empirical:

  • Empirical theses are more common in the sciences. They involve collecting and analyzing data, then writing this up with your findings and conclusions.
  • Non-empirical theses are more common in the humanities. They involve researching existing data, ideas, and arguments, then offering a critical analysis or making an argument of your own based on your research.

In this guide, we will discuss both types of thesis, highlighting any differences as they become relevant. We will not look at how to write a doctoral dissertation, which is usually even longer and more complex, but many of the same skills apply.

KEY NOTE: Most colleges and universities have detailed guidelines for how students should write a thesis, including any stylistic or procedural requirements. The advice below will be designed to apply to any thesis-length project, but you still need to check what your institution requires if you are writing a thesis or dissertation.

Planning a Thesis or Dissertation

The first step in writing a thesis is making a plan. This may include several steps.

Selecting a Topic

Since a thesis is self-directed, you will need to decide what to research. This is an important decision, so don’t rush it! Tips for selecting a thesis topic include:

  • Think about your interests – Try to pick something that reflects your interests. Is there something from your prior studies you wish you’d had more time with? Some subject area that you found especially engaging? Something you read about that you didn’t get the chance to study? Something relevant to your career plans? A thesis is a major project, so make sure it focuses on something you care about!
  • Aim for originality – Try to find a unique issue or problem to address. This doesn’t necessarily mean conducting entirely original research (it will be hard to find something nobody has ever written about). But you can try to find a new angle on an existing idea or problem (e.g., applying an established theory in a new area). This is especially important for a master’s thesis, where originality is valued.
  • Think about the scope – Try to pick a problem that you think you can answer within the word limit of your thesis. This should be something fairly in depth so you can show off your skills and hit the word count. But it should also be narrow enough that you can finish it in time and without massively overwriting!
  • Do some research – If you have an idea for something you might want to write about, do a little preliminary research. This will help you focus your idea by seeing what other people have already said on the subject. It may even help you identify a new angle from which to approach the issue. And if you do a little research on a few potential topics, you can be sure you’ve picked the right one for your thesis.
  • Be realistic – As with the scope of your chosen topic, you need to be realistic about what you can do with the time and resources available. Would your topic require access to specialist equipment or resources? Would it require traveling? Are there any potential costs? Think about how easy it will be to conduct your research.  
  • Ask for advice – Once you have a basic idea of what you might want to write about, ask your tutor or lecturer for advice. They will have a good sense of whether it is a suitable subject for a thesis and may have suggestions for how to approach it.

And once you’ve selected a topic, you’ll want to check what your school requires for a dissertation. Usually, you will need to submit a research proposal of some kind for approval. Minimally, though, you will need to decide on a research question.

Setting a Research Question

The “ research question ” is the question you’ll seek to answer in your thesis. This should narrow the focus of your thesis down even more, giving you a distinct problem to address. To formulate a research question, try to come up with something that:

  • Clearly sets out the focus of your research
  • Has a limited enough scope to answer in one paper
  • Is complex enough to warrant in-depth discussion and investigation
  • Is relevant to your field of study (e.g. it fills a gap in the research)

For instance, you may be interested in viral marketing techniques. However, since this would be a very broad topic for a thesis, you would then need to look for a specific question to answer, such as how do social media influencers affect a viral advertising campaign? You could even narrow this down further by framing a question around a specific case study.

We can see some examples of “good” and “bad” questions below.

In this case, the “bad” question is too broad. It would take several book-length essays to even start answering! The second question is much narrower, focusing on the effect of climate change on one species in one region, making it easier to answer.

In this case, the “bad” question is too narrow. It could be answered by searching on google and simply setting out the policies you find. The second question, meanwhile, is open to debate and does not have a simple answer, so there is scope for good research.

As with your thesis topic, once you have come up with a research question, speak to your advisor or tutor. They may have some guidance on how to refine it.

Writing a Research Proposal

Some colleges will ask you to write a research proposal – i.e., a detailed description of your proposed research project – before they approve your thesis. And even if you don’t have to do this, writing a research proposal can be a useful way to organize your thoughts before you begin writing. This may include information on the following:

  • A proposed title
  • Your research question/ objectives
  • Why your research is significant (e.g., what it contributes to your field of study or how it could be used to help solve a practical problem)
  • An initial literature review (i.e., a look at existing research in the subject area)
  • A thesis chapter outline (see below for tips on structure)
  • Your methods (i.e., how you will conduct research or experimentation)
  • A justification for why you will study the topic in the manner set out
  • Logistical and ethical considerations
  • Potential limitations on your research project
  • A reference list or bibliography
  • A research timeline breaking down when you will complete each stage of the project, including writing up and editing your thesis
  • Any information on projected expenses or budget

You won’t always need all the above. This will depend on your school’s requirements, your subject area, and the scope of your thesis project. In essence, though, you need to set out what you want to achieve, why you want to do this, and how you intend to accomplish it.

One thing to note here is that your plan may change later on. Research can be difficult to predict, so you may need to adapt your plan after you start work on your thesis. You might find, for example, that your research question was too broad. Or you might encounter an obstacle that forces you to adapt your plans. This is completely normal!

As such, don’t stress too much about making your research plan “perfect.” Your real aim is to prove that you’ve thought seriously about your thesis, that you’re capable of planning a research project, and that you’re committed to producing high quality work.

Once your school has approved your plan, you will be ready to begin work on your thesis.

Conducting Research

Any thesis will require engaging with past research. This may be for a literature review before conducting your own experimental study. Or, in a more theoretical thesis (e.g., historical analysis or literary criticism), it may make up a large proportion of your work.

You will have done some research already as part of your proposal. But most of it will come after your thesis has been approved. Exactly what this will involve will depend on your subject area and research question, but we will look at a few common issues below.

Creating a Research Plan

Creating a plan will help you focus your research. To do this, break your thesis down into steps and set aside time for each task you need to complete. You’ll then know exactly how much you need to do and how long you will need to do it. This may include:

  • Studying existing literature on your research topic
  • Designing a study or experiment
  • Conducting primary research

When creating this plan, be realistic about how long each stage will take. And make sure to leave time for writing and editing your thesis once you’ve finished the research!

Top Tip! You can actually start writing while you’re still doing research or gathering data. For example, if you’re working on your design study, you can start making notes for your methodology section. This will save time when you come to write your thesis, as you should have all the information you need in one place, ready to be written up.

Selecting Sources

Part of efficient research is selecting the best sources for your project, as reading every single book or article on a subject would take far too long. This may involve:

  • Using what you know from your studies as a starting point for finding relevant sources. Asking your tutors or lecturers for recommendations is another good idea.
  • Checking the reference lists in good sources for similar titles.
  • Developing a strong search strategy to find sources online or in databases. This means testing keywords and using filters to narrow searches.

If you are doing research online, make sure you’re using reliable academic sources, too. For instance, a reputable journal or a university website should be trustworthy. But a blog post with no cited sources or author information will not be suitable for academic writing. Likewise, Wikipedia is not an academic source, though you can check the citations to find sources.

Top Tip! If you are writing a thesis in the humanities, the majority of your work may involve analyzing, criticizing, and comparing secondary sources or ideas from these sources. As such, it is vital to find and engage with the major thinkers in your subject area.

For instance, if you were writing about behavioral psychology, and your thesis did not acknowledge or engage with B. F. Skinner – a hugely influential figure in behaviorism – at any point, your marker may assume you haven’t done enough research or that you have missed something important. And this may affect how they assess the rest of your work.

Even if your thesis is mainly based on primary research, it is important to show that you’ve researched past work in your subject area. If you overlook a major thinker or some recent research relevant to your own study, it could end up losing you marks!

Taking and Organizing Notes

Writing a thesis will be much simpler if you have good notes to work from. So when you’re reading a paper or book relevant to your research, make sure to:

  • Take notes that are neat enough to understand when you read them.
  • Note all publication details for any source you might use in your thesis.
  • Organize notes so you can find them when needed (e.g., using colored labels to sort paper notes visually and having a well-labeled folder system on your computer).
  • Highlight important information so that you can find it later.

Other tips for efficient note taking include:

  • Use abbreviations or shorthand to aid note taking (especially in lectures).
  • Summarize key passages and ideas rather than writing them down verbatim. This will make note taking quicker, as well as helping you absorb the information.
  • Focus on the parts of sources most relevant to your research question.
  • Record page numbers and source information for anything you make notes about.
  • Use an audio recording device to record lectures.

This should leave you with detailed, easy-to-use notes when you come to write your thesis.

Data Collection and Analysis

If you are conducting empirical or experimental research, part of your research will involve data collection. This is where you gather your own information to help answer your research question. The three main styles of research include:

  • Quantitative – Research that depends on numerical data. This can be based on a scientific experiment, questionnaires, or many other methods.
  • Qualitative – Research that focuses on the distinguishing characteristics or traits of the thing studied, such as how something is subjectively experienced. Qualitative methods include things such as interviews, focus groups, and observations.
  • Mixed methods – Research that combines quantitative and qualitative methods. The aim here is to get a more rounded picture of the thing being studied.

The same applies to data analysis methods, which can also be quantitative or qualitative. But the research approach you adopt will have a major influence on how you answer your research question, so you need to think about this carefully! Key factors may include:

  • Past research – How have other studies in your subject area been done? Is there something about a past study you could draw on or improve upon? Is there existing data that you could use (e.g., from past studies or metastudies)?
  • Practicality – How easy will it be to conduct your study with the resources available? How will you collect and store data? How will you analyze it after collection?
  • Sampling – Where will you gather data? Will you be able to generalize it to a wider population? If you are working with human subjects, are there ethical concerns?
  • Problem solving – What obstacles might you face when gathering data? Do you have time to run a pilot study (i.e., a test study) before you begin?

You may have decided on much of this while writing your research proposal, but these are issues you should consider throughout the study design process. You may also want to work with your thesis advisor to finalize your plans before collecting data.

From a planning perspective, the key is giving yourself enough time to carry out each stage of the data collection and analysis. If you rush, things are more likely to go wrong!

Writing Up Your Thesis

The structure of a thesis.

The structure of your thesis will depend heavily on the subject area. As such, we will look at how to structure empirical and non-empirical theses separately. However, as elsewhere, make sure to check what your school suggests about structuring your thesis.

Empirical Thesis Structure

Most empirical theses have a structure along the following lines:

  • Title page – A page with key information about your thesis, typically including your name, the title, and the date of submission. Your school should have a standard template for thesis title pages, so make sure to check this.
  • Abstract – A very short summary of your research and results.
  • Content page(s) – A list of chapters/sections in your thesis. You may also need to include lists of charts, illustrations, or even abbreviations.
  • Introduction – An opening chapter that sets out your research aims. It should provide any key information a reader would need to follow your thesis.
  • Literature review – An examination of the most important and most up-to-date research and theoretical thought relevant to your thesis topic.
  • Methodology – A detailed explanation of how you collected and analyzed data.
  • Results and discussion – A section setting out the results you achieved, your analysis, and your findings based on the data. You may want to include charts, graphs and other visual methods to present key findings clearly.
  • Conclusions – A final section summarizing your work and the conclusions drawn.
  • References – A list of all sources used during your research.
  • Appendices – Any additional documentation that is relevant to your study but would not fit in the main thesis (e.g. questionnaires, surveys, raw data).

We will look at some of these sections in more detail below.

Non-Empirical Thesis Structure

In the humanities and other non-experimental subject areas, your thesis may be structured more like a long essay, with each chapter/section adding to your argument. The structure will therefore depend on what you are arguing, but a common style is:

  • Abstract – A very short summary of your research.
  • Main chapters – A series of chapters where you address each main point in your argument. Ideally, each chapter should lead naturally to the next one.
  • Appendices – Any additional documentation that is relevant to your work but would not fit in the main thesis (e.g., questionnaires, surveys, raw data).

We will look at some of these sections in more detail below. For the main chapters of your thesis, though, you will have to break your argument down into a series of points. To do this, review your notes with your research question in mind, then:

  • Write down your main arguments in as few sentences as possible. Try to imagine explaining it to a friend or your advisor in simple terms.
  • Expand each sentence with a series of detailed subpoints or premises.
  • Look at how each subpoint contributes to the overall argument and use this as a guideline for structuring your thesis. Ideally, each chapter will address a single aspect of your argument in detail, complete with supporting evidence.

It can help to treat each chapter in a humanities thesis like an essay of its own, with an introduction (i.e., what you will address in the chapter at hand), a series of sub-points with evidence, and a short conclusion that leads on to the next chapter.

Writing Your Thesis

Next, we’ll look in detail at some of the sections most theses will include. As elsewhere, though, don’t forget to check your school’s requirements for the structure and content of a thesis, as some elements will vary (e.g., the length of the abstract, or whether to include separate “Results” and “Discussion” sections). If you cannot find this information on your college’s website or in course materials, ask your tutor or advisor for guidance.

Picking a Title

Your thesis title should give readers an immediate sense of what it is about. A good way to do this is to have a title and a subtitle based on topic and focus respectively:

  • The topic is the broad subject area of your thesis (e.g., viral marketing techniques, the environmental effects of climate change, or food safety regulations).
  • The focus is the specific thing that you are studying (e.g., the impact of social media, the change in polar bear populations, or whether regulations promote public health).

For instance, the following could all work as dissertation titles:

Viral marketing and social media: A case study of the role of influencer culture in the success of Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign

Environmental Effects of Climate Change: A Qualitative Study of the Factors Behind Changing Polar Bear Populations in Alaska

Food Safety in America: Are Federal Policies Promoting Public Health?

All these titles give a sense of the question the thesis will answer. The first two are quite long, which can reduce clarity in some cases, but they also include information about the type of research conducted. The key is striking a balance between detail and clarity.

You may also want to check your style guide (or ask your advisor) for advice on how to capitalize titles. You can find information on title case and sentence case capitalization here .

Writing an Abstract

An abstract is like a preview, allowing readers to see what your thesis is about. As such, it should set out the key information about your study in a clear, concise manner.

The exact length and style of an abstract can vary, but typically it will be between 100 and 500 words long and primarily written in the past or present tense. It should include:

  • What you aimed to do and why
  • How you did it
  • What you discovered
  • Recommendations (if any)

It often helps to leave writing the abstract until you’ve at least got a first draft of your full thesis, as by that point you’ll have a better sense of your research overall.

Writing an Introduction

A good thesis introduction should set the scene for the reader, telling them everything they’ll need to know to follow the rest of your thesis. It should therefore:

  • Establish the subject area and specific focus of your work.
  • Explain why the topic is important and your research objectives.
  • Offer some background information, including current theories or research.
  • Provide a thesis or hypothesis (i.e., a short statement of what you will argue).
  • Outline the structure of your thesis (i.e., what each chapter will cover).

It can help to have a strong opening line that will grab the reader’s attention, but this is not necessary. Try to avoid clichéd openings such as “Webster’s Dictionary defines [THESIS TOPIC] as…,” as these will rarely add anything useful to your paper.

One good tip is to write a rough introduction first, but to revisit it once you have a draft of your full thesis. This is because the introduction and conclusion should work like “bookends” to the rest of your thesis, so the introduction needs to reflect the content that follows.

The Literature Review

The literature review provides the theoretical foundations for your thesis. The idea is not just to summarize key concepts and studies, but to set up your own work by showing how it follows from existing research to offer something new. To do this, you may need to:

  • Examine key theories or ideas that provide context for your study.
  • Read sources critically and assess how they relate to your research.
  • Look at the current state of research in your subject area.
  • Reflect on the methods and theories used by other researchers.
  • Explain how your work will develop or build upon current knowledge.

You can use your research question to guide this review. But it’s also worth asking your advisor or tutor for advice on literature you should read.

When writing up your literature review, make sure it has a clear structure. This might be chronological (i.e., in order of when the studies you discuss were done), methodological (i.e., organized in terms of the research style or approach), or thematic (i.e., organized in terms of what studies focused on or discussed). But you need to give it a clear sense of development, which ultimately should lead back to your own research question.


The methodology chapter is where you explain, in detail, how you performed your research. This may be a relatively simple section of your thesis, but make sure to:

  • Include something about your research approach (e.g., qualitative vs. quantitative) and why it was the best choice for your study.
  • Be descriptive! Make sure to detail each step of how you gathered and analyzed data. This includes any equipment or techniques used, as well as the conditions under which you gathered your data. Ideally, a reader should be able to replicate your research from reading your methodology section.
  • Justify your choices. From equipment to analysis, you should have a reason for every decision you make about the methodology of your study.
  • Mention any obstacles you faced or any limitations of your chosen methods.
  • Consider ethical concerns. If you had to seek approval from an ethics panel to conduct your research, make sure to detail it here.

The appendices can be useful here, as you can use them for information that is relevant but not essential for explaining your methodology (e.g., survey templates, consent forms). If you do include anything like this in your appendices, though, make sure to reference it clearly in your methodology chapter (e.g., “For more information, see Appendix C…”).

Results and Discussion

This is where you set out the results of your research, including data, analysis, and findings. 

This can vary a lot depending on your subject area and school. Some use a combined “ Results and Discussion ” section, where results are presented alongside analysis. Some prefer to separate the results and the discussion into separate chapters. As such, you will want to check with your advisor about the best way to present your results.

Generally, though, reliable tips for presenting results in a thesis include:

  • Offer context – Raw data may be difficult to follow, so make sure to include enough text to guide the reader through your findings. Ideally, it should be clear how everything in this section helps you to answer your initial research question.
  • Focus on the most relevant data – If you’ve collected lots of data, make sure to focus on the parts that are most relevant to your research question. If you try to include everything, key findings may get lost among the information overload.
  • Use visuals – If appropriate, consider using charts, graphs, tables, or figures to present results, as these can make complex data easier to visualize. However, make sure to label all charts and figures carefully so their relevance is clear.

The “Discussion” part should focus on the significance of your results. Think about:

  • How the data supports (or disproves) your initial hypothesis. 
  • How your results compare to those of the studies in your literature review.
  • Whether any problems encountered during the research, or the previously outlined limitations of your methods, affect the validity of your results.
  • The implications of your study for future theory, research, and practice.

Since this is where you really dig into the value of your research, the “Results and Discussion” section may be the most important part of your thesis. As such, you should take time to make sure it thoroughly addresses your chosen research question.

Writing a Conclusion

The conclusion is where you tie everything up together. As mentioned earlier, it should work with the introduction to “bookend” your thesis. As such, it should:

  • Start by briefly recapping the thesis topic and your research question.
  • Summarize the main points of your argument/your results.
  • Draw conclusions and explain how your research supports them.
  • Consider the implications of your research (e.g., its significance for your field of study or real-life applications of your results).

Your overall aim is to briefly explain how you have answered your research question. However, make sure not to introduce new arguments or evidence in the conclusion. If you need these to support your point, they should be included in the main body of the thesis.

Referencing and Quoting Sources

In any academic document, you will need to cite sources. This typically means:

  • Citing sources in the main text of your thesis.
  • Adding a reference list or bibliography at the end of the document.

The details of how to do this will depend on the referencing style or system  you’re using, so remember to check your style guide . However, we will offer some general tips here.

Why Cite Sources?

Referencing involves identifying the sources you’ve used in your research, usually with some kind of in-text citations and full publication information for all sources in a reference list.

There are several reasons to take referencing seriously in your thesis:

  • You get to show off your research skills and ability to find relevant information.
  • It is good practice to credit other thinkers for their ideas.
  • It provides vital context for your own work.
  • Failing to cite sources will be treated as plagiarism (i.e., using someone else’s words or ideas without crediting them), which could have negative consequences.

This last point is the most important as plagiarism is considered academic fraud. And if you’re found to have plagiarized someone else’s work in your thesis, you will lose marks.

You will need to cite a source whenever you:

  • Quote or paraphrase another person’s words.
  • Refer to facts or figures that aren’t common public knowledge.
  • Refer to an idea or theory you found published somewhere.
  • Use an image or illustration that you did not create yourself.

This should protect you from unfair accusations of plagiarism.

In-Text Citations

In-text citations come in three main types, each used by different referencing systems:

  • Parenthetical Citations – This involves giving citations in brackets in the main body of your thesis. Often, this will be the author’s surname, the year of publication, and page numbers (e.g., Harvard, APA). However, some systems differ, such as MLA, which only gives the author’s surname and page number(s).
  • Number–Footnote Citations – Some referencing systems indicate citations with a number in the text, then give source information in footnotes (e.g., Oxford, MHRA).
  • Number–Endnote Citations – Similar to the above, number–endnote systems use numbered citations in the main text (e.g., Vancouver, IEEE). However, in this case the numbers point to an entry in a reference list at the end of the document.

And while these citation styles differ, there are some tips that apply in all cases:

  • Always check your school’s style guide to find their preferred citation style.
  • Make sure every source used in the main text is cited.
  • Make sure that all cited sources are included in a reference list.
  • Apply a consistent citation style throughout each essay.

As above, this will help ensure you don’t accidentally commit plagiarism in your writing.

Quoting Sources

Quoting sources is a great way of supporting your arguments in a thesis. However, if you are going to quote a source in your writing, you need to do it right.

The first step is knowing when to quote a source. Generally, this is most useful when:

  • Your point depends on the exact wording (e.g., if you are discussing why an author used a specific term in their work).
  • The original text is especially well expressed and rephrasing it would detract from this.

If you do quote a source, make sure to place the borrowed text in “quotation marks.” This shows the reader that you have taken it from somewhere else. The accompanying citation should then identify the source and the page(s) where the quote can be found.

In many cases, it is better to paraphrase a source than quote it. This means rewriting the passage in your own words, which shows that you have understood it. However, remember that you still need to cite sources when paraphrasing something.

Reference Lists and Bibliographies

Every academic document that cites sources should include a reference list or bibliography. These terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but the general difference is:

  • A reference list is a list of every source cited in your thesis.
  • A bibliography should include any source you used while researching your thesis (even the ones that you did not cite directly in your work).

As with citations, this may depend on the system you’re using and different referencing systems will have different rules for creating a reference list. In all cases, though:

  • Make sure to check your school’s style guide for advice on whether to create a reference list or a bibliography (and what to include in it).
  • Check that you know the reference formats for every source type you have used (e.g., a print book will have a different format to an online journal article).
  • Make sure all references are clear and consistent.

One helpful tip for drawing up your reference list/bibliography is to keep a running list of sources as you work. In other words, whenever you find something useful during research, note down the publication details. You will then have all the information required if you need to reference it later (plus, you’ll be able to find the same source quickly if you need it).

Reference Management Software

Finally, you may want to look at using reference management software when writing a thesis. This refers to programs that store and organize your references, such as:

  • EndNote – EndNote works with all major referencing systems, source types and word processors. The full version is paid, but there is a limited free version.
  • Mendeley – This is a free tool for managing and citing PDF documents. It is therefore most useful when the majority of your sources are in this format.
  • Zotero – This package has an internet browser plugin that can automatically import source information from websites and add citations to your work.
  • RefWorks – This web-based system provides a simple way of collating sources that can be accessed from any computer with an internet connection.

Whether you use reference management software or not, you should always double check citations and the reference list before submitting your work. That way, you can be sure that the referencing in your thesis is clear, consistent, and error free.

Additional Resources

For more information on referencing in different systems, see our blog posts on:

Not every thesis will include an appendix or appendices. However, as mentioned above, you can put useful but non-essential information in an appendix.

Common examples of things that you might put in an appendix include:

  • Raw test data
  • Technical figures, graphs and tables
  • Maps, charts and illustrations
  • Letters and emails
  • Sample questionnaires and surveys
  • Interview transcripts

You will need to check your style guide for advice on appendices, such as whether they count towards the word limit, but standard rules for adding appendices include:

  • Place appendices at the end of your document after the reference list.
  • Divide appendices by topic so that each appendix contains one type of information (e.g., separate sections for test results, illustrations and transcripts).
  • Start each appendix on a new page and label it with a letter or number, along with a title clarifying content (Appendix A: Instrument Diagrams, Appendix B: Test Results).
  • List appendices in the table of contents at the beginning of your document.

If you then needed to point the reader to something in an appendix in the main body of your thesis, you would simply have to cite the relevant appendix label. For instance:

The interviews show that most people like ice cream (see Appendix C for full transcripts).

This lets you keep the main text of your thesis focused on the research question.

Word Count Advice

Most theses come with a suggested word count. Ideally, you will get as close to this as you can (within 10% either way is usually acceptable). Exceeding or being significantly below the word limit may lose you marks, so make sure you know what to aim for.

If you are struggling to stay within the word limit on an essay:

  • Look for and cut out any repetition in your work.
  • Consider whether non-essential information may fit better in an appendix (but make sure to check whether appendices count towards the word limit).
  • Remove redundant pairs (i.e., terms like “each and every” or “final outcome”).
  • Edit out unnecessary modifiers and qualifying terms (e.g., you can often cut words like “quite,” “very,” and “really” without losing anything of substance).
  • Replace phrases with a word (e.g., “due to the fact that” = “because”).
  • Cut down long or unnecessary quotations.
  • Use the active voice instead of the passive voice.

If you are struggling to reach the suggested word count, you can:

  • Do more research to develop your argument further.
  • Add quotes or examples to support your arguments.
  • Introduce alternative points of view for comparison.

The key is that anything you add to increase the word count should also add to your argument. Do not try to pad out your writing by simply adding extra words and phrases.

Editing and Proofreading a Thesis

Before submitting an essay, you will want it to be perfect. This means that you shouldn’t just submit the first draft you write. Instead, you’ll want to go over your work and refine it.

We’ve touched upon this above in our tips on staying within the word count. In this last section, though, we’ll look at editing and proofreading an essay in more detail.

The Drafting Process

A “draft” is a version of a document, with the “final draft” the finished version. And writing a good thesis will require redrafting. This might be because the focus of your thesis shifts part way through, meaning you need to tweak what you’ve already written. Or it may simply be that you wrote your introduction first and want to adjust it after finishing your conclusion.

In any case, redrafting is a good way to polish your writing and pick up extra marks (as well as to avoid embarrassing errors and typos). Typically, the process looks like this:

  • First Draft – An initial version based on your thesis plan. It doesn’t matter if this isn’t perfect right away, as you’ll have a chance to improve it by redrafting.
  • Second Draft – After finishing the first draft of your full thesis, go back over each chapter and make sure it fits within the document as a whole. This may include making changes to fix errors, to highlight connections between different parts of your thesis, or to make sure each section flows smoothly into the next one.
  • Third Draft Onwards – Repeat the step above as required. This is vital in a thesis-length document, as it is easy to overlook typos when dealing with large amounts of text. Each time you redraft, you should need to make fewer revisions.
  • Final Draft – This is the finished thesis. However, you’ll still want to do one final check to eliminate remaining typos. This final check is often known as “proofreading.”

The key to a truly great thesis is giving yourself enough time to redraft at least once or twice. Keep this in mind when working out your schedule before you begin writing.

Another point to note here is that some online companies offer to redraft your thesis for you. However, using an editing service may count as plagiarism if your work is being marked. 

But it is a good idea to seek professional proofreading for your thesis.

Proofreading Your Thesis

Proofreading differs from editing because it focuses on technical errors, such as spelling and grammar mistakes, while preserving the meaning and content of your writing. As such, you can have your work proofread without falling foul of plagiarism rules.

Proofreading your own work can be difficult as it’s easy to miss errors when you’re already familiar with a document. If you do plan to proofread your own thesis, though:

  • Take some time off before you begin. This will help you spot errors that you might otherwise miss from being too familiar.
  • Print it out and proofread on paper instead of on the screen.
  • Try reading problem sections out loud or in reverse (i.e., starting from the end of the part you’re having trouble with and working backwards).
  • If you are reading it on screen, make sure to set the proofing language. In Microsoft Word, you can do this via Review > Language > Set Proofing Language .

It is almost always best to have someone else proofread your work, though. If you would like one of Proofed’s academic writing experts to check your thesis, why not upload a document  today?

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Developing a Thesis Statement

Many papers you write require developing a thesis statement. In this section you’ll learn what a thesis statement is and how to write one.

Keep in mind that not all papers require thesis statements . If in doubt, please consult your instructor for assistance.

What is a thesis statement?

A thesis statement . . .

  • Makes an argumentative assertion about a topic; it states the conclusions that you have reached about your topic.
  • Makes a promise to the reader about the scope, purpose, and direction of your paper.
  • Is focused and specific enough to be “proven” within the boundaries of your paper.
  • Is generally located near the end of the introduction ; sometimes, in a long paper, the thesis will be expressed in several sentences or in an entire paragraph.
  • Identifies the relationships between the pieces of evidence that you are using to support your argument.

Not all papers require thesis statements! Ask your instructor if you’re in doubt whether you need one.

Identify a topic

Your topic is the subject about which you will write. Your assignment may suggest several ways of looking at a topic; or it may name a fairly general concept that you will explore or analyze in your paper.

Consider what your assignment asks you to do

Inform yourself about your topic, focus on one aspect of your topic, ask yourself whether your topic is worthy of your efforts, generate a topic from an assignment.

Below are some possible topics based on sample assignments.

Sample assignment 1

Analyze Spain’s neutrality in World War II.

Identified topic

Franco’s role in the diplomatic relationships between the Allies and the Axis

This topic avoids generalities such as “Spain” and “World War II,” addressing instead on Franco’s role (a specific aspect of “Spain”) and the diplomatic relations between the Allies and Axis (a specific aspect of World War II).

Sample assignment 2

Analyze one of Homer’s epic similes in the Iliad.

The relationship between the portrayal of warfare and the epic simile about Simoisius at 4.547-64.

This topic focuses on a single simile and relates it to a single aspect of the Iliad ( warfare being a major theme in that work).

Developing a Thesis Statement–Additional information

Your assignment may suggest several ways of looking at a topic, or it may name a fairly general concept that you will explore or analyze in your paper. You’ll want to read your assignment carefully, looking for key terms that you can use to focus your topic.

Sample assignment: Analyze Spain’s neutrality in World War II Key terms: analyze, Spain’s neutrality, World War II

After you’ve identified the key words in your topic, the next step is to read about them in several sources, or generate as much information as possible through an analysis of your topic. Obviously, the more material or knowledge you have, the more possibilities will be available for a strong argument. For the sample assignment above, you’ll want to look at books and articles on World War II in general, and Spain’s neutrality in particular.

As you consider your options, you must decide to focus on one aspect of your topic. This means that you cannot include everything you’ve learned about your topic, nor should you go off in several directions. If you end up covering too many different aspects of a topic, your paper will sprawl and be unconvincing in its argument, and it most likely will not fulfull the assignment requirements.

For the sample assignment above, both Spain’s neutrality and World War II are topics far too broad to explore in a paper. You may instead decide to focus on Franco’s role in the diplomatic relationships between the Allies and the Axis , which narrows down what aspects of Spain’s neutrality and World War II you want to discuss, as well as establishes a specific link between those two aspects.

Before you go too far, however, ask yourself whether your topic is worthy of your efforts. Try to avoid topics that already have too much written about them (i.e., “eating disorders and body image among adolescent women”) or that simply are not important (i.e. “why I like ice cream”). These topics may lead to a thesis that is either dry fact or a weird claim that cannot be supported. A good thesis falls somewhere between the two extremes. To arrive at this point, ask yourself what is new, interesting, contestable, or controversial about your topic.

As you work on your thesis, remember to keep the rest of your paper in mind at all times . Sometimes your thesis needs to evolve as you develop new insights, find new evidence, or take a different approach to your topic.

Derive a main point from topic

Once you have a topic, you will have to decide what the main point of your paper will be. This point, the “controlling idea,” becomes the core of your argument (thesis statement) and it is the unifying idea to which you will relate all your sub-theses. You can then turn this “controlling idea” into a purpose statement about what you intend to do in your paper.

Look for patterns in your evidence

Compose a purpose statement.

Consult the examples below for suggestions on how to look for patterns in your evidence and construct a purpose statement.

  • Franco first tried to negotiate with the Axis
  • Franco turned to the Allies when he couldn’t get some concessions that he wanted from the Axis

Possible conclusion:

Spain’s neutrality in WWII occurred for an entirely personal reason: Franco’s desire to preserve his own (and Spain’s) power.

Purpose statement

This paper will analyze Franco’s diplomacy during World War II to see how it contributed to Spain’s neutrality.
  • The simile compares Simoisius to a tree, which is a peaceful, natural image.
  • The tree in the simile is chopped down to make wheels for a chariot, which is an object used in warfare.

At first, the simile seems to take the reader away from the world of warfare, but we end up back in that world by the end.

This paper will analyze the way the simile about Simoisius at 4.547-64 moves in and out of the world of warfare.

Derive purpose statement from topic

To find out what your “controlling idea” is, you have to examine and evaluate your evidence . As you consider your evidence, you may notice patterns emerging, data repeated in more than one source, or facts that favor one view more than another. These patterns or data may then lead you to some conclusions about your topic and suggest that you can successfully argue for one idea better than another.

For instance, you might find out that Franco first tried to negotiate with the Axis, but when he couldn’t get some concessions that he wanted from them, he turned to the Allies. As you read more about Franco’s decisions, you may conclude that Spain’s neutrality in WWII occurred for an entirely personal reason: his desire to preserve his own (and Spain’s) power. Based on this conclusion, you can then write a trial thesis statement to help you decide what material belongs in your paper.

Sometimes you won’t be able to find a focus or identify your “spin” or specific argument immediately. Like some writers, you might begin with a purpose statement just to get yourself going. A purpose statement is one or more sentences that announce your topic and indicate the structure of the paper but do not state the conclusions you have drawn . Thus, you might begin with something like this:

  • This paper will look at modern language to see if it reflects male dominance or female oppression.
  • I plan to analyze anger and derision in offensive language to see if they represent a challenge of society’s authority.

At some point, you can turn a purpose statement into a thesis statement. As you think and write about your topic, you can restrict, clarify, and refine your argument, crafting your thesis statement to reflect your thinking.

As you work on your thesis, remember to keep the rest of your paper in mind at all times. Sometimes your thesis needs to evolve as you develop new insights, find new evidence, or take a different approach to your topic.

Compose a draft thesis statement

If you are writing a paper that will have an argumentative thesis and are having trouble getting started, the techniques in the table below may help you develop a temporary or “working” thesis statement.

Begin with a purpose statement that you will later turn into a thesis statement.

Assignment: Discuss the history of the Reform Party and explain its influence on the 1990 presidential and Congressional election.

Purpose Statement: This paper briefly sketches the history of the grassroots, conservative, Perot-led Reform Party and analyzes how it influenced the economic and social ideologies of the two mainstream parties.


If your assignment asks a specific question(s), turn the question(s) into an assertion and give reasons why it is true or reasons for your opinion.

Assignment : What do Aylmer and Rappaccini have to be proud of? Why aren’t they satisfied with these things? How does pride, as demonstrated in “The Birthmark” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” lead to unexpected problems?

Beginning thesis statement: Alymer and Rappaccinni are proud of their great knowledge; however, they are also very greedy and are driven to use their knowledge to alter some aspect of nature as a test of their ability. Evil results when they try to “play God.”

Write a sentence that summarizes the main idea of the essay you plan to write.

Main idea: The reason some toys succeed in the market is that they appeal to the consumers’ sense of the ridiculous and their basic desire to laugh at themselves.

Make a list of the ideas that you want to include; consider the ideas and try to group them.

  • nature = peaceful
  • war matériel = violent (competes with 1?)
  • need for time and space to mourn the dead
  • war is inescapable (competes with 3?)

Use a formula to arrive at a working thesis statement (you will revise this later).

  • although most readers of _______ have argued that _______, closer examination shows that _______.
  • _______ uses _______ and _____ to prove that ________.
  • phenomenon x is a result of the combination of __________, __________, and _________.

What to keep in mind as you draft an initial thesis statement

Beginning statements obtained through the methods illustrated above can serve as a framework for planning or drafting your paper, but remember they’re not yet the specific, argumentative thesis you want for the final version of your paper. In fact, in its first stages, a thesis statement usually is ill-formed or rough and serves only as a planning tool.

As you write, you may discover evidence that does not fit your temporary or “working” thesis. Or you may reach deeper insights about your topic as you do more research, and you will find that your thesis statement has to be more complicated to match the evidence that you want to use.

You must be willing to reject or omit some evidence in order to keep your paper cohesive and your reader focused. Or you may have to revise your thesis to match the evidence and insights that you want to discuss. Read your draft carefully, noting the conclusions you have drawn and the major ideas which support or prove those conclusions. These will be the elements of your final thesis statement.

Sometimes you will not be able to identify these elements in your early drafts, but as you consider how your argument is developing and how your evidence supports your main idea, ask yourself, “ What is the main point that I want to prove/discuss? ” and “ How will I convince the reader that this is true? ” When you can answer these questions, then you can begin to refine the thesis statement.

Refine and polish the thesis statement

To get to your final thesis, you’ll need to refine your draft thesis so that it’s specific and arguable.

  • Ask if your draft thesis addresses the assignment
  • Question each part of your draft thesis
  • Clarify vague phrases and assertions
  • Investigate alternatives to your draft thesis

Consult the example below for suggestions on how to refine your draft thesis statement.

Sample Assignment

Choose an activity and define it as a symbol of American culture. Your essay should cause the reader to think critically about the society which produces and enjoys that activity.

  • Ask The phenomenon of drive-in facilities is an interesting symbol of american culture, and these facilities demonstrate significant characteristics of our society.This statement does not fulfill the assignment because it does not require the reader to think critically about society.
Drive-ins are an interesting symbol of American culture because they represent Americans’ significant creativity and business ingenuity.
Among the types of drive-in facilities familiar during the twentieth century, drive-in movie theaters best represent American creativity, not merely because they were the forerunner of later drive-ins and drive-throughs, but because of their impact on our culture: they changed our relationship to the automobile, changed the way people experienced movies, and changed movie-going into a family activity.
While drive-in facilities such as those at fast-food establishments, banks, pharmacies, and dry cleaners symbolize America’s economic ingenuity, they also have affected our personal standards.
While drive-in facilities such as those at fast- food restaurants, banks, pharmacies, and dry cleaners symbolize (1) Americans’ business ingenuity, they also have contributed (2) to an increasing homogenization of our culture, (3) a willingness to depersonalize relationships with others, and (4) a tendency to sacrifice quality for convenience.

This statement is now specific and fulfills all parts of the assignment. This version, like any good thesis, is not self-evident; its points, 1-4, will have to be proven with evidence in the body of the paper. The numbers in this statement indicate the order in which the points will be presented. Depending on the length of the paper, there could be one paragraph for each numbered item or there could be blocks of paragraph for even pages for each one.

Complete the final thesis statement

The bottom line.

As you move through the process of crafting a thesis, you’ll need to remember four things:

  • Context matters! Think about your course materials and lectures. Try to relate your thesis to the ideas your instructor is discussing.
  • As you go through the process described in this section, always keep your assignment in mind . You will be more successful when your thesis (and paper) responds to the assignment than if it argues a semi-related idea.
  • Your thesis statement should be precise, focused, and contestable ; it should predict the sub-theses or blocks of information that you will use to prove your argument.
  • Make sure that you keep the rest of your paper in mind at all times. Change your thesis as your paper evolves, because you do not want your thesis to promise more than your paper actually delivers.

In the beginning, the thesis statement was a tool to help you sharpen your focus, limit material and establish the paper’s purpose. When your paper is finished, however, the thesis statement becomes a tool for your reader. It tells the reader what you have learned about your topic and what evidence led you to your conclusion. It keeps the reader on track–well able to understand and appreciate your argument.

thesis writing support

Writing Process and Structure

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

Getting Started with Your Paper

Interpreting Writing Assignments from Your Courses

Generating Ideas for

Creating an Argument

Thesis vs. Purpose Statements

Architecture of Arguments

Working with Sources

Quoting and Paraphrasing Sources

Using Literary Quotations

Citing Sources in Your Paper

Drafting Your Paper

Generating Ideas for Your Paper



Developing Strategic Transitions


Revising Your Paper

Peer Reviews

Reverse Outlines

Revising an Argumentative Paper

Revision Strategies for Longer Projects

Finishing Your Paper

Twelve Common Errors: An Editing Checklist

How to Proofread your Paper

Writing Collaboratively

Collaborative and Group Writing

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  • Knowledge Base
  • Dissertation

How to Write a Dissertation | A Guide to Structure & Content

A dissertation or thesis is a long piece of academic writing based on original research, submitted as part of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree.

The structure of a dissertation depends on your field, but it is usually divided into at least four or five chapters (including an introduction and conclusion chapter).

The most common dissertation structure in the sciences and social sciences includes:

  • An introduction to your topic
  • A literature review that surveys relevant sources
  • An explanation of your methodology
  • An overview of the results of your research
  • A discussion of the results and their implications
  • A conclusion that shows what your research has contributed

Dissertations in the humanities are often structured more like a long essay , building an argument by analysing primary and secondary sources . Instead of the standard structure outlined here, you might organise your chapters around different themes or case studies.

Other important elements of the dissertation include the title page , abstract , and reference list . If in doubt about how your dissertation should be structured, always check your department’s guidelines and consult with your supervisor.

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Table of contents

Acknowledgements, table of contents, list of figures and tables, list of abbreviations, introduction, literature review / theoretical framework, methodology, reference list.

The very first page of your document contains your dissertation’s title, your name, department, institution, degree program, and submission date. Sometimes it also includes your student number, your supervisor’s name, and the university’s logo. Many programs have strict requirements for formatting the dissertation title page .

The title page is often used as cover when printing and binding your dissertation .

Prevent plagiarism, run a free check.

The acknowledgements section is usually optional, and gives space for you to thank everyone who helped you in writing your dissertation. This might include your supervisors, participants in your research, and friends or family who supported you.

The abstract is a short summary of your dissertation, usually about 150-300 words long. You should write it at the very end, when you’ve completed the rest of the dissertation. In the abstract, make sure to:

  • State the main topic and aims of your research
  • Describe the methods you used
  • Summarise the main results
  • State your conclusions

Although the abstract is very short, it’s the first part (and sometimes the only part) of your dissertation that people will read, so it’s important that you get it right. If you’re struggling to write a strong abstract, read our guide on how to write an abstract .

In the table of contents, list all of your chapters and subheadings and their page numbers. The dissertation contents page gives the reader an overview of your structure and helps easily navigate the document.

All parts of your dissertation should be included in the table of contents, including the appendices. You can generate a table of contents automatically in Word.

If you have used a lot of tables and figures in your dissertation, you should itemise them in a numbered list . You can automatically generate this list using the Insert Caption feature in Word.

If you have used a lot of abbreviations in your dissertation, you can include them in an alphabetised list of abbreviations so that the reader can easily look up their meanings.

If you have used a lot of highly specialised terms that will not be familiar to your reader, it might be a good idea to include a glossary . List the terms alphabetically and explain each term with a brief description or definition.

In the introduction, you set up your dissertation’s topic, purpose, and relevance, and tell the reader what to expect in the rest of the dissertation. The introduction should:

  • Establish your research topic , giving necessary background information to contextualise your work
  • Narrow down the focus and define the scope of the research
  • Discuss the state of existing research on the topic, showing your work’s relevance to a broader problem or debate
  • Clearly state your objectives and research questions , and indicate how you will answer them
  • Give an overview of your dissertation’s structure

Everything in the introduction should be clear, engaging, and relevant to your research. By the end, the reader should understand the what , why and how of your research. Not sure how? Read our guide on how to write a dissertation introduction .

Before you start on your research, you should have conducted a literature review to gain a thorough understanding of the academic work that already exists on your topic. This means:

  • Collecting sources (e.g. books and journal articles) and selecting the most relevant ones
  • Critically evaluating and analysing each source
  • Drawing connections between them (e.g. themes, patterns, conflicts, gaps) to make an overall point

In the dissertation literature review chapter or section, you shouldn’t just summarise existing studies, but develop a coherent structure and argument that leads to a clear basis or justification for your own research. For example, it might aim to show how your research:

  • Addresses a gap in the literature
  • Takes a new theoretical or methodological approach to the topic
  • Proposes a solution to an unresolved problem
  • Advances a theoretical debate
  • Builds on and strengthens existing knowledge with new data

The literature review often becomes the basis for a theoretical framework , in which you define and analyse the key theories, concepts and models that frame your research. In this section you can answer descriptive research questions about the relationship between concepts or variables.

The methodology chapter or section describes how you conducted your research, allowing your reader to assess its validity. You should generally include:

  • The overall approach and type of research (e.g. qualitative, quantitative, experimental, ethnographic)
  • Your methods of collecting data (e.g. interviews, surveys, archives)
  • Details of where, when, and with whom the research took place
  • Your methods of analysing data (e.g. statistical analysis, discourse analysis)
  • Tools and materials you used (e.g. computer programs, lab equipment)
  • A discussion of any obstacles you faced in conducting the research and how you overcame them
  • An evaluation or justification of your methods

Your aim in the methodology is to accurately report what you did, as well as convincing the reader that this was the best approach to answering your research questions or objectives.

Next, you report the results of your research . You can structure this section around sub-questions, hypotheses, or topics. Only report results that are relevant to your objectives and research questions. In some disciplines, the results section is strictly separated from the discussion, while in others the two are combined.

For example, for qualitative methods like in-depth interviews, the presentation of the data will often be woven together with discussion and analysis, while in quantitative and experimental research, the results should be presented separately before you discuss their meaning. If you’re unsure, consult with your supervisor and look at sample dissertations to find out the best structure for your research.

In the results section it can often be helpful to include tables, graphs and charts. Think carefully about how best to present your data, and don’t include tables or figures that just repeat what you have written  –  they should provide extra information or usefully visualise the results in a way that adds value to your text.

Full versions of your data (such as interview transcripts) can be included as an appendix .

The discussion  is where you explore the meaning and implications of your results in relation to your research questions. Here you should interpret the results in detail, discussing whether they met your expectations and how well they fit with the framework that you built in earlier chapters. If any of the results were unexpected, offer explanations for why this might be. It’s a good idea to consider alternative interpretations of your data and discuss any limitations that might have influenced the results.

The discussion should reference other scholarly work to show how your results fit with existing knowledge. You can also make recommendations for future research or practical action.

The dissertation conclusion should concisely answer the main research question, leaving the reader with a clear understanding of your central argument. Wrap up your dissertation with a final reflection on what you did and how you did it. The conclusion often also includes recommendations for research or practice.

In this section, it’s important to show how your findings contribute to knowledge in the field and why your research matters. What have you added to what was already known?

You must include full details of all sources that you have cited in a reference list (sometimes also called a works cited list or bibliography). It’s important to follow a consistent reference style . Each style has strict and specific requirements for how to format your sources in the reference list.

The most common styles used in UK universities are Harvard referencing and Vancouver referencing . Your department will often specify which referencing style you should use – for example, psychology students tend to use APA style , humanities students often use MHRA , and law students always use OSCOLA . M ake sure to check the requirements, and ask your supervisor if you’re unsure.

To save time creating the reference list and make sure your citations are correctly and consistently formatted, you can use our free APA Citation Generator .

Your dissertation itself should contain only essential information that directly contributes to answering your research question. Documents you have used that do not fit into the main body of your dissertation (such as interview transcripts, survey questions or tables with full figures) can be added as appendices .

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The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Thesis Statements

What this handout is about.

This handout describes what a thesis statement is, how thesis statements work in your writing, and how you can craft or refine one for your draft.


Writing in college often takes the form of persuasion—convincing others that you have an interesting, logical point of view on the subject you are studying. Persuasion is a skill you practice regularly in your daily life. You persuade your roommate to clean up, your parents to let you borrow the car, your friend to vote for your favorite candidate or policy. In college, course assignments often ask you to make a persuasive case in writing. You are asked to convince your reader of your point of view. This form of persuasion, often called academic argument, follows a predictable pattern in writing. After a brief introduction of your topic, you state your point of view on the topic directly and often in one sentence. This sentence is the thesis statement, and it serves as a summary of the argument you’ll make in the rest of your paper.

What is a thesis statement?

A thesis statement:

  • tells the reader how you will interpret the significance of the subject matter under discussion.
  • is a road map for the paper; in other words, it tells the reader what to expect from the rest of the paper.
  • directly answers the question asked of you. A thesis is an interpretation of a question or subject, not the subject itself. The subject, or topic, of an essay might be World War II or Moby Dick; a thesis must then offer a way to understand the war or the novel.
  • makes a claim that others might dispute.
  • is usually a single sentence near the beginning of your paper (most often, at the end of the first paragraph) that presents your argument to the reader. The rest of the paper, the body of the essay, gathers and organizes evidence that will persuade the reader of the logic of your interpretation.

If your assignment asks you to take a position or develop a claim about a subject, you may need to convey that position or claim in a thesis statement near the beginning of your draft. The assignment may not explicitly state that you need a thesis statement because your instructor may assume you will include one. When in doubt, ask your instructor if the assignment requires a thesis statement. When an assignment asks you to analyze, to interpret, to compare and contrast, to demonstrate cause and effect, or to take a stand on an issue, it is likely that you are being asked to develop a thesis and to support it persuasively. (Check out our handout on understanding assignments for more information.)

How do I create a thesis?

A thesis is the result of a lengthy thinking process. Formulating a thesis is not the first thing you do after reading an essay assignment. Before you develop an argument on any topic, you have to collect and organize evidence, look for possible relationships between known facts (such as surprising contrasts or similarities), and think about the significance of these relationships. Once you do this thinking, you will probably have a “working thesis” that presents a basic or main idea and an argument that you think you can support with evidence. Both the argument and your thesis are likely to need adjustment along the way.

Writers use all kinds of techniques to stimulate their thinking and to help them clarify relationships or comprehend the broader significance of a topic and arrive at a thesis statement. For more ideas on how to get started, see our handout on brainstorming .

How do I know if my thesis is strong?

If there’s time, run it by your instructor or make an appointment at the Writing Center to get some feedback. Even if you do not have time to get advice elsewhere, you can do some thesis evaluation of your own. When reviewing your first draft and its working thesis, ask yourself the following :

  • Do I answer the question? Re-reading the question prompt after constructing a working thesis can help you fix an argument that misses the focus of the question. If the prompt isn’t phrased as a question, try to rephrase it. For example, “Discuss the effect of X on Y” can be rephrased as “What is the effect of X on Y?”
  • Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? If your thesis simply states facts that no one would, or even could, disagree with, it’s possible that you are simply providing a summary, rather than making an argument.
  • Is my thesis statement specific enough? Thesis statements that are too vague often do not have a strong argument. If your thesis contains words like “good” or “successful,” see if you could be more specific: why is something “good”; what specifically makes something “successful”?
  • Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? If a reader’s first response is likely to  be “So what?” then you need to clarify, to forge a relationship, or to connect to a larger issue.
  • Does my essay support my thesis specifically and without wandering? If your thesis and the body of your essay do not seem to go together, one of them has to change. It’s okay to change your working thesis to reflect things you have figured out in the course of writing your paper. Remember, always reassess and revise your writing as necessary.
  • Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test? If a reader’s first response is “how?” or “why?” your thesis may be too open-ended and lack guidance for the reader. See what you can add to give the reader a better take on your position right from the beginning.

Suppose you are taking a course on contemporary communication, and the instructor hands out the following essay assignment: “Discuss the impact of social media on public awareness.” Looking back at your notes, you might start with this working thesis:

Social media impacts public awareness in both positive and negative ways.

You can use the questions above to help you revise this general statement into a stronger thesis.

  • Do I answer the question? You can analyze this if you rephrase “discuss the impact” as “what is the impact?” This way, you can see that you’ve answered the question only very generally with the vague “positive and negative ways.”
  • Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? Not likely. Only people who maintain that social media has a solely positive or solely negative impact could disagree.
  • Is my thesis statement specific enough? No. What are the positive effects? What are the negative effects?
  • Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test? No. Why are they positive? How are they positive? What are their causes? Why are they negative? How are they negative? What are their causes?
  • Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? No. Why should anyone care about the positive and/or negative impact of social media?

After thinking about your answers to these questions, you decide to focus on the one impact you feel strongly about and have strong evidence for:

Because not every voice on social media is reliable, people have become much more critical consumers of information, and thus, more informed voters.

This version is a much stronger thesis! It answers the question, takes a specific position that others can challenge, and it gives a sense of why it matters.

Let’s try another. Suppose your literature professor hands out the following assignment in a class on the American novel: Write an analysis of some aspect of Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn. “This will be easy,” you think. “I loved Huckleberry Finn!” You grab a pad of paper and write:

Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is a great American novel.

You begin to analyze your thesis:

  • Do I answer the question? No. The prompt asks you to analyze some aspect of the novel. Your working thesis is a statement of general appreciation for the entire novel.

Think about aspects of the novel that are important to its structure or meaning—for example, the role of storytelling, the contrasting scenes between the shore and the river, or the relationships between adults and children. Now you write:

In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain develops a contrast between life on the river and life on the shore.
  • Do I answer the question? Yes!
  • Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? Not really. This contrast is well-known and accepted.
  • Is my thesis statement specific enough? It’s getting there–you have highlighted an important aspect of the novel for investigation. However, it’s still not clear what your analysis will reveal.
  • Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test? Not yet. Compare scenes from the book and see what you discover. Free write, make lists, jot down Huck’s actions and reactions and anything else that seems interesting.
  • Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? What’s the point of this contrast? What does it signify?”

After examining the evidence and considering your own insights, you write:

Through its contrasting river and shore scenes, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn suggests that to find the true expression of American democratic ideals, one must leave “civilized” society and go back to nature.

This final thesis statement presents an interpretation of a literary work based on an analysis of its content. Of course, for the essay itself to be successful, you must now present evidence from the novel that will convince the reader of your interpretation.

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Anson, Chris M., and Robert A. Schwegler. 2010. The Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers , 6th ed. New York: Longman.

Lunsford, Andrea A. 2015. The St. Martin’s Handbook , 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s.

Ramage, John D., John C. Bean, and June Johnson. 2018. The Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing , 8th ed. New York: Pearson.

Ruszkiewicz, John J., Christy Friend, Daniel Seward, and Maxine Hairston. 2010. The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers , 9th ed. Boston: Pearson Education.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Tips and Examples for Writing Thesis Statements

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Tips for Writing Your Thesis Statement

1. Determine what kind of paper you are writing:

  • An analytical paper breaks down an issue or an idea into its component parts, evaluates the issue or idea, and presents this breakdown and evaluation to the audience.
  • An expository (explanatory) paper explains something to the audience.
  • An argumentative paper makes a claim about a topic and justifies this claim with specific evidence. The claim could be an opinion, a policy proposal, an evaluation, a cause-and-effect statement, or an interpretation. The goal of the argumentative paper is to convince the audience that the claim is true based on the evidence provided.

If you are writing a text that does not fall under these three categories (e.g., a narrative), a thesis statement somewhere in the first paragraph could still be helpful to your reader.

2. Your thesis statement should be specific—it should cover only what you will discuss in your paper and should be supported with specific evidence.

3. The thesis statement usually appears at the end of the first paragraph of a paper.

4. Your topic may change as you write, so you may need to revise your thesis statement to reflect exactly what you have discussed in the paper.

Thesis Statement Examples

Example of an analytical thesis statement:

The paper that follows should:

  • Explain the analysis of the college admission process
  • Explain the challenge facing admissions counselors

Example of an expository (explanatory) thesis statement:

  • Explain how students spend their time studying, attending class, and socializing with peers

Example of an argumentative thesis statement:

  • Present an argument and give evidence to support the claim that students should pursue community projects before entering college


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    A good thesis has two parts. It should tell what you plan to argue, and it should "telegraph" how you plan to argue—that is, what particular support for your claim is going where in your essay. Steps in Constructing a Thesis. First, analyze your primary sources. Look for tension, interest, ambiguity, controversy, and/or complication.

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  6. What Is a Thesis?

    Revised on April 16, 2024. A thesis is a type of research paper based on your original research. It is usually submitted as the final step of a master's program or a capstone to a bachelor's degree. Writing a thesis can be a daunting experience. Other than a dissertation, it is one of the longest pieces of writing students typically complete.

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    Craft a convincing dissertation or thesis research proposal. Write a clear, compelling introduction chapter. Undertake a thorough review of the existing research and write up a literature review. Undertake your own research. Present and interpret your findings. Draw a conclusion and discuss the implications.

  8. Thesis/Dissertation Writing Guide

    Depending on your subject area, your thesis may be empirical or non-empirical: Empirical theses are more common in the sciences. They involve collecting and analyzing data, then writing this up with your findings and conclusions. Non-empirical theses are more common in the humanities. They involve researching existing data, ideas, and arguments ...

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  11. Getting Started

    Thesis and Dissertation: Getting Started. The resources in this section are designed to provide guidance for the first steps of the thesis or dissertation writing process. They offer tools to support the planning and managing of your project, including writing out your weekly schedule, outlining your goals, and organzing the various working ...

  12. 15 Important and Helpful Tools for Thesis Writing

    Todoist: A to-do list app that works across platforms and can integrate with other tools, NYT calls Todoist "one of the most well-known to-do list apps, and for a good reason.". Asana: Equal parts time management and workflow, Asana helps you break your thesis-writing process into manageable parts, and even assigns yourself tasks one at a time.

  13. Developing a Thesis Statement

    A thesis statement . . . Makes an argumentative assertion about a topic; it states the conclusions that you have reached about your topic. Makes a promise to the reader about the scope, purpose, and direction of your paper. Is focused and specific enough to be "proven" within the boundaries of your paper. Is generally located near the end ...

  14. How to Write a Dissertation

    Acknowledgements. The acknowledgements section is usually optional, and gives space for you to thank everyone who helped you in writing your dissertation. This might include your supervisors, participants in your research, and friends or family who supported you. Abstract. The abstract is a short summary of your dissertation, usually about 150-300 words long.

  15. Thesis Statements

    A thesis statement: tells the reader how you will interpret the significance of the subject matter under discussion. is a road map for the paper; in other words, it tells the reader what to expect from the rest of the paper. directly answers the question asked of you. A thesis is an interpretation of a question or subject, not the subject itself.

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  17. Creating a Thesis Statement, Thesis Statement Tips

    Tips for Writing Your Thesis Statement. 1. Determine what kind of paper you are writing: An analytical paper breaks down an issue or an idea into its component parts, evaluates the issue or idea, and presents this breakdown and evaluation to the audience.; An expository (explanatory) paper explains something to the audience.; An argumentative paper makes a claim about a topic and justifies ...

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  19. Thesis Statements

    Thesis Statements. A thesis is the main claim you are making in an argument, similar to the hypothesis in a scientific experiment. It is what you are trying to prove or persuade your audience to believe or do. It's helpful to develop a working thesis to guide your composition process. "Working" is the operative word here; your ideas are ...

  20. Home

    Rehoboth Academics is a leading service provider for completing a Ph.D. thesis, drafting synopsis and proposals, and paper publication. For guiding Ph.D. candidates, we organize Ph.D. workshops where they discuss with our writing experts and research consultants. Feel free to call us at +91 9731988227 for professional and academic support.

  21. Maintaining Momentum: Focused Writing Sessions for Thesis

    A series of two-day sessions across the summer designed to help graduate students who are actively writing their thesis or dissertation to better navigate the writing process and meet their goals and deadlines. Students will spend time goal-setting, writing, and will have the opportunity to receive writing, research, and Graduate School support during the sessions.

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    Our goal is to help students with their writing projects. We are a premium world class dissertation writing service that meets all your dissertation/thesis writing needs with the highest quality. Our clients include Research scholars, PhD students, MBA students, MS and MD and other masters students. Whether you are an undergraduate, masters or ...

  24. What Is a Dissertation?

    A dissertation is a long-form piece of academic writing based on original research conducted by you. It is usually submitted as the final step in order to finish a PhD program. Your dissertation is probably the longest piece of writing you've ever completed. It requires solid research, writing, and analysis skills, and it can be intimidating ...

  25. In my Depression era, thanks to The Tortured Poets Department: The

    24 likes, 2 comments - ngaiklv on April 23, 2024: "In my Depression era, thanks to The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology and writing my thesis. Don't get me wrong - I love both. The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology has been constantly growing in me. It's the only thing I've listened to in the past few days. The 31-song, 2-hour double album introduces new sounds that are more ...