Definitions

Dissertation

Dissertation

[dis-er-tey-shuhn]
A dissertation (also called thesis or disquisition) is a document that presents the author's research and findings and is submitted in support of candidature for a degree or professional qualification. The word "thesis" comes from the Greek θέσις, meaning "position", and refers to an intellectual proposition. "Dissertation" comes from the Latin dissertātiō, meaning "discourse."

Presentation style

A typical thesis has a title page, an abstract, a table of contents, a body, and a bibliography. Other components might include an introduction, materials and methods (in the case of scientific or technical thesis), results, discussion, acknowledgments, a dedication, indices and appendices, glossaries, lists of tables, images or figures, lists of abbreviations, and so on.

Style guides

Degree-awarding institutions often define their own house style that candidates have to follow when preparing a thesis document. In addition to institution-specific house styles, there exist a number of field-specific, national, and international standards and recommendations for the presentation of theses, for instance ISO 7144. Other applicable international standards include ISO 2145 on section numbers, ISO 690 on bibliographic references, and ISO 31 on quantities and units.

Some older house styles specify that front matter (title page, abstract, table of content, etc.) uses a separate page-number sequence from the main text, using Roman numerals. The relevant international standard and many newer style guides recognize that this book design practice can cause confusion where electronic document viewers number all pages of a document continuously from the first page, independent of any printed page numbers. They therefore avoid the traditional separate number sequence for front matter and require a single sequence of Arabic numbers starting with 1 for the first printed page (the verso of the title page).

Presentation requirements, including pagination, layout, type and color of paper, use of acid-free paper (where a copy of the dissertation will become a permanent part of the library collection), paper size, order of components, and citation style, will be checked page by page by the accepting officer before the thesis is accepted and a receipt is issued. Theses which are incomplete or incorrectly formatted may not be accepted.

However, strict standards are not always required. Most Italian universities, for example, have only general requirements on the character size and the page formatting, and leave much freedom on the actual typographic details.

Thesis committee

A thesis or dissertation committee is a committee that supervises a student's dissertation. This committee, consisting of a primary supervisor or advisor is to show and two or more committee members, supervises the progress of the dissertation and may also act as the examining committee, or jury, at the oral examination of the thesis (see below).

The committee is chosen by the student in conjunction with his or her primary advisor, usually after completion of the comprehensive examinations, and may consist of members of the comps committee. The committee members are doctors in their field (whether a PhD or other designation) and have the task of reading the dissertation, making suggestions for changes and improvements, and sitting in on the defense. Usually, at least one member of the committee must be a professor in a department that is different from that of the student.

Regional and degree-specific practices and terminologies

Pakistan

In Pakistan, at undergraduate level the thesis is usually called final year project, as it is completed in the senior year of the degree, the name project usually implies that the work carried out is less extensive than a thesis and bears lesser credit hours too. The undergraduate level project is presented through an elaborate written report and a presentation to the advisor, a board of faculty members and students. At gradute level however, i.e. in MS, some universities allow students to accomplish a project of 6 credits or a thesis of 9 credits, atleast one publication is normally considered enough for the awarding of the degree with project and is considered mandatory for the awarding of a degree with thesis. A written report and a public thesis defence is mandatory, in the presence of a board of senior researchers, contituting of members from an outside organisation or a university. A P.hd candidate is supposed to accomplish extensive research work to fulfill the dissertaion requirements with international publications being a mandatory requirement. The defence of the research work is done publically.

Canada

At English-speaking Canadian universities, writings presented in fulfillment of undergraduate coursework requirements are normally called papers, term papers or essays. A long paper presented for completion of an honours degree is sometimes called a major paper, or, more rarely, an undergraduate thesis or honours thesis. Major papers presented as the final project for a masters degree are normally called theses; and major papers presenting the student's research towards a doctoral degree are called theses or dissertations.

At some Canadian universities where French is a primary language of study, students may have a choice between presenting a "mémoire"' which is a shorter synthetic work (roughly 75 pages) and a thèse which is one hundred pages or more. A synthetic monograph associated with doctoral work is referred to as a "thèse". Either work can be awarded a "mention d'honneur" (excellence) as a result of the decision by the examination committee, although these are rare.

A typical undergraduate thesis might be forty pages. Masters theses are approximately one hundred pages. PhD theses are usually over two hundred pages.

France

In France, the academic dissertation or thesis is called a thèse while the word dissertation is reserved for shorter (1,000-2,000 words), more generic exercises of logical demonstration.

Germany

In Germany an academic thesis is called Abschlussarbeit, Thesis or the basic name of the degree complemented by -arbeit (e.g. Diplomarbeit, Masterarbeit). Length is often given in page count and depends on departments, faculties and fields of study. A Bachelor thesis is often 40-60 pages, a Diplom or Master thesis at least 100 pages. The required submission for the doctorate is called Dissertation instead.

UK

At universities in the United Kingdom, the term thesis is usually associated with PhD/EngD (doctoral) and research Master's degrees, whilst dissertation is the more common term for a substantial project submitted as part of a taught Master's degree or an undergraduate degree (e.g. BA, BSc, BMus, BEd etc).

Individual departments and faculties set thesis word lengths. Theses in the humanities and social sciences are typically 80,000-100,000 words, with theses in the sciences being roughly half that length. The length of an undergraduate or Master's dissertation varies considerably, but is almost always between 10,000 and 30,000 words.

US

In some United States doctoral programs, the term "dissertation" can refer to the major part of the student's total time spent (along with two or three years of classes), and may take years of full-time work to complete. At most universities, dissertation is the term for the required submission for the doctorate and thesis refers only to the master's degree requirement.

Thesis examinations

One of the requirements for certain advanced degrees is often an oral examination. This examination normally occurs after the dissertation is finished but before it is submitted to the university, and may comprise a presentation by the student and questions posed by an examining committee or jury. In North America, this examination is known as a thesis or dissertation defense, while in England and other English-speaking countries it is called a viva voce.

Examination results

The result of the examination may be given immediately following deliberation by the examiners (in which case the candidate may immediately be considered to have received his or her degree), or at a later date, in which case the examiners may prepare a defense report that is forwarded to a Board or Committee of Postgraduate Studies, which then officially recommends the candidate for the degree.

Potential decisions (or "verdicts") include:

  • Accepted / pass with no corrections.

The thesis is accepted as presented. A grade may be awarded, though in many countries PhDs are not graded at all, and in others only one of the theoretically possible grades (the highest) is ever used in practice.

  • The thesis must be revised.

Revisions (for example, correction of numerous grammatical or spelling errors; clarification of concepts or methodology; addition of sections) are required. One or more members of the jury and/or the thesis supervisor will make the decision on the acceptability of revisions and provide written confirmation that they have been satisfactorily completed. If, as is often the case, the needed revisions are relatively modest the examiners may all sign the thesis with the verbal understanding that the candidate will review the revised thesis with his or her supervisor before submitting the completed dissertation.

  • Extensive revision required.

The thesis must be revised extensively and undergo the evaluation and defense process again from the beginning with the same examiners. Problems may include theoretical or methodological issues. A candidate who is not recommended for the degree after the second defense must normally withdraw from the program.

  • Unacceptable

The thesis is unacceptable and the candidate must withdraw from the program.
This verdict is given only when the thesis requires major revisions and when the examination makes it clear that the candidate is incapable of making such revisions.

At most North American institutions the latter two verdicts are extremely rare, for two reasons. First, to obtain the status of doctoral candidates, graduate students typically write a qualifying examination or comprehensive examination, which often includes an oral defense. Students who pass the qualifying examination are deemed capable of completing scholarly work independently and are allowed to proceed with working on a dissertation. Second, since the thesis supervisor (and the other members of the advisory committee) will normally have reviewed the thesis extensively before recommending the student proceed to the defense, such an outcome would be regarded as a major failure not only on the part of the candidate but also by the candidate's supervisor (who should have recognized the substandard quality of the dissertation long before the defense was allowed to take place). It is also fairly rare for a thesis to be accepted without any revisions; the most common outcome of a defense is for the examiners to specify minor revisions (which the candidate typically completes in a few days or weeks).

On the other hand, at universities on the British pattern it is not uncommon for theses to be failed at the viva stage, in which case either a major re-write is required, followed by a new viva, or the thesis may be awarded the lesser degree of M.Phil (Master of Philosophy) instead, preventing the candidate from resubmitting the thesis.

Australia

In Australia, doctoral theses are examined without a live defense, except in extremely rare exceptions, usually by three examiners, two in the case of a Masters by research. Typically, although this is not a requirement, one of these examiners will be from within the candidate's own department; the others will usually be from other universities and often from overseas. Following submission of the thesis, copies are sent by mail to examiners and then reports sent back to the institution.

Germany

In Germany, a thesis is often examined with an oral defense (Verteidigung), also called Kolloquium. This applies to many Diplom degrees and to almost all Master's and doctoral degrees, but usually not to Bachelor's degrees.

North America

In North America, the thesis defense or oral defense is the final examination for doctoral candidates, and sometimes for masters candidates.

The examining committee normally consists of the thesis committee, usually a given number of professors mainly from the student's university plus his or her primary supervisor, an external examiner (someone not otherwise connected to the university), and a chair person. Each committee member will have been given a completed copy of the dissertation prior to the defense, and will come prepared to ask questions about the thesis itself and the subject matter. In many schools masters thesis defenses are restricted to the examinee and the examiners, but doctoral defenses are open to the public.

The typical format will see the candidate giving a short (20-40 minute) presentation of his or her research, followed by one to two hours of questions.

At some US institutions a longer public lecture (known as a "thesis talk" or "thesis seminar") by the candidate will accompany the defense itself, in which case only the candidate, the examiners, and other members of the faculty may attend the actual defense.

UK and Hong Kong

In the UK, Ireland and Hong Kong the thesis defense is called a viva voce, (Latin for "by live voice") examination (viva for short). Involved in the viva are two examiners and the candidate. One examiner is an academic from the candidate's own university department (not any of the candidate's supervisors) and the other is an external examiner from a different university.

In the United Kingdom, there are only two or at most three examiners, and the examination is in many universities strictly in private — however, in the University of Oxford, at least, in theory any member of the University may attend a DPhil viva (the University's regulations require that details of the examination and its time and place be published formally in advance) provided he or she attends in full academic dress, but this rarely if ever happens nowadays—. Also, in the UK, the candidate's primary supervisor is not permitted to ask questions during the viva, and their presence is not necessary.

Submission of the thesis

Submission of the thesis is the last formal requirement for most students after the defense. By the final deadline, the student must submit a complete copy of the thesis to the appropriate body within the accepting institution, along with the appropriate forms, bearing the signatures of the primary supervisor, the examiners, and, in some cases, the head of the student's department. Other required forms may include library authorizations (giving the university library permission to make the thesis available as part of its collection) and copyright permissions (in the event that the student has incorporated copyrighted materials in the thesis).

Failure to submit the thesis by the deadline may result in graduation (and granting of the degree) being delayed. At most US institutions, there will also be various fees (for binding, microfilming, copyright registration, and the like) which must be paid before the degree will be granted.

Once all the paperwork is in order, copies of the thesis may be made available in one or more university libraries. Specialist abstracting services exist to publicise the content of theses beyond the institutions in which they are produced.

References

See also

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