A master's thesis is the culminating work of a student's master’s degree. This research is meant to demonstrate a student's expertise and interest in a particular subject within their field of study. Exact requirements are specific to the program, but a master’s thesis is generally 75 to 100 pages in length, including an extensive bibliography, and contains several chapters.
Generally, the master's thesis is comprised of pre-existing research and data that a student has collated and synthesized into a hypothesis that either challenges an existing argument in the field, or presents a new argument to the scholarly debate.
Format for Masters' Thesis
The introduction is meant to convince the reader of the academic value or justification for the research that the thesis presents. This justification is generally achieved by stating a problem in the writer’s particular academic field that hasn’t been sufficiently addressed. Once the topic has been introduced, the writer discusses what their thesis intends to contribute to the solution of this problem.
2. Literature Review
After the problem and research question have been discussed in the introduction, the master’s thesis will move on to the literature review section. This section involves a discussion of the existing scholarship that relates to the specific topic and research question being posed. This is not a comprehensive description of the existing ‘literature’ on the topic, but a description of the most important, compelling, and controversial research that has been done on the topic.
The literature review also identifies any shortcomings in the existing literature on the thesis’ topic, including biases, flaws in methodology, or failures to address the problem at hand. Once these shortcomings in the existing research have been identified, the researcher can propose how they would like to address these shortcomings through their own work.
Once a researcher has identified where the existing research has fallen short in answering the thesis’ research question, they need to tell the reader how they intend to address this shortcoming and advance the field's understanding.
This section also describes how the researcher used existing methodologies to analyze the data and information that they collected. Every academic field has standardized methodologies and best practices for analyzing its own field’s data.
After the author has described how they conducted their research and the methodologies they used to analyze that research, they inform the reader of what new information or discovery they have unearthed through their work.
In the thesis’ final chapter, the findings of the author’s research are provided context in relationship to the existing research. The author will identify how their work has answered, or added some new form of nuance, to the existing answers to their original research question.
Additionally, the author will discuss any shortcomings in their own research, and what future researchers could do to answer their particular research question even more thoroughly.
What does a master’s thesis teach you?
Writing a master’s thesis gives the student an opportunity to develop their expertise in a part of their field that they are most passionate about and interested in exploring further. If a master’s student enjoys the process of conducting their thesis research and finds that they are passionate about making their arguments in the wider academic community, then writing a master’s thesis could help them decide to pursue their studies further through other graduate degree options such as a PhD program.
Most master’s students write their thesis under the guidance of an academic supervisor, who helps them pick a compelling topic, choose the appropriate methodologies, connects them with relevant research and resources in their field, and proofs and critiques their work.
What does a master’s thesis do for your career?
Writing a master’s thesis is often a requirement for admissions into a PhD program, as it demonstrates a student’s acumen in their particular field, their quality as a compelling writer, and their commitment to thorough and precise research. It is also a more accurate and comprehensive way of assessing a student’s abilities as a future academic in comparison to the one-dimensional picture that a transcript provides.
Do I have to write a master’s thesis?
Not all master’s programs require a thesis in order to graduate.