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Thesis


In academic writing, the word "thesis" can mean two very different things. The student should determine immediately which way the instructor of the course is using the word.

The first way one uses the word "thesis" is in reference to the main idea that drives one's writing project. Instructors often refer to this type of thesis as a "thesis statement." One's thesis statement serves as a brief introduction of one's entire argument, and it should identify the subject under discussion and mention every point that the writer intends to make. The thesis statement is the single most important sentence in any academic writing, and the student should craft it very carefully.

The second way one uses the word "thesis" is in reference to a major paper that one writes as a capstone for his or her bachelor's or master's degree. Whereas term papers are projects that last one term, theses are projects that last several terms. Theses are usually much, much longer than term papers, often stretching past two hundred pages. Perhaps counterintuitively, however, theses often cover much more specialized topics than term papers. For example, one may write a term paper on Herman Melville for a literature survey course, but one would be much more likely to write a thesis on homosexual symbolism in Herman Melville's Moby Dick or on some other extremely specific aspect of one of Melville's novels. In fact, one could write an entire thesis on a single paragraph of Moby Dick. The goal of a thesis is to expound fully one's opinion on a given subject and to confront and exhaust all the opposition to that opinion. Therefore, one usually specializes his or her thesis topic almost to the point of absurdity.

These two definitions do share a good deal of common ground. Each deals with an idea, which is the most important part of one's writing. Students who frequently encounter the word "thesis" in their coursework should rest assured that their instructors expect them to become original and engaging thinkers, critically examining any topic that appears in their purview.


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