What is a ThesisA thesis is a type of capstone paper or a final paper that you write at the end of your studies. You generally pick a subject relating to your major, do research and write a paper that presents a hypothesis and information that supports that claim. Some colleges will let you write a paper that contains short summaries of work or papers that others did instead of creating your own hypothesis. You may have the option of doing a final project in lieu of writing a paper.

Who Writes One?

Many assume that these are the final papers that graduate students write before getting a master’s degree, but college seniors may need to write one too. The papers done by graduate students are often more detailed and involved than those done by undergrad students. A graduate student will focus on a current topic in the field or a topic that interests him or her. They typically spend most of their final year doing research, meeting with advisers, writing the paper and editing their work. A college senior may spend just one semester working on a similar paper.

How Long Should it Be?

The length of the paper depends on whether you are an undergrad or a graduate student. Undergrad programs usually require that you write at least 20 pages, but you may need to write up to 30 pages. Graduate papers are typically 40 to 80 pages in length. Keep in mind that this length does not include your bibliography. The bibliography is a complete list of all the resources and references that you used. Most papers will use end notes that have a citation in the paper that corresponds to a reference in the bibliography.

Picking a Subject Area

Writing a thesis requires that you pick a subject and get approval from your adviser before doing any research. Picking a subject that appeals to you can help you stay on track during your research and writing. U.S. News & World Report journalists Jeremy S. Hyman and Lynn F. Jacobs recommend choosing a subject that relates to the experience that you have in that field. If you are a psychology major and previously worked with battered woman, you can write a paper on the effects that abuse had on those women. The journalists also suggest choosing a subject that you can research and write about in the time given.

Final Paper Vs. A Final Project

Depending on your college major, you may have the option of doing a final project instead of writing a research paper. Education majors may experiment with different teaching methods in a classroom setting and base a project around the reactions of students. Someone studying architecture may survey historic or modern buildings in a city. Computer science majors often create projects like games or new software that they demonstrate instead of just writing a paper about different types of software.


Many graduate schools offer students the option of writing a research paper or taking extra classes in lieu of writing that paper. Some even let students do an internship instead or do some type of final project. A thesis is essentially a research paper that lets you show some of the skills and knowledge you gained in your program, and colleges can require this paper of both undergrad and graduate students.

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