Unlike homework assignments back in high school that you used to be able to throw together the night before they were due, a college thesis requires extensive planning, research and a level of writing that will demonstrate to your professors that you’re passionate about your subject matter. Here’s what you need to know to get started.


The purpose of a thesis paper is to identify an issue, establish what your stand is on a particular aspect of that issue, and to present compelling evidence in the form of interview quotes, statistics, comparative studies and detailed analysis that support your position. The biggest mistake that most students make in their development of thesis papers is in retelling facts that have already been assembled by others instead of putting those facts under deeper scrutiny in order to derive their own conclusions about whether the actions/outcomes were right or wrong. The average length of a thesis paper is 40 double-spaced pages.


In contrast to other types of college papers in which the professor doesn’t see the work until it’s turned in as a final product, a thesis paper involves a preliminary outline as well as periodic status reviews. The preliminary outline is turned in before any of the actual research commences. This is to ensure that the student grasps the objectives of the thesis paper and has selected a focus for his study that is neither too broad nor too narrow. Throughout the course of the research and writing, the professor or her assistant will evaluate the paper in progress and make recommendations on how it can be improved.

Time Frame

Depending on the subject matter, a student’s work on a thesis paper generally consumes an entire semester. A professor has the discretion of assigning a shorter due date which is predicated on the complexity of the topic and/or the requested length of the finished product. Likewise, a master’s or doctoral candidate will probably spend a lot longer than a semester in researching and setting forth theories for a dissertation that he hopes to one day publish in a professional journal or a book.


There are four components to every thesis paper. The first is the introduction, which succinctly frames–but doesn’t summarize–what the paper is going to be about. Present this as a dynamic “hook” to get the reader excited/curious/challenged by your material and to serve up an arguable, even controversial point. The second component of your paper is the evidence you have researched and analyzed in order to support the position you have taken. If, for example, you are arguing that Australia’s former policy of taking aboriginal children away from their parents was a sound idea, your paper would focus on testimony and statistics citing the educational, medical and sociological benefits that were derived from this practice. The third part of your thesis paper is the conclusion, which is the attempt to win the argument with your readers. It establishes a unified and reflective closure that ties back to your opening thesis statement. The fourth and final element of the package is comprised of your citations, bibliography and index (with referenced page numbers). In some cases, a glossary of terms may also be included. Your professor will have advised you in advance which citation format (i.e., MLA, APA, etc.) to use for in-text quotations and your works cited page(s). Unless requested differently, the thesis paper should include a front and back cover and be three-hole punched. The cover should include the title of the paper as well as your name and contact information. All pages of the thesis paper should be numbered.


Expert Insight

In addition to examples of thesis papers that can be found on the Internet, there are also plenty of how-to books on today’s market. Here are a few titles to get you started:
“How to Write a Thesis” by Harry Tietelbaum; “Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis” by Joan Bolker; “Theses and Dissertations: A Guide to Planning, Research, and Writing” by Robert Murray Thomas and Dale L. Brubaker; “Complete Your Dissertation or Thesis in Two Semesters or Less” by Evelyn Ogden Ogden; “How to Write a Better Thesis” by David Evans and Paul Gruba; “Writing the Winning Dissertation: A Step-by-Step Guide” by Allan A. Glatthorn; and “Assignment and Thesis Writing” by Jonathan Anderson and Millicent E. Poole.

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