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Writing a Thesis or Research Paper/Project

Your graduate study will culminate in the writing of a thesis or research paper/project, which will allow you to integrate different fields of study to thoroughly explore a topic or problem in great detail. Your major advisor will work closely with you in selecting a topic, conducting research, writing and revising the thesis or research paper. Your committee members may also take an active role in directing your research and offering critiques of your written work. All of your committee members must be a member of the MAIS graduate faculty authorized to direct theses.

What's the Difference Between a Thesis or a Research Paper/Project?


In general, a thesis can be defined as the written product of a systematic research study of a well-defined issue. The thesis will integrate work from all three fields of study, and will clearly identify the research question, state the major theoretical assumptions, explain the signficance of the undertaking, review relevant literature, identify and justify the sources for and methods of gathering information, analyze the information or data, present and discuss results, and offer a conclusion or recommendation.

Research Paper/Project

The research paper or project (both terms tend to be used in describing this) involves a significant academic and creative undertaking that demonstrates originality and independent thinking, appropriate form and organization, and a justification, while integrating work from at least two of the three fields. The amount of work involved for a research paper/project and a thesis should be similar. A research paper or project may have outcomes similar to those of a thesis. However, the research paper or project generally presents a working deliverable that is also a significant scholarly effort. Research papers and projects take a variety of forms, including the following:

  • Writing a typical research paper
  • Writing a novel or short stories
  • Designing a website
  • Producing a film
  • Developing an action plan for an organization
  • Developing a course or instructional manual
  • Displaying photos or paintings
  • Developing a database

The options are wide ranging for a research paper/project, and committees can have some latitude in deciding what qualifies. All projects, regardless of the form, should include, either as part of the work or as a separate document, a discussion of the workÕs significance, objectives, methodologies, and theoretical grounding.

Finishing Up

You will be well-served by making certain that your major advisor and other committee members have approved all your revisions and changes before trying to schedule your final oral examination. You do not want to be in a position where you are trying to defend a thesis or research paper/project that your committee is not convinced is fully completed.

There are several requirements for preparing and submitting your thesis, and you need to know them (ignore them at your peril). All theses are placed in the Valley Library for public access (research papers and projects are not). See Completing Your Thesis on the Graduate School website for all details. You may also contact the Graduate School Thesis Editor at 541-737-4881 if you have questions.