Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-21, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 18 June, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


Novel Recipes




core definition

Thesis is:

1. short hand for doctoral thesis, the outcome of a student research at doctoral level.

2. an argument proposing and developing a theory about a substantive or conceptual issue.

3. an intellectual proposition.

explanatory context

In the US, a doctoral thesis is referred to as a dissertation. In the US a thesis is more akin to an undergraduate project or extended essay. In Canada, a thesis also includes master’s dissertation.

analytical review

The Irish Higher Education Authority (HEA, 2004) define thesis as:

A dissertation presented at third-level institutions.


Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya  (2003) states:

The doctoral thesis is an original investigating task that you, tutored by a professor, should carry out and which will be evaluated by a structural unit and approved by a specific examining board.


University of Ottawa, 2004, differentiates a master’s from a doctoral thesis:

A thesis is a significant original body of work produced by a student and put in written form. A master’s thesis must show that the student is able to work in a scholarly manner and is acquainted with the principal works published on the subject of the thesis. As much as possible, it should be an original contribution. A doctoral thesis must make a significant contribution to knowledge in a field of study, embody the results of original investigation and analysis, and be of such quality as to merit publication. A good thesis is thoroughly researched; demonstrates rigorous critical thinking and analysis; presents a detailed methodology and accurate results; and, includes tenacious verification of knowledge claims.


More generically, Barrows et al. (2004) define thesis as:

The-sis /n (L, Gk, lit., act of laying down, fr. Tithenai to put, lay down): a position  or proposition that a person (as a candidate for scholastic honors) advances and  offers to maintain by argument.


One take on thesis as an argument suggests:

A thesis is the main point you want to make in your paper, the argument of which you are trying to convince your reader.  A thesis must not make an obvious point.  Once you’ve stated the obvious, there is no reason to write a paper to explain and support your statement.  The thesis should be provocative and interesting—not obvious. (Kalamazoo, 1998)



The thesis statement is that sentence or two in your text that contains the focus of your essay and tells your reader what the essay is going to be about. Although it is certainly possible to write a good essay without a thesis statement (many narrative essays, for example, contain only an implied thesis statement), the lack of a thesis statement may well be a symptom of an essay beset by a lack of focus.


However, both of the statements are aimed at the undergraduate level in the US.

In the UK, the University of York (2011) sums up changes in thinking about the nature of the PhD thesis ion the social sciences and humanities:

For many years the PhD degree was seen as a culmination - the topmost rung of the academic ladder (other than the rarely-seen higher doctorate, which is awarded on the basis of a lifetime of published work). This meant that students were encouraged to take a rather exalted view of the level of achievement entailed. The expectation was that the finished thesis would be capable of being published, with little or no alteration, as the definitive word on the subject..

In recent years, in part because of the context described above [concerns about lack of completion in a reasonable time], the emphasis has changed: the PhD thesis is seen less as a masterwork and more as an apprentice piece. Although it is still expected that parts or all of the work will be worthy of publication, present thinking is that a thesis should contribute to, rather than encapsulate and dominate, a particular field of studies. The scope is less ambitious— and more realistic.

In recognition of this the University has endorsed the following formulation, which was drawn up by Oxford University and promulgated by the British Academy (now the AHRB - the equivalent body to the ESRC for subjects in the Humanities): "A doctoral thesis is a piece of work which a capable, well-qualified and diligent student, who is properly supported and supervised, can complete within three years."

The only formal guidance given in the University's Regulations as to what is required of a PhD thesis is that it should contain "a substantial original contribution to knowledge or understanding"(Regulation 2.5.(a).iii). For most disciplines this means that the thesis must do at least one of three things: provide additions to the body of accepted theoretical knowledge in the discipline; provide new analysis of some empirical phenomenon or phenomena in the discipline; and/or argue a convincing case for the interpretation of theoretical or applied knowledge in a discipline.

associated issues


related areas

See also



Barrows, C.A., Clark, M.W., Satz, R.N., 2004, Thesis Manual, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, 5th Edition.

Capital Community College Foundation (CCCF) 2004, The thesis statement,, undated page, accessed November 2004, not available 26 January 2012.

Higher Education Authority (HEA) [of Ireland] 2004, Glossary, no longer available, 29 January 2011.

Kalamazoo College Academic Resource Center, 1998, Formulating a Thesis (12/98), not available 26 January 2012.

Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, 2003, Doctorate Guide, modified 15 April, 2003, not available at this address 26 January 2012.

University of Ottawa, 2004, What exactly is a thesis or a research paper, Last updated: 12 July, 2004, not available 26 January 2012.

University of York, 2011, Writing a thesis in the social sciences, available at, accessed 26 January 2012, not available 10 September 2012.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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