What is a thesis?

The thesis is a single cohesive document that presents and describes the entirety of the research work that was conducted as part of the graduate degree. Both the master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation are comprehensive written research documents focused on a selected subject related to the student's discipline and field. Some programs require the completion of a project or capstone paper instead of the thesis or dissertation. 






To complete all stages of a research project and present the findings To apply knowledge and skills gained from one’s field of study to a real world context To apply knowledge and skills obtained from one's field of study and articulate the results of the investigation within a comprehensive written document To demonstrate mature scholarship, critical judgement, and familiarity of methodology and methods relevant to the candidate’s field


Should be original as much as possible and attempt to be significant enough for publication Uses the existing body of research to support one’s stance while contributing new ideas Focuses on a specific problem rather than furthering a discipline’s theoretical understandings Provides a substantial and original contribution to the field

Breadth of Knowledge

Demonstrates a general knowledge of the field, related theories, and some appropriate methods Demonstrates the application of theory, practice, and experiences gained from the program Demonstrates the application of theory, practice, and experiences gained from the program Demonstrates the advanced application of theory, practice, and experiences gained from the program, its theories, and relevant research methodologies
The format of the written documents can vary amongst a few approved structures:
  • Traditional 
  • Manuscript 

The specific elements for each format is discussed in greater detail later on in the Blueprint. 

General Thesis Overview

Each program will have different requirements and specifications in how your research document needs to be structured. Make sure to discuss with your supervisor around how your program is similar or different using the below areas as a guide. In general, your project will need to cover six areas. Keep there areas in mind as you are thinking about your potential project.

1. Title page 

2. Introduction 

  • This section discusses the texts important to the project, demonstrates your understanding of the research issues, and identifies existing gaps (both theoretical and practical) that the research is intended to address.
  • This section is intended to ‘sign-post’ and contextualize your research questions, not to provide a detailed analysis of existing debates.
  • Introduce a description of your area of focus, why this area is important, your project’s relevance, and the difference your research will make.
  • Introduce your main research objectives and your research question.
  • Introduce major approach(es) you will take (conceptual, theoretical, empirical and normative, as appropriate) and rationale.
  • Highlight the significance of the research (in academic and, if appropriate, other fields).
  • Provide background and context with your area of focus.

3. Methodology 

  • This section should portray the way your research was structured and its overall research design: A discussion of the overall approach (e.g. is it solely theoretical, or does it involve primary/empirical research?) and your rationale for adopting this approach. 
  • If your project involves empirical research, describe your data collection methods and analysis, including specific techniques and rationale for using the selected methods.
  • Include specific aims and objectives (e.g. ‘complete 20 interviews with members of group x’), as well as a brief discussion of the timeline for achieving each objective. 

4. Results 

5. Discussion 

6. References & Appendices

To gain more familiarity with the specific formatting requirements we encourage you to:


Below we provide a series of the typical milestones common across thesis and dissertations. Remember these steps are completed over a series of years. You can use these milestones as a guide and discuss them with your supervisors and/or department. The inclusion or sequencing of milestones will vary across programs and departments.

*May be started before course work completed

1. Coursework & Other Program Requirements

  • Appointment of an advisor
  • Selection of coursework
  • Selection & formation of advisory committee
  • Completion of course work, internships and practicums (if applicable)
  • Candidacy/comprehensive exam(s) (PhD only)*

2. Thesis Proposal, Defense, & Ethics

  • Preparation and development of thesis/project proposal*
  • Proposal presentation and defense, approval received
  • Research Ethics Board approval (if applicable)
  • Minimum annual committee meetings and more as required

3. Data Collection & Thesis Writing 

  • Begin data collection & analysis 
  • Drafting and revising of thesis/project report
  • Completion of thesis/project report

4. Submission, Defence, and Completion

  • Review by supervisor and then advisory committee for approval to defend.
  • Distribution of thesis/project report to external examiner
  • Thesis/project report defense 
  • Further revisions (if applicable)
  • Final revisions reviewed and approved by advisor
  • Submission of the final thesis/project report

Program Duration

Your timeline for your degrees starts with the first class credited towards your degree – make sure you’re within your timeline!

• Postgraduate Diploma and Master's degree students have five (5) years to complete their degree.
• Ph.D. students have six (6) years to complete.
• If you transfer from a Master’s to a PhD, you must remember that your timeline will continue from the start of your Master’s degree to a maximum of six (6) years.

In extenuating circumstances, an extension to time in program may be available. If you think you may need an extension, speak with your supervisor or the graduate chair in your academic unit. More information about extensions to time in program, and how to apply for them, can be found at the link below.

Academic Help

Student Learning Services provides the following workshops and resources:

  • Grad Help workshops cover a range of academic topics and are delivered by experienced volunteer graduate students and occasionally faculty and recent PhDs. These workshops are delivered from September to March. 
  • Graduate Writing Workshops cover topics such as structure, style, formatting, writing proposals and revising your work. These workshops are scheduled from September through March. 
  • Book an Appointment to discuss graduate academic skills with a peer mentor or get graduate writing help with a tutor.

         1. UNPACKING         Crafting >


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