How to Write an Undergraduate Dissertation – Tips for Students

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Though rarely a requirement for graduation, an undergraduate thesis is usually an additional option that allows especially bright students a chance to participate deeply in research related to their major.

Often, those who complete an undergraduate thesis will graduate with an additional honor. This extra honor can really give you the edge in graduate applications and for future employment, so it is very much worth your while if you are up for the task.

Despite being a significant and difficult project, an undergraduate thesis should not be confused with graduate level theses. A master’s thesis is substantially more difficult and involves much more independent research, whereas a Ph.D. dissertation is a years-long project that is meant to represent an actual step forward in one’s field of study.

An undergraduate thesis is more like a term paper that has been expanded substantially, representing something like the culmination of your studies in your major throughout your time in college.

Nevertheless, faculty in the respective departments judge undergraduate theses as well as graduate theses, and you will be mentored by an adviser that was likely one of your professors.

Though it may seem daunting, an undergraduate thesis is doable. Read below for an overview of what to expect and how to prepare for your thesis.

Preparing for the Thesis

The first step in preparing for your thesis is to choose an advisor. This is a critical step, as you will be working hand-in-hand with this professor throughout the project. It is vital that you have a good working relationship with this professor and that their interests and expertise match the topic you are going to be writing on. It’s no good if you go to the wrong professor. Choose wisely!

Secondly, you will need to select a topic. Your adviser can help you on this point, but given that you will be writing and researching this topic, it is imperative that you choose something you can write well on and something that interests you. Your adviser will also mentor you about sources and the expectation of scope, both which will be important for making sure your project is not going to become way too unmanageable.

The timeframe for a thesis will differ depending on your department and major. You will have to check with your department and maybe book an appointment to speak to the department head to get a sense of when you should apply to start your thesis and how long it is expected to take. Most undergraduate theses are at least a semester-long affair, and some might take a year of work. You should definitely start thinking about the thesis as you enter into the last phase of study for your major.

Different degrees will also have different requirements. An English major may be able to submit a novel as a thesis, whereas a chemistry major might be expected to conduct an experiment. Talk with the department to determine what will be acceptable.

Beginning Research

In consultation with your adviser, you will begin to gather research materials well in advance of writing your paper. You are going to primarily deal with three major source types.

The first source will be scholarly journals. Your school library is likely to have an online service like JSTOR that will allow you to do a digital search for scholarly material and read it for free online. Your library will also have many volumes to browse in person as well.

Secondly, primary scholarly sources will also be frequently part of your research. You might have some of these on hand from your course work, but expect to go to the library and bookstore in order to pick up the necessary volumes.

Lastly, your college textbooks will usually have a wealth of information that can be useful. There is no problem whatsoever using material gathered in a textbook, and many of these will be of great assistance for writing.

Though Wikipedia and other sources are great for finding primary scholarly resources in their citations, it is highly advisable not to include any online source that isn’t scholarly for your research purposes. If it ends in .edu or is associated with a scholar or a university, then it is more or less acceptable, but popular websites are a big no-no. They aren’t reliable and aren’t written on a level suited to real research.

Structuring the Thesis

Before discussing specific points of structure, it is imperative that when writing a thesis you RIGOROUSLY adhere to the guidelines of academic integrity and cite all sources in your paper in the proper format that your department requests you to use! Any quotation, paraphrase, or factual claim that is not common knowledge must be cited. Anything less than this is plagiarism, a serious academic offense that can lead to expulsion!

Keeping in mind the standards of academic integrity always, your basic structure will run as follows:

First, your will introduce your paper with a substantial introduction stating the problem and the thesis that you will be arguing for. Think of this as setting the stage so that the reader can know what to expect this paper to be about.

Secondly, many theses involve a lengthy overview of academic literature, detailing the problem as already understood by scholars in the field. If you were writing a thesis on race relations in Huckleberry Finn, for instance, you’d write a substantial overview of multiple perspectives from scholars on this topic. This shows you’ve got a broad idea of the current ideas already swimming around.

You will also have to make explicit your methodology, detailing how you’ve decided to approach the topic.

Your findings will come next. This is where you will be showing the fruits of your research and arguing for your thesis. Depending on the topic, this is probably going to be where most of your writing comes into play. After all, you will be arguing for a specific viewpoint or establishing some point of fact.

Your conclusion will summarize your findings. You can also point out how some things were outside the scope of your paper and what paths future research might take.

Lastly, you will have your bibliography or works cited page. Here you will have to exhaustively list all your research materials. It is ABSOLUTELY VITAL to list EVERY source of research materials here!

You may also be called upon to write an abstract, which is a summary of your major points for quick reference for people interested in reading your work. This will generally be appended to the front of your thesis.

Editing the Thesis

It goes without saying that your thesis should be completely and utterly error free. You should never have any typographical, grammatical, spelling, formatting, or other errors in your thesis. You must make sure you submit only perfect work.

You will also want to make sure that your paper is structurally logically and each section follows a coherent order. Your adviser will help you perfect this structure as you go over your work with him routinely.

Be sure to stay on topic as well. Going on wild tangents will not only add bulk to the paper, but it will also be wasted space and effort. You will have to address enough topics as is. Trim away excess fat that does not contribute to the thesis

Further Advice

Success in thesis writing will require hard work, dedication, motivation, and making use of the help of your adviser and peers.

Hard work comes from you putting in the time and effort necessary. Give yourself plenty of time, and don’t put things off. It’s far more manageable to write 300 words a day than it is to write 30,000 words over the course of a weekend.

Dedication flows from interest but is improved by keeping engaged and realizing that this is for your future. Wed your passion to your work ethic and you will always succeed.

Always remember that your efforts will find a reward. Keeping in mind that you are doing this for some distinctive honor and your future will keep you focused on attaining your goal. Be relentless; this is for you!

Lastly, make sure you use your adviser and your peers to help review and read over your paper. Their insight can be of remarkable assistance. Your college’s writing center can also greatly contribute to your success if you find yourself in need of some further help.

Reach out and request aid when you need it. No one succeeds in life without the help of others.


The undergraduate thesis is no easy task. Any student who is setting out to write one will need to put in maximal effort and use their intelligence to the maximum extent. But following the above steps will make it a lot more doable.

So remember, make sure to prepare your thesis ahead of time, establish and gather your research in advance of writing, always follow the proper structure (and cite everything that must be cited!), edit your paper till it is flawless, and try to follow the additional advice for success.

Thousands upon thousands of students have come before you and managed to successfully complete their thesis. You can be one of them if you work hard enough.

Never despair: you can and will do it if you set your mind to it!