Thesis and Dissertation


The dissertation or thesis is a scholarly treatise that substantiates a specific point of view as a result of original research that is conducted by students during their graduate study. For this reason, the Graduate School requires students in research degrees to prepare and defend a thesis or dissertation that is placed into open circulation in the Cornell Library system and made available online.  Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, master’s students write a thesis while doctoral students write a dissertation. 

The Graduate School sets the minimum format theses and dissertations, while the content and length is decided by students with guidance from their special committee, and advisor/chair. Generally, the thesis and dissertation should conform to the standards of leading academic journals in the relevant field. The Graduate School does not monitor the thesis or dissertation for mechanics, content, or style.

Theses and dissertations vary greatly by discipline but most graduates will agree that the writing process can be challenging.  Special committees and faculty advisors are typically the primary source of mentorship for students during this phase of a degree program, but Cornell offers a range of other services to support and encourage writers.  The Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines offers a resources for graduate and professional students, while the graduate School operates a “productive writer listerve”and hosts a daily “write in” at the Big Red Barn.

After the thesis or dissertation is completed and the defense exam has been passed students are required to upload their final document to the Graduate School.  There are few steps involved but clear instructions are provided on the Graduate School’s website.  Digital copies of doctoral dissertations are also uploaded and archived at ProQuest, a national repository of scholarly works.