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Psychology Dictionary

noun. 1. with regard to logic, a proposition to be exposed to logical study in effort to establish proof or disproof. 2. more generally, any idea or proposition put forth within an argument . 3. with regard to philosophy , the initial phase of a dialectical process: a proposition which is opposed by an anti-thesis, thereby producing a new proposition called a synthesis . 4. a dissertation based upon unique research , particularly one needed for an advanced academic degree.

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What Are the Differences Between a Thesis and a Dissertation?

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Most graduate programs in psychology require students to complete a thesis project or dissertation as part of the course of study. The specific details of each vary from school to school but there are some general differences that will be found across colleges in regards to a thesis or a dissertation.

What is a Thesis?

A thesis is a project that is completed during the course of a master’s degree program in many fields. In psychology students will be asked to complete one of two types of thesis projects. The first (generally in a Master of Arts degree program) is a literature review on a specific topic that is relevant to the field of psychology. In this type of project, the student will use existing research or data on their topic and evaluate the topic across a time period. There are many different topics that students can choose from. The second type (generally in a Master of Science degree program) is where a student will either conduct their own research or participate in ongoing research with a faculty member and write a thorough scientific paper on the study and their findings. In many cases, students will have the opportunity to present their research at a presentation or submit it for publication.

What is a Dissertation?

A dissertation is conducted during the course of a doctoral program for those pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology. A dissertation starts with a topic of interest in the field of psychology. The study will work with their faculty mentor to design and implement an ethical study to investigate their topic. Their findings are turned into a scholarly paper that will often be submitted for publication or presentation. After the paper portion is complete, the doctoral candidate will then go before a board of professionals and instructors to “defend” their thesis. They will present their material and answer probing questions from the panel. Those pursuing a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) can complete either a traditional dissertation or a thesis-like literature review, depending upon the requirements of the program.

What Are the Major Differences Between a Thesis and a Dissertation?

The major difference between these two is the level at which they are completed. A thesis is traditionally a mater’s level project, while a dissertation is complete at the doctoral level. Another difference is the level of intensity in the project. Thesis projects are generally completed over the course of 1-2 semesters. Dissertations can take upwards of a year to complete.

What Are the Similarities Between a Thesis and a Dissertation?

There are also some similarities between the two. Both projects involve an thorough investigation of a topic in the field of psychology. They also both require the student to complete a lengthy, and scholarly paper. Students at both levels can choose to submit their work for publication or presentation.

Thesis and Capstone Requirements for Psychology Programs

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thesis definition psychology

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In most psychology programs, the thesis and capstone function as a student's final assignment. These culminating experiences, while different in requirements, serve the same purpose: to demonstrate the depth of your learning, to measure achievement of program objectives, and to outline relevant research interests. Thesis and capstone projects synthesize your overall learning, taking the knowledge you've gained throughout your program and applying it to your own research. A thesis, which often requires more intensive research than a capstone, may span multiple years depending on the level of the psychology program.

Often involving scholarly and clinical research, these culminating projects may take place in professional psychology settings, such as private practices, clinics, or mental health treatment facilities. Regardless of setting, you'll almost certainly be required to document your work though extensive writing, typically in a long form research paper. This guide covers the major aspects of thesis and capstone projects, including topics, grading criteria, and presentation requirements.

What's the Difference Between a Capstone and a Thesis in Psychology Programs?

While the terms may sometimes be used interchangeably, a capstone and a thesis involve different types of work and feature certain key distinctions. A capstone often occurs as part of an undergraduate program, while a thesis generally occurs at the end of a graduate program. A capstone project attempts to address an issue in the field by applying existing knowledge toward a real-life problem (often in the form of fieldwork). A thesis seeks to create new knowledge through student research, trying to prove or argue a hypothesis, rather than just investigate a topic.

What Is a Capstone Like in Psychology Programs?

Psychology capstone format.

A psychology capstone takes place over the course of multiple semesters. During the first semester, students may lay the groundwork for their projects, determining areas of focus and exploring strategies for research. The next semester involves the completion of the capstone, which may take the form of a research project or an in-depth internship/practicum (or combination of both). Most programs require candidates to complete a research paper or some other type of intensive project, and students typically present their findings to peers and faculty members at the end of the capstone course. Students often complete their capstone independently, though some schools may allow for group work.

Choosing Your Psychology Capstone Topic

Networking with other professionals can serve you well when it comes time to complete your capstone. Again, your capstone may take place in a professional environment where you receive guidance from a supervisor, though a faculty member typically serves as your true capstone adviser. Capstone topics vary as much as the psychology field itself, but they almost always address a contemporary issue in the field that warrants further study.

Completing Your Psychology Capstone

A capstone may take the form of an in-depth research project or an internship or practicum, and you may choose which path to pursue. Regardless, you'll typically design a capstone under the supervision of a faculty member, who must approve your topic and format. To pursue an internship, you must determine an appropriate professional setting. If you already work in the psychology field or a related area, you may be able to intern at your current place of employment. If not, your psychology department should be able to connect you to various professional organizations that offer internship opportunities. When performing an internship, you'll likely need to record your experiences (for later presentation) through a journal or other written means. Some programs may even include seminar courses that enable you to reflect on your internship experiences with other students.

Presenting Your Psychology Capstone

After completing your capstone, many programs require you to present your findings to faculty members and program peers. A faculty panel, composed of a few psychology faculty or other department members, evaluates your presentation and may pose questions or critiques. Classmates in the audience may pose questions as well. Most capstone presentations include a visual element, such as a PowerPoint presentation, though this is not always required. Some programs may open capstone presentations to the public.

How Is a Psychology Capstone Graded?

Most psychology programs provide a rubric that outlines expectations and grading criteria for the capstone so students know what to expect before they present. Some schools may award a letter grade for a capstone, while others grade on a pass or fail basis. If you receive a failing grade, you'll typically be allowed to revise portions of your capstone and resubmit it for reassessment, or you may be required to retake the course and submit another capstone project.

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What Is a Thesis Like in Psychology Programs?

Psychology thesis format.

A thesis typically functions as a comprehensive, research-based paper that addresses a psychology topic. Completion time varies between programs and levels of study, but a thesis typically takes a year or more to complete. In many programs, the process begins with an introductory course that enables you to organize your ideas, develop a research topic, and obtain research methods and strategies. In general, most programs require you to complete your thesis independently, rather than in a group. Many programs also require you to present and defend your thesis.

Choosing Your Psychology Thesis Topic

To complete your thesis, you'll work under the supervision of an adviser -- a faculty or another member of the psychology department who guides you through the process of completing the thesis and who offers regular feedback on research. Networking prior to beginning your thesis can be useful both for establishing professional connections and identifying an appropriate adviser. Psychology thesis topics vary widely depending on your area of specialization, your research interests, and your adviser's field of expertise. A psychology thesis might examine anything from emotion regulation to cognitive performance to the development of intelligence.

Completing Your Psychology Thesis

Completing a thesis involves several steps. First, you'll need to develop a topic, which must be approved by your thesis adviser. Your adviser can work with you to determine whether a topic holds relevance to current psychological research and contains enough depth to sustain serious research. After arriving at a topic and determining the scope of your research, you must then perform your research and begin drafting your thesis.

Throughout the course of writing and research, you'll meet with your adviser to ensure that your thesis stays on track. Your adviser can offer guidance on research strategies, organizational advice, and critiques on your thesis draft, along with general tips for managing your time and workload. The documentation of your thesis research typically takes place entirely through writing, though it may involve other components depending on your area of specialty.

Presenting Your Psychology Thesis

Most programs require you to present your thesis to a small panel of experts (typically faculty and department members) in a process known as a thesis defense. While the name sounds intimidating, the thesis defense often serves as more of a formality, as your adviser will have already offered substantial critique of your work by this point. The thesis committee poses open-ended questions about the scope of your work and its implications to ensure you fully understand your research. Master's thesis presentations are typically closed to the public and may include a visual component, such as a PowerPoint or video presentation.

How Is a Psychology Thesis Graded?

Most programs grade theses on a pass/fail basis, and while some may provide a rubric outlining expectation of your research, it's uncommon to receive a letter grade. Many schools may offer special recognition for particularly strong theses. It's typically not possible to "fail" a thesis, since your adviser will inform you of any major problems and prevent you from presenting your work before it's ready. If the thesis committee determines your research needs more work, you'll typically have the opportunity to revise the project and defend it again at a later date.

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The thesis statement states the thesis or argument of the author in an essay or similar document. Usually no more than a sentence or two long, it is a focused section of text that clearly delineates the argument that is presented in the work and is usually found at the end of the first paragraph of a paper. The thesis statement says what the author or authors are trying to prove in the document. The thesis statement is invaluable when constructing an outline , as it shows what points need to be proven. Often, amateur writers will try to make a thesis statement a summary of what they will talk about. They will do this by constructing their statement by piecing together the central points from each idea that they will cover in their paper. This makes for a convoluted thesis statement which is most likely a run-on sentence .

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The thesis statement is a sentence that summarizes the main point of your paper and previews your supporting points. The thesis statement is important because it guides your readers from the beginning of your essay by telling them the main idea and supporting points of your essay ( Pudue OWL, Developing a Thesis ).

Tips on Writing a Strong Thesis Statement

2 Simple Steps to Writing a Strong Thesis Statement:

1. Put your topic in question form.  How would you put the following topics in question form?

2. Write 1 or 2 sentences to answer your question.  The answer to the question is your thesis statement.


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