Differences Between a Thesis/Dissertation and a Seminar Paper
Difficulties graduate students experience in writing a thesis/dissertation also arise from the fact that this culminating work is a different text genre than most students have previously encountered. As a student, you may have written a number of papers in seminars or courses, but, for the most part, the assignments were probably small in scope, well defined, and due at a particular time, requiring you to work intensively on a circumscribed task for a delimited period. In contrast, when you write a thesis/dissertation, it is probably the first time you will be faced with a large, unstructured piece of writing, and it is unlikely that anything in a previous class will have prepared you for developing or managing this kind of project.
The thesis/dissertation is also different from a seminar or course paper, in that it is intended for a broader audience of potential readers. Whereas the audience for a seminar paper is usually defined in terms of a specific professor whose approach to a topic has been expounded over the course of a semester, writing a thesis/dissertation involves addressing a wider and, to some extent, unfamiliar audience. An advisor may be the first person to read your work, but members of a thesis/dissertation committee at your university also will read it. In addition, and of paramount importance, a thesis/dissertation is written for a wider audience of scholars in a discipline who have published books and articles on the proposed topic. No matter what the discipline is, scholarly work involves joining a vast company of thinkers, essentially entering into a large group of collaborators whose ideas inform our own and by whom the thesis/dissertation must be considered worthy. Graduate students, however, don’t usually think of their intended audience in this way and may be unaware that unseen readers and listeners are influencing and potentially evaluating their work. As they begin their search for a topic, they don’t identify potential collaborators when they craft their proposals and begin writing.