It's kind of, um, short isn't it? Your Masters Thesis, that is.

Readin an article about a Senator who apparently plagiarized a good portion of his master’s thesis paper.

But the article says that the paper is only 14 pages long. Doesn’t that seem a little…short?

And he received his degree from the US Army War College. Seems like an institution that would be a bit more rigorious.

Link to orignal NYT article:

It doesn’t sound like a traditional MA thesis, plagiarism aside. The NYT article does refer to it as a thesis, but also as the final paper required by the MA program. Sounds like more of a policy position paper. Alas, the positions were not his own.

Maybe he had time to rewrite it (plagiarism aside).

As Mark Twain once wrote, “I was going to send you a short letter, but I didn’t have time, so I’m sending a long one.”

It sounds more like a powerpoint presentation.

Once you are in grad school, you can really start to see why this makes sense. As a kid, writing is a huge burden and you struggle to find things to write about. Once you are in grad school, you know a lot about what you are writing about and can write paragraph after paragraph summarizing prior research in, discussing various nuances of it, proposing experiments to confirm or repudiate certain ideas, giving examples of a principle’s application, etc. Sometimes they want a 3-5 page paper covering three topics and your discussion of topic 1 ends up being four pages.

In grad school I found that there were two ways to earn a master’s degree: the thesis route, and the non-thesis route. The thesis route required the writing of a substantial thesis (typically 75-150 pages), which you then had to present/defend before a committee of professors with relevant background. The non-thesis route required writing a much shorter document, maybe 10-20 pages, which was then reviewed/approved by your advisor; you didn’t have to defend this document to a committee.

My degree was in mechanical engineering. A thesis was appropriate when you had a complete body of work, with experimental results which you could analyze/discuss. If you didn’t have results (or had insubstantial results), then you went the non-thesis route and basically wrote up a paper describing what you had done so far. I earned a master’s degree enroute to my Ph.D., and I went with the non-thesis master’s because I was not yet done building my experimental apparatus; I didn’t actually get experimental results until my final year of doctoral work.

If the faculty accepted it, then it was long enough. Perhaps it was typical of what they expect there.

When I did my National Boards (for teaching) a few years ago, there was a hard-and-fast page limit on each section, generally something like 8 pages, double-spaced, Times New Roman 12 point, 1" margins, etc. They promised not to read anything over those 8 pages, so if you went over, your score would take a beating. The total submission was somewhere around 100 pages, but each section was much shorter.

I spent HOURS trimming what I’d written down. Paragraphs I could remove went first, then sentences, then adjectives and adverbs. If a paragraph had a final line that was less than half a line, I was brutal to it to get rid of just half a line. In the end, I don’t think any of the sections was even one line less than the maximum allowed.

I got a “non-thesis masters” degree, but I had to create a document that was much longer than that (at least 40-50 pages if I remember, more with appendices and such). And I had to defend it in front of a committee and wait to hear from them if I had passed.

I think the only thing that made it non-thesis was the fact that we had no control over what the paper was about, or what new investigation we were doing. Everyone in the program had to write the same thing and answer the same question. But we all had to do research and write long, well cited papers that had to be defended to a 3 person committee.

And there’s a meaning to the madness. If you can’t take 100 pages of research and summarize it in 5-10 pages, then one ought to ask whether or not you really understood it. Freshmen can paraphrase an article paragraph by paragraph. A good scholar can say, “This research is based on the work of Smith and Johnson’s (1995) theory of quasar origins. Its major findings include an observation that epistemological quasars are strongly correlated with lithographic nematodes (Jones, 2000), anerophasic cartographies (Williamson, 2003), and glagolitic wastewater mitigation practices of the late paleolithic era (Brown, 2005;Victor, 2007). It was also found that a negative correlation exists with transchromic hyperspace corridors (Frank, 2002). Donaldson (2011) speculates that all of these correlations may be related to a unified theory of quasar correlatives and describes a ten year research program that may show this.”

In other words, can you get beyond the details and explain what the material means for you, for the field, and for society? Can you propose a way to confirm or refute the ideas? Give me the elevator pitch, “I’m really busy. Why should I care about this?”

My PhD thesis was 43 pages, typed double spaced. It is not the length that counts, but the significance. Eventually, I published a much generalized version of about 20 pages.

Good point, was your PhD in a physical science, social science, history…?

I ask because off the top of my head it would seem that something like history or sociology would take more writing. With a physical science or mathematics you could maybe throw out some formulas and stuff and BAM!

If it’s not been obvious until now, I am not a physical scientist or mathematician.

Elf: How long was your dissertation? What topic?

Interesting, I thought it was generally policy that a masters thesis was required to get into a Ph.D. program, at least in engineering.

Yeah, I just submitted a paper to a journal. It is… let’s see… 9 pages as published, probably a little longer as submitted. Most of that is text, maybe 8.5 pages. The references aren’t terribly long and the in-text citations are numbered. Bunch of figures but nothing huge.
The thesis route was discouraged as you don’t get a paper out of it. It would only be chosen if your experiment wasn’t good enough to publish.

Dissertation had to be the traditional format. Mine was exactly 100 pages in Word. Lots of that was references. Writing overly long was discouraged.

Cool website: Average Dissertation (not Thesis) length. Science is concise. I see I was right at the 2nd quartile for my field, but it’s a broad one.

Speaking of plagiarism…

Not at my university. You could be accepted into grad school after your BS as a PhD student or, like me, what they called “terminal masters”. If I wanted to go on for a PhD, I would have to reapply. Most PhD students got a masters along the way but not all of them.

It’s not plagiarism if the source is cited.

The witticism concerning the short letter is from Pascal. Twain, along with plenty of other writers, has repeated it - understandably so, as it’s brilliant.

When I did my first master’s, I went the non-thesis route, as well. I ended up researching and writing a history of the university’s radio station that was equal to, if not greater, in scope as a typical thesis. I got to choose the topic and work out a plan to complete the project, but I had to work closely with a faculty advisor. I also had to take a letter grade; pass/fail wasn’t an option. On the other hand, I didn’t have to defend anything or get a committee together.

That said, not every thesis is the typical huge-ass original research thing. The in-residence War College program is only ten months long; there just isn’t time for such a thesis. So they assign a paper and call it a thesis. :shrug: