Students writing a master's thesis engage in capstone-level research. They identify and define a problem, locate and evaluate information, devise and execute appropriate methods of answering questions while mastering the conventions of research writing. A master’s thesis allows the student to devise, conduct, analyze, and disseminate research.
The overall goals are for the student to demonstrate (1) an understanding of important and current work in their field of study, (2) an ability to conduct sound research, (3) an ability to draw rational conclusions, (4) an ability to complete a well-written, properly organized thesis and (5) an ability to complete a thesis with the possibility of publication in scholarly journals and presentations at professional meetings. This work must be original and may not have been previously published. It is to be written under the supervision of a thesis advisor.
Students work closely with a thesis adviser, frequently conferring at mutually arranged times throughout the process. The role of readers, if applicable, will be explained by the advisor.
A thesis adviser will expect the student to:
- Obtain the adviser’s (and department’s) approval of the topic.
- Submit an outline/proposal that includes the topic, purpose to be fulfilled, procedure to be used, and additional information the adviser deems necessary.
- Communicate a timeline for completing the work and the best time to meet regularly.
- Confer with the adviser frequently. Failure to do so may result in the need to rewrite sections or even the entire thesis.
- Proofread drafts for spelling and grammatical conventions.
- Obtain final approval from the adviser (and readers, if applicable).
It is ultimately the student’s responsibility to make adequate progress toward the completion of their thesis and for generating excellent work.
Master’s theses adhere to standard scholarly styles, and the academic department/program designates the style manual (APA, MLA, etc.). Style manuals provide detail on formats and should be consistently used throughout the document. A thesis is written in the third person. Academic standards of English usage, spelling, sentence structure, punctuation, and capitalization are expected.
Margins, Justification, and Spacing
Margins (top, right, and bottom) are 1 inch all around. Pages should be left-justified with ragged right margins unless creative work requires a different format. The entire document should be double spaced except for footnotes, lengthy quotations, and references which should be single-spaced. Each section begins on a new page.
Pages are numbered consecutively (1, 2, 3, etc.), starting with preliminary pages and concluding with references. Page numbers should be consistent in placement throughout the manuscript, and pages should not begin or end with a single line of text. The numbering may be placed on the bottom of the page, either at the center or the right-hand corner.
The font Times New Roman, size 12, is appropriate for all document sections, and it should be used consistently. Headings may use a larger font size of the same typeface. Consult the style manual regarding bolding, italics, capitalizations, and other writing conventions.
- Dedication, Acknowledgements, and Preface (each is optional)
- Table of Contents with page numbers
- List of Tables, Figures, or Illustrations with page numbers (each when applicable)
- List of Abbreviations or Symbols (each when applicable)
- Chapters (introduction, main body with subheadings as appropriate)
- Appendices (when applicable)
- Endnotes (when applicable)
- References/works cited
Theses adhere to standard patterns, typically: (a) preliminary pages, (b) chapters forming the body, and (c) supplementary material. Students consult the applicable style guide and department for specific guidelines. The format of the body will depend upon the type of research being reported, and the student should confer with their adviser for guidance. General types include:
- Historical Research is often presented as an explanatory narrative with the literature review integrated into the body of the thesis. Chapters indicate the topics relevant to the story being told and how it unfolds.
- Philosophical Research may be reported in the form of an argument. Chapters contain exposition and analyses of factors and premises necessary to establish acceptance of the conclusion(s). The literature review may be a separate chapter or integrated into the thesis’s body.
- Qualitative Research often proceeds as a narrative, focusing on the voices and examples of people who provided information central to the study. Chapters indicate topics explored. Analytic qualitative reports use an objective writing style where the researcher’s voice is subdued or silent (third person). Reflective qualitative essays are characterized by the researcher’s voice (first person), and more literary freedom of expression is allowed. This type of thesis is the result of work done by students in a descriptive, exploratory, analytical, or creative way. Departments encompassing the arts and humanities may have graduate students doing this type of thesis.
- Quantitative Research may require a more formal structure. Following the introductory chapter, which introduces the problem and defines terms, there is usually a literature review chapter, a chapter on procedures, a results chapter, and a chapter containing discussion and conclusions. The results/findings chapter contains only data collected by the researcher, with interpretation and implications left to the discussion chapter.
While some graduate work may not fit in one category, the student will work with the advisor to select the best style.
Research Involving Human Subjects
If the research being conducted for the thesis involves human subjects, federal law requires that the project be reviewed and approved—in advance—by the Institutional Review Board (IRB). This means that the researcher must complete an online research training program titled the CITI Course in the Protection of Human Subjects (CITI). You also need to complete the appropriate IRB forms and submit them to the university’s IRB for review before your research can proceed. Students should consult the Institutional Review Board (IRB) for detailed information about the training program, the federal legislation, the instructions for completing the application well in advance of beginning any research.