The MA thesis is a substantial piece of scholarship that culminates the student’s work in the MA program. The thesis should prepare the student for doctoral-level study and/or employment in a relevant professional field. It should demonstrate the student’s ability to formulate a scholarly project, conduct in-depth research, and develop an original argument. While there is no minimum or maximum length for the thesis, generally MA theses are approximately 80-120 double-spaced pages.
In order to begin the thesis, a student must first form the thesis committee and produce a thesis proposal.
The thesis committee consists of three faculty members. The committee chair must belong to the American Studies Department and be a full member of the Office of Graduate Education faculty. Students should consult with the Graduate Chair as well as the committee chair to form a committee that provides the range of expertise and support needed for the thesis project.
In consultation with the committee, the student must produce a thesis proposal. The content and format for the proposal vary depending on the nature of the project, but all proposals must include: (1) project overview, describing the topic, research question, argument, and significance; (2) sources and methods, identifying the key primary sources and describing the methods to be used for analysis; (3) literature review, summarizing the findings and arguments made by other scholars and writers on relevant issues and discussing what the thesis would add to existing scholarship; and (4) chapter outline, summarizing the materials to be addressed and arguments to be made in each chapter. The proposal must also include a bibliography listing both primary and secondary sources. While there is no minimum or maximum length for the proposal, typically a solid proposal is approximately 10 double-spaced pages, not including the bibliography. Once the entire committee has approved the proposal, the student must submit Student Progress Form II with the committee members’ signatures to the Graduate Program Coordinator.
Students should maintain regular contact with the committee members and work closely especially with the committee chair during the research and writing process. While each student has different ways of working with committee members, students should expect to revise each chapter several times based on the committee’s input. The thesis must conform to the Style and Policy Manual For Theses and Dissertations.
Students must give committee members ample time, usually no less than four weeks, to read the completed thesis and to determine whether it is ready for defense. When the entire committee has approved it for defense, the student must get the Graduate Chair’s approval to schedule the oral defense. The entire committee must be present at the defense. In cases where any of the committee members is out of town on the scheduled defense date, the member may participate in the defense through Skype with the approval of the Office of Graduate Education. During the defense, the student may make a brief statement about the thesis. The committee members will then ask questions and make comments on the thesis, and the student is expected to defend her work. A majority of the committee members, including the committee chair, must vote “pass” in order for the student to pass the defense. The student will be required to make revisions based on the comments made during the defense before submitting the final thesis to the Office of Graduate Education.