What is a Master’s Thesis?

A master’s thesis is a piece of original scholarship written under the direction of a faculty advisor. A master’s thesis is similar to a doctoral dissertation, but it is generally shorter and more narrowly focused. A master’s thesis should be publishable as a single article, though it might be longer than a typical article. Students who chose to write a master’s thesis rather than a bibliographic essay often do so because they are interested in pursuing further research, for instance in a doctoral program in political science or another discipline, or as a researcher in a public agency.

Like a good journal article, a master’s thesis should respond to a debate in the political science literature, and bring new evidence or arguments to bear upon the topic.  

In the master’s thesis, students usually research a topic related to their major, i.e., the field where they completed their advanced studies in. The purpose of the thesis is to prove that the student has acquired the level of maturity that is required for a higher university degree. In other words, students are required to prove that they master their majors and the methods of research in their respective fields, and are also capable of carrying out an academic research project in an independent and mature way. The work can also be done as a part of a thesis seminar.

The thesis should form an independent entity in its own right and be intelligible without additional material. Normally students complete the thesis as individual work, but group work is also possible if the students are working on the same project on topics that are very similar, for example. However, if the option of group work is chosen, the independent contribution of each student must be identified in the thesis.

How Long Should it Be?  How Long Does it Take?

A master’s thesis is generally 40-80 pages, not including the bibliography. However, the length will vary according to the topic and the method of analysis, so the appropriate length will be determined by you and your committee. Students who write a master’s thesis generally do so over two semesters.

Finding a Topic   

Students who are interested in writing a master’s thesis should begin thinking about possible topics early in their academic program. Good research questions often have their origins in seminar papers or class discussions. Keep an idea file where you jot down potential research ideas. Be on the lookout for new data that might help provide new insights into a topic, or for past research that might be productively replicated in other circumstances.

Students can also suggest a topic based on their own interests. A suitable topic can, for instance, be a research and development project carried out for the industry or for a smaller company.

Also, students must agree on starting the theses with the professor in charge of the major or the professor whose field of research best matches the topic. It is advisable to organize an initial meeting to start the thesis work. As soon as the topic has been agreed upon with the supervisor, the student should have the topic, supervisor, and advisor.

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