Thesis Process

The thesis is a portfolio of three papers written during the course of the student’s graduate school career.

The thesis writing process is an essential component of the MA in Government. It is the culmination of graduate work in the program and the final product of the degree. The thesis process is an opportunity for students to examine in depth important political or policy questions with the ultimate end of making an original contribution to research in the field.  In the process of writing their theses, students hone their research skills, improve their analytical abilities, sharpen their writing and communication style, and become subject-matter experts in their chosen area.

Thesis Requirements

The final thesis will consist of three papers (approximately 25 pages each). Students must take three required Research and Thesis (RT) courses: RTI, RTII and RTIII. These are described below.

The first paper is written in 470.850 Research and Thesis I. Students should register for Research and Thesis I any time after having taken Government and Politics. Generally it is recommended that you take this course as your third or fourth course when you have a good sense of what your thesis topic is. In Research and Thesis I students will learn about qualitative and some quantitative research methods in the social sciences. Along with learning research methods, students will begin to write the first paper of their thesis portfolio in a collaborative environment with other students, working closely with the professor.

Students will enroll in 470.852 Research and Thesis II shortly after completing Research and Thesis I. In Research and Thesis II, students will work in a collaborative environment with other students and with the professor to finish the second paper of the thesis portfolio. Students who are interested in writing a portfolio thesis using quantitative methods may substitute 470.709 Quantitative Methods for Research and Thesis. Please consult with Dr. Wolfson about your research plans before taking the Quantitative Methods course.

The third paper of the thesis portfolio should be researched and written in one of the electives a student takes. Students should take care to adhere to the methodological guidelines learned in RTI and RTII when writing their third paper.

Students are expected to bring all three papers to their final required class, 470.800 Research and Thesis III. In this class, students will revise the third paper and focus on writing the introduction and conclusion to the portfolio. We strongly advise students to meet with one of the program directors or program coordinators before registering for the course to make sure they are ready to complete the thesis. The three papers of the portfolio must be written on a common theme.

Thesis Writing, Formatting and References

Each of the papers of the thesis portfolio should be approximately 25 pages long, double-spaced, using footnotes, NOT endnotes or parenthetical references. Students should follow The Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers. Or students can buy Kate Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 6th Edition (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1996) which is an abbreviated (and less expensive) edition of the Chicago Manual of Style that was created specifically for students. Common errors in punctuation and capitalization can be avoided by consulting William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, The Elements of Style (Needham Heights, Massachusetts: Allyn & Bacon, 2000). Also, please consult the University’s Guidelines for the Preparation of Dissertations and Thesis for detailed information about the organization and formatting of the thesis.

For reference for formatting please see these model theses:
Model 1, Model 2.

Interviews and other Human Subject Research

Requirements for getting IRB permission to interview human subjects is undergoing some changes. Please click on this link for more information and contract your Program Director if you have any questions about how this pertains to your own research.

Students whose thesis will utilize research methods that involve human-subject research (e.g. surveys, focus groups, or interviews) MUST describe their projects and apply for either an exemption or approval from the Homewood Institutional Review Board (HIRB). IRBs, are federally mandated and serve to ensure that researchers take the appropriate measures to minimize any risks involved for participants in research, inform participants of any risks that do remain, and obtain their consent to participate. The application process is not complicated and students should not let it deter them from pursuing public opinion research or interviews as their research method but you will need the exemption or approval before beginning any interviewing or surveying research. The review process usually takes about three weeks. For more information and to obtain an application for exemption, consult the HIRB website. For further questions, please contact Dr. Dorothea Wolfson at

Completing the Thesis

Research and Thesis III is the final course of the MA program, and students should register for it after completing all other coursework. In this course, students will focus on making final revisions to their thesis portfolio. Students will also write the introduction (about 10 pages) and conclusion (about 10 pages)  to their thesis portfolio. The introduction should include not only an executive summary of all three papers but also an explanatory statement on the themes and links among the papers. Both the introduction and the conclusion should also address the significance of the topic, the contribution your research has made in the field, and situate your thesis within established schools of thought on the topic. The conclusion may also include recommendations or point out areas of future research and weaknesses in the current field of study. Students who have successfully submitted their thesis portfolio of three research papers, the introduction, and conclusion may then defend their thesis at the oral defense at the end of each semester, including the summer.

Students who are unable to submit their thesis portfolio by the end of Research and Thesis III must register for 470.888 Thesis Continuation. Because of the emphasis placed in the core courses and electives on equipping students with the writing and research skills for successfully writing a thesis, students should be able to complete their thesis portfolio in the last semester of their studies when they enroll in “Research and Thesis.” However, for a variety of reasons, many work-related, some students find that they cannot finish or defend their thesis after they have taken “Research and Thesis.” These students must enroll in Thesis Continuation in every subsequent semester, including the summer, until they finish. The continuation fee is currently $500 per semester. Continuation students are not required to attend class but should stay in close touch with and submit any work to the Thesis Continuation professor, as well as to any faculty members with whom they have been working.

Oral Exam for Thesis Defense

We hold a thesis defense at the end of every semester, including the summer. The oral exam is held during the 14th week of the semester, with the program chair and associate program chairs present. Students will assemble as a group for the defense. Each student will be asked to state briefly the contribution he or she has made in writing the thesis. Then the faculty committee will raise questions. We will continue until each student has defended. The group will then be dismissed and the oral defense committee will confer about the outcome for each student. Each student will be called back into the room for a private meeting with the committee to learn the outcome of his or her defense. The four possible outcomes for the thesis are:

  1. Accepted, no revisions
  2. Accepted, with some minor revisions, no further committee review required
  3. Substantial revisions needed. Further committee review required before student may graduate
  4. Not accepted (highly unlikely at this stage)


Theses that are especially well-written, original, well researched and make a valuable contribution to the field will be considered for honors designation. Students who earn straight A’s in their coursework and earn honors on their theses will graduate with the distinction of Summa Cum Laude.

Students who receive honors on thesis will graduate with a Magna Cum Laude distinction. For early straight As or A-s in all coursework, students graduate with a Cum Laude. In addition we offer several other honors awards at our Spring graduation reception: the Harold Seidman Award for an outstanding thesis in the topic of policy and administration, and the William F. Clinger, Jr. Award for an outstanding thesis in the topic of institutional or representative government. In addition we offer several other honors awards at our Spring graduation reception: including the William F. Clinger, Jr. Award for an outstanding thesis in the topic of institutional or representative government. Each recipient receives recognition and a check for $250. Recipients of these awards are determined a week after everyone has defended.

Submission of Final Copies of Thesis

Dissertation Office Final Copy

Once a thesis has been defended and approved, it must be printed on acid-free paper, which is available locally at printing and copying firms such as the Copy Center at Dupont Circle or Staples. Along with this copy, please include an extra copy of your title page and abstract. Bring in the finished, box thesis to Nicole Cosey, room 104Y.

Copies for Library

In addition to the acid-free copy, two more copies of the thesis need to be submitted as well on regular paper for our library. These two copies should be tape bound with a clear plastic cover.