MA Thesis Guidelines

All the information you need to successfully complete your thesis

Selecting a Thesis Director and Committee

Writing a thesis requires that you match your interests as best as possible—in both subject and method—with those of the three or more faculty members who will serve as director and readers. Over the academic year before your thesis year begins, you should engage in preliminary discussions with potential thesis committee members. You have good reason to design a thesis with the abilities and expertise of your committee in mind. It is your responsibility to reach agreement first with an advisor, and then with at least two additional readers, although the Director of the MA will consult with you should you have questions.

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By the end of your first year in the program, submit a thesis prospectus to the following persons in the order listed:

  1. your thesis director
  2. other members of your thesis committee
  3. MA director and MA committee

Although the content of your prospectus is liable to change in accordance with the edits suggested by your director and committee members, all versions of your prospectus should contain:

  1. title
  2. names of your committee’s director and members
  3. selected bibliography

In no more than two or three pages (excluding the bibliography), your prospectus should describe the scope and method of your project, specify the specific issues or questions your thesis will engage, and suggest the preliminary conclusions that you expect to reach.

While, like any intellectual project, some aspects of the thesis may change in the course of your investigation, the prospectus should provide a clear sense of your project’s purpose, relevance, and organization. It must propose an argument, however hypothetical. It must position your argument, however provisionally, in relation to the most important secondary sources in your list of references, explaining what you plan to contribute to, or how you expect to deviate from, the current critical conversation regarding your topic.

Together, the two main parts of your proposal—its main body and its list of references—thus demonstrate your conversance with related work in the field, indicate the breadth of your preparation, and, typically, reveal your method or theoretical orientation. The list of references should follow either MLA or Chicago documentation style.

Once your director has approved the prospectus, forward it to your other committee members. When you have made any revisions that they may require, and all of your committee members have approved your prospectus, add their names to it and email it to the graduate programs advisor and MA director. If the proposal does not include the names of the committee members and a list of references, the MA director will automatically return it. Take care with your prospectus; it represents your intellectual plans to the program director and the MA committee, who will scrutinize it.

Frequently, the MA committee suggests revisions or requests further information. When the MA committee approves your prospectus, it effectively permits you to enroll for thesis credit. Provide enough time in the planning process to organize your thoughts and fully prepare a prospectus. Again, submit your thesis proposal by the end of the year before your thesis year. In other words, prepare to submit your thesis prospectus, with the approval of your entire committee, 12 months before you plan to graduate. You may encounter difficulty in waiting until summer to have your prospectus approved. And students benefit from having their plans settled by the end of the first year so they may use that summer to pursue their thesis work with good direction.

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Enrollment for Thesis Credit

Upon the MA committee approval of your thesis prospectus/proposal you must then complete/submit a VCU degree candidacy form. Degree candidacy forms are now available/completed online. Info and instruction on how to submit the required degree candidacy form can be found on the Graduate School's Degree Candidacy page.

ENGL799, required override to formally register for MA thesis hours, will only be provided once the degree candidacy form has been submitted and signed.

Use the 799 rubric to enroll for three to six hours of thesis credit. It may be most useful to you to think about a thesis as a two-semester commitment: use the first semester to read, research, and draft the thesis, and the second semester to revise and reorganize the final document, in conversation with your thesis committee.

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Working With Your Director and Thesis Committee

You need to keep in contact with your thesis director and committee members. It is your duty, in your first year, to invite them to join your project and to convince them of its promise. In your thesis year (usually your second year in the program), it is your duty to seek out and to submit to their direction, by sending drafts at regular intervals and, then, revising and expanding those drafts according to their suggestions. If you are enrolled in thesis hours over first a fall and then a spring term, your director should receive:

  1. your introduction before reading days in October
  2. first half of your thesis by the end of end of fall term
  3. complete draft of your thesis by the beginning of February

Your thesis committee should receive the entire thesis, with the approval of your thesis director, by the beginning of March.  Failure to meet any of these due dates may prohibit a student from graduating on time. Please allow faculty members at least two weeks to read and respond to any draft that you give them.

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Defense of the Thesis

Once your thesis director has approved an entire draft of the thesis, schedule your defense, usually for April. Your defense is an opportunity for you, your committee, and your colleagues to discuss the thesis, to offer additional suggestions, and to interrogate your arguments. The School of Graduate Studies specifies that the department must give official notice of a defense “to the university community” to which the defense is open; officially, a defense may be attended by any colleagues or faculty members who wish. Normally, the Director of the MA provides notice of and helps to arrange the defense. It must be scheduled at least two weeks before the deadline for submission in final form to the Dean’s office. That date is determined by the university and published in the bulletin; usually it is the last class day of the semester. The dates November 25 and April 24 serve as good approximate targets.

The actual format of a defense may vary; consult your director. Often, the candidate will make brief opening remarks that explain the origins of the project. Typically, the committee members ask the candidate specific questions about the method, the scope or the implications of the project, and any future plans for the thesis. Finally, members of the audience, if any, have an opportunity to ask questions. When the committee is through querying the candidate (after probably an hour), the candidate and non-committee members leave the room while the committee evaluates the candidate’s performance and thesis. This process is not pro forma; however, if you have been working closely with your director and committee, the defense can be a pleasant and intellectually stimulating conversation.

If, after consultation, the committee passes the candidate at the defense and does not require significant revisions, members will often sign the thesis approval sheet at that that time. You must have an original approval sheet with each copy of the thesis submitted to the university. Approval pages cannot be copied. Be absolutely certain all titles, names and ranks are correct. The candidate is encouraged to provide more than the required number of approval sheets to avoid any unforeseeable problems.

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Submission of the Thesis

The VCU Graduate School no longer accepts manual/hard copy submission of theses and dissertations. All materials must be submitted electronically per the guidelines found on their Electronic Thesis and Dissertation page.

A complete checklist of of deadlines, formatting rules, and submission policies can be accessed at the above link.

By default, all theses and dissertations submitted in fulfillment of degree requirements at Virginia Commonwealth University are deposited in the university’s electronic academic repository, VCU Scholars Compass. Unless otherwise noted, the full texts of all items in Scholars Compass are available for free via the internet. Students whose professional or academic prospects may be damaged by the premature distribution of the work in their thesis my request that their work be kept off the web for one to five years. Students may, with the provision of a written justification, request a permanent embargo from inclusion in Scholars Compass.

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