The MA Thesis

The MA thesis is an original research project of approximately 50 pages, based on an argument and research on a major issue.  For students in the Political Science concentration, the subject may be in any one any of Political Science’s sub-fields: International Relations, Comparative Politics, American Politics, or Political Theory (though many theses fall into more than one category).  For the International Affairs concentration, the thesis must be either in International Relations or Comparative Politics.

Subjects: For the subject of the thesis, the most important consideration is to choose an issue in which you are interested.  It can be based on your coursework, future plans, or general interest.

Benefits of Writing a Thesis: The effort required in writing a thesis is rewarded with an original project that is excellent preparation for professional or graduate work.  It helps applications for both graduate work and professional positions stand out, and is good preparation for studying law and other fields by providing solid experience in conducting research and developing original analyses.  Finally, theses provide students with the distinction that leads to the department’s prestigious awards for graduates, such as the Patricia Ruffin Memorial Award in International Affairs.

Eligibility: Masters students in political science and international affairs who have completed at least 21 credits are eligible to write a thesis.

 I The Four Steps to a Thesis Project

1. The Thesis Proposal

The purpose of writing a thesis proposal is to demonstrate that the thesis addresses a significant issue; that you have an original or important argument about it; and that you have an organized plan to develop and support that argument.  So the first step of the thesis is to write a proposal of approximately four pages, comprised of the five points described below, which lays out the thesis’s issue and the tentative argument you plan to make about it.  (One thesis on corruption, for example, argued how this problem threatens democracy to an extent that has yet to be fully understood.)  The table of contents is also preliminary, but should give an idea of how you would like to structure the project by dividing it into chapters or sections.  A thesis on corruption, for instance, devoted 15-page chapters each to the definition of corruption, the spread of corruption, its impact on democracy, and examination of a case study.

1. A succinct working title that summarizes the project (i.e. indicates your topic)
2. An approximately one-paragraph summary of the project’s main issue, which can take the form of a one (or more) of the following: a. hypothesis; b. research question; or c. a project statement
3. At least a one-paragraph discussion of your methodology.  This paragraph should specify three points: a. research methods to collect data; b. research methods to analyze data; and c. the types of materials that will be used (e.g. books, interviews, archives).
3. An approximately one-paragraph discussion of the anticipated conceptual significance (i.e. relevance to political science and international affairs): What new knowledge or argument will the proposed project produce that we do not already know?  How does it impact political science scholarship?
4. A table of contents, comprised of: a. The titles of each chapters; b. The approximate length of each chapters; c. Two to three sentences describing the tentative argument made in the chapter
5. A preliminary bibliography listing resources that you plan to draw upon.  The preliminary bibliography should include about ten books and articles you plan to use.   The final bibliography should have about 30 articles, books, and websites.

Outlining these points in a proposal makes it far easier to complete the thesis.  A secondary purpose of the proposal is training in the art of proposal writing – a skill required in any political science career, from industry to academia.  The best laid out research plans may go awry, and the many excellent theses bear little resemblance to the thesis proposal.  So the purpose of a thesis proposal is not to form a sure-fire project with no risk of failure. (If there was no risk of failure, it wouldn’t be research.), but to show that you have a handle on the process and structure of research.  If you can present a clear and reasonable thesis idea, relate it to other relevant literature, justify its significance, and describe the steps for investigating it, then the thesis proposal is a success regardless of whether you modify or even scrap the initial idea.

For assistance writing this proposal and the thesis, please see Professor Currah’s writing guide online at http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/polisci/pcurrah/writing.htm.  Please also see this Sample thesis proposal.

2. Thesis Committee and Schedule

Thesis should be completed within one semester, which is normally the student’s final semester.  If you do not complete the thesis in one semester, but have finished all other requirements, then you should register for POLS 7930 for the second semester.  Note: if you are unable to complete the thesis in two semesters, you must petition to complete your degree in another way or reapply to your graduate deputy to continue for one more semester.  This latter option is only available in extraordinary circumstances and must be approved by the graduate deputy and your adviser.

Below are two schedules, spring and fall, for completion of a masters thesis.

Spring Schedule:

Proposals: Proposals submitted to the Graduate Chair (please email all International Affair’s Thesis proposals to politicalscience@brooklyn.cuny.edu) by December 1 of the prior Fall semester.  The Thesis Committee will then select approved theses and assign them to advisers.  Students who would like a particular adviser can indicate their name on the proposal.

First Chapter: The draft of the first chapter should be completed by February 1.

Main Chapters: The drafts of the main chapters of the thesis should be completed by April 1.

Final Version: The final draft should be completed no later than two weeks before the submission deadline in order for the adviser to review it.

Final Submission: See the bulletin for the final submission date, which is usually early May.

Fall Schedule

Proposals: Proposals submitted to the Graduate Chair by May 15 of the prior spring semester.  The Thesis Committee will then select approved theses and assign them to advisers. Students who would like a particular adviser can indicate their name on the proposal.

First Chapter: The draft of the first chapter should be completed by September 1.

Main Chapters: The drafts of the main chapters of the thesis should be completed by November 1.

Final Version: The final draft should be completed no later than two weeks before the submission deadline in order for the adviser to review it.

Final Submission: See the bulletin for the final submission date, which is usually late December.

3. Thesis Adviser

Once you have an approved proposal, the next step is to meet with your adviser, who specializes in the area of the issue you are examining.  Each faculty member specializing in one of the main areas of political science: international politics, comparative politics, political theory, and American politics.  In addition, each professor has a more specific area of expertise within those fields, such as human rights or economic development.  If you have an adviser in mind but need help formulating the thesis, you should seek their advice on putting the proposal together.

You and your adviser will develop a work and meeting schedule designed to allow completion of the thesis in a semester.  Ideally, this plan should be centered on the sections of the thesis, which were outlined in the proposal’s table of contents.  If you plan to have three chapters of about 20 pages each, for example, you should agree to complete one chapter every month.

4. Registration and Title Form

Those writing a thesis register for Political Science 7910.  Once your proposal is approved, permission is put into the registration system.  At that point, you can then register for POLS 7910 as you would for any other course.

The only other administrative step is to complete a Thesis Title Form, which has the preliminary title of your thesis and other information.  This form, which is available on the Brooklyn portal, is then given to the Graduate Deputy, who sends it to the Dean.

Thesis Topics: Thesis subjects have spanned a wide range of topics, from the death penalty to foreign debts.  The most important consideration in choosing a topic is writing on something in which you are very interested.  Without interest in the thesis topic, students have found it difficult to sustain the momentum to complete it.  In addition to being interested in the subject, you should develop something original to say about it.  Is there a question about the issue that has not been answered or answered well?  Is there a bias in the way the issue has been examined?  Is there something important to say about the topic that has not been said before?  Saying something original makes a thesis a thesis; otherwise it ends up being a summary of already written material.

Below are some of the past thesis projects.  The final published theses are all available in the Political Science Lounge, 3413 James Hall, and in the Brooklyn College Library

  • Environmental Degradation and Public Health
  • Poverty and Micro-Credit in South Asia
  • The Clinton Presidency and African American: Race, Racial Politics, and Public Policy
  • Impact of the Press on Removal and Relocation Policies During the Sioux Indian War

  • The Effects of Technology on the Voter Mobilization Tactics of the Christian Coalition
  • Collective Security after the Cold War
  • How the Gag Rule Weakens the International State System and Supplants Human Rights
  • Human Rights Abuses of Women in Areas of Conflict

II Writing the Thesis

Thesis Structure: Although their subjects vary widely, every thesis must have three elements: an argument or question; an original analysis; and specific case studies.

1. Argument: The most important part of the thesis is its argument or main question.  Every project must be centered on a new analysis of its subject.  For example, many theses about armed conflicts develop new ideas on their causes or impacts.  One way to develop your argument is to pose a question that you believe has not been answered correctly, fairly, or adequately.  Many thesis state that question up front, and their answer to it is their argument.  No matter what your argument is, it should be presented in the introduction.

2. Analysis: The content of the thesis must be centered on an analysis, with all information presented clearly connected to the main argument.  Material that is not directly related to it should be avoided.

3. Cases:  Along with analysis, an argument is supported by specific cases that demonstrate its value or correctness is specific instances.  Theses on global trade, for example, will use specific treaties, countries, or commodities to support their arguments.

Grammar/spelling: All spelling and grammatical errors must be corrected before final submission.  Since word processing programs have grammar and spell checkers, use them.

Clarity: To make sure your writing is clear, read your proposal aloud – then have someone else read it aloud.  If your sentences seem too long, divide them into two or three sentences.  Try to write the same way that you speak when explaining a concept, avoiding a complex word if a simpler word will do.

Figures: Figures help illustrate important aspects of the background material, sample data, and analysis techniques.   A well chosen and well labeled figure can reduce text length, and improve clarity.  When figures are taken from other articles, they should be modified to better present your particular point. Modern computer technology such as scanners and drafting programs are available can help you create or modify the graphs and pictures to be included in the text.

Please see the MA Thesis draft rubric used by Prof. Johnson to see what is typically expected in a MA thesis.  We also recommend the reference, The Craft of Research, as a guide for the research process.

References

1. Cite all ideas, concepts, text, and data that are not your own.  If you make a statement, back it up with your own data or a reference.  All references cited in the text must be in the bibliography.

2.  All references must be adequately cited.  After a quote or statistic taken from another source, cite the author name, date, and page number of the work in parenthesis: i.e. (Fanon, 1972, 43).  The full description of those references must be in the bibliography (see below).  Alternative for single-author references are using the surname of the author (followed by date of the publication in parenthesis):  a. … according to Hays (1994)  b.  … population growth is one of the greatest environmental concerns facing future generations (Hays, 1994).  (Note: if the citation is made at the end of a sentence, the period is placed after the citation).

Cite double-author references by the surnames of both authors (followed by date of the publication in parenthesis): for example: (Simpson and Hays, 1994).  Cite more than double-author references by the surname of the first author followed by et al. and then the date of the publication: e.g. Pfirman, Simpson and Hays would be: (Pfirman et al., 1994).

3. Cite newspaper articles using the newspaper name and date, e.g. ….this problem was also recently discussed in the press (New York Times, 1/15/00)

Bibliography

All references cited in the text should be in the bibliography in alphabetical order.  The easiest way to make your bibliography is through RefWorks, a web-based program that puts all your references in the proper format with on-line access.  To attain RefWorks, go to the Brooklyn College library site.  Select “online databases,” scroll down to “R,” and choose RefWorks.  Instructions on registering for and using RefWorks will then guide you, but do not hesitate to contact a librarian.  They are very helpful, as is the RefWorks support network.  When putting together your bibliography in Refworks, you may select among several different formats.  We recommend the APA format, which is outlined below for each reference type (see http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/section/2/10/ for a detailed guide):

Book, Chapter or Section:

Bibliography:  Calhoun, C. J., & McGowan, J. (1997). Plurality, promises and public spaces.

Hannah Arendt and the meaning of politics (pp. 232-259). Minneapolis:

University of Minnesota Press.

In-Text Citation: (Calhoun & McGowan, 1997)

Book, Whole:

Bibliography:  Lodge, G. C. (1970). Engines of change; United States interests and revolution in

Latin America (1st ed.). New York: Knopf

In-Text Citation: (Lodge, 1970)

Journal:

Bibliography: Agamben, G., & Rocke, M. (1995). We refugees. Symposium, 49(2), 114-119.

In-Text Citation: (Agamben & Rocke, 1995)

Web Page: Author (if applicable); Organization, web address, date accessed

Example: Habermas, J., NetLibrary (1991). The structural transformation of the public

sphere an inquiry into a category of bourgeois society, .http://www.netLibrary.com/

Accessed June 25, 2009

In-Text Citation: (Habermas &  NetLibrary, 1991)

Newspaper Articles:

Bibliography: Author Last Name, First Name. “Story Headline,” Newspaper, Date, Page

Dissertation/Thesis, or Unpublished Reports:

Bibliography:  Smith, J. (1999). Study of subways. Unpublished PhD, University of Alabama.

In-Text Citation: (Smith, 1999)

Wikipedia: If you use Wikipedia as a resource, you should refer to the scholarly or other sources cited in the specific entry.  If the general entry is cited, please see “citing Wikipedia” on its site.

Title Page: The title page should be written in the following format:

TITLE

_______________________________________

A Thesis

Presented to

The Faculty of the Department of Political Science

Brooklyn College

_______________________________________

In Partial Fulfillment of the

Requirements for the Degree

Master of Arts

By

Your Name

Spring/Fall, Year

Fonts:  The thesis should be written in 12-point Times New Roman Font.

Page Numbers: Prefatory material (e.g. the table of contents) is to be numbered consecutively in small Roman numerals.  All other pages (including bibliography, and appendices) are to be numbered consecutively in Arabic numerals in the upper right hand corner.

Spacing: The text is to be double-spaced, except for quotations of more than three lines.  The left margin is to be 1.25 inches, and all other margins 1 inch.  There should be two spaces between sentences.

Paper: The thesis is to use un-punched, regular paper, 8 ½ by 11 inches in size.  Every page must be clean and free of marks, cross-outs or other corrections.

III Submission and Approval

Two copies of the approved thesis are to submitted to the department, each free of errors and including all final edits.  Please do not bind the copies in any way.

Once approved by your adviser and the Graduate Deputy, one copy goes to the Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences and the other copy stay with other theses in the Political Science Department.  After the thesis is approved, a grade of P is submitted to the registrar and 3 credits are earned.

More information on writing a thesis is available from the college at Thesis Instructions for Preparing Filing.

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