Select a general area for study and try to focus on a particular topic.
Ideas can come from a number of sources: a class assignment or a term paper,
for example; your own prior experience or current events; a discussion
with professionals, students or faculty. You may be able to take a portion
of a faculty member's on-going research project your own investigation.
Keep in mind that your thesis should make a significant contribution to
the field of study. It must show originality, independent thinking, mastery
of the subject matter, an ability to think logically, and your ability
to complete acceptable research. The topic also should be one you want
to study. If you chose a topic just to complete the degree, you are likely
to find the research and the writing onerous; on the other hand, work on
a topic that interests you can be exciting.
In selecting a topic and formulating your thesis you may:
Consider something that will provide a new or improved analysis of current
thought. For example, you might study ways to test the effectiveness of
advertising campaigns or to analyze the audience. You might test competing
theories of advertising positioning, see if a broadcast programming theory
still works, or study different ways to lay out a newspaper. In no area
of mass media is everything already known.
Combine information from several sources to arrive at a new conclusion
Explore aspects of a subject that have not previously been studied or widely
Refine other people's work or theories.
Question existing assumptions or hypotheses.
Enlarge upon your own observations or feelings in a systematic way.
Validate earlier research by redoing a study or by looking at conclusions
from a new angle.
Conduct original research into a topic that has not been considered previously.
A good topic should provide an opportunity for original thinking in either
substance or approach. This task is not as difficult as it may seem. What
is required is an approach to the subject from a new point of view. You
may rethink assumptions or question the accuracy of what is now being thought.
You may refine general ideas in more specific terms or apply accepted methods
to new situations. In short, there are many ways to achieve original thinking.
All of those methods are dependent on immersion in the literature on the
topic, for it is when you begin to grasp what has been written that you
will begin to understand what is missing, what has not been tested, what
may have changed over time, or may just be wrong. A fresh approach always
starts with a comfortable grasp of what has already been done.
A good topic should be focused as narrowly as possible. Do not try to test
everything. Your study must be kept to a workable size. For example, it
would be impossible to study the question "What makes a successful
advertisement?" But, one can easily deal with topics such as "How
are women portrayed in advertisements for household products?" or
"What is the difference between the way men and women are used in
clothing advertisements on television?" One way to narrow your topic
and to help yourself understand what is being asked is to write a 30- to
50-word title for your proposed study. That may seem like overkill, but
it will force you to think through what it is you actually want to do.
Your topic should have significance. In short, you need to be able to justify
the time and effort that will go into the question. Some opt for the easy
or momentarily popular topic, but that approach seldom produces anything
of value and usually results in sloppy research. Remember, the purpose
of the thesis is to add to the body of knowledge and show that you are
ready to earn a place as a scholar in this field.
The topic should be reduced to a question that will guide all future steps
in the research process, and the main question should lead naturally to
sub-questions, hypotheses, and a method. The topic should both guide and
limit the literature review. It should also indicate an open-mindedness
on the part of the researcher to consider all alternatives. In short, you
should not set out to prove a pre-conceived notion.
The topic should be feasible, given the time, resources, and limitations
of the program. Virtually any question can be asked. However, given our
resources, not all questions can be answered. (Note: It is your Committee's
job to help you meet these requirements, but it is your responsibility
to develop the initial topic for discussion.)
Pay attention to the details, including the footnote and reference style
you and your adviser have agreed upon.
Work through your committee adviser to get everything in order prior to
submitting your work to the committee and scheduling your oral defense.
As you become expert in your topic, you will become more comfortable with
explaining it to others. Once you know your topic well, you should be able
to answer questions pertaining to it. The oral examination usually requires
you to discuss how you developed an interest in the topic, the process
you went through in organizing your thesis, why you made specific choices,
and what you have learned in the process.
Your goal should be to get as early a start as possible--the core courses
and electives can profitably be used to help launch and complete the thesis.
Among resources that can help you as you start are: Communication Abstracts,
Journalism and Mass Communication Abstracts, and The Social Science
Citation Index. All can help you find periodical literature and previously
completed theses and dissertations.
The authoritative source on books and journals is Mass Media Bibliography:
An Annotated Guide to Books and Journals for Research and Reference
by Eleanor Blum and Francis Goins Wilhoit (Urbana: University of Illinois
Press, latest edition). You should also consult at least The Craft of
Research, by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995); The Modern Researcher
by Jacques Barzun (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, latest edition);
and A Handbook for Scholars by Mary-Claire van Leunen (New York:
Oxford University Press, latest edition).
One of the greatest problems graduate students have at the thesis stage
is scheduling. Work with your thesis adviser to set deadlines for submitting
chapters so that you will be able to complete the work without putting
end-of-the-semester strain on yourself and your committee. It is the rare
thesis that does not need at least some revision and often major revision
to be acceptable by normal academic and professional standards. Yet far
too many graduate students wait until the last minute to turn in a first
draft of their work. That forces the committee into one of two decisions,
either of them bad: (1) rejecting the work outright, forcing a delay in
graduation, or (2) accepting far less effective work than the student
The proposal and the prospectus
The proposal, prospectus, and the first three chapters or sections of your
thesis are structured identically. They differ only in the amount of thought
and effort that go into them.The proposal generally runs 6 to 12 pages
and consists of the following three sections:
a. An introduction of your research question and hypothesis. Here
you identify or formulate a clear statement of the problem or purpose of
the proposed thesis and what form it will take. The statement should be
detailed enough so that your committee knows what you plan to investigate.
b. A brief review of literature showing what has been done in the
field already and why your work will be important. It consists largely
of an annotated bibliography in which you list relevant authors, titles,
publisher, dates and places of publication along with comments on what
the book or article is about and how it is relevant to your topic. Here
you justify the problem as one worthy of research time and as one that
has not been previously investigated in quite the same way by another scholar.
c. A methodology section describing how the actual research will
be completed, with an annotated outline and calendar. An annotated outline
should provide the reader with a detailed understanding of the scope and
organization of your thesis. Please note that the calendar for completing
the sections of your thesis is an approximation another reason why you
need to regularly consult with your adviser concerning your progress.
Write the proposal in consultation with your adviser. Then submit it to
prospective members of your thesis committee who will determine if they
wish to serve on your committee. Once they agree to serve, they will suggest
readings, make comments, and recommend changes.
The proposal should contain sufficient detail to tell prospective committee
members if your topic is "do-able," if you have sufficient literature
to study your topic, if you have a research method that is manageable (quantitative
or qualitative), and if the topic and approach fit their interests and
While your proposal will establish a preliminary
research question and method, as your work progresses, refinements will
often become necessary. As you start your research you may also find things
that don't work as planned. You may even discover that the question must
be redone or the method completely changed. Your committee will likely
also have many suggestions or clarifications for this initial document.
The introduction, literature review and methodology will be edited and
incorporated into the next document, the prospectus. The prospectus is
much longer than the proposal, usually 20 to 50 pages. Don't let that daunt
you, however; when you finish it you will have a draft version of the first
three chapters of your thesis.
After the prospectus has been approved, you may begin your more detailed
research comfortable in the knowledge that your committee is aware of your
topic and has agreed to your method. After it is approved, no major changes
are to be made by you or the committee. The prospectus, in effect, serves
as a contract between you and and the committee. If you feel major revisions
of are needed, you need to submit these to the committee for review and
The introduction defines your topic and formulates your specific research
questions. It will control all that follows and will guide your committee
at the final oral exam. When your committee members receive your thesis,
their main question will be "Has the candidate clearly presented a
comprehensive answer to the basic questions set forth in the introduction?"
Formulate one primary question that expresses the problem you wish to solve.
That question will usually lead to subordinate questions that must be answered
in order to get at the primary question. It will also often lead to hypotheses,
or statements of what you believe you will find.
The difference between a hypothesis and a question
is basic to research, and both may appear in the same paper. The hypothesis
is a statement of what you think you will find, and your research either
supports or rejects that statement. Example: Women are treated as sex objects
by prime-time network television situation comedies, while men are treated
as authority figures.
The question is just that, a question. Example: How are women and men portrayed
differently in broadcast network prime-time situation comedies?
Justify the importance of the research. Near the start of the introduction
you need to specify what your study will contribute to the field. You might
consider how your study will influence the following four areas:
Personal: Why do you wish to explore this topic? Your motivation should
be reflected in the proposal and prospectus statement.
Social: Why is this study important to society? Who is likely to benefit
from this project and in what ways? What will society gain from the answer
to the question you have proposed?
Scholarly: How is it better than, or different from, previous projects
and studies? What will the thesis contribute to the academic world and
particularly to the scholarly community in which you are working?
Professional: How will answering the question you have proposed benefit
or help us better understand the professional community? What practical
applications will come from your work?
Provide any definitions that will assist the reader in understanding your
meanings or the variables that are important to the study. For example,
under the hypothesis stated above, you would need to define what is meant
by "sex objects," "authority figures," and by "treated."
Limit the scope of your study. Tell what your your assumptions are and
why and how you narrowed the topic under consideration. Include the rationale
for your specific area of study.
Tell what you expect to discover and list possible alternatives and what
they would mean. For example, in a study of television ratings over the
last five years, you might expect to find a general decline in network
prime time viewing, However, you might find only some networks had declined
or only some nights or times. If that were so, what might the data indicate
was happening in terms of audience preferences?
b. Literature Review. The literature review serves to show your
committee and others who read your thesis that you have a broad command
the body of knowledge related to your topic. The review provides a historical
and theoretical framework for your study. Books and articles should be
classified according to the ideas you consider pertinent to the themes
you will develop; thus, the subjects of the topic sentences of each paragraph
should refer to those themes. By the time readers reach the conclusion,
they should not only have a sense of the contribution of earlier authors
to your understanding of the topic, but also how your contribution will
build on prior work.
c. Methodology. The methodology section is your operational plan.
It should describe exactly and in detail what you intend to do. It should
be designed in such a way that someone unfamiliar with your study could
use the method you describe and do exactly what you did.
Your research question should suggest a clear
method. But you will still need to explain the steps you took, when they
were taken, and how you actually did it. In a quantitative study you will
also have to provide definitions of variables used, explanations of controls,
and so on. While the following list is not complete, these are points you
will want to consider:
The method chosen--survey, content analysis, experimental or historical--why
it was selected, how it applies directly to the project, and the procedural
steps you followed.
What subjects and materials you employed. If applicable, tell your sample
size, how you gathered the sample, where it came from, why it was valid,
and what controls were used.
Definitions of your variables and how they were determined.
Examples of any questionnaires, surveys, or other documents used or required.
Include the questionnaire or survey instrument as an Appendix.
How feasible was the operational plan? What were the estimates of time
and cost? Indicate in the timetable--when you did the study--how long it
took, what were the limits set on such things as the number of years covered
in a content analysis or literature review, and why those limits were chosen.
Any secondary sources used for data, and why they were selected.
How did you check the validity and reliability of variables or any instruments
What assumptions did you make and why?
What statistical tests were run and which computer program was used?
Sub-studies completed under the main study, exactly why they were done,
and how they relate to the main question.
What data were gathered, in what form and how they were coded or used.
What other special qualifications and considerations were necessary to
develop this project?
d. Results. You report the findings from your study in the results
section. You may also point out implications of the findings or support
for data found in the literature review, such as:
"these findings seem to support the conclusions reported by Brown
and his colleagues (Brown, Smith, and Jones, 1995, p. 5)."
This is also the place for charts, tables, and graphs. Make the data as
easy to read and as complete as possible. Don't assume things or expect
your committee to take your word for it. Even when visual aids are used,
an explanation must still be included in the text itself (i.e., most graphs
will require a cutline or legend to explain what the graph means).
It is also possible that as you write this section you will discover more
data are needed or your data contain findings that were not anticipated.
Don't worry; the need to adjust one's thinking happens often. If you already
knew all the answers, there would be no need to do the study. In the case
of unexpected results, just list them along with your other findings. If
you do not have enough data, the problem is greater. In that case, you
may have to clarify the question or enlarge the method to collect the needed
material. Your committee can help with the problem, so let them guide your
e. Discussion/Conclusion. The Discussion or Conclusion chapter is
a descriptive summary in which you take the reader back to the first chapter
and show how the findings answer the questions and hypotheses you proposed.
Tell how your results relate to other people's work, as discussed in your
review of literature. Finally, set forth your own conclusions and interpretations.
Don't be afraid to suggest what you believe the findings mean. Also, suggest
alternative explanations and why you believe your explanations are stronger.
Remember, readers will look for alternatives to your conclusions, so beat
them to the punch.
Include in this chapter a sub-section entitled "Suggestions for Further
Research." In it, suggest what research might build on what you have
done. No study takes into account all situations, and often research creates
as many questions as it answers. Don't be afraid to point out questions
that flow from your work.
An abstract of your thesis will be used by researchers and others to determine
whether they wish to read the full document. It should not exceed 300 words
and should provide a succinct, descriptive account of your work. Publication
of thesis abstracts is important because it expands participation by our
students and faculty advisers in the emerging information society; it enhances
awareness of mass communication research going on at Loyola University
and advances peer recognition by faculty and students at other institutions
in the U.S. and abroad that the school is indeed an international research
Style guides and procedure
You should use a recognized style guide appropriate to the type of thesis
you are writing. Two that are used at Loyola are:
Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Washington,
DC: American Psychological Association, latest edition. This is the official
style of the graduate program.
Turabian, Kate L.. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and
Dissertations (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, latest edition)
is the preferred style for historical topics. See the on-line style
guide prepared by the University
of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center.
Several specialized software packages are available commercially. They
allow you to adjust to a variety of styles. For example,WP Citator is a
Word Perfect-based citator with more than 100 style guides built in (e.g.,
Turabian, Chicago A and B, American Psychological Association, MLA, etc.).
See also information on citations for electronic sources at the following
You ought to copyright your thesis and subsequently condense your work
for publication. Some scholars write a summary article; others mine their
theses for two or more publications in academic and professional journals
or in popular magazines and newspapers, or for delivery as papers at conventions.
Publication will make your findings more widely known and enhance your
reputation so as to boost your chances for getting into a Ph.D. program
or getting a job.
Articles for academic journals generally run 12 to 20 pages, and op ed
pieces are about 900 words. That means you have to cut and report only
the most important findings, condense the review of literature, or focus
on only a narrow aspect of the study. Your adviser may be willing to help
you with the write-up or even perhaps co-author an article.
Check-off list for completing your thesis
your chair and a three-person thesis committee.
a proposal and set up a meeting with your adviser to discuss your proposed
topic and method in depth.
your proposal to the other potential committee members and invite them
to be on the committee.
approval of your proposal and your prospectus from your adviser and your
committee approval before proceeding with your research.
a timetable for proceeding.
for CMMN A898 credit after the proposal has been approved by the committee.
Normally students sign up for three hours in one semester and three hours
in the next semester, but they may enroll for all six hours at one time.
However, no more than six hours of CMMN A898 may count toward fulfilling
the degree requirements.
work. Search the literature on the chosen topic and use your findings to
refine your research question, to develop hypotheses centered around the
question, and to help apply a method to answer the questions systematically.
your proposal based on your preliminary findings and taking into account
the committee's suggestions. Enlarge it into a formal prospectus.
a copy of your formal prospectus (typically the first three chapters of
your thesis) to your adviser. Be aware that you may have to go through
several drafts and make many changes. Only after the adviser is satisfied
do you circulate the prospectus to other committee members.
and interpret the results as they relate to your research hypotheses. In
conjunction with your adviser, you will also have to determine if the research
is complete or if more evidence still needs to be gathered.
conclusions and suggestions based on your findings and write up your results.
Show specifically how your research answers the questions you have proposed
and make suggestions for further research.
the committee's approval of the thesis. First, distribute the chapters
to your adviser, as he or she requires; some prefer to read and approve
one chapter at a time, while others want to wait to read the completed
draft. When your adviser is satisfied that the thesis is nearly ready for
your defense, give each member a copy to read. Incorporate their suggestions
into your final draft.
adviser, schedule a date for an oral examination. You may have to juggle
dates and times in order to fit the exam period into everyone's schedule.
Keep in mind that the oral examination will be administered
only after your thesis is in tentatively acceptable shape and your committee
members have had clean, readable copies in hand for at least two weeks.
complete the oral examination.
Arrangement of the contents
1. Title Page - Includes the title of the thesis, your name, the degree
being completed, the full name of the School and University, date, etc.
2. Copyright - Optional.
3. Dedication - Optional. Here you can dedicate your work to someone.
4. Acknowledgments - Optional. This is a statement of your indebtedness
to other people. The candidate's name has no place on this page.
5. Table of contents - A clear outline of the report, giving headings and
page numbers where topics can be found. Include major subheadings within
6. List of tables, charts, and graphs - A list giving a page references
for each table, chart, and graph in the study.
7. List of illustrations - A list giving a page reference for each figure
or graph in the study.
8. Abstract - A 300-word summary of the major findings and key words
Note: From the Dedication to this point the page numbers are in lower-case
roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv etc.).
9. The Body of the Thesis - The five sections talked about earlier: Introduction;
Literature Review; Methodology; Results; Discussion/Conclusion.
10. End notes - These may be required depending on which style guide is
used, so be sure to check your particular guide.
11. Bibliography - A listing of all literature, secondary data, and interview
sources used in your research.
12. Appendix(es) - Other materials you feel should be included but which
don't fit in the paper. Those may include a glossary; questionnaires; lists
of data; reprints of documents; long sections from other people's work;
side notes or references that are important but not directly related to
your question. Each appendix is listed by an alphabetical letter and descriptive
title--e.g., Appendix A, Appendix B, etc.