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A Guide to Thesis Preparation


The purpose of the thesis


Selecting a thesis adviser and a committee


 Selecting a topic




 The proposal and prospectus


 The body of the thesis


 The abstract


 Style guides and procedure


 Publishing your work

 App. A

 Check-off list for completing your thesis

 App. B

 Arranging the contents


The purpose of the thesis

As your final graduate program project, the thesis is designed to help you grow intellectually and to increase your confidence in your ability to identify and solve complex problems. Through it, you will demonstrate your ability to conduct formal research. And it will serve as a vehicle for you to disseminate your scholarly findings to other people in the discipline. It is your move away from being a student and toward becoming a contributing professional.


Selecting a thesis adviser and a committee

A thesis committee of three faculty members will guide your research, approve your thesis, and conduct your final oral examination. In choosing members, first select a chair who will serve as your major adviser. That should be someone interested in your area of emphasis and someone with whom you have had classes and with whom you get along well.

Discuss other potential committee members with your adviser. Once you have prepared your proposal, show it to the faculty members you and your adviser agreed on and invite them to be on the committee. Keep in mind that some faculty members may not consider themselves expert in the area you plan to study or they may be engaged in activities that preclude their serving on the committee. If one person declines, should ask someone else.


Selecting a topic

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 or discovery.

Explore aspects of a subject that have not previously been studied or widely considered.

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 expertise.

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 approval.


The body of the thesis

a. Introduction. 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 used?

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 decision.

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.


The abstract

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 center.


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 web sites:


Publishing your work

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

Select your topic.

Select your chair and a three-person thesis committee.

Prepare a proposal and set up a meeting with your adviser to discuss your proposed topic and method in depth.

Show your proposal to the other potential committee members and invite them to be on the committee.

Get approval of your proposal and your prospectus from your adviser and your committee approval before proceeding with your research.

Set a timetable for proceeding.

Register 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.

Begin 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.

Revise your proposal based on your preliminary findings and taking into account the committee's suggestions. Enlarge it into a formal prospectus.

Furnish 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.

Collect additional data.

Analyze 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.

Develop 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.

Get 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.

With your 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.

Successfully 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 each chapter.

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.


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