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Thesis & Project Guide: Starting & Proposing

Getting Started

There are two/three things you must do to before you start researching your thesis/project: 

  1. Pick a topic (see the Tips on Finding as Thesis or Project Topic & Getting Started box to the right for help)
  2. Write and submit a proposal (see The Proposal box below for help)
  3. Submit an IRB Review form if your thesis or project involves studying living human subjects (see the Institutional Review box below)

The Proposal

A thesis/project proposal is a short essay laying out what you intend to study for your thesis/project that you will submit to your advisor(s).  It typically includes a bibliography of potential works you may utilize (your final bibliography in your thesis will of course be much bigger), and as such it involves some background research.  A proposal is partially a formality: your advisor(s) should already be generally aware of what you intend to study before you submit your proposal because you should have already been talking to them about it!  With that in mind, talk with your advisor(s) to see what they want you to cover, how long they want it to be, and when they want it submitted.

Check out the following articles for more advise:

Institutional Review

If your thesis research involves studying living human subjects, then you must get approval from the MLTS Institutional Review Board (IRB) before you begin your research.  For more information, please see our IRB website.

Tips on Finding a Thesis or Project Topic & Getting Started

Writing a thesis or project can be daunting, particularly if you have never done anything like it before.  If it is any solace, you are not alone!  Here are a few observations from someone who has gone through the process on how to find and pick a good thesis/project topic:

  • Find a topic that REALLY interests you.  You will be spending a lot of time on researching and writing your thesis/project; the more you enjoy your topic, then less of a burden it will be!
  • Find a topic that is feasible to work with for a thesis/project.  A thesis/project is typically not more than 100 pages; you also have a time limit for finishing and submitting your thesis.  You therefore cannot research and write about something that would be too big or that would take too long to research in a year. With that said...
  • If your starting topic is too big, you can narrow it down!  It is quite normal for a student to start out with an infeasibly large topic for a thesis/project (I did!).  If you start out wanting to examine a large topic, consider, for example, a deep-dive examination of a single source within that topic, or applying a single methodology to a large topic.
  • Your thesis/project topic can (and probably will) evolve and change.  It is normal to see the direction you plan on going in your proposal lead to something different, or even something completely different.  Just stay in touch with your advisor!
  • Do something original with your thesis/project.  Consider a finished thesis to be the first draft of a future academic journal article.  A thesis is supposed to be an original contribution to your particular academic field of study.  Of course, all scholarship builds off the work of earlier scholarship, so the original aspect of your thesis may be an examination of something that others have already examined, but from a new lens or methodology.
  • Examine or integrate issues that are in vogue amongst professionals in the field you want to work.  If you are earning your degree in order to help you obtain a particular job, then researching and writing about a hot topic in that professional field can help you position yourself as a better potential hire.
  • Talk to your advisor and other experts in your areas of interest.  They will likely have ideas on potential topics or ways to narrow down your topic.
  • Ask a librarian for help.  Schedule a reference appointment with a librarian to help you find potential sources.
  • Keep an open mind, and let your evidence steer you; do not steer your evidence.  You may know your topic well, but you cannot let that predetermine the results of your research.  You should not have a fully-formed thesis statement at the beginning; at most, you can have a hypothesis.  Be careful not to be too invested in this hypothesis; if your research proves your hypothesis wrong, then that is good research!

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