What is a Thesis?

A thesis is essentially a lengthy research paper that engages deeply with the wider body of scholarly work on the chosen topic. The name “thesis” is deliberate, because this paper needs to have a strong thesis — an original and creative point to make — and an argument to support it using research sources effectively.

The type of research can vary depending on the field; a sociology thesis might be based on a survey and/or interview instrument and its findings; a literature thesis might be focused on a particular author or literary movement, drawing on both primary and secondary sources. Clarity on the research you want to do is essential to getting started on thesis work.

Liberal Arts Studies (LAS) students who decide to write a master’s thesis to complete their program of study are required to take two 3-credit-hour courses designed to assist in the process. Thesis I is designated as a research course, and Thesis II is for actually writing the thesis. A 3.0 GPA is required in order to begin writing a proposal and enrolling in these courses.

If this option interests you, start thinking about it in the early stages of your program. The most effective topics are those that get your adrenaline going – something you are really excited about, want to study more deeply, and even follow up on the topic in your future life and work.

The steps involved in the thesis process include:

  • selecting a topic in consultation with the program director
  • finding a faculty advisor
  • developing a thesis proposal
  • forming a thesis committee
  • registering for and completing Thesis classes
  • adhering to established deadlines
  • gaining format approval on your printed thesis
  • defending your thesis
  • completing your thesis

More details about each step can be found below.

Choosing a Topic and a Faculty Advisor

The first order of business in pursuing your thesis is discussing your preliminary ideas with the Liberal Arts Studies Program Director, who can assist you in formulating a topic and exploring possibilities for finding an advisor.

Your advisor should be someone:

  • with whom you are comfortable
  • who shares your passion for the topic
  • to help you identify resources and shape the project
  • to provide feedback and suggestions on your research and drafted paper

Often this advising relationship emerges from a course you have taken in your Liberal Arts Studies program. Your advisor will work with you to ensure that the thesis is at the appropriate level of graduate work. As the thesis is a permanent record of your scholarly work, it is important to be fastidious in its preparation.

Advisors are normally chosen from the University’s Graduate Faculty list. If you find an advisor who is not a member of the Graduate Faculty, make arrangements with the Program Assistant for the advisor’s temporary appointment to the Graduate Faculty.

You are responsible for approaching potential thesis advisors. A professor may decline the opportunity because the topic is not a good match with their area of expertise, or they do not have the time to commit. Serving as a Liberal Arts Studies advisor is overload work for faculty (for which they receive a modest stipend). If no professor is available to work with you on your topic of first choice, be flexible about choosing another topic. Note: Faculty members carrying a reduced teaching load (for research leave or administrative duties) cannot take on additional work during the semester the reduced load is given. Please check with your advisor about this.

Once you have secured a faculty member to be your advisor, submit the advisor’s name to the Liberal Arts Studies Director for approval. Your advisor will need to sign your Thesis Proposal Form. Their department chair’s signature is also required as approval of their work overload.

Thesis Proposal

Once you and your advisor have agreed on your topic, you should begin working with your advisor to develop your ideas for your research and writing. Your proposed plan should be described in 1,000 words or less and attached to the Thesis Proposal Form as a Word document.

Your proposal should:

  • indicate the nature and scope of your topic
  • discuss the approach to be used in developing the topic
  • provide an overview of research to be conducted and materials available to support it
  • describe anticipated outcomes you hope to achieve
  • establish the validity of the topic as a thesis

Please check The Thesis Proposal page for guidelines. Once the proposal is finished, submit it along with the signed Thesis Proposal Form to the Liberal Arts Studies Director for approval.

You will be notified if the proposal is approved by the Liberal Arts Studies Director, and may then begin work on the thesis. If the proposal is not approved, it will be sent back for revision. You will want to begin the thesis proposal process well before the beginning of the semester in which you would like to begin the actual thesis work. Be mindful of deadlines!

Once the thesis proposal is signed by the appropriate parties and approved by the LAS Director, you may request to be registered for LBS 791 (Thesis Research). This is a 3-credit hour course with the scheduled meeting times determined by you and your advisor.

Your proposal is not set in stone. You may find that your thesis varies from the original plan as you go along. This is to be expected in a developing idea. Your proposal is a broad guideline, not a straitjacket. The approval of the proposal is on the basis of the topic, the general approach to the topic, and the depth at which the topic will be handled. Your final product may differ from the proposal as stated.

Note: if your developing thesis turns out to be fundamentally different from the original proposal, to the extent that you are changing your topic or adding or deleting a major portion of your proposed research and methods, you will be required to submit a new description to the Liberal Arts Studies Director for additional approval.

You and your thesis advisor should meet regularly to maintain progress on your work. You are responsible for maintaining contact with your advisor so that you can have a continuing exchange of ideas and guidance. Your advisor will help you develop your thesis to meet the appropriate graduate standards for content, level, and format. Your thesis should be at least 50-60 pages in length.

Thesis Committee Selection

As your thesis work progresses, you will also need to form a thesis committee that includes your advisor and two other faculty members who are either part of the Graduate Faculty or have received approval for Temporary Graduate Faculty status. No more than one faculty member of the three individuals serving on a thesis committee may have Temporary Graduate Faculty status.

Typically the two thesis committee members (also referred to as “readers”) do not work with you on your thesis. Rather, their role is evaluative, and their contribution to your thesis is through their participation in your oral defense when your paper is completed. There is no remuneration for serving on the thesis committee of a Liberal Arts Studies student. Please inform the Liberal Arts Studies Office of the names of your thesis committee members as soon as you have determined who they are. The Program Director does not normally sit on the committee, but does review the thesis before the defense takes place.


Register for Thesis I (research) and Thesis II (writing) in the semesters in which your actual work is being done. Your advisor is required to turn in a grade (Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory) indicating whether you are making progress on the thesis. If you cannot finish by the time you complete Thesis I and II, you must register for “Graduate Fee” for the semesters until you finish as continuous enrollment is required for the program. You must be registered in the semester in which you intend to graduate.


A Liberal Arts Studies student can graduate in August, December, or May. For each semester, there are deadlines that must be met. The dates for the deadlines for each semester can be found on the Graduate School Calendar.

Application for Candidacy & Intent to Graduate Form

This form requires the signature of your advisor and the Liberal Arts Studies Director. It must be turned in to Graduate School Office by the deadline noted in the Calendar.

Format Approval

Formatting requirements are very specific, so pay close attention to all the details.

  • One copy of the title page and one chapter of your thesis must be submitted to the Graduate School Office for a check of the format.
  • The Assistant to the Dean will look over these materials to confirm that the format of the thesis is correct.
  • The full thesis must also be reviewed in the Liberal Arts Studies office.
  • When you submit the copies of the thesis to your committee members for the initial review (usually at least 2 weeks prior to the defense meeting), an additional copy should be given to the Liberal Arts Studies office.

Thesis Defense

You should plan to have your thesis defense at least two weeks before the Last Day to Defend. This arrangement will give you enough time to make any changes requested at the thesis defense meeting.

Completed Thesis

The completed and approved thesis must be submitted to the Graduate School Office by the submission deadlines.

Thesis Defense Meeting

Scheduling the Meeting

In consultation with your thesis committee members, you should schedule a time and place for the defense of your thesis. You must inform the Graduate School and Liberal Arts Studies Office of the date and time. The defense must be held by the Last Day to Defend as indicated on the Graduate School Academic Calendar, although it may be held at any time during a semester.

Give your thesis committee members and the Liberal Arts Studies Program Director at least two weeks to read the thesis prior to the defense meeting. Don’t forget that a copy of the thesis must also be turned in to the Liberal Arts Studies office at this same time.

Scope of the Meeting

Discuss with your advisor the expectations he/she has for the thesis defense. The meeting is presided over by the more senior faculty member who is not the advisor. However, it is the advisor who begins the session with the first question. After the first question, the defense usually develops into a give and take discussion between you and the three thesis committee members. You should be prepared to answer questions on your research, your argument, and your conclusions.

The defense usually lasts about one hour, after which you leave the room while the examiners discuss the quality of the thesis and its defense. The examiners will formally vote for either:

  • Unconditional Pass
  • Pass upon Rectifying Minor Deficiencies
  • Pass upon Rectifying Major Deficiencies
  • Fail

Failure is extremely rare because usually an advisor will not allow a student to schedule a defense if he or she has any doubts about the acceptability of the thesis. It is most typical for a student to pass and be required to make minor changes of content and typographical edits.

As soon as the committee has made the decision, the advisor will invite you back into the room to report the outcome. If there are changes to be made, the advisor will want to schedule a time to go over them with you. These changes must be made and submitted to 6 the advisor for approval. The final draft must be turned in before the Graduate School deadline.

Format of Final Copy

The format of the Liberal Arts Studies thesis is dictated by the guidelines provided by the Graduate School on its website.

Examples of Theses

Bound theses are available through the year 2008 and are available in the print collections of the Z. Smith Reynolds Library. Beginning with 2009, theses are available in digital format through the Z. Smith Reynolds Library.


If you have questions about the Liberal Arts Studies M.A. program, please contact us so we can help you!