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Thesis Information

A note from the Dean of the Graduate School:

Congratulations! You are embarking on an exciting and fulfilling intellectual journey. Like any journey, there are a number of steps you must take to reach your final destination. To help you along the way, the Graduate School Office has compiled some important information about resources and requirements for completing a Master’s Thesis at MSU.

The thesis serves several purposes. First, it is the culmination of graduate work, demonstrating students’ knowledge of the field. The thesis also can serve as excellent preparation for doctoral study and for a successful career. The thesis also demonstrates students’ research, writing and critical thinking skills, as well as the ability to work independently.

Remember, however, that not all graduate programs are alike in their procedures and requirements for completing a thesis, so it is very important that you supplement the material here with specific information for your program. You can get that information from your graduate coordinator or your Graduate Advisory Committee (GAC) Chair.

 When enrolling for thesis credit and planning your thesis completion timeline, be sure to include plenty of time for turning in drafts to your chair, revising with your chair’s direction, seeking editing assistance if necessary, review by the full GAC and revising, yet again. You will also need to follow the guidelines for review by the Graduate Dean.

NOTE: Thesis are due to the Dean of the Graduate School no later than two weeks before graduation. More information about the thesis submission timeline can be found here



 Enrolling in Thesis Credit

A student’s original enrollment is in Thesis 6983; the second enrollment is in Thesis 6993; all subsequent enrollments are in 6993. Enrollment is required each long term until the thesis is successfully completed, or a leave of absence of one semester is granted by the graduate dean. Summer enrollment in thesis is not required unless the student will be an August graduate. (See the Graduate Catalog, p. 25)

 Tips for Choosing a Thesis Topic

To find a topic of interest, begin thinking about possible thesis topics early. Consider questions, problems, or topics that have piqued your interest in courses you have taken. Discuss these areas of interest and brainstorm with friends, professors, and other students.

Choose a topic that interests and engages you. Remember that a long period of time will be spent working on this project, so it is important to choose a topic that will keep you interested and motivated throughout the process.
Consider a topic related to your professional interests.

Choose a manageable research problem that can be addressed or solved in a reasonable amount of time.
Choose a narrow, well-defined topic (your GAC chair may help you focus or narrow down the topic).

 Graduate Advisory Committee

The Graduate Advisory Committee is made up of three to four faculty members (one chairperson and two to three other faculty members) who guide and advise the student during the thesis process. These faculty members usually have an academic background that is related to the student’s thesis topic.

Appointment of the Committee: After all leveling work and other conditions have been satisfied, and nine graduate hours toward the degree have been completed with a B average or better, the graduate student should request the appointment of a Graduate Advisory Committee through the graduate coordinator of the student's major.

The Graduate Advisory Committee assists in planning the remainder of the student's program including enrollment, revision of degree plan, admission to candidacy, thesis title and proposal, thesis approval, type of research problem, and the final oral or written comprehensive examination.

Successors to the Original Committee: When a member of a Graduate Advisory Committee terminates employment with the university, the college dean shall immediately appoint a successor.

Substitutions on the Committee: If a member of a Graduate Advisory Committee is absent during the time when approval, disapproval, or advice is needed by the student to meet officially scheduled deadlines (such as during the three weeks after the reading copy of the thesis has been submitted, during the time of the officially scheduled comprehensive examination, or at the time of thesis approval), the graduate coordinator shall appoint a substitute.

Thesis Regulations for Committee: After the student submits a reading copy of the thesis, at least six weeks prior to expected graduation date, the committee shall return it with any editorial comments within three weeks. No member shall hold the thesis longer than one week.

Note: Until the student receives notice of the appointment of a Graduate Advisory Committee, the graduate coordinator will be considered the advisor. (See the Graduate Catalog, p. 24)


 Tips for Success 

  • Do not send a copy of a chapter for review until you have read it and corrected typos, etc. It is very irritating to finish reading a version of a chapter and then to receive an email saying to replace that version with this newer one.
  • Do not bring presents or refreshments to meetings with your committee without discussing it with your chair first.
  • You are not the only student your chair is working with. It may take 10 working days for you to receive a thoughtful review. Be patient and do not wait until the end of the semester to turn in your first draft of the semester.
  • Keep notes on your discussions with your chair. These may be very helpful to you if you have a difference of opinion or memory.
  • Follow your chair’s suggestions and be sure to make corrections OR explain why you did not do so on your next draft. It is very irritating for chairs to make the same suggestions over and over because the student fails to correct something.
  • Do not expect your chair and/or committee members to be text editors. If grammar, spelling, and style are problems for you, you will need to arrange for an outside editor. Your chair is your resource for research and substantive matters only.
  • Setting up committee meeting times and places is the responsibility of the student. Email your committee chair and members with suggested times and dates. Leave ample time for this process.
  • Do not ask your chair or the college secretary to copy and distribute your drafts. You can send them electronically to each member.
  •  You are paying for your education. If you feel you are not receiving the feedback and support you need to be successful, discuss this with your chair. If you do not jointly resolve your issues, you are free to change your chair and/or committee members. Before taking that step, it might be a good idea to discuss your needs with your academic advising committee.


 Institutional Review Board

Theses with research involving human participants must submit forms to receive approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB). A copy of the IRB approval letter must be attached to the thesis as an appendix. Please visit the IRB website for more information and for the required forms.


 Expectations of the Thesis 

The thesis should:

  • reflect graduate-level scholarship
  • be well organized and professional
  • include proper English
  • be free of errors (grammar, punctuation, citation style, etc.) and typos
  • be consistent with the style manual chosen by the student’s department
  • include only the student’s original work and be free of plagiarized material


 Thesis Review

The MSU Writing Center, located in BW 224, provides tutoring and consulting to all students. Although they are not an editing service, they provide instruction and support to writers who wish to become more effective communicators. Visit the Writing Center website for more information.



There are critical points when the master’s thesis student’s decisions and transitions need to be communicated to others. A form is needed in order to:

Appoint a Graduate Advisory Committee (GAC)

Advance to candidacy

Successfully defend a proposal

Pass the thesis defense/oral examination

Approve the thesis

Release the thesis for electronic archival in the MSU Library


 Frequently Asked Thesis Questions

What is a review of literature?

A review of literature is an overview of the most relevant and significant literature that has been published on a topic. It is not the same as an annotated bibliography. A review of literature summarizes the knowledge and ideas that have been established on a topic. Its purpose is to familiarize the reader with the state of research in the field and with any contrasting viewpoints on the topic.

What is an abstract?

An abstract is a brief summary of the thesis that usually appears at the beginning of the manuscript. The abstract is used to help the reader quickly determine what the paper’s topic is.

What is a references page?

Sometimes referred to as a bibliography or works cited page, a references page gives detailed information about the sources you referenced, summarized, or quoted in your paper and where you found those sources. The purpose of a reference page is to give credit to the authors of the sources you used and to help readers track down the sources themselves if they are interested in reading more about the topic.

What is a research proposal?

Before you begin your thesis, you may be required to write a research proposal, which should clearly state the intended purpose of the proposed research. Depending on individual department requirements, the research proposal may include a review of literature, a description of the intended research methodology, a proposed timeline for the completion of the thesis, and/or other information. Please note that the requirements for research proposals vary for different departments. Refer to your department’s thesis guidelines or ask your graduate advisor or GAC chair for information about specific department requirements.

What is a thesis defense/oral examination?

The thesis defense/oral examination usually centers on matters pertaining to the thesis, but often also includes other areas of graduate training. During the thesis defense, students should be prepared to conduct a formal presentation of the thesis and respond to any questions from the Graduate Advisory Committee. The thesis defense/oral examination usually takes place within the last few weeks before graduation.


 Department Style Manual Chart

DepartmentStyle Manual
Exercise PhysiologyCSE Scientific
BiologyCSE Scientific
Business AdministrationTurabian or MLA
Computer ScienceIEEE
Health Services and Public AdministrationAPA
HistoryChicago or Turabian
Political ScienceAPA
Radiologic SciencesAPA


 Additional Resources