M.A. Thesis Guidelines

The Thesis is optional in the M.A program. In other words, graduate students in the M.A. program are not required to write a thesis. You may therefore take your entire 30 units in course work and pass the comprehensive exam (Plan B). Alternatively, if you have a strong record and submit a strong proposal, you may be permitted to write a six-unit thesis as part of your 30-unit program (Plan A). 

Students planning to write a thesis should take note of the guidelines and plan ahead accordingly. In order to write a thesis, you need to do the following:

First, speak with a faculty member with expertise in the area in which you plan to write your thesis. If he or she agrees to direct your project, then write a thesis proposal with that faculty member's guidance. You will also need two additional faculty members to serve as readers on your thesis committee. When your project director is fully satisfied with your proposal, submit it to the Graduate Advisor along with a cover sheet signed by your thesis committee. Do this as early as possible in the semester prior to the semester you intend to enroll in English 299.

Ideally, you should do your preliminary research over the summer to identify your area/topic of interest so that you can discuss this with potential advisors/readers early in the fall semester in order to form your thesis committee and prepare your proposal for formal submission (usually by November 1). The proposal must be approved by the Graduate Committee. Approval is usually granted only to students who have achieved high grades in their graduate course work and who submit strong proposals.

If your proposal is approved, use the winter break to work on your thesis. In Spring, plan to submit your draft to your thesis director by February 1 and a revised draft to your 2nd and 3rd readers by April 1 to allow sufficient time for feedback and revision.  Follow the latest MLA Handbook as Graduate Studies will expect your thesis to be accurately and consistently formatted.  

Planning ahead and following the guidelines and timeline is critical to ensuring your thesis is of high quality and you are able to finish in time for May graduation.

You can find a sample proposal here. Sample MA Thesis Proposal  [pdf]

The Proposal

The proposal should have a coversheet [pdf]. The proposal itself should

  • explain clearly what you want to write about and why your topic is important
  • describe any previous work you've done in the field
  • note what scholarly work has already been done on the topic and explain how your work will revise or augment this
  • present a short, tentative outline indicating your main point and how you plan to demonstrate it
  • include a brief, annotated bibliography of primary and secondary sources relevant to your topic, along with a non-annotated bibliography of works you expect to examine as you progress
  • must follow the MLA format
  • should be about 6 to 10 pages long, plus coversheet

The Graduate Committee understands that you can't know precisely what your argument will be until you have completed it. A proposal is simply a clear explanation of what you expect to achieve. In deciding which thesis proposals will be approved, the committee will look carefully at the quality of the writing in the proposal. This should be in every respect professional: clear, accurate, properly documented, etc.

When your project director is entirely satisfied with your proposal, bring it to the Graduate Advisor. When the advisor has also approved it, give the advisor ten copies of the proposal to be distributed to the Graduate Committee. Do this as early as possible in the semester prior to the semester you intend to enroll in English 299. (The committee will not consider proposals submitted in the last four weeks of the semester.) Remember, your proposal must be approved by the Graduate Committee, and approval will be granted only to students who have achieved high grades in their graduate course work and who submit strong proposals.

Writing the Thesis

After your proposal is approved, enroll for six units of English 299. You may take six units in one semester, or three units in each of two semesters. You will receive a Satisfactory Progress grade until you have completed the thesis; then your director will change the grade to Credit. If you fail to complete the thesis within two years, you must formally request an extension. Otherwise the grade will revert to No Credit and you will need to enroll in 299 again.

Consult frequently with your thesis director and show him or her drafts of your work as you proceed chapter by chapter or section by section. When your director decides the thesis is presentable, show your work to the second and third readers. Be sure to follow posted deadlines for consultation with readers and that you understand readers' comments before you complete a final draft.

Submit the Thesis

See Graduate Studies' General Instructions for Master's Theses and follow its required format scrupulously. Check posted deadlines for submission of theses to the Graduate Studies Office.

When your thesis has been signed by all readers, remind your director to submit the necessary form to change your 299 units to Credit.

Forms & Worksheets

Thesis Proposal Coversheet [pdf]

Completed MA Theses

Available in King Library (some in electronic form available to SJSU students only).