Thesis Preparation and Defense

A thesis constitutes a serious work of writing of considerable length that demonstrates the student’s ability to design a research project, propose an appropriate research methodology, and carry the project to its successful conclusion. Unlike a semester project, a thesis often displays elements of originality and sophistication that exhibit his/her ability to integrate their acquired knowledge. Students considering entry into a Ph.D. program are well advised to select the thesis option. Students who select the thesis option should start early to identify a topic. Consult the Guide for Preparing Theses and Dissertations available at the University Bookstore and follow instructions to the letter. The Graduate School and Mullins Library will insist that you adhere to these specifications.

Assembling your thesis committee

In the semester before you plan to start writing your thesis you must assemble a committee of three faculty members that will supervise your project. Under some special circumstances a faculty member from outside the Department can serve as committee member. Please make sure that you consult with individual professors about their availability for the duration of your thesis. Once you have ascertained that all of the professors are willing to serve as members of your committee, one of them must agree to be the chair of your committee.

Check with the Department about special forms (Independent Studies) that must be completed prior to your enrollment for thesis credit. Schedule an appointment for your committee to meet.


The process of composing your thesis starts with the development of a prospectus. A prospectus is in many ways a mini-version of your thesis and should include the following components:

  • A clear definition of the research question(s) to be addressed in the thesis;
  • A rationale relating why this is an important or worthwhile question to pursue (here you need to draw on the literature to support your contentions);
  • A justification and outline of the methodology proposed for your project;
  •  An outline of the main segments or chapters of your thesis; and
  • A display of your knowledge of the appropriate literature.


Writing the thesis

Students should start identifying possible thesis topics early in their program and frequently consult with faculty. The actual thesis writing will in most cases require approximately six months, and in some cases substantial additional time. Consult with your main thesis advisor whether to present the whole project or submit it in segments. The latter has the advantage that you receive continuous feedback.

Review theses that have been written in the Department of Political Science before you launch your project. This will allow you to familiarize yourself with acceptable formats, approximate length, and possible subdivisions for your thesis project.

Depending on the degree of preparation that has gone into planning your project, expect that you will redraft many or all of the segments several times. Careful composition and editing before you submit drafts can minimize misunderstandings and speed along the writing process.

You need to consider turn-around time between drafts in planning your expected time of graduation.

The Oral Defense

When your committee agrees that the thesis is completed, an oral defense of your project will be scheduled. The purpose of this meeting is to present your research to your committee, defend its merits, and allow you to respond to questions relating to your research. The defense is also an opportunity to question you about your understanding of the literature and provide an opportunity to identify any weaknesses in your thesis. Members of the committee may then recommend to pass the project as presented or to request that you make revisions.