Center for Environmental Journalism


Graduate Student Research Ideas

Graduate students are encouraged to select research topics that are of particular interest to them. When trying to decide on a thesis topic, students may want to consider the following points so that their research is successful, rigorous, and ready for publication:

  • What broad questions are you interested in with regard to media and environmental issues? Picking something that personally interests you is an important starting point.
    • Example 1: I am interested in water in the American West.
    • Example 2: I am interested in how people make individual decisions regarding organic, local, or conventional grocery purchases.
  • Getting more specific, what aspect of the issue interests you as a research question? Reading the scholarly literature can help you figure out what has already been done, and what areas of research would be new or innovative.
    • Example 1: If my interest is water resources, then more specifically, I might want to research how media cover these topics. I could look at quantity, quality (accuracy), types of sources used, bias, or other patterns of reportage.
    • Example 2: If my interest is personal decisions about purchasing ‘green’ products, then I may want to dig deep into what sources of media people use and what information they trust when making these decisions.
  • Once you’ve chosen a research question, then you should select the most appropriate research method to answer your questions.
    • Example 1: If my interest mostly lies in how accurately media cover issues related to water in the West, then I may choose a content analysis comparing articles from multiple sources, but on a single topic so that accuracy can be easily compared. I could also choose to go into less depth on a single issue and instead perform a content analysis across multiple media sources using multiple water-related stories. This second method would bring more rigor to your research, but also requires much more time to perform well.
    • Example 2: To investigate personal ‘green’ decisions, I may appropriately choose from two methods – or use a combination of both. I may want to perform a series of in-depth interviews with individuals in my target population to understand in depth what is going on with a handful of individuals. This could be developed on its own into a rich qualitative dataset. If I want to add more innovative methods and more rigor, I may choose to use the qualitative interview data to construct an excellent survey instrument to survey a larger population. This research method would provide context, depth, and color of qualitative data, but also the statistical power of quantitative data.

MA Theses in progress:

Brian Hires, “U.S. Prestige Press Coverage of National Climate-Change Policy: A Framing Analysis,” Deserai Crow, Committee Chair (Journalism and Mass Communication), Spring 2012.

MA Theses completed:

Cassie Smith, “Reinterpreting and Icon: The Rhetorical Function of ‘Earthrise’,” Deserai Crow, Committee Chair (School of Journalism and Mass Communication), December 2009.


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