Writing the MA Thesis in Linguistics

An MA thesis represents an original investigation into a problem or a research project that contributes new knowledge to the field. A thesis is NOT required in our MA program. Moreover, the Linguistics department requires both a comprehensive examination and an oral thesis-defense exam for thesis writers. So a thesis is not a way to evade the MA comps exam. You should undertake an MA thesis only if some idea or observation intrigues you so much that you want to pursue it in depth, and you wish to have the experience of organizing and executing your own research project. Beyond this, some students may be motivated to write the MA thesis in order to produce a writing sample for PhD applications or because the MA degree may carry more weight professionally if associated with a thesis.

The Steps

  • Select a topic, enlisting the help of an advisor or advisors. This is very important.  Most students will try to tackle a project that is much too big for the time and resources available. So you will need faculty help in refining your research question(s) and your methodology into something that can be managed for this project. You must do this no later than the middle of your second semester in the program; the earlier, the better. 
  • At the same time, you will select an advisor. Faculty are not obliged to take on thesis projects, so be prepared to ‘sell’ your idea to your chosen mentor. Eventually you will need to recruit a committee of three faculty members (two of whom must be from the Linguistics department), but most thesis projects get most of their input from a single advisor. Unlike a PhD thesis committee, an MA committee need not contain an external member (a CU faculty member from outside LING). You are welcome to invite an external member to serve as the third member of your thesis committee, but faculty members from institutions outside CU are not permitted to serve on MA thesis committees. You must have your committee in place by mid-March (or late October for fall graduation) of your last semester in the program. Notify the Linguistics administrative assistant of your committee’s composition and fill out the committee membership form for your file.
  • Start early and observe the work schedule religiously.  Scrambling to get everything done in the last two weeks of the semester is neither fun nor good scholarly methodology, and it does not endear you to your faculty committee.

The Rules

There are strict Graduate School procedures and deadlines governing the thesis.  Be sure to follow them. Linguistics administrative assistant Cynthia Clark is fully informed about the procedures and should be consulted about them. See this link for thesis formatting.Your thesis will be submitted electronically; the signed title page is also submitted. 

The Schedule

Work backwards.  If you plan to graduate with a completed thesis in May of 20xx, you must file your completed thesis by mid-April of 20xx (exact date set by the Graduate School). Before your thesis is filed, it must be researched, written, read by the committee, defended, revised, and re-read by the committee, and the defense and revision always happen at a time of the semester when both you and the faculty are extremely busy.  You must allow enough time between the defense exam and the filing date to make required revisions and allow the faculty readers sufficient time to evaluate the document carefully. Be aware that if you do not allow at least two weeks between your defense date and the thesis filing date, you will probably postpone the awarding of your diploma until the following graduation date (at least).

So for a spring graduation, your backwards schedule might look like this (the dates for a particular year will vary):

  • April 20: File the thesis with the Graduate School, ensuring that you have conformed to the thesis specifications.
  • April 6: Submit the final version of your thesis, incorporating revisions required by your thesis committee, to your thesis committee. While they read it, make sure all Graduate School procedures are understood and being followed.
  • March 24 (before spring break): Take the thesis defense exam; you must work with your committee and the graduate assistant in Linguistics to fix the time and room for your thesis defense. Allow two hours for the defense. Be sure to check with your thesis advisor about the appropriate format for the defense (e.g., how long your presentation should be, how many minutes to set aside for questions). 
  • March 10 or earlier, depending on defense arrangements: Submit the completed thesis to your committee  (two weeks before the defense date). Make certain that the exam report form, containing the names of your thesis committee members (and which your committee will sign once you have taken the exam), has been sent to the Graduate School at least two weeks in advance of the defense date. This exam report form is distinct from the one that is filled out by the MA comps committee when evaluating your comprehensive exam.
  • March 3: Make certain that all three of your desired committee members are willing to serve.
  • March 1 or earlier: Submit the final draft of your thesis to your advisor. The advisor needs time to read this draft before giving you clearance to circulate it to the rest of the committee. Expect to do some revising between now and the date when you will give the document to the whole committee.
  • February 1, graduation year: File the Application for Candidacy form with the Graduate School if you haven’t already done this for our comprehensive exam (see below).
  • April 1, first year (second semester in program): Obtain the agreement of your major advisor as to the topic and methods.  Fill out the Advisory Committee form for Cynthia to place in your file. To be safe, check to see that this information is added to the Record of Progress form in your file. You now have almost ten months in which to do the project.

Additional Regulations

  • Credit hours: You must take (i.e., pay for) at least four, and may take up to six, credits of the course listed as MA Thesis in order to graduate under the thesis plan. You can register for those hours at any time that is convenient (financially most advantageous) for you and your advisor; the timing of the credits does not have to be the same as the timing of your work on the thesis.  You may take all the credits in one semester if you wish.  Those 4-6 credit hours substitute for course credits.  You still need only 30 total hours to graduate.
  • Candidacy application: The Candidacy Application is a form required by the Graduate School before you can take your final exam.  It is due very near the beginning of the semester in which you expect to take the exam. The Linguistics department requires two exams of thesis writers: the general MA comprehensive and the thesis defense. These need not be taken in the same semester. The candidacy form must be completed for the first exam you plan to take and approved by the Graduate School at that time. 
  • Comprehensive exam:  As mentioned, writing a thesis does not exempt you from the Department’s comprehensive exam requirement, nor from the requirements of the Graduate School for the comprehensive exam. In this matter we are different from most departments on campus. In Linguistics, a thesis defense is separate from the comprehensive exam.  Information about the comprehensive is available elsewhere. Many thesis writers elect to take MA comps in the fall and defend the thesis in the spring.