MSc thesis guidelines
Below we provide some guidelines to help students of the Research Master's Programme Social and Cultural Science (RMSCS) in the preparation and completion of their MSc thesis (course code SCS205: 42 EC). The instructions are designed to ensure that the master thesis constitutes a coherent scholarly document appropriate for the Master's Programme. If students have a concern that is not addressed here, they should contact the programme director or the Department Thesis Coordinator for clarification and/or additional information (names and contact details are provided in Section 13). Throughout this document the term thesis will refer to a Master of Science (MSc) thesis, Programme to the Research Master's Programme Social and Cultural Science: Comparative Research on Societies (RMSCS), University to the Radboud University Nijmegen, and the terms Department and academic unit to the Departments of Sociology, Communication Science, Anthropology and Development Studies of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University and the Departments of Economics, Political Science, Public and Business Administration, and Human Geography of the Nijmegen School of Management.
9.2 Thesis purpose
As one of the final elements in the Master's Programme, the MSc thesis gives RMSCS students the opportunity to display their expertise in modern social science research. The main purpose of the master thesis is to demonstrate that the student is able to undertake independent comparative empirical research, under supervision. Hence the thesis should display his or her ability to address a significant research question, to critically analyse theories and relevant literature, to conduct independent empirical investigation using established research methods and to present the findings in an academic form.
The MSc is a research degree. The thesis must therefore have a substantial research component and a focus that falls within comparative empirical social science. It must be written in English and completed under the guidance of a supervisor. The thesis should also be of such quality and scope that excerpts of it warrant publication in the form of a peer-reviewed scientific journal paper, research grant proposal or policy recommendation report (SCS202: 6 EC). This implies that the thesis must be an original contribution that is well-organized and expressed in clear English language.
Completing a master thesis helps students interested in an academic career prepare for a PhD study or other research opportunity by enhancing their skills necessary for academic publication. We also note that the thesis reflects the quality of the Programme which educates the student and the University which awards the master degree.
9.3 Thesis topic
It is not uncommon for students to take more than a semester to complete their master thesis research and write the thesis. Students are therefore encouraged to select a thesis topic during the first year of the Programme. Ideally, they should start thinking about a research topic on which they plan to write their thesis, from their enrolment in the Master's Programme. At the latest, students must have determined the topic and have secured an appropriate supervisor by the end of the first period (end October) during the second year of the Programme. A given topic can be chosen only if the supervisor has the expertise and is willing to take on the responsibility of supervision.
Some Departments have available a list of thesis topics along with an appropriate member of the academic staff who is willing to become supervisor for the master thesis. Students should check with their academic unit as to the existence and current content of such list.
9.4 Thesis supervision
When the student has determined a thesis topic, he or she should seek an academic staff member from within the Department to function as supervisor. The supervisor selects a second reader from the academic units of the RMSCS. On occasion students are permitted to choose a supervisor from outside the Department or even outside the University. However, when the thesis supervisor is not a faculty member of the Department, the head of the Department appoints, after consulting the student and the supervisor, a faculty member in the Department to serve as a second reader. When the supervisor is from within the Department and there is no internal second reader, an external reader from outside the Department or University may be appointed.
Students rely mainly upon their thesis supervisor for criticism and advice in the preparation of the thesis. Other faculty members may be approached for assistance or advice. The supervisor serves as a resource for the student and monitors the student's progress. He or she helps the student prepare the thesis proposal, conduct the research, and present the thesis in good literate style. However, students should not expect their supervisor to do the thesis work for them. The task of the supervisor is to provide direction for and feedback on the student's work.
The supervisor may help the student refine his or her English writing style, but is not required to do exhaustive grammar correction and line-by-line editing. It is the student's responsibility to ensure that the thesis is free from typographical flaws and grammatical errors. If the supervisor feels that the student is deficient in English expression, the student may be asked to seek additional help. The Master's Programme offers students the opportunity to participate in a course by the Radboud in'to Languages specifically designed to help RMSCS students to write their master thesis.
9.5 Thesis proposal
As soon as an appropriate supervisor has been found, students are required to prepare a thesis proposal in English of approximately 5 pages long. This is a difficult part of the thesis writing process, as students are expected to acquire a fairly well-defined idea of what their thesis will cover prior to their research. It is common for a thesis to change however, so the content will become more apparent as students carry on with their research. As with any academic product, organization and structure is important, so substantial effort should be invested in the outline before starting to work on the thesis.
Students are encouraged to start developing a thesis proposal as early as the beginning of the first period of the second year of the Programme. In preparing the outline, students should work closely with the supervisor. The thesis proposal should cover the following items:
- statement of the research topic and the central research questions
- summary description of the social science theories involved in the study
- brief explanation of the proposed research methods and techniques to be used
- description of data requirements and, if applicable, other resources required
- bibliography of major papers and books relevant to the study
- research plan including timetable for conducting the research and writing the thesis
- name of the supervisor
The thesis proposal should begin with a description of the research topic and the key questions that will be investigated. It should include a brief discussion of the work already done in the field covered by the project and indicate what the thesis will contribute to existing knowledge. The proposal also needs to include a brief discussion of both the data sources and the research methods to be employed in the thesis. Also included in the proposal is a work schedule, indicating how much time is needed for research and when the student will begin and finish writing the thesis. The student should demonstrate familiarity with previous research by appending a selective bibliography, using correct citation style. The bibliography includes papers and/or books the student has consulted or intends to study. Recommended but not required is a chapter outline that indicates how the thesis may break down into chapters, each of which will focus on a particular aspect of the thesis research.
The final version of the research proposal should be provided to the RMSCS programme director. It should be submitted no later than by the end of the second period (end January) during the second year of the Programme.
9.6 Thesis format
The format of the MSc thesis is a classical monograph that deals in depth with a specific topic. It typically has a simple overall format containing the following chapters: an introductory chapter outlining the research questions, a chapter reviewing the relevant literature, a chapter on research design and analysis, one chapter summarizing the findings, and a final chapter offering conclusions and recommendations for future research. The monograph thesis must be of such originality and quality that excerpts of it warrant publication in the form of a peer-reviewed scientific journal article, research grant proposal or policy recommendation report. The Departments may vary in the prescribed page limits for the thesis, but it will normally be in the order of 40-70 pages (with double-spaced printing, including tables and figures, but excluding endnotes, bibliography and appendices). The thesis should be no longer than necessary and should normally not exceed 70 pages. The thesis must be written in English. Under exceptional circumstances another language may be used if the RMSCS programme director and the student's Department have granted prior approval. The fact that English is not the student's mother tongue does not constitute an exception. Because stylistic rules and conventions vary across disciplines, students should consult their supervisor and/or department Thesis Coordinator as to appearance and style.
9.7 Thesis evaluation procedure
The thesis is reviewed and evaluated by the thesis supervisor. The supervisor decides whether the thesis concerned is acceptable or not in accordance with the thesis evaluation criteria presented in the following section. The grade is also decided by the supervisor. The supervisor subsequently dispatches the thesis to the second reader for assessment. The second reader will evaluate the thesis and report the evaluation to the supervisor. If there is a substantial difference in the grade evaluation between them, a third reader may be asked to evaluate the thesis.
The student may appeal against the grade assigned by the supervisor. An appeal must be made in writing to the RMSCS Examination Committee immediately after the supervisor has notified the student of the grade. The Committee will interview the supervisor and the student and decide whether to accept or reject the appeal. If the appeal is rejected, the supervisor's grade stands. If the appeal is accepted but the supervisor persists in his or her evaluation, the Committee will dispatch the thesis to a third reader whose decision will be binding.
9.8 Thesis evaluation criteria
The supervisor and the second reader review the MSc thesis according to the following standard scientific evaluation criteria:
- theoretical and/or methodological contribution
- review relevant literature
- formulation research questions
- research design
- data analysis
- interpretation findings
- discussion outcomes and implications
Theoretical and/or methodological contribution. The thesis contributes to knowledge by offering a novel theoretical or methodological perspective on the topic or by providing a new application of a theory or method. It shows originality and creativity in the approach to the thesis topic by formulating new questions and hypotheses.
Review relevant literature. The thesis demonstrates a good understanding of previous work and knowledge of main theories and methodological issues. The literature review should not be a mere catalogue of the literature, but a critical review covering most relevant texts. It should also reveal questions or issues that call for further examination.
Formulation research questions. The thesis should make a clear statement of the comparative research problem together with a set of questions and hypotheses that the research intends to address.
Research design. The research design must be appropriate for the thesis topic. If the determination of the best design is not a straightforward matter, the thesis should justify the methodology chosen and offer a consideration of alternatives and their rejection.
Data analysis. The thesis clarifies why a particular analysis was conducted, how it was executed, and what the analysis reveals about the topic. The analysis should be clearly linked to the research questions and its selection needs to be justified. Where appropriate, the thesis should show sensitivity to problems of reliability, measurement error, sources of bias and assumptions behind the research techniques used. The thesis demonstrates methodological competence, imagination and creativity in analysing the data.
Interpretation findings. The thesis shows competence in the interpretation of the research findings presented in the text. It is essential that the arguments and interpretations put forward are consistent with the data presented.
Discussion outcomes and implications. The discussion summarizes what has been attained in the thesis. It evaluates its contribution to the research topic and offers links between the thesis and the studies discussed in the literature review. The main findings should be related to theory and, if appropriate, to practice and an attempt should be made to identify issues that require further clarification in future work. It may also be appropriate to include a section discussing limitations of the research design (data, methodology, analysis) along with alternative approaches that might have been pursued.
Presentation. The thesis must structure and organize the research topic well. It must be a coherent document in the sense that successive parts (sentences, sections, chapters) are logically related to each other. These components must be integrated into a unified text with a logical progression from one section to the next (e.g., using connecting phrases that emphasize the relation between sections). The thesis is structured in an appropriate academic style, containing chapters and (sub)sections with suitable (sub)headings to organize the material along with a contents page that gives a clear indication of the thesis' structure. The thesis must also be 'reader friendly' in the sense that readers should be able to find their way around with ease and gain easy access to tables and figures relating to passages in the text. Material contained in tables or figures must be clearly presented and the bibliography must be complete and accurate.
Writing. Readers should be able to read the thesis without difficulty. The text must be free from typographical errors and written in correct English spelling and grammar. The writing style should be economic without unnecessary duplication and undue repetition.
9.9 Thesis resources and help
Students writing their MSc thesis are provided with research space within the Programme in the form of a personal desk and a personal computer in the research master room at the Thomas van Aquinostraat (TvA) 6.-1.19. The computers allow data analysis with various software packages, word-processing, e-mail communication and internet access. The Programme also offers students the opportunity to participate in an English writing course by the Radboud in'to Languages, designed to assist RMSCS students in completing their master thesis.
Students make their own financial and other arrangements for the preparation of the thesis. Any expenses that have been approved in advance by the thesis supervisor will be reimbursed by the supervisor or the Department. All other expenses are the student's responsibility. Students who require financial aid to do their thesis research abroad, should contact the programme director.
9.10 Thesis submission
Students should consult with their Department as to the number of printed copies of the thesis they need to submit to the Department and supervisor. They are required to submit one bound original paper copy of the final version of their MSc thesis and one additional electronic copy in Postscript or in Adobe PDF format to the RMSCS management assistant, who preserves the copies and archives the thesis in the Faculty's Ephorus data base. The thesis in digital format must be copied to a CD.
9.11 Thesis plagiarism
Students must appropriately acknowledge the sources of information and ideas they have used in their thesis by proper citation and referencing. The Department takes plagiarism seriously and considers it to be fraud. If a student is found guilty of plagiarism, the sanctions as formulated in the EER (Education and Examination Regulations) of the RMSCS will be applied.
9.12 Thesis award
The Research Master's Programme Social and Cultural Science recognizes each year one thesis in the Programme through a Best MSc Thesis Award. All students who have completed their MSc thesis are eligible and are automatically nominated. The recipient of the award is determined by the Examination Committee from among students with an MSc thesis of high distinction in terms of originality, research and writing. The laureate will receive an award certificate and a cash prize at an academic meeting.
9.13 Contact details
Assistant managing programme director: Dr. J. Tolsma, TvA 6.01.15, 3613017, firstname.lastname@example.org