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Thesis (Plan A)

The thesis is an important milestone in the Masters’ program, demonstrating your ability to perform independent original research.  While a Comprehensive Exam provides an alternative to finishing the program, the thesis provides the opportunity to develop your research skills and writing, as well as to plan and execute of an independent study.

Be aware of the deadlines and schedule your work accordingly.  In order to guarantee graduation in a given semester, students must complete the thesis, defense and revisions and submit the thesis to the university thesis reviewer before the “no risk” deadline.  Submitting the thesis before the last day of the semester allows the student to submit formatting changes the following semester and graduate the following semester without reenrolling in any classes.  The student will only need to pay the graduation fee (again) for the semester in which they actually graduate.  The graduation fee is due early on in the semester you plan to graduate.

The Graduate Dean provides an outline of the steps for completing a master's degree. We give some guidelines on each step in the process below:

Also look at Montezuma Publishing materials for thesis formatting and review.

A master's thesis is an essential component of the master's degree.  The purpose of the thesis is to demonstrate your ability to execute a professional-level sociological study.

The skills required include:

  • familiarity with previously published literature on the problem
  • formulation of a hypothesis or research question.
  • specification of appropriate procedures or research design
  • collecting or accessing relevant information or data
  • appropriate analysis of materials
  • appropriate interpretation of the results, conclusions and the implications of your study.
  • effective written communication of this information in an appropriate style (ASA, Chicago, APA, or MLA C see Slade, Form & Style, 11th Edition).
  • satisfactory oral defense of the work

Collection (or accessing) and assessment of thesis information or data can begin only after the thesis proposal has been approved in writing by the thesis chair, and Human Subjects clearance has been obtained if required.

The thesis chair and committee will ensure that:

  • the student develops a clear hypothesis or research question and a study design.
  • the student identifies the appropriate parameters, collects or accesses firsthand the study database, and conducts the necessary analysis.
  • when an existing database is used, the student independently identifies the dependent/independent variables and sample criteria before collecting the necessary sample data from the larger database.
  • for quantitative studies the variables must be operationally defined and the data must be collected systematically using acceptable sociological procedures.
  • Qualitative theses follow an appropriate qualitative methodology.

The student, the Thesis Chair, and Thesis Committee members shall ensure that master's theses comply with Department policies.

How?  The following are some methods for narrowing your choices:

  • What area interests you?
  • What sort of research is currently being conducted in the Department? See the listing of faculty research interests available in this brochure.
  • What topic is currently exciting the field?
  • What faculty project can you attach yourself to?

Survey the relevant literature in Sociofile by looking up key words. Often a computer search via JSTOR, PROQUEST, or other databases available through SDSU Library is very useful.  Read articles in the current issues of the journals that show up most frequently in your search.  Besides, browsing in these journals can give you new ideas.

Look over past theses. Ask staff in the Sociology office for access to these.

  1. Make an appointment to talk with your prospective thesis chair. Choose a faculty member based on: their area of interest and their familiarity with the methods you will be using. Feel free to consult with the Graduate Adviser in selecting a chair. Describe your ideas and ask if s/he will supervise you and, if so, what the general outlines and requirements of the project might include.

  2. You must also have a second from the Sociology Department and a third member from outside the department. Description of the thesis committee and who is eligible to serve on it is detailed in theSDSU Thesis and Dissertation Manual available in the Aztec Shops Bookstore. Seek advice from your prospective thesis chair regarding who the other committee members might be. Final authority for approval of committee members rests with the Dean of the Graduate Division and Research.

  3. Make certain you understand what the expectations are for all three of your committee members. You need to clarify these matters with your thesis chair and the other committee members. Often the chair will want to see your thesis chapter by chapter as you finish, whereas the other two may just want to see the entire draft once you have incorporated the feedback from your chair.

Note: You are strongly encouraged to meet together with all your committee members to discuss your thesis proposal after your chair has accepted it.  Discuss this matter with your chair.

The aim of the required thesis proposal is to spell out clearly what you propose to do for your thesis research study and why, so that you and your prospective committee members can discuss the details and arrive at definite decisions and agreement regarding the project. The thesis proposal is the device you will use to present your research proposal to prospective committee members in order to solicit their agreement to serve on your thesis committee.

Proposals are written in the future tense ("will") rather than the past tense ("was").  Write the proposal in journal article format, following the style of the current ASA Publication Manual (the Graduate Adviser has a supply of these) or Slade’s Form and Style, 11th Edition.  If there are some details or procedures you are uncertain about, include a discussion of the various ways you might proceed, indicating the pros and cons of each possible way.

  1. Title Page

  2. Abstract: The Abstract is a brief comprehensive summary of the project in approximately 150 to 200 words. State the problem, in one sentence if possible. Describe the subjects, specifying pertinent characteristics such as number or gender. Next describe the research procedure(s), including the data gathering procedures and the names of the tests or data gathering scales to be used, if relevant.  Describe the statistical tests to be used, the interpretation of the various possible outcomes, and the implications. You will find it very difficult at first to condense your magnum opus in this manner. However, it is good practice, since submissions to most professional meetings and journals require such brief abstracts. In addition, it will help you to emphasize and clarify those basic elements that are at the core of your research.

  3. Chapter 1: Introduction: Describe the general purpose of the study. What is the significance of your proposed research to the field of sociology and the world at large? Include anything else the reader needs to know to understand why the study is being done.

  4. Research Question: What is the specific question (thesis, hypothesis) you propose to answer by your Master's Thesis research?

  5. Background: You may need to give the reader some background on your topic to understand the full significance of the phenomenon you are investigating. (Could be a separate chapter if needed.)

  6. Chapter 2: Literature Review: Describe the history of the topic, why it is of interest, and prior research findings. What are the major theoretical issues generating this line of work? What do you plan to do to extend the research in this area?

  7. Theory: Which sociological theory or theories do you plan to use to help guide your research toward answering the research question you have posed?

  8. Chapter 3: Method and Procedure: Describe exactly how you plan to do the project in as much detail as is currently practical. Include type and number of subjects, research design, materials and apparatus, details of procedure and anything else appropriate to how your particular research is to be done. Include a draft of any questionnaires or other such materials to be used as well as the formal feedback to be given to human subjects. If uncertain about exactly how you think some particular problem should be handled, include a discussion of the pros and cons of the various alternatives.  How will you handle the data, and what statistical tests will you use, if appropriate? Which comparisons will be of particular interest?  How will you analyze qualitative data?

  9. Chapter 4: Discussion: How might the study turn out? What would it mean if it turned out as expected? What would each of the other ways it could turn out tell you?  In what way could it make an important contribution to knowledge? What are the theoretical implications of the findings for each of the potential outcomes?  (For a qualitative study a discussion prior to research may be inappropriate, please consult with your chair). 

  10. References: Include here the bibliography you have accumulated, following the ASA citation style.

NOTE: Developing a proposal is a critical step in your process through your program. Your chair and committee members may require numerous changes and modifications before approving it.

The thesis reviewer strongly suggests that you purchase and use the latest version of the SDSU Master’s Thesis and Project Manual during the research and writing of the thesis proposal.  It is also an excellent idea to attend a thesis formatting workshop at Aztec Shops.  Use the formatting template so that you do not need to redo all the formatting at the end.

In preparing your thesis, select ONE style guide, APA, or ASA.  If these ASA resources leave particular questions unanswered, use the Chicago manual as backup for style and formatting questions.

The thesis will generally have all sections listed above in proposal and in addition will be prefaced by an abstract and have a Discussion section, a conclusion
The Abstract is read first and may be the only part of your work that our department faculty as a whole will see, so make sure the project is well described here. The Abstract is a brief comprehensive summary of the project in approximately 150 to 200 words. State the problem, in one sentence if possible. Describe the subjects, specifying pertinent characteristics such as number or gender. Next describe the research procedure(s), including the data‑gathering procedures and the names of the tests or data gathering scales to be used, if relevant.  Describe the statistical tests to be used, the interpretation of the various possible outcomes, and the implications. You will find it very difficult at first to condense your magnum opus in this manner. However, it is good practice, since submissions to most professional meetings and journals require such brief abstracts. In addition, it will help you to emphasize and clarify those basic elements that are at the core of your research.

Various drafts of the thesis may be required by the thesis chair and/or committee members.  The student must allow at least two weeks for faculty responses to drafts.  Note also that committee members may well respond to a draft with requests for significant revisions and alterations.  Several drafts and revisions of the thesis may well precede the completion of an acceptable final draft of the thesis.  In order to minimize problems and disappointments, know your deadlines, plan ahead for sufficient draft reviews and revisions, and keep your committee members advised of your desired schedule.

It is advised that students set up a schedule with their chair, working backwards from the final university deadlines.

After each member of your thesis committee is satisfied that your thesis is in good enough shape for the final oral exam you should:

  1. Consult the committee and then schedule a room and time for the exam with the Department of Sociology Administrative Support Coordinator.  The Department's conference room is traditionally used for this purpose.  You must reserve this room at least one week in advance of the defense of your thesis.  Remember also to schedule your oral defense of the thesis at least two weeks before the Graduate Division's "at risk" deadline (see below) if you want to be certain you graduate in that semester.

  2. Thesis defenses are to be scheduled on campus at reasonable times during regular working hours.

  3. The thesis is not to be signed by the committee prior to the defense.

  4. All thesis committee members are expected to be present for the thesis defense of the candidate.  If any member is on leave and unavailable, a substitute may be selected by the chair and the candidate.

  5. Waiver of the thesis defense will be granted only in rare cases of extreme hardship and only with the approval of the Graduate Committee.

  6. Passage of the thesis defense is determined by unanimous vote of the thesis committee. 

  7. After you have passed the oral defense, your thesis chair will make a copy of the signed signature page.  The signature page may be signed at the defense or later if there are still changes to be made.Be sure to give a copy of this page (signed by all members) to the Graduate Adviser to be placed in your folder.

Next, your thesis should be typed in just-about-final form, incorporating all changes suggested by your committee during the oral exam.  If you decide to use a professional formatter, we strongly recommend one who is familiar with the SDSU Sociology Thesis format. From the beginning use the template provided by Montezuma Publishing.  There is an online thesis template workshops, and periodic in person workshops.  Please visit the Dissertation and Thesis Review page for more information.

Deadlines are considerably earlier than the end of the semester so plan accordingly. The deadlines for filing for graduation, and for filing the thesis manuscript, change each semester.  The dates are published in each semester's Class Schedule and the Graduate Bulletin.

If you submit your thesis to the Thesis Review Service during the "at risk" period (call for specific dates), the critiquing/printing procedures may not be done in time for the desired graduation period.  However, as long as your thesis has gone to the Thesis Review Service, the Graduate Division considers it complete, and it will not be necessary for you to re‑enroll in the subsequent semester.  However, you may not graduate until the following period.  If you do not graduate until the following semester you need to re-pay the graduation fee.

Note: It is an academic tradition for the student to make an extra copy of the thesis for the Department of Sociology library.

Plagiarism is taken very seriously by the Department and the University and can result in failing classes, suspension and even expulsion.  See University guidelines (including definition and policy) regarding plagiarism (Source:  SDSU General Catalog, Bulletin of the Graduate Division, and Announcement of Courses.)

Graduate Advising

Dr. Enrico Marcelli
Office: NH-219
Phone: (619) 594-5459
Email: [email protected]

Advising Hours for Fall 2018 - Wednesdays 11:00 am to 2:00 pm, Thursdays 11:45 am to 1:45 pm, and by appointment.