MASTER S THESIS GUIDE MASTER S PROGRAMME IN COMMUNICATION SCIENCE

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1 MASTER S THESIS GUIDE MASTER S PROGRAMME IN COMMUNICATION SCIENCE University of Amsterdam Graduate School of Communication Kloveniersburgwal CX Amsterdam The Netherlands address: Website: September

2 CONTENTS I Introduction and learning objectives 1 II Choosing a subject 2 III Content requirements 3 Structure and research question 2. The use of theory 3. Quality of the research 4. The conclusions 5. Write-up 6. Verifiability 7. References 8. Notes 9. Bibliography IV Assessment criteria 8 V Thesis regulations 9 Page 1. Definitions and roles 2. Making a start: from a vague idea to a well-defined thesis proposal 3. Supervision and timeline 4. Assessment procedure for theses in Master s programme in Communication Science 5. Submitting the final version of the thesis 6. Student Evaluation All the latest information about thesis, staff consultation hours, searching for literature, feedback, tips, and downloading application and evaluation forms can be found at the thesis website: This thesis guide came into effect in September For students starting the program on or afterwards, these regulations replace all previous thesis regulations related to the Master s programme in Communication Science. 1 1

3 I INTRODUCTION AND LEARNING OBJECTIVES Writing a thesis is above all a means of increasing one s understanding and knowledge of a particular problem area, and a test of the competency in skills that will be required later in the professional setting, namely structuring, developing and writing a clear and systematic research report. The thesis is therefore the most important, most challenging and, for many students, most difficult part of the Master s programme. This implies that knowledge, insights, skills and attitudes acquired in the earlier parts of the programme are combined in the writing of the thesis. In general terms, a thesis has the following learning objectives: the ability to formulate and delineate a problem and independently draw up an appropriate research proposal in the field of Communication Science, including a clear research strategy and time plan. the ability independently to conduct research into communication science, whereby the methods are clearly explained and substantiated. the ability to make creative use of knowledge and insights that are relevant to the research the ability to generate new knowledge relating to the problem studied the ability to give a clear, systematic and reasoned account of the setting up, execution and outcomes of the research. 1 1

4 II CHOOSING A SUBJECT The first step in writing a thesis is choosing a subject and defining a problem. Choosing a subject (for example; Children and television advertising) is not the same thing as defining a problem. Any subject can be studied from the perspective of several different problems. A student who is very interested in the topic Children and Advertising could define a research question as follows: Which advertising strategy is the most effective for children in the 4 to 8 age group? The following research question would also fit in with the chosen topic (Children and Advertising): is it necessary to tighten up the current national regulations for television advertising aimed at children up to 12 years of age, as set down by the Dutch Advertising Code Committee? Why (not)? In other words, the subject and research question of a thesis are not the same. In principle, there are many possible topics for a thesis and they are subject to only two conditions; 1. The subject must be within the domain of the track within the Master s programme in Communication Science you ve chosen. 2. The thesis must incorporate knowledge gained in earlier phases of the Master s programme, in particular in seminars. Students who do not yet have a subject in mind can consult the collection of Master s theses in the library. 1 If this does not yield any ideas, the next step is a discussion with the tutor assigned to you. Responsibility for the choice of subject rests with the student. 1 To find digital copies of Communication Science theses, follow the following steps: a) Go to b) Click on English if you want to find English theses (left column) c) Click on Advanced Search (left column) d) Select; Faculty of Social and behavioural Sciences e) Select; FMG: Afdeling Communicatiewetenschap f) Click Search 2 2

5 III CONTENT REQUIREMENTS Once a subject has been chosen and a research question defined, it is advisable to consider the requirements that a thesis has to satisfy. All too often, after the collaboration between the student and the supervisor, the latter s final assessment is disappointing. This can be avoided partly by having a clear procedure in place (see section V) and partly by specifying explicit requirements for the content of the thesis and basing the assessment criteria on these. Obviously, in these few pages, it is not possible to give a complete overview of a problem about which many books and guides have been written. The requirements for content are succinctly explained in points 1 to 9. The following publications provide more general information on the questions and problems with regard to academic writing, in general, and writing a thesis, in particular: Becker, H. S. (1986). Writing for social scientists : how to start and finish your thesis, book, or article. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Reeks, C. L. (2005). How to write a BA thesis : a practical guide from your first ideas to your finished paper. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Strunk, W., & White, E. B. (2000). The Elements of Style (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Swales, J. M., & Feak, C. B. (1994). Academic Writing for Graduate Students. Ann Harbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press. Watson, G. (1987). Writing a thesis: a guide to long essays and dissertations. London: Longman. Williams, J. M. (2006). Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace (9th ed.). London: Longman. 1. Structure and research question the aim of the thesis must be clear: what subject is being discussed and why is it worth researching (academic and social relevance)? the research question must be clearly formulated. It describes the subject more precisely and indicates what will be studied and discussed. In general, the research question consists of an objective and a general question, which can possibly be subdivided into a series of sub-questions that derive from the main question. The questions must be formulated so that it is possible to answer them in the context of the thesis. Logically, once all the subquestions have been answered, the research question will have been answered. 3 3

6 special attention must be paid to delineating the subject and research question on the one hand and, on the other hand, to their wider context. The challenge is to find the proper balance: the research question must not be so broadly defined that its limitations may become unclear but, at the same time, the research must be placed in the context of theory and research already developed and carried out in the same field. It is therefore important to find out whether research has already been carried out into the chosen subject or a similar subject. Relevant academic literature can be found, for example, in recent volumes of the most important specialist academic journals. It must be clear how the student s thesis relates to the results of research already carried out. 2. The use of theory The author must demonstrate that he/she is familiar with the most important theory or theories relating to the subject of the thesis. Theory is used in order to: place the research question in a context that allows for the formulation of research hypotheses or expectations describe the central concepts and how they relate to each other organise and/or select the research material to interpret the results of the research to make predictions, where relevant In all cases, the requirement is that theories are presented clearly and with understanding, and that the choice of theory is also explained. 3. Quality of the research The thesis always involves research in the broadest sense of the word. In the case of theses that focus strongly on theory, the research is usually limited to a study of the literature. In such cases, relatively strict requirements are placed on the thoroughness and originality of the study and on the precision and creativity with which the literature is dealt with. Most theses are also based on empirical research. Information can be gathered using one or more of the following methods: content analysis, interviews, desk research and surveys (written, oral or by telephone). These methods should be used with a well thought-out research design in mind. This should pay attention to the following: the translation of theoretical insights and concepts into research steps (Is there a research question that requires qualitative or quantitative research? Is a hypothesis being formulated or tested, operationalisation of concepts, problems of validity and reliability?) the nature of the empirical material (defining and delineating the research population, selecting units of analysis) the nature of the analysis (qualitative or quantitative) and the explanation of the research method. The choices made in this context must be specified as precisely as possible. 4 4

7 4. The conclusions The presentation and analysis of the research results are followed by the conclusions, which interpret the results of the research by relating them to the research question and linking them to the theory or theories used. The issues raised in the research question are explicitly answered. If hypotheses have been formulated, the thesis must indicate to what extent the research results confirm or refute them. The student also answers the following questions: to what extent are the research results generalisable? what light do the research results shed on theory? how do the research results relate to the findings and conclusions of other authors? Which research results are similar, how do they differ, and why is this? What has the student s research contributed to the knowledge of the research subject? Sometimes it is also important depending on the aim of the thesis to answer one or more of the following questions: what does the research say about the suitability of the methods used and the choice of empirical material? Does this give rise to recommendations for future research? What could be improved in the future? do the research results have practical or societal implications? Can recommendations (including policy recommendations) be made on the basis of the research? 5. Write-up The thesis is preferably written in the form of an academic article. The following general aspects are important with regard to the requirements that apply to the writing-up process: structure of the argument subdivision of the thesis use of language presentation length of the thesis. Structure The student should aim to present a systematically structured argument. The research question, theory and empirical information must follow on clearly from each other. The thesis must be clearly argued, setting out the line of reasoning. Chapters and paragraphs must follow on from each other clearly. Conclusions must derive from the preceding argument. 5 5

8 Subdivision A clear structure of chapters or sections and paragraphs helps to present the argument clearly. The thesis should have at the very least: a title page with the following information: title and subtitle (if necessary); name and surname of the author(s); student ID-card number(s); Master s Thesis ; Graduate School of Communication ; Master s programme Communication Science; supervisor s name, date of completion (see Appendices for an example of a title page) a table of contents an introduction setting out the aim and subject of the thesis and the research question(s) a description and substantiation of the theory (in the introduction or elsewhere) a description and substantiation of the method used (in the introduction or elsewhere) one or more chapters in which the research data are analysed a conclusion in which the research results are summarised and interpreted in terms of the theory, the sub-questions of the research question are answered, and recommendations (where appropriate) are made notes (as necessary) literature list one or more appendices, as necessary an abstract or brief summary (no more than 1 page) at the beginning of the thesis. Use of language This is an important aspect to which careful attention should be paid. The thesis must be written in good Dutch or English. Sentences must be grammatically correct and follow on from each other. Unnecessary repetitions and irrelevant digressions must be avoided. Jargon should be avoided as far as possible because it usually renders the text less comprehensible and accessible. Specialist terminology should only be used if there is no alternative; standard English is always preferable. Do not copy texts you have read, but express them in your own words. This means that you should avoid over-using direct quotes and you should aim to present an independent argument in your own style. Presentation The requirements for presentation are as follows: A proper layout: Use Times 12 or Arial 11 font, line spacing 1.5 and reasonably wide margins (2.5 cm), page numbering, a consistent typography for chapter and section titles. The text should not contain spelling/typing errors. It should be correctly punctuated and diagrams, tables and graphs should be presented in a clear and functional way. 6 6

9 Length The thesis must be between 35 and 60 A4 pages (main text) in length. This is based on line spacing of 1.5, 12-point Times or an 11-point Arial font, and margins of 2.5 cm. Main text excludes the abstract, notes, bibliography and any appendices. It is possible to deviate from this rule in consultation with the supervisor. The required length of the thesis may depend on the subject to be discussed. In general, the writing should be as succinct as possible. 6. Verifiability In all academic texts, and therefore in the Master s thesis, statements must be verifiable as far as possible. The author must justify his/her statements so that the reader can verify them. If the claims are made on the basis of the author s own research, the method must be adequately explained. If the claims are based on written sources, these must be properly cited. 7. References Follow the APA guidelines for references. See the APA manual for the guidelines: American Psychological Association (2009). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Washington: APA. 8. Notes Endnotes should be used only when strictly necessary. They can be useful in order to clarify or illustrate points in the text, or to make additional points that are relevant to the subject but are difficult to incorporate in the main text. Notes should be continuously numbered from the beginning to the end of the thesis, and listed at the end of the final chapter. 9. Bibliography The bibliography is a list of the literature referred to, arranged alphabetically by the surname of the (first) author. For further rules, see the APA guidelines. 7 7

10 IV ASSESSMENT CRITERIA The above requirements are also indicative of the criteria on the basis of which the thesis is assessed. The main assessment criteria are summarised as follows: research question: clarity and precision, originality, explanation and delineation; how is the research question operationalised? knowledge of the thesis subject (demonstrated, for example, by the way in which and extent to which relevant literature is used) understanding of communication science: the way in which and extent to which theories are used, explanation of theoretical assumptions, description and application of theoretical concepts (consistent use, in accordance with current interpretations, unless there are strong arguments for not doing so) structure of the argument: systematic treatment of the research question, logical consistence, sections follow on from each other, clear line of argument, well-founded conclusions quality of the research: information-gathering method (operationalisation of concepts, research techniques, choice of empirical field), methodological explanation of choices, data analysis verifiability: accurate references and source notation, clear citation, notes, bibliography, calculations explained use of language: precision, clarity, readability presentation: layout, spelling, punctuation, clear subdivisions, titles of chapters and sections, etc. degree of self-reliance in writing the thesis creativity. 8 8

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