Thesis and comprehensive exam

In 2014, The School of Communication introduced a new curriculum plan of study.

All graduate students will take 36 credits in order to receive their M.A. degree in Communication.  At the end of the program, each student will choose a thesis option or a comprehensive exam option. The options are described below:

Comprehensive Exam option: This option is geared for students who wish to have a career in Professional Communication. Essentially students who wish to leave graduate school with a Master’s degree and work in the professional realm, in a variety of industries, should choose this option.

Thesis option: This option is geared for students who wish to work in research or plan to go onto a doctoral program for a career in academe within the area of communication. Students choosing this option will complete a thesis that will reflect the theory and research understandings gained through the program.

Comprehensive Exam

  • The comprehensive exam is administered in both Fall and Spring.  The exam is administered on Friday of the 12th week of the semester.
  • Students will complete the comprehensive exam during their last semester of study.
  • Students will complete a six-hour closed-book exam, consisting of three questions with two hours each. There will be a one-hour-break between exams (so, two breaks in total). The three questions will cover three areas respectively, including: theory, method, and the student’s topic area (i.e., communication studies, media studies, or public relations).
  • Each committee member will evaluate the exam independently (following the blind review process), and will give the question either a “pass” or a “fail”. If two out of the three members give a “pass”, students will receive a “pass” for the question. If two of the three members give a “fail”, students will receive a “temporary fail” for the question.
  • Students who receive a “temporary fail” for a question have one chance to rewrite a question in the area in order to receive a “pass” for the question. The “rewrite” will be administered on Friday of the 15th week of the semester. If students “fail” the “rewrite”, they will receive a “fail” for the question.
  • Students need to “pass” all three questions in order to “pass” the comprehensive exam. The Graduate Coordinator will notify students the final results by email by the end of the 16th week of the semester.
  • If a student fails the exam, she or he has one chance to retake the exam in the following semester. No matter how many questions a student “failed” in the previous exam, she or he must retake the entire exam (i.e., all three questions.).
  • The copies of the comprehensive exam will be kept on file for a year.
  • Students who plan to take the exam are required to submit a written request identifying their topic area to the Graduate Coordinator by Friday of the 3rd week of the semester. The Graduate Coordinator is required to send reading materials to students by Friday of the 5th week of the semester.
  • Three committees administer the comprehensive exams: theory committee, method committee, and topic area committee. Each committee is responsible to provide and evaluate theory questions, method questions, and topic area questions, respectively. Each committee consists of three faculty members with the appropriate credentials and expertise.


Students who choose the thesis option must complete 6 hours of Thesis credit and, at the end, defend a completed thesis.  A thesis is a research paper that shows a mastery of a sub-area in your communication field of study. Students will not be finished with their graduate program until the Thesis Committee, The School Director, The College Dean, and The Graduate School Dean all agree that the thesis is a sufficient representation of mastery of the topic.  Further, a bound copy of the thesis must be submitted to the School of Communication before final grades will be released. (See the main office for a list of local printing and binding outlets.)

The first year of the MA program should be spent learning the foundations of communication study and forging a relationship with a faculty member with whom the student wants to have as an advisor for the Thesis.  The student should choose this Thesis Advisor based on the area of specialty of the faculty member and the compatibility for the student to work well with that advisor.   Thesis Advisors do not assign thesis topics, graduate students will need to narrow down the scope and nature of their thesis based on their coursework, their interests, external reading, and conversations with their advisor.

The thesis process is highly routinized.  Below are the steps to completion.

Create a prospectus - The prospectus must include an Introduction, Literature Review, and a Methods section (written in future tense) that will explain what you are proposing to do.   The content of each section depends upon the area of study and the advisor will guide this along.  Students should expect to write several drafts of this document before the advisor will see it fit to send it to defense.  It is important for a student to plan for the rewrite process and recognize that if a rewrite takes 6 weeks to give back to a faculty member, the faculty member cannot turn around the editing in 48 hours.   Any time a student gives a version to the advisor, the student should expect the editing to take at least a week.

Assemble an appropriate thesis committee - The thesis committee is comprised of one advisor and two readers.   The advisor should help to decide which additional faculty members should serve on the committee.   The graduate student should then explain their intended research study and ask the other faculty members to serve on their committee.  The committee should be assembled before the prospectus is complete.  The committee should be given at least a week to read the prospectus before a defense date is expected to take place.

Oral defense of the prospectus - The thesis committee will meet formally with the graduate student at an oral prospectus defense.  The advisor will prepare the graduate student with a clear idea of how the defense will be structured.  The student should come prepared to discuss the background and theory for their proposed ideas, as well as to share the particulars for the study itself.   If the prospectus is successfully defended, the committee will sign the Prospectus Defense Signature Form (see the link to forms).

Collection of data - Once the prospectus has been successfully defended, the student may begin to actually carry out the study they have proposed.   If this collection requires the use of human subjects, the graduate student must submit the proper paperwork for IRB approval.   IRB submission materials can be found at IRB submission materials

Thesis - The final thesis document will include 5 chapters (introduction, literature review, methods, results, & discussions).   This document should also include:  a cover page, signature page, table of contents, abstract, references and appropriate appendices.  It is also customary to include an acknowledgements page where students should thank their advisor and committee members, and make any personal acknowledgements as well. Graduate students should make sure their documents are in the appropriate format for both the Advisor and The Graduate School.  Information about The Graduate School’s expectations for the finished thesis appear here: Graduate School’s expectations for the finished thesis

Oral defense of the thesis - Once the thesis has successfully met the quality requirements set forth by the advisor and the committee, the student will be able to set a defense date.   This defense will be similar to the defense of the prospectus.   Once successfully defended in a way for which the committee requires no additional changes, the signature page will be signed and the document will need to be read, approved, and signed by The School Director, The College Dean, and The Dean of the Graduate School.   Students must leave sufficient time for all of these steps along the way.   To facilitate enough time for all involved, students graduating in May must have a defended thesis to the School Director’s office two weeks before the final thesis deadline to the Graduate School.

Have the thesis bound - Once all signatures have been obtained, a bound copy of the thesis should be submitted to the School of Communication office and a second bound copy should be presented to the advisor.  Guidance with the binding specifics can be obtained in the main office.   Grades for the thesis credits will be released only after the bound copy is handed into the office.

Recent Thesis