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Department of History

Writing Theses

Guidelines for Writing M.A. Theses


1. Selection of Members of the Thesis Committee. Consult with your Public History faculty advisor about the selection of two faculty members for your thesis committee. One will be a "first" reader or the director, the other a "second" reader.  The thesis director must be a faculty member in the USC history department. Note that Public History students are not required to have Public History faculty as committee members. The two readers should have scholarly expertise in your proposed topic. You will need to meet with each of the two faculty members and ask whether they will agree to serve as readers. It is important that you conceptualize, research, and write your thesis in consultation with this committee. Ask about your readers' expectations for reviewing drafts. Do they want to read the thesis a section at a time or in its entirety? Will you (or they) be out of town during any stage of the writing; if so, what arrangements for consultation are necessary?

2. Drafts and Deadlines
. To be thorough and conscientious, faculty members need several weeks of lead time to read a thesis, even one you believe to be in final form. You also need to allow yourself time to revise, and even to rewrite, major sections. To be on the safe side, you should plan to give a final draft of the thesis to your committee members at least one month before the Graduate School's filing deadlines. Please do not submit the thesis any later and expect to meet the filing deadline. You will “defend” your thesis in a formal meeting with your two readers, who will examine you on both (a) the specific research topic and (b) the relevant historiography and broader historic context.  The thesis defense must take place prior to the deadline established each semester by the Graduate School.  The defense is graded pass or fail.

3. Graduate School Formatting Requirements
. Theses must be prepared for submission according to the current regulations of the Graduate School, a copy of which can be obtained on the Graduate School Website. It is your responsibility to know and follow these guidelines.  The Director of Student Services in the history department can also answer questions about format.

4. Style and Citations
. On matters of style and documentation, follow the Chicago Manual of Style. An abridgement of the Chicago Manual is Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, but you will find it of limited use for footnote and bibliographic conventions for many historical sources. To help the readers evaluate the sources you are using, please use footnotes rather than endnotes. One dissent from Turabian: subsequent references to sources in footnotes should always give a shortened version of both the author and title, not just the author, as in Turabian. The bibliography should be divided into primary and secondary sources.

 Common Courtesies (and Common Problems). Do not ask or expect committee members to read for typos, spelling errors, or mistakes in grammar; these are your responsibility even in a "draft." Always run your computer's spelling checker before submitting any writing. To facilitate comments, please leave large margins and number the pages. 

6.  Presenting Original Historical Research. Your thesis may be a traditional scholarly paper (think of the ideal here as a publishable article) or it may have a significant “applied” component appropriate to a major public history project.  You will work with your two readers to define the topic and approach.  No matter the form, the thesis should be based on extensive use of primary sources and grounded in the relevant secondary literature.  The prose should be well-written and cogently argued. Avoid chronological narrative: analyze, analyze, analyze.  Pay attention to the topic sentences of paragraphs. Is the thesis (or its constituent arguments) evident on every page? Is it evident in every paragraph? 

7. Copies of the Completed Thesis. You should provide a final bound copy of the thesis to both members of your committee. This can be a copy produced by the Graduate School or by a local photocopy shop.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.