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Master of Science in Journalism

MSJ Thesis or Professional Project

All students in the Master of Science in Journalism (MSJ) degree program must complete a thesis or professional project involving original work in the student’s area of interest.

Students in the teaching-research track normally take research and theory courses both inside and outside of the Reed College of Media, statistics and social science courses. The student’s program culminates in a thesis, which is a scholarly study of an important aspect of mass communication.

Students in the professional track typically take communication and outside area courses that will help them become better practitioners. Students eventually research and write a professional project, which helps a student expand his or her knowledge about a given aspect of mass communication and is a large-scale project on which the student might work as a professional.

There are many steps to writing a thesis or producing a professional project. Students should refer to the overview below and review the Thesis/Professional Project Process documentation for complete details. Each student must select a Graduate Committee Chair, who will provide guidance on developing the initial idea into a preliminary thesis or professional project proposal. Once the proposal is complete, each student must assemble a Graduate Committee, the governing body of the student’s thesis or project.

Early in the program, students begin to formulate ideas for the thesis or professional project and assess College of Media faculty interests and areas of expertise. Each student must select a Graduate Committee Chair, who will provide guidance on developing the initial idea into a preliminary thesis or project proposal.

Once the proposal is complete, each student must assemble a Graduate Committee, the governing body of the student’s thesis or project. Students should review the specific details regarding  Graduate Committee Composition.

The Graduate Committee reviews the proposal and provides feedback for revisions. The student works with the Chair to prepare the proposal for formal defense before the Committee. Once the student’s proposal is approved by the Graduate Committee, the student may begin further research on the formal thesis or project.

Typically during the second year of the program, the student works toward a final draft of the thesis or project with the Chair and his or her Committee. The student then defends the thesis or project before the Committee.

After the final thesis or project is approved, the Committee signs the Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETD) signature form. The student then uploads the final thesis or project to the ETD site. Directions and information are available on  WVU’s thesis website.

Steps In The Thesis/Professional Project Process

  1. Ideas
    . Student forms a general idea for MSJ thesis/professional project.
  2. Concept
    . Based on research conducted during the first two semesters, student develops the idea into a single theoretically grounded concept for a thesis/professional project proposal.
  3. Chair
    . Student seeks out that graduate faculty member whose area of expertise is most closely related to the potential proposal. Student requests the faculty member to be Chair of the student’s thesis/professional project.
  4. Proposal Development
    . Student develops and writes the pre-proposal. Chair provides guidance and supervision as required to help the student develop the full proposal.
  5. Committee
    . Student, with guidance of the Chair, selects two additional Committee members from the College of Media faculty and one “at-large” member from outside the College of Media to serve on the student’s Thesis/Professional Project Committee. For a thesis, the “at-large” member must be a graduate faculty member either from another department/school at WVU or from another college or university. For a professional project, the “at-large” member may be a professional. Student provides copies of the pre-proposal to the Chair and discusses it with the other committee members prior to its being finalized and distributed to the Committee.
  6. Proposal
    . Proposal meets the guidelines stated in the College of Media handout “Components of the Thesis” or “Professional Project Proposal.” A bibliography is required.
  7. Proposal Defense
    . Student coordinates with Chair and Committee members to establish a date/time to meet for the student’s defense of the proposal. All students must defend their proposals before their committee. All committee members, under direction of the Chair, must agree that the proposal is ready to defend.
  8. Graduation Application
    . Student applies with the College of Media to graduate in the semester in which the thesis/professional project is to be defended.
  9. Thesis/Professional Project
    . Student researches, writes and revises the thesis/professional project as directed by the Chair and the suggestions obtained from the Committee during the proposal defense. All guidance from Committee members is funneled through the Committee Chair to ensure consistency.
  10. Thesis/Professional Project Finalized
    . Student provides copies of final draft of the thesis/professional project to the Chair for comments and ultimate distribution to the Committee Members.
  11. Defense Date
    . Student coordinates with Chair and the Committee Members to establish a date for the final defense. This date should be at least two weeks after the document has been distributed to the Committee and public notification of the defense is made. A defense date will not be scheduled until all MAJOR revisions have been made.
  12. Thesis/Professional Project Defense
    . Student defends the thesis/professional project (with the assistance of the Chair) before the Committee. Committee approves, approves with corrections, or (in extremely rare cases) denies the thesis or project.
  13. Corrections
    . Student makes any corrections and submits final to the Chair for approval. Chair notifies the Committee Members corrections have been made. Committee Members sign the approval sheet (available from the WVU Library’s ETD site).
  14. EDT/Publishing
    . Student submits thesis or project to Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETD) for entry into its Web database and provides College of Media Chair with one bound copy of the thesis/professional project.
  15. MSJ
    . Student graduates. Congratulations!

NOTE: Final electronic thesis should be submitted no later than mid-April to allow time for
processing for May graduation.

Thesis Proposal

  The Thesis track differs from the Professional Project track in that the student pursues academic educational objectives as opposed to the professional objectives of a project. Students who believe they may someday want to pursue a Ph.D. are encouraged to choose this path.

The purpose of the thesis proposal is to inform your committee chair and committee members what you intend to do, what it will accomplish or add to the field, and how you intend to do it. It also provides a detailed guide for the thesis itself and must demonstrate long-term, sustained research and writing activity.

A thesis requires a substantial commitment of time, focus and effort. Students should plan to devote the equivalent of at least one semester of full-time academic work to complete it, once it has been approved.

A well-executed proposal is essential to ensure that all committee members and the student are in agreement regarding what the thesis will involve and how it will be conducted.

The following elements should make up your thesis proposal:


  This is where problems or issues in the field are discussed and the rationale for the thesis is established. Students apply the theories and concepts learned in core graduate classes to a research issue or problem. This section provides a general background of the topic, establishing its relevance, and clearly stating the research problem/questions to be addressed.  Explain why the research is needed, the contribution it will make to the field, and the specific questions or issues your thesis will address.


Literature Review
Essential in any research project is a general survey of related, relevant research, published and unpublished, that has a bearing on your research questions. This likely will make up the biggest section of your proposal and thesis. An explanation of earlier research helps fit the project into the current context of the field. A discussion of the theoretical basis/bases for your work should be included here and should guide the reader from its theoretical origins to the most recent findings in the field. At the end of this section, you state how your work will replicate previous studies to help extend our understanding of the research problem/issue or will fill a gap in the existing research literature.  


Research Questions and/or Hypotheses
. Regardless of the research method or category—historical, descriptive, experimental—one or more research questions and/or hypotheses about the topic should be developed. A hypothesis is a clear, concise statement of conjecture about a problem that expresses a relationship between variables. Research questions should be used if the thesis is exploratory in nature, with inadequate previous research findings to predict variable relationships, or if the research results are not testable.


. Specify in detail how you will answer your questions/test your hypotheses and why this is the best method to use. Define your terms/variables and any other words that have a special meaning in your study. Words may be defined in two ways: dictionary or operational. Both types of definitions may be used. (A dictionary definition defines a word by using other words; an operational definition assigns meaning by specifying the activities or operations necessary to measure the variable.)

EX:      Dictionary definition:

is the capacity to understand facts and propositions and their relations and to reason about them.

Operational definition:

is a specific score on a specific test designed to measure intelligence.

Discuss what sampling frames will be used and how your samples will be selected. Explain how data will be collected, what instruments (e.g. questionnaires) will be used, and how they will be analyzed. Describe any primary and secondary sources to be researched and how they will be found/obtained.


 Attach a complete list of the works and interviews used to develop your proposal.


Include a copy of your instruments and/or interview questions and a proposed timeline that includes securing and analyzing your data and completing/defending your thesis.


When in doubt about any aspect of your proposal, consult your committee chair.

Professional Project

The Professional Project track differs from the Thesis track in that the student pursues professional educational objectives as opposed to the academic objectives of the thesis. Students who are pursuing the MSJ as their terminal degree and do not intend to pursue a Ph.D. are encouraged to choose this path.

Although the goals of the professional project are different from the thesis, it requires the same demonstration of long-term, sustained research and writing within the student’s area of study and preparation (advertising, editorial, public relations or visual journalism). The main components of the professional project are as follows:

1.    Uses the major ideas and theories from coursework applied to a professional issue, problem or process. This could be long-term investigative series for print or broadcast, a multimedia documentary, or a major ad or public relations campaign or product.

2.    Requires a proposal that details the project and demonstrates preparation, including a targeted literature review that identifies the theories and concepts being applied. (See proposal guidelines)

3.    Incorporates a strong quantitative or qualitative research component in the project (investigative or documentary reporting, designing a campaign, etc.), as well as in the analysis/assessment for the student’s final Professional Project Report. 

4.    A professional project requires a substantial commitment of time and effort. Students should plan to devote the equivalent of at least one semester of full-time academic work to complete the project.

5.    Publication and/or dissemination requirement: The professional project must result in a tangible media product delivered to an intended audience.

6.    Submission of a Professional Project Report that incorporates all the elements of the project proposal, as well as significant documentation of the project itself and a contextual essay assessing the outcomes, results and/or successes of the professional objectives.


Professional Project Proposal

Before the student begins his/her project, a detailed, written proposal must be submitted and approved by the student’s professional project committee. The proposal should specify the professional educational objective(s) that the student is prepared to address, and how the research requirements will be met. The proposal for a professional project should contain the following elements:


. This is where problems or issues in the professional field are discussed and the rationale for the project is established. Students apply the theories and concepts learned in core graduate classes to a professional problem, issue or challenge. The introduction clearly states the professional objectives of the project.


The professional project
Should include the following elements:


Research component
. In addition to the professional project itself, there must be a strong analysis component. This provides the student an opportunity to examine professional practices and to contribute to their area of specialization. This section of the proposal should include the following:


Supervision of the project.
If the project will be supervised by someone who is not a faculty member of the College of Media, the student must have an agreement in writing from the on-site supervisor approved by his or her committee. This agreement specifies the nature of the supervision, the responsibilities of both the supervisor and the student, and as well as a resume of the supervisor.

Completed Thesis

Incorporates all the elements of the project proposal, but updates the methods section to reflect the past nature of the activity, along with a findings section that includes the research results and a discussion section that analyzes the findings in light of previous and future research and acknowledges any problems with or shortcomings of the study.

Specifically, the following sections should be included in your thesis, which will be distributed to your committee at least two weeks prior to your defense and which, in its final form, will be submitted electronically to the university in conformance with their thesis guidelines/requirements.

  1. Title page with signature lines for your committee members
  2. Abstract
  3. Any acknowledgements
  4. Table of contents
  5. List of tables
  6. List of figures
  7. Introduction
  8. Literature review
  9. Research questions and/or hypotheses
  10. Method
  11. Findings (answers to your RQs and/or Hs)

12. Discussion and implications

13. Appendices (as relevant)

14. Bibliography  

Professional Project Report

Incorporates all the elements of the project proposal, as well as significant documentation of the project itself and a contextual essay evaluating the outcomes and or success of the professional objectives.

  1. Title page
  2. Table of contents
  3. Professional project proposal (with description of any changes from original)
  4. IRB application/approval (if necessary)
  5. Introduction
  6. The professional project (chronological description)
  7. Letter of evaluation from outside supervisor (if applicable).
  8. Evidence of the project (articles, printouts of web pages, DVD, including query letters, correspondence with clients, etc.)
  9. Contextual essay/assessment component

Attach any materials that you cite in the body of the report as appendices.