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MA Thesis North American Studies


Admission requirements

Towards the end of their first semester (3rd week of November, for February starters May 1) students are expected to select a thesis topic and submit a draft research proposal for their MA thesis with the help of their chosen thesis supervisor. Students do some preliminary research for their thesis as they work on their draft proposals and also for the historiographical essay they have to write for the required core course Major Issues in American History and Culture (Readings in American History for February starters). They can start writing their thesis once they have earned at least 20 EC for MA courses. The final thesis proposal has to be submitted to the Board of Examiners before February 1 (July 1 for February starters).


In order to graduate, students must complete 40 EC in MA course work (10 of which may take the form of an internship) and write a master’s thesis of 17,000 – 20,000 words. The thesis is researched and written under the supervision of a staff member affiliated with the North American Studies department. It is assessed by the supervisor (first reader) and a second reader. The second reader will be appointed by the Board of Examiners. Students are free to choose their supervisor and come up with a viable thesis topic in the field of North American Studies.
Students will be guided through the process of writing their MA thesis through group discussions in a thesis seminar and in regular individual meetings with their thesis supervisor.

Aim of the master’s thesis

A master’s thesis is an extended academic essay based upon independent research that demonstrates extensive knowledge of a topic and a degree of originality.
Written under the supervision of an academic staff member, the thesis must show that the student is capable of:

  • understanding the relevance of the chosen topic to academic debates in the field;

  • demonstrating knowledge of the relevant secondary sources;

  • identifying, locating and researching relevant primary sources;

  • summarizing and analyzing secondary and primary sources in a concise and critical manner;

  • ordering a significant body of material in a coherent and fluent way;

  • building a logical argument that develops a clear, focused research question;

  • writing academic English of at least a satisfactory standard;

  • following required academic conventions regarding footnotes, in-text source references, bibliography, and so on.

Choosing a topic and writing a thesis proposal

Generally speaking, students are encouraged to select the topic of their thesis themselves, guided by advice from their thesis supervisor. They are encouraged to choose a topic related to one of their Master’s courses, but this is not a requirement. In selecting a topic students should approach a staff member and discuss their proposal with him/her. The supervisor, also known as ‘first reader’, will be able to suggest research strategies and recommend relevant literature. At this point, clear agreements should be made concerning the supervision procedure. The second reader will be appointed by the Board of Examiners.
The Master’s thesis is centered around one or more research questions, together with the suggested answer to the central research question. This is called the thesis statement. Before research questions can be formulated, the student carries out preparatory reading. The student, together with the supervisor, then identifies a research strategy and agrees a timetable for measuring progress. The student collects and analyzes primary and secondary sources, situating his or her own views in existing scholarly debates.

Submitting the thesis proposal

Once the student has selected a topic, formulated a tentative thesis statement on the basis of one or more research questions and put together a provisional bibliography, the Thesis Proposal form can be completed see Thesis Proposal form. The Thesis Proposal form should include the provisional title of the thesis, a brief description of the topic and methodology, and a tentative bibliography, listing both primary and secondary sources. The Proposal must be approved and signed by the supervisor. It is then submitted to the Board of Examiners no later than three months before the planned graduation date. The Board will inspect the thesis proposal to ensure that it is of an appropriate academic level and will appoint the second reader.

Research and Writing

Students should start out by formulating a clear plan for the structure of the thesis, in consultation with their supervisor. Only then can they begin writing. Keep in mind that you may need to narrow down your proposed topic in order to make the thesis viable. It is important to be precise and systematic in writing down one’s sources; this avoids wasting time in having to check the sources and notes again at a later stage. Quotations from the literature must always be identified as such, and page numbers must always be noted.
Plagiarism must at all costs be avoided.

Handing in the Thesis

Students are expected to hand in the chapters of the thesis one by one and incorporate the comments of their thesis supervisor in revised drafts. Check with your supervisor for guidelines regarding format of thesis lay-out and citation style. Format and citation styles will also be discussed in the thesis seminar.
When the thesis has been approved by the supervisor, print two copies of the final version (one copy for the supervisor and one for the second reader), unless your supervisor and/or second reader prefers an electronic copy. After the defence, an electronic version should be sent to the student administration and uploaded in the Thesis Repositorium (archive).

Assessment method

In accordance with the exam regulations of the Faculty of Humanities, the following criteria will be used to assess the quality of the thesis:

1. Knowledge and insight (contents, relation to the field)

  • The research question is based on a problem that reflects insight into the key discussions and methods of the field;

  • Clarity, relevance, and definition of the problem;

  • Embedding in the existing literature;

  • originality.

2. Application knowledge and insight (methodology)

  • Critical analysis of the material and sources (quality of the analysis);

  • Putting into practice and usage of concepts;

  • Usage secondary sources which are meant for an advanced academic audience;

  • Application of knowledge and insight into (unfamiliar) circumstances within a broader (or multidisciplinary) context;

  • Description and justification of the adopted method;

  • Usage effective research methods.

3. Reaching conclusions (interpretation, argumentation, conclusion)

  • Logical and consistent reasoning; conclusions are well-founded and follow logically from the presented material;

  • The degree to which the thesis question is actually answered;

  • If applicable: social and ethical aspects taken into consideration in reaching a conclusion.

4. Communication (writing skills, structure)

  • Language use (language of instruction and/ or target language of the programme: degree of linguistic competence, readability, style, spelling, grammar, use and explanation correct terminology);

  • Structure and layout of the thesis (division into chapters and sections, table of contents, used illustrations);

  • Apparatus including annotations (correct use of reference guidelines, completeness of references, bibliography, etc.).

5. Learning skills (process)

  • Degree of independence;

  • Planning and time management;

  • Handling feedback supervisors;

  • If applicable: participation in thesis group;

Assessment forms will be filled out digitally and independently by first and second reader.

Please note that class attendance and active participation in the thesis seminar will be taken into account in the assessment of the MA thesis.

Thesis Defence

Once the final version of the thesis has been submitted, the first and second readers meet with the student for an oral thesis defence, during which the student is expected to answer the questions related to the thesis posed by the first and second reader. If you have fullfilled all course requirements,the official exam date is the last Friday of the month in which you defend your thesis; you have to de-register from Studielink before the last day of that month. The graduation ceremony will be held separately from the defence, usually three times a year (February, June, and September/October).


See also:

  • MA Thesis Supervision Procedure and Guidelines North American Studies (BB thesis seminar);

  • Regulations MA North American Studies OER (scroll down);

  • Avoiding plagiarism.