Thesis Prospectus Instructions

The prospectus is a paper in which you identify the nature of your study and the type of research you will pursue. In the MA/MSCJ programs, you have the following options;

Thesis – in the thesis option the student pursues a research topic that will contribute new knowledge or understanding to the general body of knowledge in the field. An on-campus oral defense is required to complete this option. 

Advanced Coursework – in this completion option, students complete six hours of additional coursework followed by a written comprehensive examination. The courses can be electives or readings courses that relate to the student's primary focus of study and as approved by the College. 

By the time you write your prospectus, you must know which of the above completion options you plan to pursue so that your prospectus will accurately reflect your research plan. If you choose to complete the Advanced Coursework option, you will not be required to complete a prospectus.

Your committee chair will determine the scope of your prospectus and may suggest revisions. However, to start, the College anticipates a work of approximately 10 pages and recommends that the following be included: 

  1. Statement of topic
  2. Rationale for the topic: a discussion of its importance which indicates how it relates to your core study in the MA/MSCJ program.
  3. Method of research or research design (including data source, if applicable). This step will also indicate whether you need to contact the Institutional Review Board for approval of research involving human subjects. The IRB review is a critical step in the development of your research (see below).
  4. Preliminary literature review
  5. Proposed outline of sections/chapters
  6. Preliminary bibliography
  7. Estimated timeline – this is especially helpful for distance students so they and their faculty members can anticipate progress and keep on track for a timely completion of the program. Since it estimates the timing of your defense or comprehensive examination, it also points out potential scheduling problems that need to be resolved at this time.

Admission to Candidacy Form

The admission to candidacy form will be sent to you by the master's program staff after you have completed 18 hours of coursework. You will complete the form listing all your program courses – whether you have taken the course or not, the form must show 33 hours of coursework. It should not list any "I" grades. Once you have completed the form and e-mailed it back to the master's program staff, they will review the form for accuracy and e-mail it back to you, You will then print the form, sign the second page, and mail it to the college for signatures and submission to the Graduate College.

Researching and Writing the Thesis

Be sure to establish the correct format as described in the thesis option information from the Graduate College Web page. Download that section so you will have the requirements in front of you as you proceed. With your committee chair, establish a level of communication between him/her and you; identifying those points in your research at which he/she will want to see your work. If, for example, you are to send in each chapter for review, you send in the first chapter while continuing to work on your paper. Once your chair returns that chapter with comments, you incorporate those comments into that chapter as well as into the current work you are doing. Be aware that in this phase, your chair is seeing your work piecemeal. When the final paper is complete, your chair will see the entire work for the first time and will likely identify certain problems that were not previously apparent. As you schedule your plan of work, allow time for revision at this stage.

  • Committee – early in your research, the college will find two faculty members (with suggestions from you and your thesis committee chair) to serve on your committee. These individuals can be resources for you, although they usually do not become actively involved until later in the process.
  • Once your thesis chair has approved a final reading copy of your thesis, you will send it to your committee members for their comments.

Application for Thesis Topic and Committee Membership Form

The Graduate College requires that this form be on file at least two weeks prior to the date of your defense but should be submitted with your admission to candidacy form. This form will also be sent to you by the master's program staff.

It will require:

  • Your name and student ID number
  • Title/topic of your thesis
  • Names of your thesis committee chair and members
  • For any research that includes human or animal subject involvement of any kind, approval must be attained from the Office of Research Administration and must accompany the application for approval of the master's thesis topic and committee membership form. If you have any questions about obtaining this information, please contact the Office of Research Administration at (405) 325-8110. IRB website
  • Once you complete the form and have your committee members sign it, return it to the college for the dean's signature and submission to the Graduate College. This form must be on file in the Graduate College at least two weeks before the date of your defense. There is no exception to this two-week requirement.

Thesis Defense 

This final step in the process is a meeting between you and your committee members where you present your thesis, answer questions and discuss your research and conclusions. All four people are to be present at the defense on the Norman campus and it is your responsibility to schedule the defense at a time convenient for everyone. You then notify the college so that we can reserve a room for the defense in the PACS offices in McCarter Hall if that is the most convenient place.

Authority for the Thesis Defense Form

The Graduate College issues this form prior to the defense and the signed form must be returned to the Graduate College within 72 hours of the defense.

You must take a reading copy of your thesis to the Graduate College (Robertson Hall, 731 Elm Ave.) before your defense; a representative will check it for format and measure your margins.

Master's Degree Thesis Instruction Packet

At that time, the representative will issue you the authority form, which you take with you to your defense for your committee signatures after your defense. You must provide a copy of the signed authority to the College of Professional and Continuing Studies before returning the completed form to the Graduate College.

Final Steps

  • After a satisfactory thesis defense, the student must deposit the final thesis in both print and electronic form within 60 calendar days of the defense. A student planning to graduate in a given semester may need to submit the final printed and electronic copies sooner in order to meet the graduation deadline for that semester indicated on the Academic Calendar.
  • A student who does not deposit during the semester of the defense must enroll in at least two (2) hours of 5980 during the semester in which the thesis is deposited.
  • The semester in which the thesis is deposited will be the semester of graduation if all other outstanding requirements for the degree have been completed.
  • The student must schedule an appointment to bring one copy of the final printed thesis to the Graduate College before depositing it with Bizzell Library Acquisitions. The thesis must be delivered in person; it cannot be mailed or dropped off.
  • The final printed thesis must meet all the following requirements:
    • meet all formatting requirements explained in the Thesis Instruction Packet.
    • must be submitted unbound and printed single-sided on white, 20- to 24-pound weight, watermarked, 100 percent cotton paper.
    • The signature page must have original signatures from all committee members.
  • If the thesis involves human subjects research, the student must submit additional documentation from the IRB along with the final thesis.
  • The Graduate College will review the final copy and perform a final degree check. If the final thesis is approved, the student will receive a form that must be signed by a representative of Bizzell Library Acquisitions and returned by the student to the Graduate College on the same day.
  • The student must also electronically submit the final thesis to the SHAREOK nstitutional repository, according to the instructions provided by the Graduate College in the email authorizing the thesis defense. The electronic thesis must meet all Graduate College formatting requirements and must be identical to the final printed thesis, with the exception that it should not include committee signatures.


The comprehensive exam is a major step in completing the Master's degree and students need to have the best information possible. All students who choose the coursework/comprehensive exam option are required to complete a tutorial on the exam in the semester prior to the semester they take their comprehensive exam. The University of Oklahoma, College of Professional and Continuing Studies delivers Master's level degree programs to students around the world. Just like all accredited university graduate programs, the PACS graduate degree programs include completion requirements such as a thesis or non-thesis completion such as research project. We have developed an additional non-thesis degree completion option for our students to provide increased flexibility for our on-line students. This is the coursework/comprehensive exam option. Students who choose this option will take 6 hours of subject area elective coursework and write a comprehensive exam. The coursework/comprehensive exam option does not differ from the other options in terms of degree of difficulty or expectations.

Enrollment for Degree Completetion

Students who choose the thesis or research project option are required to enroll in six hours of thesis or project credit if allowed by the degree program in which you are enrolled. Students who choose the coursework/comprehensive exam option will enroll in six hours of subject area elective coursework (additional elective courses in your degree program area). These six hours will form the basis for the fourth question on the comprehensive exam (see below). The credit hours for each completion option are the same, and all students are required to complete 33 hours to earn their degree.

What is the Comprehensive Exam?

The comprehensive exam assesses a student's knowledge of a field of study. For the Master's Degree, that level of knowledge is expected to be advanced. The comprehensive exam is not based on specific course(s), but it is meant to test students' comprehension and familiarity with their discipline and their ability to synthesize concepts and ideas that they have learned over their entire course of graduate study. Many Master's students perform quite well in the individual classes and expect to pass the comprehensive exam easily. Sometimes students presume that if they received good grades, they will need little or no preparation for their comprehensive exam. It is important to remember, however, that the comprehensive exam requires students to go beyond what they have done in individual courses. Earning good grades throughout the coursework phase of the degree does not automatically translate into passing the comprehensive exam on the first try. While a student may have mastered the concepts, theories and ideas in individual courses, the comprehensive exams requires students to demonstrate that they can bring these ideas and concepts together and provide a coherent analysis for each of the exam questions. In some ways, the comprehensive exam can be compared to the bar exam. Law students may complete all of their coursework, but they must still pass the bar exam in order to practice law. Likewise, Master's students may complete all of their coursework, but they must still pass the comprehensive exam in order to earn their degree. Like the bar exam, not all students who take the comprehensive exam the first time pass. For example, in the summer of 2002, an average of 72.5% of all law students who took the bar exam passed. Those failing the exam the first time are required to take the exam again and pass it in order to practice law. This is the same with the comprehensive exam.

Comprehensive Exam Policies

The Graduate College has specific requirements that the College of Professional and Continuing Studies must adhere to in administering the comprehensive exam. 

How is the exam received?

  • The exam will be mailed to your OU email account only. Do not forward your OU email account to another provider as they may block the exam. Your OU email account is the only official email for the University of Oklahoma.

When Can you Take the Comprehensive Exam? 

  • A student must complete the required and core courses and at least 75% of all coursework listed on the approved Admission to Candidacy form to be granted authority to the take the comprehensive exam. 

Retaking the Comprehensive Exam 

  • Students may receive a second opportunity to successfully pass the comprehensive exam at the discretion of the exam committee. A failure on any part (area) of the exam results in a failure of the entire exam and necessitates a retake of the exam. 
  • If a student fails one or two areas, he/she only rewrites those two areas.
  • If a student fails three or four areas, then the entire exam must be rewritten
  • New questions are provided for the rewrite.
  • Students who are rewriting one or two questions have one week to answer the questions. Students rewriting the entire exam have two weeks.


All written academic work, including comprehensive exams, must be composed entirely of words generated (not simply found) by the student, except where words written by someone else are specifically marked as such with proper citation. When students misrepresent the origin of ideas or writing, this is plagiarism. Plagiarism is grounds for failure of assignment, failure of a course, or even removal from the university.

Plagiarism is any of the following:

  • To copy words and present them as your own writing.
  • To copy words, even if you give the source, unless you also indicate (with quotation marks and citation) that the copied words are a direct quotation.
  • To copy words and then change them a little, even if you give the source.
  • To present someone else's ideas as your own, even if you express them in your own words.
  • To re-submit your prior work for additional credit in a different class or on the comprehensive exam (i.e. self-plagiarism)

If you have questions about what constitutes plagiarism, review OU's

Enrollment During the Comprehensive Exam

Students must be enrolled in at least two hours during the semester that they take their comprehensive exam. This policy, established by the Graduate College, also applies to the semester that any re-take of the comprehensive exam is attempted. So if you have taken and failed the comprehensive exam in one semester, you will be required to re-enroll for at least two hours in the next or subsequent semester to re-take the comprehensive exam. Students will not be eligible for financial aid during the semester that they retake their exam. Financial aid rules require students to be enrolled for at least five hours and that all of those hours are required to earn their degree.

The Exam

Each exam is developed for each individual student by the exam committee. There are no standard exams. The Comp Exam is emailed (between 8:30 and 9:30 am on the start date) to each student's OU email account and they have two weeks to answer all areas and return the exam by email and submit it to Canvas under the Assignments drop box in this tutorial (by 5 p.m. on the exam return date). The exam will be reviewed by the plagiarism program TurnItIn. The start dates for the exams are established each term and students will be given a date range during the term in which they can start the exam. Exams cannot be started on weekends or holidays. If the exam is not returned by the deadline (5 p.m. on the exam return date), it is considered a failure.

The Committee

The Committee consists of three members. The committee will be selected from faculty who work for the College of Professional and Continuing Studies. Normally you will have at least one faculty member you have had during the course of your degree program. All three members will grade your papers on a scale of one to ten and the average for each area will be your score for the area. A score of seven on each area is the minimum passing score.

The Questions

  • The comprehensive exam is a two-week, take-home examination consisting of four questions (areas) approved by the College for the student which is emailed to the student. The student will return the exam by email within the time limit to all committee members and the College of Professional and Continuing Studies. The exam consists of the following:

  • One question covering the content in the Interdisciplinary Studies portion of the Master's program. 
  • One question covering the content in the Research Preparation portion of the Master's program. 
  • One question covering the content in the Specialized Study portion of the Master's program. 
  • One question related to a critical analysis of the readings required in the Master's Program.

While the exam questions are not based on a particular course, they are generally based on areas of study within your degree program that were covered in courses. 

Question One:

  • For all degree programs, question one is based on literature, theories and concepts covered in LSTD 5003 and LSTD 5013.

Question Two:

  • For all degree programs except Criminal Justice, question two is based on LSTD 5043/5083 and research theories, methods and concepts covered in LSTD 5043/5083 and all other LSTD courses where these were used.
  • For the MSCJ program, question two is based on LSCJ 5063 and research theories, methods and concepts covered in LSCJ 5063 and all other LSTD or LSCJ courses where these were used.

Question Three:

  • For Administrative Leadership students, question three is based on LSAL 5113, LSAL 5133 and LSAL 5153. 
  • For Museum Studies students, question three is based on LSMS 5113, LSMS 5190 and one of the following: LSMS 5133, LSMS 5163, LSMS 5173 or LSMS 5183. 
  • For Health and Human Services Administration students, question three is based on LSHA 5113, LSHA 5133 and LSHA 5153.
  • For Prevention Science students, question three is based on LSPS 5113, LSPS 5133, and LSPS 5173.
  • For Criminal Justice students, question three is based on LSCJ 5113, LSCJ 5133, and LSCJ 5153.

Question Four:

  • For all degree programs, question four is based on any courses which were taken that are related to the degree option.

The Answers

  • Students are expected to write a 1,500 to 2,100 word paper for each question.
  • Be sure to include literature reviews in your answer. You need to demonstrate that you are familiar with the literature in your field and can use it to support or debate your argument in each question.
  • Be sure that your list of references is adequate. You will need to include citations from books as well as articles in peer reviewed journals. Wikipedia, for example, is simply a compilation of ideas, opinions and unverified facts and will not be viewed as a legitimate reference in a comprehensive exam. In general, encyclopedias should not be cited as sources. They may be read as background and to help you get a sense of what is important, but they are condensed secondary sources. Scholarly work should be based on examination of primary sources such as original articles and books.
  • Be sure that your citations are complete and accurate and that you have properly cited material that is not your own. Plagiarism on the comprehension exam will result in dismissal from the university and failure to earn your degree. Be aware that instructors have many on-line tools and programs to help them control for plagiarism, and they use these on a regular basis.
  • You may include an outline of your answer, though it will not be graded.
  • Be sure to complete a spell and grammar check before submitting your exam.
  • You will include the exam question you are answering as the first part of the response; it does not count as part of the 1500-2100 word count.
  • Your answer should close with a concluding statement that relates to the original problem and pulls your essay together.

Sample Questions

Below are three sample questions. These questions do not necessarily pertain to any specific course but are examples of what the questions will look like on the exam.

  1. Present a definition and trace the history of the concept, "intelligence." Howard Gardner has presented a theory of multiple intelligences and Daniel Goleman has popularized the idea of emotional intelligence. How do these contrast with the concept of "g" in intelligence theory? Discuss the nature/nurture controversy in intelligence theory.
  2. Briefly outline the history and current status of the theory of evolution. In your answer discuss or comment on the following:
    1. What does it mean to call evolution a theory?
    2. What is wrong with social Darwinism?
    3. What is evolutionary psychology?
  3. What are the philosophic roots of rational living as described in A Guide to Rational Living by Ellis and Harper? Give an example of how the concepts that Ellis and Harper discuss can contribute to successful leadership.

The Master of Arts in International Relations has specific guidelines for its comprehensive exams. Learn more.