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|Introduction| |Selecting a Topic| |When to Submit Your Proposal| |The Thesis Proposal| |The Thesis Committee| |Commonly Asked Questions|

The thesis is one of two options available for those seeking an M.A. degree in anthropology, the other being the comprehensive examination. Submitting a satisfactory proposal to the anthropology faculty is a necessary preliminary to writing the thesis.

The student preparing a thesis proposal should keep in mind that a Masters thesis is expected to be a contribution to knowledge. Such contributions are normally achieved though original field and library research that bear upon the solution of conceptual questions and the clarification of theoretical issues. Thesis research is not merely the description of new field data, or a new compilation of library data, but rather the amassing and organization of data that bear upon one or more anthropological questions.

Students must complete Anth 481 with a B grade or better prior to turning in their thesis proposal.

Selecting a Topic

Students must demonstrate that they are prepared to write a thesis by submitting a thesis proposal that is evaluated and approved by the faculty of the Department of Anthropology. Students have the right to take the M.A. comprehensive exam to earn their degree. Whether they are permitted to write a thesis is the decision of the faculty. Departmental approval of a thesis proposal is not oral or informal but a written memo from the chair of the Department of Anthropology.

Students selecting the thesis option should begin by having a topic in mind that is of interest to them. Generally, this topical interest will have emerged in the course of undergraduate and graduate study. While this topical interest may be developed in conjunction with a faculty advisor or particular faculty members, ultimately it must come from the student and be the product of student interests. Students who must solicit ideas for thesis topics from faculty members probably should not be writing a thesis.

The student must then do background reading relevant to the topic and begin to develop an hypothesis or research question upon which their research will bear. These questions are not mere questions of fact, but questions related to conceptual issues in the anthropological literature.

In developing a proposal, the student will wish to consult with one or more faculty members who are knowledgeable about the topic, and can give the student advice on the proposal's overall shape.

The development of an adequate proposal, however, remains the responsibility of the student -- not the faculty. The desire to write a thesis is not in itself sufficient to insure that a student will be permitted to pursue this option. A student will have only two opportunities to rework a proposal into a form acceptable by the faculty. The third time an unsatisfactory proposal is submitted, the thesis option will no longer be available to this student.

The Thesis Proposal Panel
A student should form a proposal panel (two or three people) to work with them in developing their proposal. One faculty member will serve as panel chair. It is not the obligation of the faculty to come upwith the idea for a thesis proposal. Students who do not have a clear idea of what they want to study should choose to take the comprehensive exam. Faculty will invest their time in students who have a conception of what they are doing, whose work has shown quality, whose writing is clear and communicative, and who have demonstrated the ability to work independently. If a student cannot find faculty members willing to serve on a panel to develop their proposal, they should take comprehensive examinations to complete their degree.
The Thesis Proposal


A student wishing to submit a thesis proposal should carefully review the guidelines for thesis proposals on the department website.

When a proposal has been developed with the aid of the panel, it should be formally submitted to the faculty of the department. This involves a single official cover sheet obtained from the department office with appropriate information and signatures. These should be given to the chair of the department with a hard copy of the proposal for every faculty member in the department (including part-time faculty who teach every quarter).


Members of the department must gather to discuss and approve the proposal. The approval of a proposal will require a majority of those faculty voting. At least four faculty members must vote including the panel chair. There must be a clear majority for approval. A tie vote does not constitute approval. The vote will be registered in writing on an official departmental form. Part-time faculty on three-year contracts may comment and vote on proposals. They may also serve on a proposal committee.


Students who wish to receive an evaluation from the department to their proposals in the quarter in which they submit them, must submit them before the end of the second week of that quarter. Faculty will vote on the proposal and respond with written comments by the end of the fifth week. If the proposal is approved, additional faculty suggestions will be directed to the proposal panel chair. If the proposal is not approved, the panel chair will take the faculty's comments and draft a response from the department suggesting what changes need to be made. These comments will be circulated among the faculty by the end of the seventh week. The faculty will have until the end of the eighth week to suggest amendments to the response. The student will receive notice of approval or rejection by the ninth week of the quarter.

Proposals will not be reviewed in the Summer quarter, and proposals submitted late in the Spring quarter may not be voted upon until the following Fall quarter.


Time spent writing the thesis proposal is not wasted. A well--written proposal is a large step taken toward writing an acceptable thesis. A student must demonstrate in this proposal not only the specific topic that they are interested in investigating, but their knowledge of the literature related to this topic, the relevance of their research to larger questions and issues in the field, and their ability to formulate a plan for carrying out their proposed research. For the purposes of clarity, the proposal should be divided into clear categories.
1. Introduction
This should include an introduction to the topic of the intended research, a statement of the problem, and the goals of the research.
2. Background
This section should evidence the student's awareness of the specific studies and theoretical discussions that bear upon the proposed research. It should include a brief history of similar research and a discussion of the theoretical questions upon which the thesis research will ultimately bear. It will raise those particular questions the thesis is designed to address. It is in this section that the student articulates the linkage between the specific research project and larger questions in anthropological literature.
3. Body of Proposal
The student must discuss the nature of their proposed research in some detail, identifying the assumptions upon which it rests, the theoretical perspectives that will be employed, and the bearing that this research will have in testing particular hypotheses or addressing broader questions in the discipline.
4. Methodology
The student should discuss in detail the plan for research, what particular research strategies and techniques are to be employed, and why they are preferred over other strategies and techniques. The student should also include a time-frame for the proposed research (weeks, months, etc.) indicating how much time will be allocated to each phase of the project.
5. Conclusion
This is a brief review of what has been said, recapitulating the contribution of the proposed research project to general knowledge and to the discipline.
6. References
Under a section entitled "References Cited," include all resources used in writing this proposal. (These will have been appropriately cited in the body of the proposal using the citation style of the American Anthropologist.) In a separate section entitled "Bibliography," include additional sources on the subject matter, research methodology, and general theory that are see appropriate and which you intend to employ in the thesis proper.
The Thesis Committee
Once a student has received written approval of their proposal, they are free to form a thesis committee. The committee may or may not include members of their proposal panel. A committee may consist of no less than three members. The chair of the committee must be a full-time tenure-track member of the Department of Anthropology. One other member must be from California State University, Los Angeles. The remainder may, but need not, come from off campus. In addition to the committee chair, one other member of the committee must hold the Ph.D. degree. Other members must hold at least a Master's degree. The student should form the thesis committee only after close consultation with and the approval of the committee chair. A form containing the names of the committee and their signatures indicating their willingness to participate must be submitted to the department before the end of the first quarter in which the student is enrolled for thesis units. A new form must be filed in the event of any change in committee personnel.

A thesis committee form is available in the anthropology office and the student is responsible for securing the signatures of the committee members with a signature by the chairman of the department. The original of this form will be placed in the student's file. Any change in committee requires the submission of a new form.
Some Commonly Asked Questions
Q: Who should write a thesis? Should I write a thesis?
A: There is no answer to this question that is appropriate
for everyone. Nevertheless, there are certain general principles of which students should be aware. On average, students who pursue the thesis option take longer (sometimes, significantly longer) to complete their degrees than those who select the examination option. One should not pursue the thesis option simply to avoid taking comprehensive examinations.
Those who should pursue a thesis option are students who have a deep and abiding interest in some anthropological topic on which they have done substantial reading and/or research beyond their classroom assignments. Students who are interested in deepening their knowledge of a topic, engaging in extended research, organizing their findings, and making some contribution to knowledge should consider the thesis option.
Students who expect to be employed in a position which specifically depends upon their M.A. in Anthropology might also wish to consider the thesis option. For example, those students who plan to become contract archeologists or museum curators might wish to develop an area of expertise as well as their capacities for independent research and writing. An M.A. thesis might provide the student with the opportunity for guided yet independent research and writing. For those who plan to pursue a Ph.D., the M.A. thesis is, perhaps, less important as such independent research will eventually be carried out for the dissertation.
Q: Can I begin thesis research before actually having a
proposal approved?
A: Students are free to research any topic, at any time
they wish, in as much depth as they care to. Students should realize, however, that such activities do not insure that they will be permitted to write a thesis. Only the approval of a thesis proposal, as outlined above, allows the student to enroll in ANTH 599 and to write a thesis in partial completion of their M.A. degree in Anthropology.
Q: What happens if in the course of my field or library
research, the focus, emphasis, or theoretical orientation of my thesis changes? Do I have to submit a new proposal?
A: It is not uncommon for significant changes in focus or
orientation to occur in the course of field research. Thesis committee members must be made aware of and approve these changes. A new research proposal, however, need not be submitted to the department faculty.

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