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The MA Project
The Department has prepared this guide to answer some frequently asked questions about the M.A. project, a requirement for both the Literature and Teaching of Writing emphases. It is designed to answer questions of procedure and format. To discuss possible topics and obtain advice on research strategies you should see your Project Advisor.
What Is the MA Project? What Is an Unbound Project?
You should consult the HSU MA Project Formatting Handbook issued by HSU's Office of Research and Graduate Studies for a detailed discussion of the MA project. What follows is a brief explanation.
Every master's program in the CSU system must require a culminating experience consisting of a thesis, comprehensive exam, or project. If a project is required, it may be bound or unbound. The HSU English Department has chosen to require an unbound project.
The Formatting Handbook's official definitions of "thesis" and "project" are similar. While the flexibility afforded by the "project" is perhaps most advantageous for students in the MATW and the MI Program, the English Department has opted, for consistency's sake, to require a project of all its master's candidates:
A project is a significant undertaking appropriate to the fine and applied arts or to professional fields. It evidences originality and independent thinking, appropriate form and organization, and a rationale. It is described and summarized in a written abstract that includes the project's significance, objectives, methodology and conclusions or recommendations. An oral defense of the project may be required. To sharpen your understanding of what a project is, you may wish to examine copies of successful projects that are available in the Department library.
Although bound projects must follow the manuscript format requirements of the thesis and are archived in the university library, unbound projects are governed by regulations specific to the department in which they originate and are usually retained in the department's own library. Because the English Department requires an unbound project, it has established its own regulations that are set forth here. While the Formatting Handbook is still useful for general purposes, its detailed information on manuscript format in Part II is intended for writers of theses and bound projects, not for writers of unbound projects. You should therefore not assume you must follow every stated requirement that you find there as the English Department's requirements are in many ways less stringent. However, since the English Department's requirements relating to many topics--acceptable fonts, spacing, and pagination, for example--are based on those in the Formatting Handbook, you may still want to consult it for further guidance. The Formatting Handbook is also a useful source for guidance on special problems--how to incorporate tables and figures and other illustrative material, for example.
How to Get Started on Your Project
You can begin thinking of questions you might like to investigate in a project as soon as you begin your course work. In writing your seminar papers, you may discover an issue that you would like to explore more deeply in a project. The assignments and discussions in English 600 (Fundamentals of Research) should assist you in clarifying goals for your project.
The Graduate Coordinator can discuss your plans for a project with you and help you select one or more faculty members knowledgeable in your area of interest. After obtaining the approval of an advisor and a second reader who will supervise their project, candidates will enroll in English 690, Master's Project, in their last semester of residency.
The addition of a second reader brings the practices of our program more closely in line with those of other M.A. programs on campus (and around the country, for that matter). With a project advisor and a second reader, you're effectively working with a mini-committee, which gives you the benefit of more expertise and experience.
At the beginning of the project, you, your advisor, and your second reader should sit down together and come to a common understanding about what's expected when. Does your abstract need revising or refining? Does your reading list need to be pared or augmented? Do you need more time to digest and discuss the research and reading you've done? Do you need help shoring up your understanding of this material or determining its implications for the scope and structure of your argument? Once these preliminaries have been addressed, then what? Weekly meetings? Bi-weekly? 10 pages of new text and 10 pages of revised text each time? The second reader should have substantial involvement in your project from the very beginning and must not be brought in at the last minute: s/he is not a rubber stamp, and while your advisor will have the last word over your project's approval, the second reader's comments should be taken seriously, as s/he is not obliged to sign off on something s/he feels is unworthy of an M.A. The exact terms of your working relations will be determined by the three of you; the earlier you agree upon this, the more harmonious and predictable the process is likely to be.
You should have what all parties consider a "near-final" draft to your advisor and second reader no later than 30 days before commencement (in fall, the Friday before Thanksgiving Break). The rationale for these daunting dates has to do partly with courtesy, partly with logistics, and partly with avoiding unpleasant surprises. The Office of Research and Graduate Studies needs final project approval forms from the English Department no later than the last day of exam week--and that's taking it right down to the wire. Our internal deadlines, then, allow one week for your readers to turn around that draft to you, two weeks for you to respond to any final requests for revisions, and (assuming your revisions are satisfactory) another week for the Graduate Coordinator and the Program Assistant to process all the paperwork. (It's not uncommon for twenty projects to be filed in the final weeks of spring semester!)
If your project is interdisciplinary in nature, you may (with the Graduate Coordinator's approval) ask members of other departments to serve as consultants or outside readers--although the English Department will retain the final responsibility for supervision and approval. Students wishing to complete requirements for both the Literature and Teaching of Writing emphases must submit a different project for each emphasis.
Qualified writers of fiction or poetry may, under the direction of a professional writer in the department, be permitted to complete a project in one of those areas. Normally, only candidates for the literary emphasis will undertake such projects. MATW students wishing to do "creative" projects must include, as part of their project, an explanation of how their creative work relates to the teaching of writing.
Forms Related to the MA Project
Thesis or Project Proposal Abstract Form
The form entitled "Thesis or Project Proposal Abstract Form" should be included with your other candidacy papers ("Advancement to Candidacy Form" and "Approved Graduate Course List"), which must be submitted before enrolling in your last nine units of study. Your "Proposal Abstract" should summarize and describe the project's significance, objectives, methodology, and conclusions or recommendations. Please follow this link to access and download all of the forms listed above.
You should be aware that some project advisors will require that you write a longer proposal in addition to this short "Proposal Abstract" that you include with your candidacy papers. Check with your project advisor to learn whether you will be expected to prepare a proposal in addition to the "Proposal Abstract" required by the Office of Graduate Studies.
Request for Program Variation or Waiver Form
If in working on your project you find that it has changed so that your original "Proposal Abstract" no longer fits, you should rewrite your "Proposal Abstract" and submit your new one, using a "Request for Program Variation or Waiver" form, also available via the forms page of our website. If your project doesn't change significantly, you don't need to file this form.
Approval for Research Involving Human Subjects
As required by federal law, HSU has procedures for ensuring the protection of human subjects in research projects. Most research done in English is exempt from the policy. Nevertheless, if you plan on doing research involving human subjects survey, for example, you must still submit a research proposal to the Institutional Review Board, Office of Research and Graduate Studies. Most M.A. students in English whose research involves human subjects need only submit a request for an exemption. See the Graduate Coordinator for more information. You should also obtain a form entitled "Human Subjects in Research: Brief Instructions for Obtaining Approval from the HSU Institutional Review Board." This form can be obtained at any time from the Office of Research and Graduate Studies, and complete instructions (including a Moodle tutorial) are available here.
Unbound Project Approval and Deadlines
You should discuss with your project advisor and second reader how often and at what dates they would like to see rough drafts of your work. You and your project advisor should also determine at what point the second reader will begin reviewing and commenting upon your drafts. You should plan on submitting a complete rough draft to your advisor and second reader well before the department's deadline (see below) in order to allow ample time for revisions (which may in some instances be substantial). You must submit a final draft to your project advisor, second reader, and the Graduate Coordinator 30 days before the published deadline on the Office of Research and Graduate Studies website. When you project advisor, second reader, and Graduate Coordinator have informed you that they approve of your project, then you need to obtain their signatures on the Unbound Project Approval form. This must be done at least 10 days before the Office of Research and Graduate Studies deadline. You should submit this form (with the required signatures) to the English Department along with two copies of your project. The Records office will not issue a degree without this form. Students sometimes assume that if their project advisor submits a grade for English 690, the grade is enough to authorize Records to issue a degree. This assumption is incorrect: you need to submit the Unbound Project Approval form.
The Office of Research and Graduate Studies will review the "Unbound Project Approval" form for accuracy, but the project remains in the department.
Thus, the deadlines must be met for completion of the project:
Final full draft to project advisor, second reader, and Graduate Coordinator due 30 days before the published deadline established by -the Office of Research and Graduate Studies.
Signed Unbound Project Approval form due to English Department office 10 days before the Office of Research and Graduate Studies deadline.
Number of Copies Required
Two copies of the project (in final form) are required. While both are initially given to the Program Assistant, ultimately one copy is given to your advisor and the other is placed in a loose-leaf binder and kept in the English Department office where it can be read by students and faculty. Both copies should be submitted with the pages paper-clipped or clamped--not bound or covered in any way. The English Department will place it in a loose-leaf binder.
Format: General Appearance of the Manuscript
You should use the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th Edition, as a general guide. When in doubt, follow this guide.
The body of the project should be word-processed and double-spaced, and it should use one side of the page only. Use 12-point type and a standard font such as Times New Roman. Smaller or larger type is acceptable for headings, illustrations, tables, and other special cases, but the entire body of the manuscript should be in the same size and style of type.
Currently under revision.
It is the author's responsibility to ensure that page breaks occur in appropriate places. (Use the "Widow/Orphan" function of your word processing program.) For example:
- There must be a minimum of two lines of a paragraph immediately before or after a page break.
- There should be no incomplete words immediately before or after a page break.
- A heading should be followed by at least two lines of text preceding a page break.
- Figures and/or tables may be divided between pages only if a logical division can be arranged.
All pages of the project from the title page to the last page of the appendices are counted but not necessarily numbered. Small-case Roman numerals are employed for the Introduction, Table of Contents, etc., and should be placed at the bottom (center) of the page. Number the pages of the body of the project with Arabic numbers beginning with the first page of the first chapter or section that follows the introduction. The first page of sections/chapters, the works-cited page, and any appendices should be paginated at the bottom (center) of the page. On all other text pages, place the numbers in the upper right-hand corner, one-half inch from the top. Do not embellish your numbers with parentheses, hyphens or any other punctuation. Although the MLA Handbook, your guide for most matters, suggests a running head that includes your name before each page number, all you should include is the page number, unaccompanied by name or embellishment, lonely but not forlorn, in the upper right-hand corner. (The "Header/Footer" function of your word processing program should allow you to make all necessary variations.)
For margins, follow the MLA Handbook:
Except for page numbers, leave margins of one inch at the top and bottom and on both sides of the text. . . . Indent the first word of a paragraph one-half inch (or five spaces if you are using a typewriter) from the left margin. Indent set-off quotations [like this one] one inch (or ten spaces) from the left margin. Right margins should be unjustified.
Quality of Copies
Copies must be submitted on 8.5 x 11 inch paper with a pH of 7 or higher (i.e. the paper must be neutral or alkaline). All copies must be clean, that is:
- Both sides of each page must be free of all pencil marks, carbon smears, streaks, etc.
- All characters should be sharp and clear.
- No discernible erasures, corrections, or additions to the text are allowed.
- There should be no inked-in or penciled corrections.
- All charts, diagrams, and figures must be graphically produced; that is, work that is obviously done freehand will not be accepted.
- Type tone should be consistent.
- All pages should be free of wrinkles and folds.
Format: Documenting Sources
You should use parenthetical documentation, not footnotes or endnotes, to indicate sources. When using parenthetical documentation, you may use footnotes or endnotes as content notes or bibliographic notes. Here's how the MLA Handbook defines these kinds of notes:
- Content notes [offer] the reader comment, explanation, or information that the text cannot accommodate.
- Bibliographic notes [not to be confused with a listing in Works Cited] [contain] either several sources or evaluative comments on sources. (202-203) See the MLA Handbook, pp. 203-204, for examples of these two kinds of notes. The Handbook has this advice regarding content notes: In your notes, avoid lengthy discussions that divert the reader's attention from the primary text. In general, comments that you cannot fit into the text should be omitted unless they provide essential justification or clarification of what you have written. (203) Chapter 5 of the MLA Handbook explains parenthetical documentation. Here are some highlights from page 184: You must indicate to your readers not only what works you used in writing the paper but also exactly what you derived from each source and exactly where in that work you found the material. The most practical way to supply this information is to insert brief parenthetical acknowledgments in your paper wherever you incorporate another's words, facts, or ideas. Usually the author's last name and a page reference are enough to identify the source and the specific location from which you borrowed material.
Medieval Europe was a place both of "raids, pillages, slavery, and extortion" and of "traveling merchants, monetary exchange, towns if not cities, and active markets in grain" (Townsend 10).
The parenthetical reference ("Townsend 10") indicates that the quotations come from page 10 of a work by Townsend. Given the author's last name, your readers can find complete publication information for the source in the alphabetically arranged list of works cited that follows the text of your paper.
Townsend, Robert M. The Medieval Village Economy. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993.
The MLA Handbook recommends keeping parenthetical references concise. If you include an author's name in a sentence, you don't need to repeat it in the parenthetical page citation that follows:
Tannen has argued this point (178-85).
References cited parenthetically in the body of your project would be listed in a Works Cited at the end of your project. See Chapter 4 of the MLA Handbook for information on how to prepare a list of Works Cited. Here is the MLA format for listing the most common types of sources in a Works Cited:
- A book by a single author:
Pollack, Vivian R. Dickinson: The Anxiety of Gender. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1984.
- A book by multiple authors:
Holman, C. Hugh and William Harman. A Handbook to Literature. New York: Macmillan, 1992.
- A work in an anthology:
Rubinstein, Arye. "Children with AIDS and the Public Risk." AIDS: Facts and Issues. Ed. Victor Gong and Norman Rudnick. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1986. 99-103.
- An article in a journal with continuous pagination:
Spear, Karen. "Building Cognitive Skills in Basic Writers." Teaching English in the Two-Year College 9 (1983): 91-98.
- An article in a journal that pages each issue separately or that uses only issue numbers:
- An article from a weekly or biweekly periodical:
Begley, Sharon. "A Healthy Dose of Laughter." Newsweek 4 Oct. 1982: 24-26.
Lyon, George Ella. "Contemporary Appalachian Poetry: Sources and Directions." Kentucky Review 2.2 (1981): 3-22.
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