Effective: September 1998
Last Modified: September 2002

These guidelines are designed to ensure that the thesis constitutes a clear and permanent document and represents a standard of quality appropriate for a major graduate institution.

Master’s Thesis

A candidate for the Master of Arts degree offered at the Graduate School of International Relations is required to submit a thesis. A master’s thesis should be based on original investigation and must demonstrate scholarship and critical judgement, as well as familiarity with methods of research and relevant literature in the candidate’s field. The thesis should be at a high level of originality and to examine a problem in depth. It must be written in English and the literary presentation must be satisfactory. (Non-Japanese students may alternatively write their theses in Japanese.)

A thesis for the International Relations Program (IRP) should contain a main text of at least 20,000 words and should be no longer than 30,000 words including any tables and figures (or for quantitative theses between 70 – 100 pages including tables, equations and figures). Footnotes and bibliography are excluded. The philosophical, methodological or procedural, and synthetic or analytical scope of a thesis must be both deeper and broader than that of a term paper in course work. A thesis bears a close correspondence to an academic monograph substantiating a specific view.

Students in International Development Program (IDP) must write a thesis which contains a main text of at least 8,000 words and should be no longer than 12,000 words including any tables and figures (or for quantitative essays between 30 – 50 pages including tables, equations and figures). Footnotes and bibliography are excluded. A thsis for IDP students corresponds approximately to an academic journal article.

A thesis of high distinction is expected to warrant publication in whole or part. Theses must comply with the Thesis Writing Guideline also available online.

Students should consult the evaluation guide (below) for the criteria employed by the examiners in assessing a thesis, and the writing guide for detailed regulations concerning thesis.

Evaluation of the Thesis

The Graduate School of International Relations regards the MA thesis as an important stage in a student’s intellectual development. It is necessary for students to leave the School with an awareness of their achievements and a clear perspective on areas where their cognitive abilities were enhanced. In order to provide a constructive assessment, examiners are asked to closely examine submitted thesess in accord with these guidelines.

The purpose of the thesis is to give evidence of a student’s abilities in collecting and evaluating information, critically analyzing theories in the chosen area of inquiry, and constructing, testing and defending a coherent argument. The thesis should also demonstrate a student’s ability to present research results concisely and in a scholarly form. The master’s thesis should demonstrate that the candidate is capable of original and independent work. A literature review is an essential part of the thesis for it frequently establishes the basis for a thesis’s’s claim to originality. In particular, elements of the thesis that are considered to constitute original scholarship and an advancement of knowledge must be clearly indicated.

At the defense of a thesis, other members of the academic staff may attend but may question the candidate only at the discretion of the Chairperson. Only the members of the committee may be present during the post-examination session.

In the oral examination the student may be questioned on any aspect of the thesis and will be asked to elaborate upon or defend issues arising from the literature review and the research plan contained in the thesis. The range of questioning may include topics that are not discussed directly in the thesis but that are deemed relevant by individual members of the Examining Committee. The purpose of the oral examination is to have the student demonstrate to the Examining Committee that he/she has a solid understanding of those areas relevant to the research proposal, can expand upon and defend those ideas verbally, and has attained a breadth and depth of intellectual understanding of the subject matter.

General Criteria

In examining a student’s thesis keep the following general criteria in mind, not necessarily in this order:


relevance to research problem and argument. It is crucial that the thesis retain a focus on the stated research problem and the proposed argument. It should develop a clear sense of core arguments, establish their relationship to the question or research problem being posed, and to sustain a focused development of the argument throughout the thesis. For every paragraph of a thesis there should be an answer to the question: So what?

Reading: thorough and critical use of a wide range of literature and theories. It is necessary to clearly provide evidence of the range of literature, care taken in selecting the texts most relevant to the thesis topic, efforts made to find sources independently, attempts made to follow up references. It must also be clear that the student has a good understanding of the literature.


adequacy of research design and execution, consistency of interpretation. Examiners will scrutinize the research design, its appropriateness for the thesis, and the adequacy of its execution. They will look for evidence of an appreciation of the range of different methodologies and of how the chosen research design suits the topic, as well as its possible limitations. It is also essential that the data generated and discussed are consistent with and support the arguments and interpretations put forward.


the presentation of a thesis and its reasoned defense. It is essential that a distinguished thesis takes up an independent position in relation to the relevant literature on the topic. The thesis must clearly demonstrate a depth and breadth beyond merely a literature review to establish a clear relation between the literature and the research, drawing conclusions and making connections not immediately evident in the existing literature itself. It must pursue analysis in addition to description, and the production of a line of reasoning going beyond mere reading and a descriptive account of data (where relevant).In other words, the thesis must present a coherently organized argument. The thesis must clearly identify a formulated position on the topic and support therefor with arguments, dealing with arguments against as well as for it, and arrive at some sort of conclusion. This is particularly important in a thesis by definition a thesis needs to actually have a “thesis”!


competence in mechanics of essay writing and expression. Spelling, grammar, correct use of citations and construction of a bibliography must be impeccable. The bibliography must accurately represent all sources and reading. Material contained in tables or graphs must be clearly and adequately presented, and sources provided. The thesis must conform to the GSIR Thesis Writing Guidelines. The quality of expression is also very important. The thesis must structure and organize the topic well. The thesis must have: coherence: successive sentences should relate to each other, as should successive sections of the essay, and the grammar should make sense, and
unity: everything should be clearly related to thesis topic and to the propositions discussed. The thesis must be structured in an appropriate academic style, containing those sub-sections required to organize the material with suitable sub-headings to signify the progression and structure of its arguments. The contents page must correspondingly give a clear indication of the structure of the thesis.

The thesis must be more than a collection of manuscripts. All components must be integrated into a cohesive unit with a logical progression from one section/chapter to the next. In order to ensure that the thesis has continuity, connecting texts that provide logical “bridges” between different sections/chapters are recommended.

Please note too the question of plagiarism.


Sample Thesis Evalation Form


Overall Performance

At the thesis examination the examining committee will reach either of PASSED, REFERRED, or FAIL:


A thesis is passed if it is acceptable in its present form or pending minor revisions. A thesis may be passed if no substantive changes are required. Changes in the form of corrections to include typographical or grammatical errors, minor modifications to the thesis, editorial revisions or the like, may be recommended with a thesis classified as passed. The Chairperson should indicate clearly whether or not some changes are required before final acceptance of the thesis by the Graduate School of International Relations. A list of the required revisions must be provided by the Chairperson to the student and the supervisor and the completion of the revisions must be certified to the School by the thesis supervisor or other designated person.


It is difficult to say how any particular combination of the above elements will translate into an assessment of a thesis. It could be strong on some points and weaker on others, and we then have to balance that out. For example, examiners may have difficulty distinguishing between the valiant student who has obviously put a lot of work into their thesis, read a lot, spent a lot of time and effort on their research, organized it well, but shown little imagination or independence in their handling of the material, and another student who has clearly done less work, but produced intelligent and imaginative arguments on the basis of what they have done. However, a distinguished thesis must be outstanding on all of these points.

The thesis of distinction must offer clear evidence of a performance at an outstanding level on all of the above criteria; demonstrate a very considerable depth and breadth of knowledge evidenced by a critical appreciation of the literature in all its extents, shows clear and outstanding ability to proceed to independent research. Students with clearly demonstrable originality of thought, command of the field and research sophistication producing work of publishable quality in internationally refereed journals are candidates for this assessment.

High Distinction:

Indicates a work of superlative quality, worthy of the highest academic grade and outstanding in terms of originality, research, argument and expression.


A thesis is referred if it is not acceptable in its present form, but could be acceptable pending major revisions. A thesis will be referred if it requires substantive changes such as rewriting a chapter, reinterpretation of data, corrections to calculations or additional research in order to attain acceptable standards of coherence and integrity in argument and presentation. The nature of the revisions and or additional work must be specified in writing by the Chairperson to avoid dispute or ambiguity. When outlining the revisions and or additional work required, the Chairperson must be as specific as possible. These comments will be passed on to the candidate by the School as conditions to be met for the thesis to be passed. The Chairperson, in consultation with the committee, may decide to reconvene the examining committee and hold another oral exam. The outlined revisions must be certified by the Chairperson or delegate as having been completed satisfactorily. The Committee remains in being until it has agreed that the thesis is either passed or failed.

  1. If the Committee returns two or more votes for referral it may hold another examination after the candidate has carried out further research and/or rewritten the thesis, but normally not more than one year later.
  2. A thesis that has been defended by oral examination can be submitted once more only in revised form before the end of the examination period. A candidate whose thesis does not satisfy the examining committee on the second submission will be failed.
  3. A thesis cannot be both referred and distinguished!

A thesis will be failed if it is unacceptable to the discipline even with substantive revisions. If the Committee returns two or more votes showing failure, the Committee will advise the student be required to withdraw on academic grounds. The student will be notified of the result immediately by the chair of the Committee and the decision shall be confirmed by the Dean.

Examination Committee

An examination committee, consisting of three members (Chairman, Supervisor and Advisor) for an IRP thesis and two members (Chairman and Supervisor) for an IDP thesis, holds an oral examination for each student, and judges the thesis of the student and his/her performance in the examination. The committee decides a whether the thesis concerned is acceptable or not according in strict accordance with examination criteria herein.

The examination committee may make a recommendation to the Dean’s Office for the award of Distinction. The Dean’s Office may then dispatch the thesis to an External Examiner for assessment. The External Examiner will evaluate the thesis within the allotted time and report his/her opinion to the Dean’s Office. The External Examiner has the option of recommending a thesis of High Distinction.
(a) All External Examiner’s will be nominated by the Dean’s Office.
(b) An External Examiner will assess a thesis if: the examining committee makes a recommendation for distinction, or if the Dean’s Office decides that an external assessment of a thesis is warranted.
(c) An External Examiner’s report will be final.

HD High Distinction
D Distinction
P Pass
NP Non-Pass (Failure)

A student concerned may appeal to the Dean against the final grade given by the committee and/or against the manner in which the examination was conducted as such, according to the following procedures.

Appeals by students

An appeal must be made in writing to the Dean, soon after (s)he is notified of the grade by the examining committee or the supervisor.

Actions taken by the Dean in dealing with the appeals

After carefully examining the soundness of appeals, the Dean may take the following actions. The Dean shall interview the examining committee members and/or the student, then, the Dean will decide whether to accept or reject the appeal. If the appeal is rejected, the result of the original thesis examination stands. If the appeal is accepted, the Dean will try to settle the conflict or the disagreement. If the settlement ends in failure, the Dean will submit the thesis to an external examiner whose decision shall be binding.

Submission of Thesis

Submission for the Oral Comprehensive Examination

By the designated deadline date, three unbound copies of the IRP thesis or two unbound copies of the IDP thesis must be submitted to the GSIR Office for distribution to the member(s) of the Examining Committees.

When a thesis receives a recommendation for the grade of distinction, one copy of a thesis must be submitted by the students concerned to the GSIR office within 24 hours after the examination. The copy may be dispatched to an external examiner for assessment.

Submission of the final version of Thesis

After the completion of examination process, the candidate is obliged to submit the unbound original and one additional copy of the final version of Thesis to the GSIR Office for the final approval on degree conferment by the designated deadline dates.

These copies will be bound and preserved in the Library (one copy given to the supervisor). Candidates must bear binding expenses.