Effective: September 1998
Modified in September 2002
Last Modified: January 2018

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.

1. 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 should examine a problem in depth. It must be written in English and the literary presentation must be satisfactory.

The main text of a thesis for the International Relations Program (IRP) should contain at least 10,000 words but be no longer than 25,000 words including any tables and figures (or for quantitative theses between 70 and 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 the International Development Program (IDP) must write a thesis (quantitative essay) of at least 25 pages including tables, equations and figures. Footnotes and bibliography are excluded. An IDP student thesis generally corresponds to an academic journal article.

The text of a thesis in the Public Management and Policy Analysis Program (PMPP) should have more than 8,000 words (about 30 pages) excluding preliminaries (e.g., title, abstract, table of contents, and list of tables) and references (e.g., glossary and appendices). A PMPP student thesis should correspond to an academic journal article in the public management and policy field.

For all programs, theses must comply with the formatting and style guide in the Thesis Writing Guidelines available online at

Students should consult the evaluation guide (below) for criteria employed by examiners in assessing a thesis.

2. 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 examine submitted theses rigorously based on 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 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.

With the permission of the examiner and the consent of the student examined, 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 examiner. 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 questions 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, can expand upon and defend those ideas verbally, and has attained a breadth and depth of intellectual understanding of the subject matter.

2-1. General Criteria

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


The thesis must show relevance to a research problem and argument. It is crucial that the thesis retains 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 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, select the texts most relevant to the thesis topic, find sources independently, and follow up references. It must also be clear that the student has a good understanding of the literature.


Adequacy of research design, consistent interpretation and competent execution must be demonstrated. 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 student must present 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 therefore 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”!


The thesis must demonstrate 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. Sources of tables or graphs must be clearly and adequately 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 the 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 table of 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 also specifically evaluate the thesis for evidence of plagiarism.

2-2. Overall Procedure and Performance Evaluation

At the thesis examination, the examining committee will determine whether the thesis receives a PASS, REFERRED, or FAIL evaluation:

Examining Committee

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

The examining committee may make a recommendation to the Dean’s Office for an 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 with a High Distinction designation.
(a) All External Examiners 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 Pass with High Distinction
D Pass Distinction
P Pass
NP Non-Pass (Fail)


A thesis passes if it is acceptable in its present form or pending minor revisions. A thesis may pass 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 of pass. The Examiner 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 Examiner 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.


The thesis worthy of distinction must offer clear evidence of performance at an outstanding level on all of the criteria explained above. It must demonstrate a very considerable depth and breadth of knowledge evidenced by a critical appreciation of the literature in all its extents and show 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.

An External examiner can extend the designation to high distinction for a work of superlative quality, worthy of the highest academic grade and outstanding in terms of originality, research, argument and expression.

Below is a list of criteria for the evaluation of a thesis with high distinction.

Evaluation Criteria for Recommending a Masters Theses for “Distinction” or “High Distinction”

  1. The research should be an original work making a substantial contribution to the subject under study at publishable quality. It must be logically consistent with no major gaps or omissions.
  2. The background research, problem identification, research question and objective must be properly and clearly defined.
  3. The author must describe the data and data collection method or process clearly and logically without serious lapses. The methodology for achieving properly identified objectives must be carefully selected with an appropriate justification.
  4. The author must review the related literature exceptionally well with critical understanding of the subject under research. It should not omit important references on the subject.
  5. There must be rigorous analysis and interpretation of data and clear conclusion.
  6. The author must present the findings appropriately, correctly and concisely based on the research undertaken by the author.
  7. It must provide, in the case of policy-oriented research, a discussion of current policies and policy implications in line with the chosen policy issues. The policy implications must be consistent with the objectives, methodology, results of the analysis, and findings.
  8. The overall presentation of the research work must be impressive with scientific research and clear writing.
  9. Depending on the thesis’ level of satisfying the criteria mentioned above, the reviewer may recommend the thesis to be awarded either “Distinction” or “High Distinction”. High Distinction must be awarded only if the research work is of exceptionally high quality. The reviewer can also reject both options if she/he is not satisfied with the quality of the research.


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 Examiner to avoid dispute or ambiguity. When outlining the revisions and or additional work required, the Examiner 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 Examiner, 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 examiner (Chairperson) or delegate as having been completed satisfactorily. The examining committee remains in being until it has agreed that the thesis is either passed or failed.


  1. If the committee returns two 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 candidate whose thesis does not satisfy the examining committee on the second submission will be failed.
  3. A thesis cannotbe 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 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.


A student may appeal to the Dean to contest the final grade given by the committee and/or the manner in which the examination was conducted by the following procedures.

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

After carefully examining the soundness of an appeal, the Dean may take the following actions. The Dean shall interview the examining committee members and/or the student, then 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 disagreement. If the settlement ends in failure, the Dean will submit the thesis to an external examiner whose decision shall be binding.

3. Submission of Thesis

3-1. Submission for the Oral Comprehensive Examination

By the designated deadline date, two unbound copies of an IDP, PMPP, or IRP thesis must be submitted to the OAA for distribution to the member(s) of the examining committee.

Below is the procedure for academic year 2018.

  1. The student should show the final draft to his/her supervisor at least one week before the submission deadline.

-Deadline for IDP/PMPP theses for distinction is March 30, 2018.

-Deadline for IDP/PMPP theses without distinction and for IRP theses with or without distinction is April 23, 2018.

  1. Before the thesis submission, the student should obtain the signature of his/her supervisor on the Agreement Letter for the Oral Defense.
  2. The student should submit the Agreement Letter for the Oral Defense along with two copies of the complete thesis to the OAA by the designated deadline.
  3. The oral defense is in principle based on the thesis submitted to OAA by the deadline; the examiner reads and evaluates the thesis sent from OAA.

3-2. Submission of a thesis with a recommendation for the grade of distinction for the eternal review.

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

3-3. Submission of the final version of the Thesis

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

These will be bound. One will be preserved in the Library and one given to the supervisor. Candidates must bear binding expenses.