The following are unofficial guidelines comparing the master’s thesis (PSCI 5909) and master’s research essay (PSCI 5908) and their relative features.


Research Essay

80-100 pages 65-80 pages
  • based around original research using primary sources (e.g. – documents, interviews, raw data such as election studies, etc.)
  • original theoretically-filling clear gap in existing literature

  • while incorporating original research and primary documents, these may not form the core of the work if there is strong analysis and discussion of secondary sources
  • designed, researched and written with regular consultations of the supervisor and/or other faculty

  • supervisor must be consulted at major points of the process but will have a lesser role; other faculty usually not involved until grading
  • should represent a distinct and original contribution to the field

  • should represent a strong understanding of the field and an original and insightful interpretation of it
  • will reflect the workload of four one-term graduate courses, for 2.0 credits

  • will reflect the workload of two one-term graduate courses, for 1.0 credit
  • takes on average approximately eight months of full-time work from beginning to completion, but this will vary considerably according to a wide range of factors

  • takes on average approximately four months on a full-time basis, but will also vary considerably
  • defended before a formal thesis board

  • graded by the supervisor and one other faculty member
  • as a distinct contribution to the field, should likely be publishable if it can be summarized into article length

  • may or may not be publishable
Will be particularly valuable for students who:

  • strongly wish to study a particular topic in depth using primary resources
  • want to undertake a major piece of research to prepare themselves for eventual PhD studies
  • are not planning to proceed to the PhD and seek a final “capstone” to their academic career

Will be particularly valuable for students who:

  • have a wide range of scholarly interests and do not feel strongly drawn to a single topic
  • hope to proceed more quickly to a PhD and do not feel they need to conduct major research at this stage
  • do not plan a future research career and would rather develop general writing and analytical skills