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Master of Arts

Thesis Guidelines

Thesis Guidelines

The thesis is optional for students completing the MA degree, and is recommended for students who plan to pursue a PhD.


The following requirements must be met for students who wish to complete the thesis:

  • Students must have completed nine courses and at least one methods class. Generally, students begin their thesis work at the beginning of their last academic year in the program.
  • Students may be asked to complete certain courses to prepare them for their thesis research.
  • Students must have demonstrated superior writing ability in their coursework.

Thesis Committee

The committee for the comprehensive examination also serves as the thesis committee, and the faculty member who serves as the chair of the committee is the advisor for the thesis. The faculty members on the committee, then, first serve as the committee for the comprehensive examination, selecting the questions for the examination, evaluating students' answers, and conducting the oral defense of the examination. They then work with students on developing the topic for their thesis, designing the research for the thesis, reading rough drafts, and conducting an oral examination on the basis of the thesis.


During the process of completing the thesis, students must register for Master's thesis (COMM 6950). They may take one thesis hour per semester for four semesters or may take all four hours in a single semester, but a minimum of four and maximum of six thesis credit hours are required. Students should work with their committee chair to set the number of thesis credits that will be completed each semester. Students may not use any additional thesis credits to substitute for other credits needed to complete their degree; thesis credits may not be substituted for elective credits, for example.

To register for thesis credit, students must complete the CU Denver Special Processing Form, which can be downloaded here or is available from Director of Graduate Studies or the program assistant in the Communication Department. Students must take the form to the office of the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on the first floor of the CU Building to obtain an approval signature. They then submit the form to the Graduate School. 

Note: If students complete the downloaded form here, they must make two copies of the completed form and obtain the necessary signatures on the original and both copies.

Nature of the Thesis

Students should consult the latest Guidelines for Preparing Master's and Doctoral Theses, available from the Graduate School, for instructions on completing the thesis. They also are encouraged to obtain copies of successful theses from the Director of Graduate Studies.

A master's thesis should be between 60 and 100 pages in length. Whether the thesis is rhetorical or empirical, it involves original research to investigate a question about communication grounded in theory and established research. It generally involves between one year and 18 months to complete and is the equivalent in workload of two or three difficult courses. During the process of writing the thesis, students are expected to meet with their committee chair at least monthly.

Oral Defense of Thesis

The oral defense of the thesis occurs at the same time that students are orally defending their answers to the written comprehensive examination. Thus, students may defend their thesis only in March or October, the times at which the comprehensive examination is offered. For students who are defending their thesis as well as their answers on the comprehensive examination, the defense usually lasts approximately an hour and a half. Thesis defenses are usually friendly, open discussions in which committee members seek to understand the nature of students' work more fully. Students are allowed to bring blank paper and their thesis to the oral defense.

Following the oral defense of the thesis, the committee members assign an evaluation of satisfactory or unsatisfactory on students' performance on the entire comprehensive examination and defense, which includes the oral defense of the thesis. A satisfactory rating is a grade of pass; an unsatisfactory rating is a grade of fail. Students who fail the examination must re-take the examination during the next regularly scheduled examination period. For example, a student who fails the examination in March has the option of re-taking the examination again the following October. If students perform satisfactorily in some areas and not in others, the committee members have the option of asking students to re-do only those portions of the examination rather than redoing all components of the examination. A lack of satisfactory performance on any aspect of the written or oral portions of the examination means that students will have to re-do the portion that received the unsatisfactory rating.

Timely Completion

Students are encouraged to finish their thesis promptly. They may delay registering for thesis credits for no more than one semester following the semester in which they complete the comprehensive examination. Students who fail to register for thesis credits for more than one semester following the semester in which they complete the comprehensive examination will be considered to have left the program. Students who complete the comprehensive examination in the spring semester, for example, must register for at least one credit of thesis in the fall semester. Unless students are registered for at least one credit of thesis, the faculty of the Communication Department are under no obligation to advise or consult with them about progress toward completion of the degree.

Additional Information

Additional information about the thesis may be obtained from the Director of Graduate Studies.