skip to main content columnskip to left navigation

Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

School of Continuing Studies and Academic Outreach

Thesis Requirements and Culminating Project Requirements
MALS students have a choice of taking either the thesis or project option. Students electing the thesis option must complete 31 hours of credit, including MALS 5960, Thesis Research, while students electing the project option must complete 34 hours of credit, including MALS 5950, Project Research. Depending on when in her/his program a student takes MALS 5950 or 5960, she/he may begin work on the project or thesis, but in most instances will not complete the project or thesis while taking the 5950 or 5960. ( Please note that completing MALS 5950 or MALS 5960 is not synonymous with completing the project or thesis.) Worked completed in MALS 5400, Seminar in Interdisciplinary Research, may become part of the thesis or project, depending on whether or not the student has a good idea of what she wants to pursue as a thesis or project topic.

Purpose of the culminating work (thesis or project)

Regardless of format, the culminating work represents the capstone of the student's MALS program and as such must tie in with the content of a student's course work. Thus, it will not be acceptable, for example, for a student to take the bulk of courses in Appalachian-themed topics and then to write a project on the poetry of Wallace Stevens. A student who takes courses in the social sciences should not then attempt a culminating project on bluegrass music. The thesis or project must make connections to the student's program of study. The student also needs to be careful not to choose a project which is appropriate only to a specific discipline. Topics which are not interdisciplinary or which belong to a discipline which offers a master's program are inappropriate. A thesis or project in the area of marketing, finance, or accounting belongs in business; storytelling in reading; education in one of the education departments; and criminal justice in that department. Both thesis and project-option students must complete an oral defense of their culminating work, together with a defense (discussion, really) of their MALS program of study.

Graduate Advisory Committee

Regardless of whether a student chooses the thesis or project option, she/he will conduct research under the direction of the Graduate Advisory Committee (GAC). Composition of the committee consists of a chair, a second reader, and a third reader. The student chooses the committee members from among faculty members whom the student has had in courses throughout her/his program of study, including those who have taught MALS core courses. Faculty members must be on graduate faculty to serve on a student's committee. If the student requests assistance, the MALS director will provide help and advice on committee composition. It is crucial to make wise choices on committee members, especially on who will chair the committee. The student will work closely with the chair, so it is essential to choose someone who is knowledgeable in the student's field of study and who is willing to provide the guidance necessary for the successful and timely completion of the thesis or project. The second and third readers also provide valuable assistance and guidance in subject field, organizational, and compositional matters. Following the ideal of an interdisciplinary thesis or project, the student must choose GAC members from at least two different academic departments. The MALS director may serve on a student's GAC as the chair or as a reader. The GAC form is available in the MALS office or on the School of Graduate Studies web site: (or go to: and click on forms.)


The traditional thesis is suitable for a number of fields of study undertaken by MALS students. Anyone seriously considering doctoral studies should consult pertinent doctoral programs to determine if they prefer the thesis or the project. The thesis consists of an approximately 50-100 page scholarly manuscript which must include research in primary sources. Primary sources vary depending on the nature of the research, but typically include, for example, oral interviews; archival records; federal population census reports; federal, state, or local government documents; and newspaper reports contemporary to an event. Usually a thesis is divided into chapters, typically four or five. An introduction and conclusion must be part of the thesis. In regard to style sheet, MALS uses Turabian (Chicago notation syle). Theses at ETSU must be approved not only by the student's GAC, but also by the School of Graduate Studies (SGS). Students must adhere to SGS guidelines in writing their theses, and must adhere to SGS deadlines for oral defenses and electronic submission of the completed manuscript. All theses must be electronically submitted. Every semester the SGS conducts electronic submission workshops designed to help the student with electronic submission. At the beginning of the semester of graduation, the thesis student should plan to attend an electronic submission workshop. . For information on electronic theses and dissertations, consult the following website: and click on links.


A project may consist of a work that is entirely textual (written project) or it may consist of a textual (support paper) work, together with a non-textual component. Like the thesis, the written project should be from 50-100 pages in length, cited using Turabian notation style. A non-written project may take the form of a musical performance by the student; a play directed by or acted in by a student; an exhibit of artwork, photographs, or other materials; a CD ROM project; or a video project. A non-written project must be accompanied by a written, scholarly support paper of 25-30 pages.

Textual (Written) Project 

The textual project can take a number of forms. It may consist of a creative work (e.g. a collection of poems, a novella, a short play; a collection of short stories) accompanied by a scholarly support paper; an investigative work based on field research; interdisciplinary educational units for secondary schools; or an analysis of a problem, theme, or written work (for example, a discourse on slavery in the western world, 1450-1700; an analysis of changing views of mental illness in the western world, 1900-2000; a discourse on gender bias in Eastern religions; changing interpretations of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged"; the impact on scientific thought of Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions". Purely practical works are not suitable for a written project. For example, an instruction manual or a computer software program are not suitable written projects. While the textual project needs to be unique, it does not necessarily have to depend on primary research, as does the thesis. A creative work (e.g. poetry, novella) needs to be accompanied by an analytical segment or a literature review. The written project should be from 50-100 pages in length.  The written project will utilize Chicago (Turabian) footnote or endnote citation format and bibliographical documentation format.

Non-Written Project

The non-written project may take a variety of forms. Directing a play; putting together a museum exhibit of artifacts, artwork, or photographs; performing musical selections; producing a video or CD ROM; or conducting oral interviews are examples of non-written projects. All non-written projects must be accompanied by documentation (video or audiotapes; performance programs; slides or photographs; CD, for example). In addition, all non-written projects must be accompanied by a written support paper of at least 25-30 pages in length. The support paper may consist of a literature review or a critical analysis by the student.The support paper will vary according to the nature of the project, but the paper must include a scholarly segment. Thus, a written component may include, for example, a diary of a student's experiences directing a play, but also must include a scholarly segment (either a literature review or critical analysis of the play directed by the student.) A literature review and a bibliography of works cited and used must accompany the written component. The support paper for the non-written project will utilize Chicago (Turabian) footnote or endnote citation format and bibliographical documentation format.

Project proposals

All MALS students must submit a project proposal to the GAC chair and to the MALS director. (At times, the GAC and the MALS director will be the same person.) The proposal needs to outline in fairly detailed form the nature and intent of the project, and the sources the student will use to accomplish the goal of the project. The proposal must be approved by the advisory committee chair before the student can proceed with the project. Projects and theses often change, so that it is not uncommon for a student shift course while working on the thesis or project. The student needs to be sure to get approval from her/his chair for any changes in the project or thesis.

Revision of work

Students need to be aware that their work is subject to revisions, as suggested by the GAC. Each member of the committee must see the project or thesis as the student is working on it. The committee chair is the person who is most responsible for setting the direction of the student's work, and for suggesting revisions of the student's work. But other committee members play a vital role, too, in helping the student complete her/his work.

Institutional Review Board (IRB)

Students intending to conduct fieldwork interviews for their thesis or project must first attend an IRB training class and then have their projects approved by the board. Please check the IRB website for information on training classes, class registration, IRB procedures, deadlines, and research submission forms at The IRB office is located in the Earnest House between Wilson-Wallis Hall and Lucille Clement Hall.

Format of thesis.

The format of the thesis must follow SGS guidelines.For thesis format, please consult the SGS website: and click on forms. You will find the guide for preparation of electronic manuscripts, checklist of requirements, and other relevant forms.

Format of textual project or support paper for non-textual project.

The title page of the student's written project or support paper must adhere to the following guidelines:

Title (centered; upper case letters; single spaced within the title; ten spaces from top margin)

by (double-spaced under title)

Author's name (upper and lower case; centered; double-spaced under by)

A Project (Support Paper) Submitted to the School of Graduate Studies (five spaces under author's name; one line; then double space)

East Tennessee State University (one line, then double space)

In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of (one line, then double space)

MASTER OF ARTS IN LIBERAL STUDIES (one line, then triple space)

    Order of components of the written project or support paper.* When appropriate the following order should be followed:

    1. Preface or acknowledgements.  Number pages with lower case Roman numerals.

    2. Table of contents.  Continue numbering with lower case Roman numerals.

    3. Literature review.  Begin numbering with Arabic numbers.

    4. Main body.

    5. Endnotes (if used instead of footnotes).

    6. Appendices.

    7. Works Cited (keep in list format).

*For the support paper, adapt the order of components as they fit the nature of the support paper.

Number of Copies/Binding. Students are required to present to the MALS program one copy of the written project. This copy will be retained by the MALS program in its own library and will be available for other students to peruse or to use in research projects. Copyright rules apply for any research usage of written projects or components. Titles of completed theses and projects may be posted on the MALS website or used in MALS program brochures. Students are not required to have their written project or support paper bound in book format, but they must present the written document in either a notebook or spiral-bound format. Accompanying disks, slides, or photographs should be neatly attached or encased separately in their own enclosures.

icon for left menu icon for right menu