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Types of Theses

Three Types of Gallatin MA Theses

Each graduate student in the Gallatin School completes a final thesis as the culmination of their work toward a Master of Arts degree. The thesis may take one of three forms: a research thesis, an artistic thesis, or a project thesis. In each case, the thesis represents a synthesis of the student’s accumulated knowledge and skill and an opportunity to display the ideas, practices and skills learned through the program. While the master’s thesis, unlike a doctoral dissertation, does not have to create new knowledge or break new ground, it does display the student’s ability to go beyond the mere collection of information into synthesis, analysis, judgment and interpretation. Moreover, it should demonstrate the student’s familiarity with a substantial body of thought and literature and illustrate mastery of some self-chosen field of study.

Below you will find descriptions of the three types of theses: 

Current MA students who are interested in seeing sample theses should consult the Gallatin Master's Thesis Archive, which is accessible with an NYU Net ID.



Research Thesis

Students pursuing the research option produce and defend a substantial research essay, the thesis of which is demonstrably related to the student’s course of study and ongoing conversations with the primary adviser. The adviser and defense panelists are the ultimate arbiters of whether the thesis satisfies a reasonable understanding of a project worthy of the master’s degree. However, in general and at minimum, a successful Gallatin MA research thesis demonstrates sufficient mastery of relevant academic fields as well as a critical grasp of the scholarship and methods that currently define those fields. The thesis essay is a logically-constructed argument that presents its central points on the basis of research and critical interpretation. The sources and objects of study may cover the spectrum from archival materials to critical theory to statistical surveys and personal interviews, but the student should carefully choose sources in consultation with the primary adviser, and with reference to questions about what constitutes legitimate source within the student’s field(s). The research thesis essay must be more than a "review of the literature" but the demand for original findings is lower than that faced by doctoral candidates. Significantly original contributions are of course highly commendable, but the excellence of an MA research thesis essay may lie in its critical and creative synthesis, articulation of a fresh perspective on the work of others, or identification of new, research-based questions that themselves shed light on existing problems within fields. Generally speaking, the final research thesis essay should be at least 50 pages and not exceed 80 pages (not including appendices and bibliographic material). Students and advisers are encouraged to talk with the program's academic directors about these expectations whenever necessary.

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Artistic Thesis

The artistic thesis is appropriate for those students who wish to display the creative process in the performing, visual or literary arts. A student might make a film or video; choreograph an evening of dance; act in a play; mount an exhibit of paintings; write a screenplay, novel, play or collection of short stories; or choose another artistic endeavor. The artistic thesis represents the culmination of a Gallatin arts concentration in which the student has studied the genre under consideration.

The artistic thesis comprises both the artistic project and three accompanying essays. Therefore, you should conceive of the artistic thesis as a unified piece composed of the creative work and the essays which enhance it. Members of the faculty committee will assess both the artistic work and the essays. The essays include:

  • an academic research paper related to the field of artistic work;
  • an essay on artistic aims and process;
  • a technical essay.

Please note: The technical essay does not apply to those students who are submitting a literary work.

Some General Advice

Be careful to keep records and a log of the artistic project as it evolves. This information can be used in the Technical Essay.

If a student is writing a work of fiction, poems, a play, etc., for the thesis, the student will submit this work to their adviser and other readers along with the essays. However, if the student is presenting a performance, they will need to arrange to have their adviser and other members of their committee see the performance. The student is responsible for coordinating schedules and for notifying committee members so that everyone can view the piece. The student should notify the thesis reviewer of the date of the performance at least one month in advance. In the event that one or more of the committee cannot attend the scheduled event, the student should arrange to have the performance videotaped so people can see it later. Except in unusual circumstances, the student must submit the first draft of the thesis to their adviser no more than three months after the performance.

Essays for the Artistic Thesis

Background Research Essay

As stated above, this essay follows the description for the standard research essay. It is a scholarly endeavor and differs from the standard essay in terms of length and focus. The length is approximately 25 to 40 pages. The focus of the essay is related to the artistic work and explores some aspect of that work that the student wishes to study and develop through outside research. The essay might take the form of an analysis of a performance or literary genre; a history of an art form or phenomenon; a philosophical study of an aesthetic concept; or a critical/biographical analysis of the work of an influential artistic figure.

Artistic Aims Essay

In this essay, the student is required to articulate their goals in mounting their particular artistic project. For example, what was the student trying to accomplish in writing short stories, a screenplay, a novel, presenting an evening of dances or songs, making a film or mounting an art exhibit? What were the aesthetic choices made and why?  The student should also explain their approach to the artistic work (their style, genre, or school), any relevant influences on the work, how the student's training influenced their artistic choices, and the student's intentions for particular elements of the creative work. After the student has carefully and clearly articulated these goals, they need to explain how their actual artistic work meets the stated goals. The student should use examples from their artistic project to illustrate these ideas. This essay should be approximately 10-15 pages in length.

Technical Essay

This essay is a description of the steps the student actually took to physically mount their production.  The student will need to include such technical details as arranging for rehearsal and performance space; choosing the performers; finding/creating, costumes, materials, lights; raising funds and getting institutional support. This essay should be approximately 10 pages in length.

Please note: The technical essay does not apply to those students who are submitting a literary work.

Students may submit a portfolio, if appropriate. This would consist of any material, such as photos, slides, fliers, programs, videotapes, audiotapes etc. which might constitute an appendix and which might be helpful to a fuller understanding of the thesis.


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Project Thesis

The project thesis consists of two elements: (1) the project, a professional activity designed and executed primarily by the student as a way of solving a problem, and (2) an accompanying essay about the project. This thesis is especially appropriate for students in such fields as business, education, social work or public administration. The project thesis may appeal to those students who are active in their profession and who take responsibility for the creation of some kind of program or practice.

Students should understand that the project cannot simply propose a professional activity; the design for such an activity must actually be carried out (at least in a pilot version) and evaluated. Some examples of projects: a student in education may develop and apply a new strategy for teaching reading to recent immigrants; a person working in a corporation may construct new methods for managing financial information; or a community worker in a settlement house may organize a group of local residents to combat drug abuse.

Some General Advice

At each step, the student should be careful to keep in touch with their adviser and with any other expert who can help them in their process. The student should keep careful records of the process by taking detailed notes of conversations, meetings, interviews, etc.  If at all possible, the student should arrange to have the members of their committee, especially their adviser, witness the project first-hand: Visit the site, talk with key actors, watch the program in operation. (This direct contact is highly recommended, but not required.)

Essays for the Project Thesis

The project thesis essay may take a number of forms and include a range of information. It ought to discuss at least the following elements:


Consider the institutional or social context within which the project takes place. Describe the organization, the potential clientele or participants, and the larger environment (social, economic and political conditions surrounding the problem and the project).


Describe the particular problem or need that you address in the project. What causes that problem? How extensive is it? Have other attempts to solve the problem been made; if so, what were their shortcomings, and why are you trying another approach? Place the problem in its professional and academic context by referring to the appropriate literature.

Describe the goals and objectives of the project and what the student hoped to accomplish. Describe how the program was designed and structured; for example, what kinds of activities did participants engage in, and in what sequence? What kinds of resources and techniques were used? Justify the strategies and tactics used by citing appropriate professional and academic literatures.


Describe how the plan was carried out. Use as much detail as needed to give the reader a sense of what actually happened, and to indicate the extent to which the reality matched the plan.


Describe the criteria for assessing the project and evaluation methods used. Justify the criteria and methods by referring to appropriate literatures. To what extent did the project accomplish the goals and objectives identified earlier?


Citing relevant literature and the practical contingencies of the project, explain why the project did or did not achieve its stated purposes. Describe the factors (political, social, organizational, financial, psychological, etc.) that contributed to the process and to the outcomes. What changes--either conceptual or practical--would the student make if they were to repeat or extend the project? What would the student leave in place? Describe what was learned from the project about the original problem and about the student's strategy and tactics. Also consider the professional and theoretical implications of the project.

If necessary, put relevant documentary materials (flyers, important correspondence, budgets, etc.) in appendices.

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Current MA students who are interested in seeing sample theses should consult the Gallatin Master's Thesis Archive, which is accessible with an NYU Net ID.