Culminating Work

Culminating WorkStudents in the Journalism and Digital Communication M.A. Program must complete a culminating project after completion of coursework and after passing the comprehensive exams. Students may choose between doing a thesis and completing a professional project project suitable for publication.

Thesis Option

A thesis is a work of original scholarship that adheres to commonly accepted rules of academic publication.

The thesis requires academic research that uses at least one of the following six research methodologies: analytic research, historical research, legal research, clinical or ethnographic research, qualitative research, or quantitative research. Any academic research involving the study of living human beings requires prior review and approval by USF’s Institutional Review Board. To review past theses generated by students in the DJD master’s program, please visit the Nelson Poynter Library’s Digital Archive.

Analytic research includes examination of text or visuals for themes, framing, comparisons, or other content analyses. This type of research also includes ethical analysis of cases or issues.

Historical research includes examination of media accounts or others’ perspectives of issues or past events or the close examination of the life of a notable individual. The intent is to form new understandings from previously-published data.

Legal research involves the study of of legal cases, issues, or an aspect of legal theory.

Clinical or ethnographic research includes in-depth presentation of a particular case. Material may be gathered through document collection, interviews, and through participant-observation.

Qualitative research involves the collection of human opinion or belief through surveys, questionnaires, or interviews.

Quantitative research includes statistical interpretation of data gathered from documents, field observation, surveys, interviews or experiments that compare test groups with control groups.

Most theses include a combination of methodologies. For example, the literature review, which is required of every thesis, is a form of historical research. The methodology for exploration of particular hypotheses or research questions will be determined by student and thesis chair.

Theses usually include an introductory chapter based on the prospectus, outlining the subject, its significance, hypotheses or research questions, and the methodology employed. The second chapter is often the literature review, which relates other research in the area to the student’s research in context that shows why the study is valuable. The third chapter should explain the methodology in depth, discussing and defending the process by which the hypothesis will be explored or research questions answered. A fourth chapter should include results and may be presented visually as well as through text. The last chapter concludes with the discussion and need for further research, which provides a complete analysis of the findings and how they relate not only to the research questions but to larger issues as well.

Style manual
The standard style guide for use in the Department of Journalism and Digital Communication is the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA).

Thesis Proposal Requirements
A thesis requires a 3-4 page (in some cases, it may be longer) proposal including sections on Research Objectives, Problem Statement, Literature Review, Research Questions or Hypotheses, and Research Method, depending on your research approach. These are often the first three chapters of the thesis. Your ideas may not be fully fleshed out in your proposal, but it should contain the gist of your objectives, a rough problem statement, a cursory literature review, a summary of your expected research questions or hypotheses, and a brief outline of your research approach. The summaries of these topics below refer what’s expected in the final thesis, not in your thesis proposal.

The thesis prospectus typically consists of the following:

  • Statement of purpose. A concise statement explicitly stating what the proposed research aims to accomplish.
  • Justification of problem. What is the significance of the thesis in advancing knowledge in journalism or mass communications studies? How is it theoretically relevant?
  • Statement of problem. Describe the research objective (or topic) either in terms of the hypothesis (or hypotheses) or a set of research questions to be explored and answered. A hypothesis is a clear statement(s) of conjecture about a problem, expressing a relationship between or among variables. If the problem is, instead, posed as research questions, it will contain a series of connected questions that explore the full range of the issue or topic.
  • Methodology. Specify in detail what you will do to solve or explore the thesis problem. Explain how information or data will be collected (observation, questionnaire, survey, content analysis, etc.) and then, how the data will be analyzed and interpreted. If you will be using human participants in your study, state that you will be seeking IRB approval.
  • Review of literature. Put your proposed study into context by providing a general survey of relevant research.
  • Definition of terms. Define words or terms that have a meaning special to the thesis.
  • Limitations. Establish the scope of the study, explaining what will and will not be included, and why.
  • Outline and chapter summary. Provide chapter names (or topics) and subheads (if used), and a summary of what each chapter will accomplish.
  • Bibliography. Provide a substantial, although preliminary, list of sources.

Applied Research Project Option

The project is a serious, culminating experience in journalistic production and presentation for print, electronic, or website format. The topic may be the investigation of an issue or problem related to journalism/mass communications or the piece may be itself an example of in-depth journalistic work. But, it should be intended to be published for a lay, trade, or professional audience. Applied research projects may be visual presentations, such as photography, Web design, or video or may be text-centered. The project offers a creative and professionally-oriented approach to an in-depth study. Students should plan to spend 45 or more hours completing the ARP, to fulfill the requirements of a 3-credit course of study.

The project does not require the graduate research methods course, as a project is not an academic research activity. While the project is a different mode from the thesis for illustrating developed skills and competencies, we hold our students to the same degree of rigor as that required of the thesis.

The project gives students a wide degree of latitude but requires that they put together a substantial piece of work beyond what they have done for classes.

For example, a design-oriented student might come up with a well thought-out approach to redesigning all or a section of a print publication or a website. A student might report and write a series of articles on race relations, integrating the elderly into community life, crime and violence, or any other issue that affects the community. The project is expected to demonstrate a new and fresh approach to thinking about the topic or the student may write an in-depth article intended for a publication intended for trade or professional audiences. To review past ARPs generated by students in our master’s programs, please visit the Nelson Poynter Library’s Digital Archive.

The Applied Research Project proposal consists of the following:

  • Statement of purpose. A concise statement explicitly stating what the proposed project intends to accomplish.
  • Justification. What is the significance of the project in advancing knowledge or performance in journalism or mass communications studies? A formal literature review is not required, but relevant academic and journalistic sources may be used to provide context and to show the need for the project.
  • Approach. Specify in detail which approaches will be used to accomplish project objectives. Explain how information will be collected and how it will be analyzed or interpreted. (Every project, no matter what format, must be accompanied by a typed text explaining its purpose and significance, not only why the specific topic was chosen, but why the researcher collected and dealt with data in the particular ways chosen.)
  • Outline and summary. Provide an outline of the project, summarizing its contents. Describe its components, providing headings if possible.
  • Sources. Include intended sources including interviewees and primary documents.
  • References. Please include a reference list in APA style.