General Guidelines for the MA Paper

The MA paper is expected to be a model of careful research, rigorous investigation and terse, incisive writing. Leading scholarly journals such as World Politics, Political Science Quarterly and International Security provide excellent models for writing in this area.


Students must strictly observe all deadlines set by the Pardee School. Current term deadlines are always posted on the MA Papers front page.

Most advisers will require at least a few days to review students’ paper proposals or paper drafts before they will be ready to give their approval. Students must coordinate with their advisers to ensure that the advisers will have sufficient time to read, comment on, and approve changes to students’ various drafts by the relevant deadline. Students should confirm with their advisers that that they will be available (i.e., not out of town) to sign necessary forms before the various deadlines.

Because the MA Paper is not technically a GRS MA Thesis, graduate students in Pardee are not subject to the thesis deadlines set by GRS. Exception: Students must submit the Diploma Application to the GRS Records Office in order to graduate.

Page Limits

Students should restrict themselves to the page limits established by the Pardee School.

  • Policy Papers: 30-35 pages
  • Research Papers: 60-65 pages

These limits assume double-spaced pages. The page limits do not include appendices, bibliographies, and endnotes. With regard to appendices, students should note that the same rule applies to the defense panel members as to actual policy makers – they will only go over the material in appendices closely if they are really interested in it. Students should not use appendices as a means of expanding their paper past the page limits, and should not include critical material only in an appendix.

Quality Standards

It is difficult to discuss paper standards in the abstract, but students should have two general goals in mind regarding the quality of the paper:

  1. The paper should be of publishable or near-publishable quality. In other words, students should think of their papers as the penultimate draft of a paper that a policy institute would be willing to offer to the world.
  2. The paper should be a writing sample that will help students to get a job or to go on to further graduate study. If the paper is not something that you would be proud to show to a potential employer or to a PhD application committee, then the paper is not meeting proper quality standards.


Students submit four bound copies of the MA Paper in its final form to the Pardee School, observing the following formatting standards:

  • The paper should include a title page.
  • The paper should be bound by a copy shop with spiral or comparable binding.
  • The paper should have a clear plastic front cover.
  • The paper should have either a plastic or cardboard back cover.
  • Margins should be set at one inch or one and a quarter inch.
  • The font size should be set at 11 or 12.
  • The paper should be double-spaced.
  • Pages may be printed either single or double sided, at the discretion of the adviser.

The information on the title page should be clearly visible through the front cover. The title page of the paper should include:

  • The full title of the paper
  • The student’s full legal name
  • The name of the adviser
  • The date of submission

In addition to the four hard copies of the paper, students submit the paper electronically as a single file in either MS Word or PDF format.

Students should talk with their adviser about the issue of formatting style and follow the adviser’s recommendations. If the adviser does not have preferences, students are recommended to use the Chicago Manual of Style formatting guidelines, particularly for issues of grammar and citation. Students should use either footnotes or endnotes, not inline citations (unless directed to do so by their adviser).

Adviser Relationships

Every adviser-student relationship is unique. The most important factor in the relationship is communication. Students should make sure that they understand clearly the specific standards and expectations that their adviser has for their paper and for them. Students also need to be very clear on schedules – most advisers will not be able or willing to turn around drafts in the space of a day or two, and students should know just how long it will take to get comments back. This is essential information in putting together a feasible, mutually acceptable schedule for submitting drafts and final copy.

There are no Pardee School requirements for how the adviser-student relationship should work in terms of number and frequency of meetings, draft submission schedule, or anything else. However, the school does strongly recommend that students meet with their advisers relatively often, once per month at a minimum. Students’ advisers are their greatest resource when writing the MA paper! Students should plan to talk with their advisers regularly about the progress they are making, especially in regard to any areas in which students are struggling or are unsure of the strength of their arguments.

If students feel they are having a problem in communication or other aspects of the adviser relationship, they should discuss it as soon as reasonably possible with their adviser. If still concerned, students should see the Graduate Programs Administrator or the Director of Graduate Studies immediately. Resolving such issues becomes more and more difficult as the final deadline approaches.

Any faculty member in GRS with an appointment as professor can serve as an adviser. Faculty with an appointment as Lecturer and faculty from other universities may not serve as an adviser.  Students are free to seek advice from such individuals, but they cannot serve as official advisers of MA Papers. Students in joint or dual degree programs may also select their advisor from among the faculty with professor appointments in the partner school.

Human Subjects Research

Students who plan to conduct original research involving human subjects may need to obtain approval for their research from BU’s Institutional Review Board (IRB), which reviews any research involving human subjects.  Make sure to check their policies and/or contact them to find out if you need to submit your research for their approval.

If IRB approval is required, students should be sure to submit their proposals to the IRB as early as possible.  The IRB review process can take four to six weeks. Students who require IRB approval need to include photocopies of their IRB approval letter as an appendix in the submitted copies of their MA Papers.

Sample Papers

Sample policy and research papers, judged by the faculty to be of high quality, are available on the policy and research guidelines pages.

Additionally, past papers which were successfully defended can be viewed at Mugar Library. All papers from 1998 forward are in the Mugar Reserve Room indexed under the course title: IR Masters Theses, and instructors: David E. Clark or Professor Erik Goldstein. They may be loaned from the library for 24 hours.