MA Paper Writing Process

Getting Started

Start early! The sooner you start thinking about your paper topic, the more time you will have to find something that you are truly happy with, and the more time you will have to research and write your paper. Every student’s path to finding their topic will be different, but the steps outlined below can help guide you:

  1. Figure out a general topic. Consider both your interests and your career goals.
  2. Find a potential advisor. Talk with him/her to explore the topic and refine it.
  3. Do some initial, exploratory research. Ask yourself the following:
    1. Is the topic sufficiently interesting to you?
    2. Can you say something that has not been said 100 times already?
    3. Is there sufficient evidence available?
    4. Is this project manageable within the available timeframe?If the answer to any of the above is ‘No’, go back to step 1 or 2.
    5. Finalize your advisor selection and paper topic. Decide on whether you will do a policy or research paper (this decision will be heavily informed by your choice of topic.)
    6. Dive in and start researching and writing.

Try to get through step 2 by the end of your first semester in the program, and through step 4 by the end of your first year.

Some students find it useful to conduct research for class papers on issues related to aspects of their MA papers. However, while students may use much of the same research, they cannot reuse actual text from term papers in an MA Paper. The MA Paper must be a new, discrete piece of work.

MA Paper Steps

Once your topic and advisor are in place, progress on the MA Paper proceeds through the following steps:

  • Diploma Application
  • Paper Proposal
  • Defense Authorization
  • Final Draft
  • Oral Defense

Each of these steps is detailed below. Dates vary from year to year – be sure to check current term deadlines.

Diploma Application

The Diploma Application signifies to GRS that you intend to finish your degree and graduate. This is a GRS form, not a Pardee School form. Return the completed application to the GRS Records Office (CAS 112).

All students must submit the Diploma Application. GRS will not permit a student who has not submitted this form to graduate.

Deadlines for submission of the Diploma Application are listed below. These deadlines do not change from year to year. In cases in which the stated deadline falls on a weekend, the actual deadline is the preceding Friday.

  • September Defense – June 1
  • December Defense – November 1
  • April/May Defense – February 1

Paper Proposal

The Paper Proposal is typically submitted near the beginning of the term in which you plan to defend. It consists of the following five parts:

  1. Statement of Purpose: A short statement (half of a page to a page) laying out, in the case of a policy paper, what policy is under consideration, why changes to a current policy or initiation of a new policy is warranted, and why this policy is relevant to current international relations issues. In the case of a research paper, the Statement of Purpose should follow a similar pattern, presenting the specific topic to be investigated as well as explaining the importance of this topic.
  2. Statement of Research Methods: Establish how the research is to be undertaken, how the data will be collected and analyzed and how it will be presented.
  3. Working Outline: An annotated and detailed outline of the layout of the paper.
  4. Primary Sources: Identify the source materials, where they are being obtained from, their limitations and accuracy of translations (for non-English sources).
  5. Bibliography: Identify the principle sources for your research in proper bibliographic format.

The Pardee School recognizes that the outline and bibliography will change during the course of the research, but students should be as accurate and comprehensive as possible.

The Paper Proposal must be submitted with a signed cover sheet (the Paper Proposal form).

Defense Authorization

The Defense Authorization form lets the Pardee School know that a student’s adviser has given approval to conduct the Oral Defense. It is normally due about two weeks prior to the start of the Oral Defense period. The Defense Authorization form must be signed by the student’s adviser prior to submission to the Graduate Programs Administrator.

The Defense Authorization is always due one week prior to the Final Draft. In order to be approved for the Defense Authorization, the student’s paper should be essentially complete, needing only minor editing to reach its final form. The week between submission of the Defense Authorization and the submission of the Final Draft should be spent polishing the MA Paper into a finely crafted work of which the student can be proud.

The Pardee School begins scheduling Oral Defenses promptly on the morning after the Defense Authorization forms are due. The school will not schedule an Oral Defense for a student until a signed Defense Authorization form has been submitted.

Final Draft

Students submit four bound copies of the final version of their paper to the Pardee School, plus an electronic copy in either MS Word or PDF format. Details can be found on the General Guidelines page.

The due date for the Final Draft is always one week after the Defense Authorization and usually one week prior to the start of the Oral Defense period.

Oral Defense

Oral Defenses, the final step in the MA Paper process, are held every year in September, December, and April/May. Details can be found on the Oral Defense page.

In order to defend and graduate, students must be registered at BU for both the term in which they are defending and the preceding term. Students must complete all other components of their degree program prior to defending. Exception:  Students may be in their last term of coursework at the time of their defense.

Official Graduation Dates

Below are the official graduation dates for students who defend in the given month. The page for graduating students gives important additional information about commencement and graduation.

  • September – September 25
  • December – January 25 (of the following year)
  • April/May – Varies yearly. The date of Boston University’s Commencement ceremony, typically around May 15.