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Research Requirement: M.A. Research Essay Option

The M.A. research essay option requires a substantial research paper produced under faculty supervision in accordance with program guidelines. Students are strongly encouraged to present their research findings to a wider audience at a CLJC or departmental research workshop or symposium or academic conference.

Students electing to write the M.A. research essay must enroll in one 4-credit course, either LJC 6800: Research Capstone or LJC 6940: Independent Research, in the final semester of graduate study. Research Capstone provides the opportunity for students to pursue independent research on a topic of their own choosing under the supervision of the capstone instructor. Independent Research provides the opportunity for students to pursue research on topics identified by an individual faculty member under the supervision of that faculty member. Students will determine whether to pursue Research Capstone or Independent Research in consultation with the Graduate Program Director.

Submission and Graduation

The student’s M.A. research essay must be read and approved by the Graduate Program Director in consultation with the CLJC Graduate Committee in order for the student to complete the M.A. degree. Each M.A. research essay must be submitted with the signature page, included in this graduate handbook. The Graduate Program Director will read the M.A. research essay and either approve it or return it for revision and resubmission. The Graduate Program Director will sign the signature page once the thesis is approved. Before submitting the M.A. research essay to the Graduate Program Director, the student must obtain the signature of the supervisor on the signature page. Although the Graduate Program Director respects the certification of the supervisor, she or he reserves the right to request revisions to any research essay that in her or his judgment falls below the quality expected by the Center for Law, Justice & Culture.

Students must submit an electronic version of the final draft of the M.A. research essay, with the supervisor’s signature on the signature page, to the Graduate Program Director by no later than 5:00 p.m. on the official closing date for spring semester. This is the draft that will be reviewed and assessed by the Graduate Program Director. The electronic copy must be submitted through the CLJC Blackboard site. At the time of submission, students are asked to provide a cell phone number and preferred email address where they can be reached. 

The Graduate Program Director may request revisions to the submission. These corrections should be made by the student in a timely manner so that the final copy of the essay represents a clean version of it. After the Graduate Program Director provides a signature on the approval page, the electronic copy of the M.A. research essay will be archived in the CLJC library.  

The Graduate Program Director must confirm to the Graduate College that each student has satisfied graduation requirements prior to conferral of the degree. The approval or denial of conferral of the degree occurs two weeks after the close of the term. In some cases, the student requiring revisions may be able to resubmit the M.A. research essay for approval prior to the closing date for spring semester in order to complete the M.A. degree in the same semester; in other cases, the student may not be able to make sufficient revisions and resubmit the M.A. research essay prior to the closing date. If the student has not submitted an approved and revised M.A. research essay by this date, then the student must register for at least one credit hour in the summer or the fall term to complete the M.A. degree.   

Students carry ultimate responsibility for completing the research essay by the deadline – this is not the responsibility of the faculty supervisor or program director. Students are asked to build into their timetables a sufficient amount of time to allow all reviewers to carefully review the final writing product.  

Students are encouraged to build on and develop aspects of their previously completed coursework for the research essay, but the research essay must differ demonstrably from coursework already submitted for credit.

No formal defense is required for M.A. research essays. Individual faculty members are available to consult with students on their M.A. research essay even if that faculty member is not the student’s primary supervisor. However, the supervisor carries primary responsibility for guiding the students through the research and writing process. Students and supervisors are encouraged to work closely together to produce a strong final document.

Templates for the LJC M.A. research essay title page and signature page are included in this graduate handbook.

Master's Research Essay Format

The M.A. research essay presents a substantial paper with strong analysis and discussion of secondary sources and some analysis of primary sources and original research, carried out over one semester. The topic is open to any historical or contemporary subject, but it must focus on a theme relevant to law and society, and it must demonstrate an appropriate and sophisticated use of theoretical and methodological approaches to this interdisciplinary field. M.A. research essays are typically 25 to 40 pages and approximately 7,000 to 9,000 words in length, including abstract, references, and works cited.

In general, MA research essays must be prepared as mock submissions for the peer-reviewed journal Law & Social Inquiry. Students may opt to target a different law and society journal through prior consultation with the MA research essay supervisor and Graduate Program Director.

All M.A. research essays must include a 150-200 word abstract, endnotes, and Works Cited. Students may include photographs by following the LSI guidelines.

Although LSI submissions (and other peer-reviewed journal submissions) must be anonymized prior to submission, students are required not to anonymize M.A. research essays prior to submission for approval for the M.A. degree.

M.A. research essays should generally follow the “Guidelines on Writing an Academic Paper: Argument and Structure,” included in this handbook.

Students are advised to prepare the M.A. research essay in accordance with the following outline (including section headings) for an academic journal submission:

Introduction: Depending on the approach and methodology, the introductory section could begin with a relevant example or anecdote about the topic at hand. It should then present the “aim and scope” of the project that clearly states the argument, the goal of the essay, and the research questions. This should all be clearly discussed. Be sure to provide a road map to the essay, previewing each section so that readers can follow the logic of your argument as they proceed through the paper.

Literature Review: Here provide a short overview of the main bodies of literature that you will engage with in your project. The goal of this section is to situate your research question within the scholarly literature. How does your research question build on the work of other scholars? Be sure to cite the scholarship, explaining what scholars have done before, and what method you borrowed from the scholarship that you applied to the collection, or what original question you had, for which you sought the answer in the collection.

Background/Context: Assume that he reader is not familiar with the topic of the paper. Set up the discussion by provide the reader with enough information to understand the nature of the project.

Data Analysis / Findings: This is really the body of the paper – several sections presenting various categories of findings. Each section should include several paragraphs outlining something you found, through your research, that addressed your question. In each section, state the general finding, present evidence that constitutes the finding, and then analyze the evidence to show how it speaks to your broader research question. Weave your analysis and/or interpretation into the presentation of findings.

Conclusions: This section should provide concluding remarks that highlight how the findings overall speak to the broader research question and contribute to the scholarly literature overall. This section should also point toward possibilities for future research. Present your questions for future research. Based on what you have found in this exercise, what would your next steps be, if you had more time to conduct this research project? What scholarly literature would you need to pursue? What primary sources would you access? Would your research question change, if you had more time?

Works Cited: This section should only include texts that were cited in the essay.