Capstone: Thesis or Project Guidelines

Updated 09/21/2022

General Information


Every MA in English with a concentration in Folklore Studies degree culminates in either a thesis or a project based on original fieldwork or other type of research (e.g. archival, library, etc.). The thesis or project must show evidence of original ideas within a scholarly framework. A student’s research committee evaluates each of these based on the same expectation of quality.

To find information about George Mason University’s graduate policies, please visit: - ap-6-1

To find information about the course/credit requirements for the MA in English with a concentration in Folklore Studies, please visit:


Master’s degree time limit:

Master's degree students have six (6) years from the time of first enrollment as a degree-seeking student in the program to complete their degrees. International students attending in F-1 or J-1 status also have more restrictive time limits; contact the Office of International Programs and Services for information. Students who are given permission to re-enroll following an absence from Mason may not count the six-year time limit as beginning on the date of re-enrollment. Students who will not meet published time limits because of compelling circumstances beyond their control may request an exception to this policy by petitioning their dean for a single extension of one calendar year prior to the expiration of their time limit. Students seeking an extension due to a parental leave of absence (PLoA) are referred to AP.6.4.5.  If any extension is granted, the total time limit for completion of the degree will not exceed seven (7) years. Failure to meet the time limits or to secure approval of an exception to this policy through the process described in AP.6.6.2 shall be considered a failure to make satisfactory academic progress and result in termination from the program under AP.6.6.2.


Thesis or Project Committee

Students should work with the Director of the Folklore Program (or designee) to form a committee composed of at least three members.

For theses:

  1. A chair who is a member of the Mason graduate faculty in the Folklore Program.
  2. A member of the Mason graduate faculty in the Folklore Program.
  3. A member of the Mason graduate faculty.
  4. Faculty who are not members of the graduate faculty or other appropriate persons not affiliated with the university may serve as additional members. (committee would be more than 3 members)

For projects:

  1. A chair who is a member of the Mason graduate faculty in the Folklore Program.
  2. A member of the Mason faculty, graduate or otherwise. The second member is often, but not required to be a member of the Folklore Program faculty.
  3. A member of the Mason faculty, graduate or otherwise, or a practitioner with expertise on the project topic who holds at least a master's degree.


Thesis and Project Credits

Candidate selecting the thesis option shall obtain written permission from their Folklore Program research committee chair and register for a minimum of 3 credits of FOLK 799, Thesis. A candidate selecting the project option shall follow the same procedure and register for a minimum of 3 credits of FOLK 790, Project. Upon completion of coursework, Master's students must maintain continuous enrollment in 790/799, excluding summers, each semester until the thesis is complete and has been successfully submitted to the library. Students who are completing their thesis in the summer must be registered for at least 1 credit of 799 in the summer. Graduation candidates who miss the library deadline for thesis submission but do submit successfully before the next semester begins do not have to register for 799 in the next semester.


Assigning grades (for committee chair only)
The committee chair is the instructor of record for the student’s individualized section of FOLK 799/790 and must upload a grade at the end of each semester. The chair must not submit a final grade of S (satisfactory, or “pass”) until every member of the committee has formally approved the thesis or project!


Grade options for FOLK 799/790 are limited to:

  • IP: In Progress, for when the project extends beyond a single semester. Do not use IN (Incomplete)!
  • NC: No Credit, for when it is clear the student will never finish the degree.
  • S: Satisfactory, for when the student completes the project and the entire committee approves it!


Thesis and Project Guidelines

A thesis, usually 60-100 pages, is a substantial paper presenting independent research that makes a contribution to the current body of knowledge in a scholarly field. The author may conduct an original investigation or develop an original interpretation of existing research and/or literature. A thesis adheres to a standard format, generally including five basic chapters or divisions: an introduction and statement of the problem, a review of the literature pertinent to the problem, an explanation of the materials and methods used to solve the problem, a discussion of results, and a conclusion. A formal bibliography of references cited in the thesis is also required. Theses are made publicly available through the library.


Project guidelines

A project is more flexible, but just as rigorous and includes the following options:

  • The application of existing scholarship to a deliverable with a practical application, such as a documentary, podcast series, exhibit or exhibit plan, multimedia presentation, website, or business plan.
  • In rare cases and with the special approval of a student’s concentration head, a project can include an original creative work, such as creative writing, fictional film, or a script. However, the student must have graduate-level training in the creative mode of the deliverable and include at least one professional in the field on their project committee. For example, a student who chooses to write a script as part of their capstone project should have graduate training in playwriting and include a professional playwright on their project committee.

All projects must include a written component, usually a 20-30 page paper that explains the project and situates it within a scholarly framework. Your paper should be a coherent presentation and discussion of your project. Some things to consider are (not necessarily in this order): a brief description of the project, an explanation of its lines of inquiry, an overview of the goals and objectives of the project, a description and reflection on research methods, engagement with the relevant scholarly literature, and a reflection on the project’s strengths and weaknesses.

Length & Scope: The length and scope of a project should be proportional to 3 credits of graduate work, but the specific requirements are ultimately at the discretion of the committee.

Submission: All project deliverables must be submitted in a format (hard or electronic version text (nature of project determines format); CD, DVD, thumbdrive, or permanent URL for other deliverables) suitable for easy review and long-term storage.

Research Proposal

Research proposal: the research proposal is a 3-4-page document submitted to a student’s research committee PRIOR to conducting research. The proposal should be approved by the entire committee prior to students’ beginning research.

Proposal Elements: All thesis/project proposals include the following elements:

  • Description of topic and lines of inquiry
  • Scholarly framework-a review of the relevant literature with an explanation of its relevance to your project.
  • A description of research methods and explanation of why they are appropriate.
  • A brief discussion of the expected significance of the results.
  • A timeline of work (when you plan to submit IRB if necessary, do research or other steps, write/produce products, submit drafts, etc.).
  • A bibliography or reference list
  • Expected outcome (e.g. thesis, documentary, podcast series, etc.)


Steps Toward Completing Thesis/Project:

Students should work with their committee to determine the timeline for their individual thesis/projects. Below is a list of steps to be completed with suggested timeline.

  1. Proposal completed and approved prior to starting research.
  2. IRB/Human Subjects (if required) prior to starting research[1]
  3. Conduct research (timing dependent on student and type of project)
  4. The review process: Students should factor a revise-and-resubmit process for their thesis or project into their timelines. Every member of the committee should feel free to delay signing off on a project proposal if they feel more work is required. The same is true of signing off on the thesis or project itself. Chairs should provide guidance to students at the start of the proposal-writing process about how they would like the circulation of drafts to other committee members to proceed. Students should develop a timeline with their committee. Students should work with their committee members to develop a timeline acceptable to all. Below is a sample timeline:
    • Register for FOLK 790/799 credits in your final semester.
    • By Week 1 of the term you plan to graduate, check the Mason academic calendar for deadlines for submitting a thesis or project. The project/thesis submission deadline for the graduating term is the UDTS deadline found at University Dissertation & Thesis Services. Failure to meet this deadline will result in additional FOLK 790/799 credits in a following semester.
    • A preliminary (but complete) draft of the thesis/project is due Week 5 of the term you plan to graduate. Students will discuss with committee members whether one or all members will review the first draft.
    • By Week 7 of the term, the chair/research committee members must provide feedback (depending on the agreement made with the committee).
    • By Week 9, student must submit a revised draft to entire research committee.
    • By Week 10, committee provides feedback. The research committee provides feedback.
    • By Week 11, student provides revision to Chair (if committee agrees to Chair approving final version)
    • Week 11-13: Format review: Students are required to have completed the format review by Week 15. We recommend submitting the draft for review while you are waiting for feedback from the chair.
    • By Week 13, Chair provides feedback.
    • By Week 14, committee signs off on thesis or project.
    • By Week 15, student must have received approval from format review process
    • By the end of Week 15 for theses, student submits final draft to Folklore Program Director and, for theses, University Dissertation & Thesis Services.
    • By the end of Week 15 for projects, students submit to the Director of the Folklore Program to be archived with the program.

[1] If planning to research for a thesis, visit for information about Mason’s policies and requirements for conducting research with human subjects.

Summer research and graduation: GMU folklore faculty are on 9-month contracts. Summers are typically devoted to their research and other non-teaching/advising professional obligations. Students should expect advising, review of drafts of theses and projects, and graduation to take place during the regular academic year unless they have made special arrangements with their committee members.

Submitting Thesis or Project

Formatting: All theses must conform to the guidelines of University Dissertation & Thesis Services. Theses must be submitted for the Format Review. Note that format review deadline date is several days before the final deadline. Please visit the website for information about your semester of graduation.

Submitting a Thesis or Project

  1. Circulate a final version of the thesis/project to the committee and obtain signatures on an original copy of the Thesis Signature Sheet. To download the signature sheet for the Master of Arts Degree in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, go to:
  2. For projects, submit to the Director of the Folklore Studies Concentration. All project deliverables must be submitted in a format (hard or electronic version text (nature of project determines format); CD, DVD, thumbdrive, or permanent URL for other deliverables) suitable for easy review and long-term storage.
  3. For theses, follow all procedures with University Dissertation & Thesis Services.
  4. Submit a soft copy (email attachment) of the completed thesis/project to the Folklore Program Director for review.
  5. Submit a hard copy original of the signature sheet, with all committee signatures, to the Folklore Program director for signature.
  6. For theses, retrieve this document to procure the dean's signature (contact for assistance) prior to submission to UDTS.


In accordance with published guidelines, the candidate must apply for graduation through Patriotweb no later than the date published by the University Registrar.

Minimal enrollments in final term: All candidates must be registered for a minimum of three one credit hours of graduate work during the actual term of graduation.


Thesis versus Project credits and financial aid: for students writing a thesis, 3 credits qualify them for financial aid even though they are not enrolled half or full-time. This is NOT true for students enrolled in terminal project credits. Students working on a terminal project must follow the enrollment minimums stipulated for final aid to qualify.


Keeping track of requirements for graduation: Each candidate should check with the Folklore Program and the Graduate School at least two terms before anticipated graduation to verify that all requirements will or have been met.


Summer graduation: Students should not plan to graduate in the summer unless they have received confirmation that committee members will be available during that time (many faculty have nine-month contracts and are not available during the summer term).