Major Research Paper - Guidelines
All our MA students, especially those planning to pursue PhDs, are strongly encouraged to choose our MA Option A, in which you complete your MA by writing a 7,500-10,000 word Major Research Paper (MRP). Modelled on a journal article, an MRP at a high level of scholarship supplies students with a strong writing sample for PhD program applications, or to submit for graduate or professional level conferences or journals. Writing an MRP vs. a multi-chapter thesis also shortens your time to completion.
The five steps to completing an MA through the MRP option are:
- Choosing a supervisor. This should happen as early in the course of your MA studies as possible, optimally within the first 3 months. (Note that supervision is limited to full time faculty. Limited term and adjunct faculty can serve on MA defence committees or as advisers for MA research, but not as MA supervisors.)
- Writing and submitting a supervisor-approved MRP proposal. Proposals are 3000 words, maximum. They are submitted to the Graduate Program Director for further review and endorsement by the Graduate Studies Committee. An initial draft of the proposal is to be submitted to your supervisor by the end of month 9 of your program (May 31 for students beginning in September), with the proposal submitted to the GSC by the end of month 12. (‘Fast track’ students arrange a shorter timeline with supervisors.) Expand section 2 below for further details about timelines, important details about the purpose and objectives of the proposal, guidelines for writing proposals, and formatting.
- Writing the MRP. This is a time of intenstive research and writing, often in the spring and summer of the second year. It typically involves several to many iterations of sending a draft to the supervisor for feedback, revising the draft, and sending it back for further feedback, to arrive at an MRP that is ready for defence.
- Passing an oral defence of the MRP. The examination is before a committee appointed by the Graduate Program Director, minimally composed of the supervisor and one other reader from full time faculty. The target is a defence by the end of the second year of study, typically between May and end of August (for students beginning in September). Note that students must also submit a graduation application prior to their defence, see section 4 below for details.
- Final submission. This requires submission of a final, paper copy of the MRP, for the record, after approvals of whatever revisions are deemed necessary in the defence. It is also expected that students will deposit an electronic copy in Concordia's open access database, SPECTRUM.
MA supervision is a collaborative process that requires building and maintaining a rapport around shared philosophical interests. Some students arrive in our program with a good sense of who their supervisor will be, others arrive at a decision after getting to know our faculty through courses or conversation. In all cases, the process requires students getting in contact with prospective supervisors, to introduce themselves and their interests, and prospective supervisors agreeing to serve as supervisors. Supervising is part of the profession and students should not hesitate to ask professors about the possibility of supervision. At the same time, supervision is at the discretion of supervisors. In particular, faculty who are on leave or sabbatical may or may not take on new supervisions during leaves/sabbaticals. The GPD is here to help you with choosing a supervisor, and can serve as a consultant.
MA students should also be aware of and review Concordia's Master's Supervision Guidelines.
Major Research Papers (MRPs) are 7,500-10,000 word research papers that demonstrate a high level of scholarship and intensive research. Broadly speaking, they are modelled on research papers that could be submitted to a refereed philosophy journal or conference. MRPs are meant to demonstrate research capacities and skills at this level.
The Purpose of MRP Proposals—and the basis for their assessment:
The MRP Proposal is written before the MRP. It should demonstrate that the student has a philosophically viable MRP project, at a suitably high level of scholarship, that is feasible for them to complete and defend. It should also demonstrate ability to research and master a body of scholarship appropriate for the MRP topic.
The Proposal is assessed by the Graduate Studies Committee (GSC). The GSC’s decision to accept the Proposal indicates that the student is ready to proceed with writing the MRP itself, under the guidance of their supervisor(s), taking any feedback from the GSC into consideration.
General Objectives and Guidelines for writing MRP Proposals:
There is no one formula for writing an MRP Proposal. Like all philosophical writing, it is a solution to a problem of making a complex issue as clear and accessible as possible, with suitable support, within a limited number of words (see below). The audience is a committee beyond the student’s supervisor and the MRP examination committee.
As a general guideline your MRP proposal should address the following questions (not necessarily in this sequential order):
What’s the claim?
You are adding to existing philosophical analyses, arguments, scholarly interpretations, etc., through your own analyses and research. What is your claim?
What are your reasons?
To add a claim to existing philosophical analyses, etc., you need to provide reasons for your claim. What are your reasons?
What’s the scholarly basis?
What scholarship, analyses, conceptual points, etc. are you drawing on? This concerns the context to which your point contributes and on which it draws.
What is your MRP contributing that is not already out there in scholarship? What’s new in your claim?
What is the significance of your claim? Why does it matter to philosophy, or to discussions of the topic addressed? What makes the work worth doing?
Typically, a succinct 3-6 sentence thesis statement will encapsulate an answer to all these questions: “The MRP will claim that P, by drawing on research materials B, in the context set by those materials. It will add something new, N, in ways that are significant and worth caring about. The reasons for claiming that P are roughly R (or along the lines of R).” Typically, discussion of the scholarly basis and context is no more than 40% of the proposal. Discussion of the claim and an outline of the reasons for it constitutes a substantive part of the proposal, with the remaining elements (what’s new, why it matters) having equal emphasis. (See our separate guide to writing proposals for further suggestions.)
Format: Proposals are to be no more than 3000 words, including all footnotes/endnotes, but not the bibliography or title. The proposal is double spaced and submitted electronically, preferably as an editable document (DOCX, or RTF), to facilitate review and comment by the committee (PDFs may also be submitted). The bibliography is formatted in Chicago style; generally, it is expected that it will comprise 30-40 items.
Process and Timeline: An initial draft of the proposal is to be submitted to your supervisor by the end of month 9 of your program (May 31 for students beginning in Sep), with the proposal submitted to the GSC by the end of month 12. (‘Fast track’ students arrange a shorter timeline with supervisors.) You will have to see the GPD if your proposal has not been submitted by the end of month 16. Proposals must be approved by your supervisor prior to submission. Submit via email to the GPD, cc’ing your supervisor. The GSC reviews the proposal, assessing it as: Accepted as is; Accepted with minor revisions (to be discussed by supervisor & student, does not need to be resubmitted); Accepted with major revisions (needs to be resubmitted to GSC, for another review); or Rejected.
(These guidelines are also available as a PDF document.)
The final version of the complete MRP must be submitted prior to arrangng an oral defence. (It is expected that this will happen only after the supervisor approves the MRP, see next section.) Defences may happen at any time during the year. (Note that the total time limit for the completion of the MA program, including course work, is three years. However, the MA program in Option A, with MRP, is completeable in two years or less, and this should be your target.)
Students wishing to graduate at a particular convocation must meet the following deadlines for MRP submission:
- Fall Convocation: Traditionally in November
1st submission prior to defence: August 1
Final submission after defence: September 15
- Spring Convocation: Traditionally in June
1st submission prior to defence: March 1
Final submission after defence: April 15
The version submitted after the defence (oral examination) must include all of the changes required by the examiners. The changes may be minor or major; major changes typically take at least several weeks to complete (for more on minor and major modifications, see below, Decision for Master’s Major Research Papers).
Content and Format:
Concordia University’s Graduate Calendar describes the MRP in the following way: “A research paper is expected to consider all of the relevant scholarship pertaining to its argument and to make an original contribution to knowledge.” It is expected that MRP’s go through several stages of rewriting in light of comments from the supervisor.
The format of the research paper submitted for oral defence must follow these guidelines:
- Use endnotes rather than footnotes. Endnotes should be gathered at the end of the document.
- Citation style should follow the most recent edition of The Chicago Manual of Style.
- Double-space all text, including indented citations, block quotations and endnotes.
- The length of the paper should be between 30 and 40 pages (7,500-10,000 words), including endnotes and bibliography.
- The font should be 12 point, easily readable, and widely used, such as Times New Roman, Garamond, Computer Modern, or other similar fonts with serifs.
- All pages must be numbered and have margins of at least one inch on all sides.
- Include a title page with title, author, month/year, and the following, centred statement: “A Major Research Paper in the Department of Philosophy, presented in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts (Philosophy) at Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada”. For the exact layout, students should turn to sample pages in the appendix of the Thesis Preparation Guide of the School of Graduate Studies.
- On a separate page, include an abstract that summarizes the main argument (max. 250 words)
- The paper should be submitted as an attachment (MS Word or PDF) in an email to the GPD, chair of examining committee (if any), supervisor, and examiner(s). A paper copy should also be deposited with the Graduate Program Administrator (GPA), who will add the copy to the student’s file in the department.
- All pages of the paper copy should be stapled together.
To save paper, if a paper version is circulated, it should be printed double-sided.
Students wishing to graduate must fill out, sign, and submit a graduation application. Generally, if you have completed all program requirements except for your research paper defence and final research paper submission, you must apply to graduate sometime in January for Spring graduation or in July for Fall graduation through their Student Centre or in person at the Birks Student Service Centre. (For exact dates please refer to the current important dates.)
Oral Examination of MRP
Students have the right to submit material for examination without approval of the principal supervisor or oral examination committee members. However, MRP’s are generally submitted for defence only after the principal supervisor has judged it ready for defence, and this is highly advisable.
When the MRP is ready for defence, the supervisor contacts the Graduate Program Director (GPD) to discuss the selection of a second examiner (also called second reader), and possibly a Chair of the examination. The examination committee is appointed by the Graduate Studies Committee of the Department of Philosophy, as represented by the GPD, in consultation with the student’s supervisor. The examination committee is not selected by the student, but students may suggest possible examiners to the supervisor and/or the GPD.
On most MRP defences (though not MA Thesis defences), the supervisor functions as the Chair of the examination. The examination Chair schedules the defence with the help of the Graduate Program Administrator (GPA), calls the examination proccedings to order, formally ends them, and reports results to the GPD and the GPA. The GPA prepares the paperwork for the examination (the Report from Master’s Examining Committee and the Graduate Activity Grade Report), and the supervisor (or the examination Chair, if different from the supervisor) takes these two forms to the examination and returns them to the GPA for further processing (obtaining of signatures and distribution to Dean of Graduate Studies and Office of the Registrar).
A third faculty member is required on examination committees in those cases in which two faculty members serve as co-supervisors. The third faculty member then serves as independent overseer of the examination.
The defence is in principle public, and is advertised by the Department, in particular among faculty and fellow graduate students. It usually lasts 90 to 120 minutes.
A defence begins with the MA student’s summary of the project, and an account of what motivated her or him to write it (7-10 minutes maximum). Then follow several rounds of questions (2-4 rounds are typical), with the second examiner beginning each round. An examination Chair who is not the supervisor may also ask questions during the defence, though she or he does not typically have her or his own round of questions. After the rounds, the Chair invites questions from the audience, if any.
When the examination Chair has closed questions, the examinee (and audience, if any) leaves the room so that the examiners debate the outcome. Typically, the deliberations begin by the second examiner suggesting an outcome.
After the deliberations, the examination Chair invites the examinee back in and informs her or him of the outcome.
Decisions for MRPs
The decision is reported on the Master’s Examining Committee Report, which is to be submitted to the Dean of Graduate Studies along with the Graduate Activity Grade Report. The Examining Committee can render one (1) of four (4) decisions, subject to a vote of majority by all members of the examination committee.
The MRP can be:
- Accepted as submitted which may include corrections that do not require the supervisor’s approval.
- Accepted with minor modifications, defined as corrections that can be made immediately and to the satisfaction of the supervisor.
- Accepted with major modifications. The Report from Master’s Examining Committee shall include a precise description of the modifications along with a date for their completion of no more than six months. The Examining Committee shall examine the modified MRP and, by majority vote, determine if the modifications specified in the Examining Committee Report have been completed to the Examining Committee’s satisfaction. If they have, the MRP may be accepted, and the supervisor will confirm the Examining Committee’s approval to the GPD and the GPA. It is not necessary for the Examining Committee to reconvene. If the Examining Committee is not satisfied that the specified modifications have been made, then the Examining Committee must reconvene to decide if the MRP is rejected or an additional period of modifications is to be granted. The Chair shall report in writing to the Dean of Graduate Studies the outcome of the Examining Committee meeting.
- Rejected. This notation is used for an MRP for which the Examining Committee is not prepared to request either minor or major modifications, i.e., where the work shows serious deficiency, or its validity is in question. Such an MRP may be re-submitted only once, in revised form. Such a resubmission can only be made six (6) months or more from the date of the original defence. Formal re-submission of an MRP follows the same procedure as an initial submission.
After the defence, the student makes the required modifications along with any required format changes for final submission. The MRP supervisor has the authority to grant approval when the required minor modifications have been made by the student. The MRP supervisor oversees required major modifications and insures that they are submitted to the entire Examination Committee for approval.
Submission to Department and SGS:
Once all modifications have been made to the satisfaction of the supervisor and/or the Examining Committee, the supervisor informs the GPD and the GPA, in writing, of this fact. The GPA then submits to the Dean of Graduate Studies the Graduate Activity Grade Report, signed by the supervisor, GPD, and Department Chair.
The student must deposit a paper copy of the final after-defence version of the MRP, with all required modifications, with the GPA of the Department. The GPA will add this copy, with copies of the Graduate Activity Grade Report and of the Report of the Master’s Examining Committee, to the student’s file. Research papers need not be handed in to the Thesis Office of the School of Graduate Studies.
Submission to SPECTRUM:
As well, students are expected to deposit the final digital submission of their MRP in Spectrum, Concordia University’s Research Repository, according to the guidelines and instructions for depositing Concordia Theses posted on the Spectrum web site.
The final version to be deposited in Spectrum must contain all revisions required by the Examining Committee. At the time of depositing the MRP into Spectrum, students are asked to acknowledge and agree to a non-exclusive license. Students may request a deferment on the publication of their MRP.