Preparing the master's essay

  • Finding a topic
    • Start thinking about it early
    • Select a subject that is interesting to you
    • Most topics are usually based on class material or an extension of a term paper
    • Sometimes a topic can be derived from an offhand remark by a professor or classmate or something that is bothering you about a language you know (why is X the way it is?)
  • Getting started
    • Once you identify a topic, spending some time refining it. Initially, your topic will be too big – guaranteed!
    • Read widely and talk to your friends and instructors
    • Try to write a paragraph-long thesis statement
    • Expect several false starts

    Building a bibliography

    • Wikipedia is the beginning, not the end
    • Library databases are your friends, e.g. MLA, LLBA, specialized bibliographies
    • Follow leads in bibliographies of books and articles
    • Hope for a recent book or review article with an extensive bibliography
  • Setting up the committee
    • Approach someone you would like to work with and ask for their mentorship. Prior to doing do, evaluate their expertise and compatibility for you
    • Remember that not everyone always has the time
    • The rest of the committee (at least two more) are generally all from the linguistics program
    • Consider their expert knowledge (e.g. statistics, phonetics)
    • Find out how they want to see the essay (by section, not until the end…)
  • Getting feedback
    • Work with your advisor on a timeline for submission to the advisor and the rest of the committee. Learn the deadlines and work backward
    • Expect feedback and the need for multiple versions
    • Give committee members time to read the draft (two weeks is fair) but do not hesitate to check with them if you haven't received any feedback by then
  • Human subjects
    • Required only for living people as a source of data. This includes interviews, surveys (including online), experiments, classroom-centered research
    • Pre-existent data (i.e. corpora, databases) do not need IRB clearance
    • Procedures (before starting the work)
  • Research and writing
    • Check in with your advisor on a regular basis
    • Consult with the rest of your committee and others who are not on the committee but could help
    • Contact scholars elsewhere. Don't be shy since even famous linguists often respond
    • Back up your data and text in two different places
    • Form a support group
  • What makes a good essay
    • It's more than a term paper – you should say something new
    • State your goals at the beginning and summarize at the end
    • Don't pad
    • Write so any linguist can understand it
    • There is standard formatting for glossing foreign language data (The Leipzig Glossing Rules)
    • Write as needed. There is no standard length
  • Your bibliography

    For the bibliography use one of the Journal of the Linguistic Society of America's language style sheet (PDF).

    Use the bibliography of any article in language as your guide. Exception: psycholinguistics and speech science use APA.

  • The oral exam
    • Bring enough copies of the cover page for signatures
    • The oral is attended by the committee, moderator, and your cheering squad

    Format of the oral:

    • 15-minute summary
    • Questions around the table and from the sidelines

    Following the completion of your presentation, you will receive your final feedback from the committee.

    Is it possible to fail?

    No – the oral will not happen until your advisor thinks you are ready.

  • Final revisions and submission
    • Final revisions happen, so allow time!
    • Make that your format is correct (see guidelines for master's essay)
    • Allow time for printing
    • Follow the guidelines scrupulously for binding and deposit