Thesis Option in the MLIS Program | Maryland's iSchool - College of Information Studies - Graduate Program - University Of Maryland

Graduate School

Graduate School of Library and Information Science

Graduate Program

School of Information Systems and Management

Thesis Option in the MLIS Program

A student may choose to earn the MLIS under the thesis option by completing 30 credits of course work and 6 credits of LBSC 799 Master’s Thesis Research or, with the thesis advisor’s approval, 3 credits of LBSC 799 Master’s Thesis Research and 3 credits of Master’s Thesis Research in another department of the University.

Is a Thesis Right for Me?

The Master’s Thesis option allows students to develop and complete a substantial research project with the oversight of a faculty member. It is particularly well suited for students who anticipate pursuing a doctoral degree or a professional job where they are expected to conduct or evaluate research (e.g., faculty status academic librarians). Several alternative research opportunities exist within the College of Information Studies, including independent study (LBSC 709), research conducted as part of courses, and research projects being conducted at centers and labs affiliated with the College. The Master’s Thesis is larger in scope and requires substantial independent initiative and work. Students who complete a Master’s Thesis are able to develop a novel research question, apply an appropriate methodology to answer the question, and present the findings to an academic audience through published papers and oral presentations.

Students can look at theses that were successfully defended at the College of Information Studies to get an idea of the scope of a thesis. Each differs significantly in topic and research approach, but they can at least provide an idea of the overall scope. Electronic versions can be downloaded from the DRUM repository. The site includes both dissertations and theses, so make sure when looking at specific entries that the “type” field is “thesis,” not “dissertation.”

Thesis Requirements

The College of Information Studies and the University of Maryland Graduate School have developed separate, yet complementary, requirements for theses. Students should review the Graduate School’s “Academic Policies: Master's Degrees” document and choose those sections relating to the thesis.

Thesis Process

A thesis is a major undertaking that involves a significant commitment by the student and the faculty members that support the student. In order to successfully meet all the requirements, the student must work closely with his or her advisor and Thesis Committee Chair to design an appropriate research plan and course schedule. Students considering the thesis option should consult their advisor and the Student Services Office as early in the program as possible to ensure that all requirements are met.

This section highlights some of the major procedural issues and considerations when planning a Master’s experience with a thesis.

Selecting a Thesis Committee

Before beginning the thesis, the student must select a Thesis Committee Chair who is interested in working with the student and who meets the criteria specified in the Graduate School Policies. Students should carefully choose their Committee Chair, selecting someone who is willing to work with them and who ideally has expertise in the area the student wishes to study. The Chair works closely with the student on the design, implementation, data analysis, and the writing of the thesis. The Chair need not be the student’s current academic advisor; however, upon submission of the Thesis Committee nomination form, the Chair becomes the student’s advisor. It is technically possible to have a co-Chair, but unless there is a compelling reason, it is discouraged because of the added complexity for the student and faculty members. Students may want to talk with several faculty members about potential thesis topics at the early stages to get new ideas, refine existing ideas, and consider who may be the most effective Chair for them.

The student and the Chair will work to identify and refine the problem to be studied and how the study will be conducted. As a thesis is a research study, the problem selected and methods chosen should reflect a rigorous approach to a valid research problem in the area of Library and Information Studies. Any method or combination of methods appropriate to research in the field—quantitative, qualitative, analytical, historical, evaluation—may be used.

Early in the process, the student and Chair assemble the Thesis Committee. In addition to the Chair, the Thesis Committee must include at least two other members who meet the criteria specified in the Graduate School Policies. Three Committee members are typically recommended. The Thesis Committee nomination form should be submitted as soon as the Committee has been determined, but it has to be submitted no later than the dates published by the Graduate School. Committee members are responsible for approving a proposal and evaluating the Thesis itself (see below for a discussion of each of these).

Proposal & IRB Approval

Under the direction of the Chair, the student must develop a proposal that describes the work to be accomplished as part of the thesis. The Thesis Committee must approve the proposal before the student can register for LBSC 799 Master’s Thesis Research. The proposal can be helpful in determining the specific research questions, methods, timelines, and scope of the project, as well as providing an opportunity for Committee members to provide early input into the thesis.

Before research on the thesis can begin, any relevant Research Assurances, including the use of human subjects in the research, must be submitted to and approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) following their established procedures. This process can take many weeks or even months, depending upon the nature of the research, so students are encouraged to submit their IRB applications as early as possible.


The Master’s Thesis option requires a commitment of 9 credit hours spread over at least 2 semesters. The first 3 of these 9 hours must be completed before beginning the thesis: the 3-credit hour LBSC 701 Research Methods in Library and Information Studies, or, with the advisor’s approval, another appropriate research methods course that may be offered by another department on campus (e.g., Education, Psychology). The student may consult the Thesis Chair for recommendations about which methods courses are appropriate. After completion of the methods course and approval of the Thesis Proposal by the Thesis Committee, the student must take 6 credits of LBSC 799 Master’s Thesis Research, which may be completed in one semester or spread over multiple semesters. Students are not able to register for LBSC 799 over the summer semester.

Students must have a grade point average in the MLIS program of 3.5 at the point of registration for LBSC 799. They also may not have more than 3 credits of Independent Study (LBSC 709).

Thesis Defense

After completing the research, the student will draft a thesis document and share it with the Chair. Once the Chair has reviewed the document and any necessary revisions have been made, the student will schedule an oral defense. This will be scheduled so that all Committee members can attend (see Graduate School Policies for details on emergency cancellations, remote attendance, and related issues). The oral defense typically occurs within the College of Information Studies. Thesis defenses are open to the entire University community and are announced, including student and Committee member names, time, location, title and abstract, to the University via the College’s electronic lists.

Prior to the defense, the Chair of the Committee will secure the Report of the Thesis Examining Committee created by the Graduate School. This document is used to record the outcome of the defense after its completion.

During the oral exam, the student presents the research questions, methods, and findings to attendees. He or she also typically fields questions from attendees and Committee members. After the oral examination is complete, the Thesis Committee meets together without the student and decides on the outcome. Once decided upon, they share the outcome with the student, and, when appropriate, those still in attendance.

The Committee has a number of options in determining the outcome of the thesis and defense. These options are laid out in the Graduate School Policies and read as follows:

  1. To accept the thesis without any recommended changes and sign the Report of Examining Committee.
  2. To accept the thesis with recommendations for changes and, except for the chair, sign the Report of Examining Committee. The chair will check the thesis and, upon his or her approval, sign the Report of Examining Committee.
  3. To recommend revisions to the thesis and not sign the Report of Examining Committee until the student has made the changes and submitted the revised thesis for the Thesis Examining Committee's approval. The Thesis Examining Committee members sign the Report of Examining Committee when they approve the revised thesis.
  4. To recommend revisions and convene a second meeting of the Thesis Examining Committee to review the thesis and complete the student's examination.
  5. To rule the thesis (including its examination) unsatisfactory. In that circumstance, the student fails.


To pass, a student must receive passing votes from all Committee members. One vote of failure means that the student does not pass. The Committee may call a second examination as a result of a failed defense. If the student fails the second defense, or if no second defense is called, the student loses standing as a graduate student at the University of Maryland (see Graduate School Policies for details).

Publishing and Final Submission

Following the completion of the Report of the Thesis Examining Committee, the student must submit that form and the Thesis and Dissertation Electronic Publishing Form signed by the student and the Chair to the Office of the Registrar (see Graduate School Policies for details).

To be successfully submitted, a thesis must conform to the electronic thesis guidelines and style guide. To facilitate the submission of the thesis, the student should consult these resources early in the process of writing the thesis and follow the requirements accordingly.

The thesis and accompanying forms must be submitted by the deadlines posted by the Graduate School.