Thesis Prospectus Format

All graduate students in criminal justice must complete a thesis proposal (prospectus) and a final thesis in order to graduate. The primary purpose of the thesis is to demonstrate the student's ability to conduct research in the criminal justice field. The thesis must contribute to our knowledge of the criminal justice field, however, much emphasis is placed on the student's ability to apply the scientific method.

Thesis Proposal

Your proposal must first be approved your thesis committee before conducting any research on your chosen topic. This approval is accomplished by completing the Thesis Compensation Application form. In the prospectus, you are proposing to conduct a piece of research and you must justify why the proposed research is of merit. You can take any research approach - quantitative, qualitative, historical, participant-observation, surveys or some combination. Your proposal should contain the following elements - not headings:

  1. Research Question: Your question must be clearly stated and well justified. Why is it a question worth answering? Why should we care what the answer is? This is the dreaded 'so what' question that you will face from here on out?
  2. Literature Review: While the theoretical development of your topic will require some substantive literature review, you need not conduct a full-blown literature review. It is more important that you spend time thinking about these categories and issues of research design.
  3. Theory: What theoretical approach will you take in your research? How do you plan to answer your research question? Are there alternative perspectives? Why is your approach appropriate for the question?
  4. Hypotheses: What specific hypotheses or statements will you evaluate? How do they follow from your theory?
  5. Methods: What methods will you use to assess your theory and test hypotheses? Are these the best methods for your study?
  6. Data: What kinds of data will you use? How will you collect it? What is your measurement strategy? How will you operationalize variables? Do you face reliability and validity issues?
  7. Allowable Conclusions: Given your data and methods, what is the scope of the conclusions or inferences you can make? What problems to you foresee?

Specific Format

Although this is a proposal, it is still a good idea to become familiar with how NMU requires theses to be formatted and follow the university's guidelines for your proposal. These guidelines allow for the use of various formatting styles, however, the majority of criminal justice research is formatted using APA. Additionally, the university has specific guidelines regardless of style the student chooses. This means their guidelines are somewhat different than APA. Below is a summary of these differences. Thesis Guidelines describes the specific requirements. It is your responsibility to have read and understood the entire document, as the requirements are very specific.

Modified APA Style for Thesis Proposal

  1. All in-text citations will be formatted using the 5th edition APA manual
  2. The 'Reference' page must be formatted using the 5th edition APA manual
  3. Be sure to mention that you are using APA style (see the above web address for where to put this statement)
  4. For this proposal only, you DO NOT need to include the following (although you should become familiar with them for your thesis)
    1. Signature form
    2. Thesis data form
    3. Copyright page
    4. Acknowledgement page
    5. Preface
    6. Optional for the proposal: Table of contents; List of tables; List of figures
  5. Everything else MUST be formatted using the university's thesis guidelines

Below is a breakdown of the above seven elements to help you fit them into the university's thesis guidelines; format the proposal exactly to the university's guidelines using these headings:

Thesis Proposal Headings


        Follow the university's guidelines for this


        Follow the university's guidelines for this


        If you have one - follow the university's guidelines for this


        If you have some - follow the university's guidelines for this


        If you have some - follow the university's guidelines for this


        Introduce your topic and research question, some literature, and the theoretical approach you are taking - essentially, this is an expansion of your abstract minus the results of your study. It sets the stage of what is to follow; in one to two pages


        This is your literature review. If you have two categories of literature such as criminology and organizational behavior for example, use the former for this chapter and the latter for chapter two. Identify the gap in this research and your theory near the end of the review


        Again, if you have two (or more) categories of literature, use this chapter - and subsequent ones. Also, identify the gap in the research and your theory near the end of the review. If not, use this chapter as your methods chapter - your sampling plan, case selection and sampling issues. This is how you will answer your research question, explain your data collection procedures, measures for variables used in your study, and analytical techniques such as statistics, interviews, experiments, survey, etc. It is a good idea to reiterate your theory here for clarity and justification


        This is your results section. This is a proposal, so you have not completed this study but this is where you will state your allowable conclusions. As mentioned above, given your data and methods, what is the scope of the conclusions or inferences you can make? What problems to you foresee?


        Formatted APA

Length and Proposal Specifics

Your proposal should contain about 12 to 15 double spaced pages of text (exclusive of tables, notes, references, title page, etc.) and should be properly referenced. You need to cite the sources of all assertions of facts, other ideas and discussion of methodological issues.