College of Arts and Sciences

Dept. of Criminal Justice and Criminology

Master's Essay and Writing Portfolio

In addition to the course requirements, students are required to prepare either a master’s essay or a writing portfolio to members of their master's committee. The essay is recommended for students who intend to continue on to their Ph.D.; the writing portfolio is recommended for students for whom the M.A. will be a terminal degree.

Writing Portfolio

The Writing Portfolio must contain two seminar papers totaling at least thirty pages of student work (including references). One paper must be from a core required CRM J course in the MA program. The second paper can be from any graduate seminar taken for the MA. The copy of the seminar papers submitted should include the comments and feedback from the seminar faculty. (Keep your graded papers.) Prior to submitting their portfolio, students are strongly encouraged to enhance their originally graded papers by a) incorporating faculty feedback; and b) presenting additional research/literature review that strengthens the paper.

During the semester the writing portfolio is submitted the student will present him- or herself before his or her committee for an oral examination. At the oral examination the student will be questioned by committee members about the materials in the writing portfolio as well as issues related to substantive areas discussed in the submitted papers. The oral defense needs to be scheduled in the semester (by November 1 for the Fall semester; or by April 1 for the Spring semester) in which the course requirements for the MA are being completed.

The portfolio and performance at the oral defense are evaluated by the studentís committee to ensure that the student has achieved the learning goals and objectives in the MA program. Specifically, evaluation of the portfolio and oral defense consider whether the student understands the interdisciplinary nature of criminal justice, the theoretical, legal, ethical, and policy issues associated with at least one criminal justice institution, and the theoretical and applied role discretionary decision-making plays in the operation of the criminal justice system.

After the oral examination, if a studentís portfolio and/or oral defense performance are found to be deficient, after consulting with the Graduate Director but within 5 days of the defense, the committee will provide the student specific steps needed to correct such deficiencies. Such steps may include, but are not limited to modifying papers in the writing portfolio, preparing a new, original seminar-length paper, or other items that can demonstrate attainment of the programís learning outcomes and objectives. The student who does not successfully correct the inadequacies identified by the studentís Masterís Committee will be allowed to reregister for CRMJ 702 the following semester and repeat the oral exam process.

Master's Essay

The master's essay should strive to be equivalent in content, sophistication and technical expertise to a publishable paper in a respected scholarly journal. It can be on any subject in Criminal Justice and there are no limitations or preferences for a particular theoretical or methodological approach. The master's essay should be approximately 50+ pages in length. Feel free to ask faculty for sample essays.

Completing a master's essay includes writing the essay, and then successfully defending it.

The Master's Essay has four goals and will be judged by how well they are achieved:

  1. It shows an in-depth, detailed, and nuanced understanding of a specific issue, topic, or question in the field;
  2. It shows an awareness of the theoretical issues and arguments raised and discussed in the literature on the subject;
  3. The ideas, concepts, and arguments advanced in the paper are expressed with precision, elegance and rigor; and
  4. The paper enlarges our understanding on the issue and topic.

To achieve the goals, at the minimum, the master's essay must have a(n):

  1. Introduction and Statement of the Problem: The Master's Essay must have a clearly and precisely stated question, thesis, and argument. The first few pages should make it clear what the paper is about and how the subject will be approached and analyzed.
  2. Literature Review: The Master's Essay must have an extensive literature review of the subject.
    • The literature review shows that you have immersed yourself in the subject, have read extensively about it, and have drawn your ideas, concepts, and arguments from a variety of sources.
    • The length of the literature review will vary by subject. If you do a theoretical master's essay or one based on secondary sources, the review will have to be quite extensive since your argument refashions existing thoughts and theorizing. If you are doing an empirical project, the literature review needs to incorporate the important relevant thinking and studies which influence the design of your research, your hypothesizing and theory development, and the likely analysis of your data.
    • The main purpose of the literature review is to show the reader that you know the subject and that you can place your thinking into ongoing theorizing and research in the subject area.
  3. Discussion: This section states and justifies the body of your description, analysis, and argument in a precise, readable, and rigorous manner.
  4. Conclusion: The conclusion summarizes your argument and shows how your work enhances our theoretical understanding of the subject.

One way to judge how well you are doing is to think ahead to the oral defense of your Master's Essay. Ask yourself, suppose someone were to challenge this statement of mine, or objected to my argument, how would and how could I respond? One of the jobs of the committee is to point out strengths and weaknesses of the Master's Essay before you get to the oral defense stage, so that you are prepared.

Defending the Master's Essay

Work on the M.A. essay should be roughly equivalent to the work for a 3-credit graduate seminar. Normally, the student works with the chair of her/his committee to produce a preliminary final draft. Students should formally meet with their chair to discuss the plan for the essay and to receive formal approval. Only after the chair has approved the working draft may the student submit the essay to the other members of the committee, remembering that the other members must have the essay at least 15 working days prior to the defense date. The oral examination will feature a defense of the master's essay and can also cover the entirety of the candidate's program.

  • If all members of the committee agree that the draft is ready to be defended, the student, in consultation with the chair and other committee members, will set a date for the final oral defense. All committee members must sign off on the defense date and must have received the completed essay at least 15 working days (i.e., three weeks) prior to the defense. If these guidelines are not respected by the student, the other members of the committee are under no obligation to attend the defense date. Also, students should check the university established deadlines on when to file the degree application, schedule the final (oral) exam, and hold the final exam.
  • Oral defenses are NOT allowed during the final week of the semester. As faculty are on contract only during the academic year and are generally not available during the summer, all members of the committee must approve any proposed summer defenses prior to the commencement of the summer session.
  • A Final Examination will not be scheduled until all members of a student's committee have deemed the essay ready to defend.
  • When the master's essay has been accepted by the student's committee, the student will present him- or herself for an oral examination. Students who successfully pass the oral defense have two weeks after the defense date to incorporate the committee's final recommendations. The student must then obtain the signature of each committee member indicating their final approval. If the changes are not made, the committee will invalidate the decision to pass the student. Students who fail the oral defense must start the process from the beginning. The student is required to provide the department with a copy of his/her essay once the degree is completed.

Contact Us

Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology
Washington State University
Johnson Tower 701
P.O. Box 644872
Pullman, WA 99164-4872
Ph: 509-335-8611
Fax: 509-335-4513

Dr. Craig Hemmens

Graduate Advisor:
Dr. Faith Lutze

Administrative Manager:
DeeDee Torgeson

Graduate Program Assistant:
Andrea Butcherite

Undergraduate Academic Advisors:
Kelli Laxson, Room 701b
(Students whose last name begins with letters: A — L; Criminal Justice is their 2nd major/2nd degree; Criminal Justice is their minor)
Sisouvanh (Sis) Keopanapay, room 726
(Students whose last name begins with letters: M — Z; Students who have questions about Internship Credits)

2014–2015 Handbook (pdf)





Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, PO Box 644872, Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-4872, 509-335-8611, Contact Us