Social Sciences: Toolkit

Prework SSCI E-497A Crafting the Thesis Proposal (CTP) Tutorial in International Relations

Research Advisors (RAs): Dr. Doug Bond and Dr. Ariane Liazos

Prework SSCI E-497B Crafting the Thesis Proposal (CTP) Tutorial in Anthropology, Government, and History Tutorial

Research Advisor (RA): Dr. Don Ostrowski

Schedule appointments with your advisor via online services.

Who takes the CTP tutorial and when? The tutorial is mandatory for all ALM candidates in the above social sciences fields (as well as retired social science fields) who have completed at least 32 credits, the research methods requirement (previously called the statistics requirement) (for GOVT and INTR only), and are fully prepared to begin the thesis process—moving straight from the CTP tutorial to thesis registration with no extended breaks. Consider your life, work, and academic schedule. Also consider your five-year deadline.

What is the CTP tutorial? The tutorial helps you develop an academically strong thesis proposal. During the semester, you’ll map critical issues of project design such as scope, background, methodology, and expected outcomes. The tutorial is not a course, in the traditional sense. It is structured one-on-one advising with your RA. You’ll participate in 15- to 30-minute individual appointments (by phone, video-conference, or in-person), ordinarily held between 9-5 to discuss your topic, proposal design, and writing progress. In addition, you'll submit multiple thesis proposal drafts for feedback. Upon completion of the CTP, you should have a thesis proposal that is well on its way toward approval and is ready to be vetted by prospective thesis directors. Please note that thesis directors usually request further edits to proposals prior to acceptance.

CTP Prework Deadlines:

  • JUNE 1 for fall CTP registration
  • NOVEMBER 1 for spring CTP registration

SSCI 497A CTP PREWORK (International Relations):

Please put together a two to three page document addressing the following six questions:
  1. What is the problem you are addressing? Use clear language, relating it to real world phenomena, and also describe its scope. 
  2. What is the significance of the problem? Explain why this problem is important.
  3. What is known about the problem? Base this on your review of the relevant literature.
  4. What are the gaps or puzzles in what is known about the problem? Identify what is missing from, or inadequately answered by, the current literature.
  5. What is your suggested contribution that might fill in one or more of these gaps? Your response may take the form of a description, explanation or hypothesis, and it may refute, extend or reformulate existing knowledge that needs to be tested.
  6. How do you propose to test in a transparent and replicable manner your suggested response and what evidence will you use? Your response should offer an initial statement about what will become the methods section of your proposal.

SSCI 497B CTP PREWORK (Anthropology, Government, History):

Please put together a two to three page document addressing the following five items:

1. A potential thesis topic

Provide a brief general description of your topic. Try to be specific. Avoid stating, for example, “The Supreme Court.” You might choose to write “The Supreme Court’s decisions concerning free speech” instead. When considering a topic it is also important to be mindful that your work will need to be supervised by a Harvard faculty member who has expertise in the area; therefore, not all topics of interest can be supported – it would be helpful to review faculty members’ areas of expertise in the relevant Harvard departments as you consider topic possibilities.

2. A research question

This question should be an authentic one in the sense that it is one that you do not know the answer to but would like to find out. The ALM thesis needs to be grounded in research and not simply promote a particular position as one might find in a newspaper op-ed piece.

3. A hypothesis (i.e. a tentative answer to the research question)

A hypothesis is a premise or conjecture that can be subjected to verification via research. During your research, it is possible that data or answers will differ from ones you might have expected. Remember that you can change your hypothesis as you gather more evidence - you are not committed to defending or “proving” a hypothesis, you are committed to testing to see whether it adequately explains the evidence. 

4. A description of the types of evidence you will use to test your hypothesis

Will you be using official documents, memoirs, diaries, newspapers, statistical compilations, personal interviews, films, audio recordings, and so forth? Are the written sources published? Do you have access to them? Are they in a language you can read? Are you sure that you will have access to the unpublished and/or non-written material when it comes time to conduct your thesis work?

5. A rationale for your proposed research

You should answer the “So what?” question by explaining why your research question is worth asking. You can think of undertaking thesis research as being a way of solving an academic puzzle. Your rationale for your proposed thesis work should explain why solving that puzzle is meaningful in an academic sense.


CTP Prework Submission:

Send your prework document to by the required deadline (do not send it directly to your research advisor). Be sure to put “SSCI 497A (or 497B) CTP  prework” in the subject line and please include your full name, along with your Harvard ID, at the top of the document.

REGISTRATION ALERT! Prework is required to demonstrate your readiness to register for the CTP. You will not be able to register for the CTP until your prework is received and approved by your research advisor.

Advising Tip: The earlier you are able to do the prework, the better! You should expect to have to make some revisions to your document before your prework will be approved and you are allowed to register for the CTP tutorial. The Research Advisors would like to meet with each tutorial candidate. Plan on doing this as early as possible, well before the June 1st or Nov. 1st due dates.


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