About the MA Essay

Writing the MA Essay

Planning the M.A. Essay

For the M.A. degree, our department requires an original essay on a subject of genuine scholarly interest.  Students are encouraged to develop their M.A. essay from a course paper written during their first year.  The Director of Graduate Studies, together with the instructor of the Proseminar, will help students fix on their topic and settle with an adviser. Students then work on their M.A. essay under the guidance of an adviser in a 4-point Directed Research course in the spring of their first year. They decide, in consultation with their adviser, on the nature of the project. The length should be article-length, approximately 30 pages.

The Director of Graduate Studies and the M.A. essay adviser, in consultation with the student, will choose a second reader for the essay, who will either be involved in the early stages or read once a complete draft has been written. Students should feel free to consult other professors during office hours when questions arise in a given professor's field.

Students should meet with their adviser at least every two weeks, usually submitting early portions of the essay for comments that may facilitate the writing of the whole. Students must abide by the deadlines set by their advisers and the department.

Registration, Fees, and Deadlines 

In the semester the essay is submitted, the student must be registered for extended residence or a residence unit.


The essay should be printed with a 1 1/2-inch left margin and 1-inch margins on the other three sides.

The title page should include, centered on the page, the title of the essay, the name of the author, and the following words: "Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts, Faculty of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Columbia University."

Students should submit an electronic copy to the department and hard copies to the department and to their adviser

Style, Footnotes, and Bibliography

The body of the essay should be double-spaced. All quotations of verse and all quotations of prose five lines or more in length should be indented. Quotation marks should not be used to enclose indented quotations.

All quotations should correspond exactly with the original in wording, spelling, and punctuation. Words or phrases in quotations must not be underlined or italicized unless they are so in the original or unless it is indicated that the italics have been added.

The entire text of the essay, including quotations, must be in English. The originals of translated passages must be included for the adviser to check, and may be kept in the final copy where appropriate. (For poetry, both the original and the translation should be quoted.)

Each chapter should begin on a new page, and the chapter title should appear at the top of this page in boldface, centered, and clearly set off (by spacing) from the body of the text. Table of contents should be included after the title page. It is advisable, when planning the structure of the essay, to give some thought to the thematic division of the topic into chapters, and to their eventual number and order.

  • All pages should be numbered. Preliminary matter (dedication, table of contents, acknowledgments, note on transliteration) should be numbered with lower-case Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, etc.), which should be centered at the bottom of the page. The body of the essay (everything else, beginning with the first page of the introduction and continuing to the last page of the bibliography) should use Arabic numerals (1,2,3, etc.), which should appear in the upper right-hand corner of each page.
  • You must include a title page, a table of contents and a bibliography.
    Optional elements include a dedication, acknowledgments, note on transliteration (strongly recommended), chapter titles and subdivisions, a list of illustrations, preface, and appendices. If you include any of these elements, follow the order set out in the section on "Required Order and Page Numbering" in the GSAS dissertation formatting guidelines.

For style, footnotes, and bibliography, follow the MLA or Chicago Manual of Style. Be sure to use two initials or a first name in footnotes, bibliography, and the first mention of a name in your text (except for Tolstoy, Shakespeare, etc.). Remember that periods and commas are placed within quotation marks; colons and semicolons are placed outside the quotation marks. Question marks and exclamation points fall within quotation marks if they are part of the quotation, outside if they indicate a question or exclamation beyond the quoted passage.


The Library of Congress system of transliteration, with the commonly accepted exceptions, should be used.