nl en

MA Thesis Linguistics


Admission requirements

Students can start work on their thesis once they have earned at least 20 ec for MA courses.


In order to graduate, students must have completed 40 ec worth of courses and have written the master’s thesis, consisting of approximately 17,000 words. The thesis needs to be written under the supervision of a lecturer affiliated with the LUCL (Leiden University Centre for Linguistics) and evaluated by the supervisor and a second reader (selected by the supervisor). Students are free to choose their supervisor and suggest a thesis topic.

Aim of the Master’s Thesis

A thesis is an academic essay, written by the student in consultation with two supervisors. The thesis must show that the student is capable of summarizing and analysing existing literature in a critical manner, formulating one or more well-defined and motivated research questions and of conducting independent research.

Choosing a Topic

Generally speaking, students are encouraged to select the topic of their thesis themselves usually based on a Master’s course that they followed. In case of doubt, students can always consult the coordinator of studies. Students should approach a lecturer and discuss with him/her the chosen topic and potential research question(s). The supervisor, also known as ‘first reader’, will be able to recommend relevant literature. A second reader is chosen by the supervisor. At this point, clear agreements should be made concerning the supervision procedure.

At the heart of a Master’s thesis lies a research question, together with the answer to that question. Before a motivated research question can be formulated, the student first has to do preparatory reading. The student then suggests an approach to arrive at possible answers (‘hypotheses’) to the research question. The research can be done by comparing views found in the literature and/or by collecting and analyzing primary (e.g. corpus analysis) and secondary (e.g. intuitions) linguistic data.

Submitting the Thesis Proposal

Once the student has selected a topic, formulated a research question and put together a provisional bibliography, the Thesis Proposal form can be completed (see Thesis Proposal form). The Thesis Proposal form should include the title of the thesis and a description of the topic. The form must be submitted to the Board of Examiners (via the coordinator of studies of the specialisation) no later than three months before the planned graduation date (see the deadlines stated in the form). The Board will then inspect the thesis proposal to ensure that it is of an appropriate academic level.

Research and Writing

Students should start out by formulating a clear plan for the structure of the thesis, in consultation with their supervisor. Only then can they begin writing. Questions of style will only become relevant at a later stage.
Keep in mind that information which may not at first be included in the thesis might be useful later on, e.g. during the thesis defence. It is important to be precise and systematic in writing down one’s sources to avoid wasting time and looking up the sources and notes again at a later stage.

Handing in the Thesis

It is advisable to hand in the chapters of the thesis one by one and solicit comments from the supervisors. Once the thesis is approved by both supervisors, the final version can be printed (one copy for each supervisor). An electronic version should be sent to the coordinator of studies. Check with your supervisor(s) for guidelines regarding format of thesis lay-out and style of bibliographic references.


In assessing the quality of the thesis, the following aspects play an important role:

  • The originality of the research question

  • Formulating and analysing the research question;

  • The critical analysis of source materials;

  • Integration of secondary literature into the argument;

  • Language use, structure and style;

  • The degree of independence displayed during the research and supervision process.

Thesis Defence

Once the final version of the thesis has been submitted, both thesis readers meet the students for an oral thesis defence, during which the student is expected to provide adequate answers to the questions related to the thesis stated by the thesis readers. The defence may influence the thesis grade.

Also see: Regulations Linguistics.