The Communication Thesis
An honors or ComPS thesis allows students to take a deep dive into their chosen research topic, learning how to ask and answer big questions about our world.
Senior Honors theses and Communication and Public Service (ComPS) Capstone theses offer Senior Comm Majors an exciting intellectual opportunity to thoroughly investigate a Comm-related subject of their choice. Annenberg provides unique support to thesis students through the required two-semester Honors/ComPS Thesis Seminar and one-on-one mentorship by two faculty members. Thesis projects often serve as a qualifying experience for graduate education or, equally, may offer important evidence to employers of your skills in research and analytical thinking.
Senior Comm Majors’ thesis projects can be quantitative (e.g., surveys, experiments, content analyses) or qualitative (e.g., interviews, focus groups, textual analyses) research. Prior theses have focused on a wide range of communication topics including:
- Emotional chatbots and loneliness
- Mental health and children’s TV
- A comparison of Boomer and Millennial political rhetoric
- Diva worship on Twitter
- Street art at the US/Mexico border wall
- Understanding of social media privacy policies
- U.S. hurricane news coverage
- The U.S. immigration debate
- And many more Comm-related topics!
Copies of previous theses are available for review in the Annenberg Library.
Interested students should contact Dr. Kim Woolf, Academic Advisor and Research Director, Undergraduate Studies.
The thesis is a two-semester course for Communication majors, taken during the senior year.
- During the first semester, students write a research proposal that includes a literature review and detailed methodology.
- During the second semester, students conduct data collection and analysis and write the results and discussion to complete the thesis describing this work.
Students work with two professors throughout the course — a designated faculty supervisor and a thesis seminar supervisor — and receive one advanced course credit toward the Communication major for each semester completed.
Communication majors are strongly encouraged, though not required, to complete a thesis. On average, 15 to 20 percent of all majors write a thesis.
- The thesis is a two semester course. Students are required to successfully complete both semesters of the course to complete the thesis.
- Students writing Honors or ComPS theses are required to design and conduct a primary research study in the Communication field. Literature reviews without original research will not be accepted. Documentary films may be accepted under certain circumstances and will be evaluated on a case by case basis. Students interested in completing a documentary film thesis must do the following no later than the last day of classes in the Spring Semester of their junior year:
- Obtain a faculty supervisor
- Obtain written certification from the faculty supervisor that the student has the required technological and editing skills needed
- Notify Dr. Kim Woolf of their intention to complete a documentary thesis
- The thesis must be original work not completed in a previous course or undertaken in a current course outside the thesis seminar. In some cases, the thesis may continue work initiated in an Independent Study or in COMM 395 completed prior to the fall semester of senior year. Prior written approval by both thesis supervisors is required to ensure that an appropriate amount of new research is conducted for the thesis.
- Studies may be quantitative (e.g., surveys, experiments, content analyses) or qualitative (e.g., interviews, focus groups, textual analyses of magazines, TV shows, speeches, etc.).
Copies of previous theses are available for review in the Annenberg Library.
Eligibility for the Thesis
Annenberg offers two undergraduate thesis options with different eligibility requirements:
Honors Thesis Eligibility
- By the end of the junior year, students must have achieved a cumulative GPA of at least 3.50 in all University of Pennsylvania courses.
- Students must maintain a 3.50 cumulative GPA through the end of the first semester of senior year AND obtain a grade of B+ or higher in the first semester of the thesis seminar. Students who fail to meet the eligibility requirements at the end of the first semester thesis course may not enroll in the second semester thesis course, but will receive one advanced credit towards the Communication major for the first semester.
Note: Eligibility for the Honors thesis does not guarantee a degree in Communication with Honors. To obtain Honors, students must complete all major requirements, achieve a cumulative grade point average of 3.50 or higher in all University of Pennsylvania courses at the conclusion of coursework, and earn a grade of A- or higher for the completed thesis in the second semester.
ComPS Capstone Thesis Eligibility
- A thesis is required for all students who graduate with the ComPS designation.
Note: ComPS students who meet the requirements for a degree with Honors may designate the Capstone thesis as a Capstone Honors thesis.
Students who withdraw from the ComPS program at the end of the first semester of the thesis may continue in the second semester of the seminar only if they meet honors thesis eligibility requirements. Students who are not eligible to enroll in the second semester thesis seminar will receive one advanced credit towards the Communication major for the first semester.
“Writing a ComPS Honors thesis my senior year undoubtedly was the most rewarding experience I had throughout my four years at Penn. It taught me that when you identify a passion, through hard work and a focused effort, you can cultivate it and transform those beliefs or ideas in your head into something tangible and important. I re-read my thesis every few months and am constantly reminded of how pertinent my words still are and how proud I am that I created this body of work with Annenberg's support.” –Amanda Damon C'19, “The Immigrant Debate in America: The Civil Rights Question of Our Time?”
Seminar Enrollment Requirements
Requirements for enrollment in the First Semester Seminar COMM 4797 (formerly 494)
- Meet the eligibility requirements listed above.
- Students are required to secure a faculty supervisor before the first day of classes in the senior year.
- Designated faculty supervisors may be Annenberg faculty members, secondary faculty members, or some approved lecturers. These faculty members are listed on the Annenberg website. Ideally, the faculty supervisor is one with whom you have taken one or more classes.
- Students should begin the process of identifying a thesis topic and faculty supervisor during the junior year.
- Submit a research topic statement approved and signed by the designated faculty supervisor (not the thesis seminar supervisor) by the second class in the Fall Semester of senior year. Failure to submit a research topic statement approved by a designated faculty supervisor will prevent enrollment in the thesis seminar.
Prepared in consultation with the designated faculty supervisor, the research topic statement should be approximately 3-5 pages long. It should include:
- A review of relevant scholarship on the thesis topic
- Research questions or hypotheses to be addressed in the thesis research
- A brief description of the proposed methodology
Successful Completion of the First Semester Seminar
During proposal and thesis preparation, students will work jointly with the designated faculty supervisor and the seminar supervisor.
By the end of the first semester, all thesis students are required to submit a completed thesis proposal approved by both thesis supervisors. The proposal must include a detailed literature review and approved methodology. Completed coding manuals, experimental manipulations, questionnaires, and other instruments appropriate for the study methodology should be included in the proposal.
Applications for review of studies involving human subjects should be submitted to the Institutional Review Board in a timely manner, normally before the end of the first semester.
Requirements for enrollment in the Second Semester Seminar, COMM 4897 (formerly 495) or COMM 4997 (formerly 499)
- A completed thesis proposal signed by both thesis supervisors.
- Honors students must continue to maintain a 3.50 cumulative GPA and obtain a grade of B+ or higher in the first semester seminar.
- ComPS thesis students must continue with the ComPS designation. Those who drop out of the ComPS program are not eligible to continue with the second semester unless they meet Honors thesis requirements.
Successful Completion of the Thesis
Students will complete the thesis on a schedule specified by the thesis seminar supervisor. Every thesis must have four main components:
- Literature review (review of prior research)
There are no minimum page requirements for the thesis. The maximum length of the thesis is 100 pages, not including references or appendices. Students may apply for an exception to the maximum page limit; decisions will be made on a case by case basis. Formatting requirements will be distributed in the thesis seminar.
A thesis is not complete until all necessary revisions have been made, and both thesis supervisors have signed off on the final draft.
To successfully complete the thesis, students must also:
- Meet regularly with both thesis supervisors to discuss progress toward completion
- Attend all required classes and individual meetings of the thesis seminar for both semesters
- Meet all deadlines laid out in the thesis course syllabus
- Present the thesis at a public forum at the end of the second semester. Length, date, time and format will be determined by the thesis seminar supervisor.
The Annenberg School offers two thesis awards at graduation. Honors thesis students are eligible for the George Gerbner Award. ComPS Capstone thesis students are eligible for the Communication and Public Service (Eisenhower) Award. ComPS students who are also Honors students are eligible for both awards.
Students who submit their completed thesis on or before the final completion date set by the department are eligible to be nominated for these awards.
Honors and ComPS theses span a wide variety of topics. Scroll below to see thesis titles of some past students.