The Master’s Thesis provides a capstone to the Master of Arts in Strategic Security Studies program at the College of International Security Affairs, allowing students to inquire deeply into an area of professional significance, policy importance, academic value, and/or personal interest. In this way, the thesis permits students to demonstrate their analytical abilities and creative argumentation skills developed during their studies at the College. Students who undertake the thesis option should complement their educational experience by choosing a problem with direct relevance to their professional duties and the needs of their sponsoring agency or country. With this in mind, students should also select topics that pertain to their Area of Concentration for the Master of Arts Degree in Strategic Security Studies degree. Students who are enrolled in the thesis option must fulfill the following thesis requirements.

Elements of the Thesis

A good thesis is a well-structured argument that is presented clearly and persuasively. Students may employ a variety of different thesis styles, including theory proposing, theory testing, literature assessing, and theory applying (including policy evaluation/recommendation), or a combination of any of these styles.

A thesis must present a well-structured analysis focused on the author’s main argument and explicate links between relevant variables. The analysis must integrate a clear definition of the problem and claim, a valid research design for the generation, interpretation, and incorporation of data; and ideas and findings from authoritative sources.

A thesis that is deemed to be successful by the CISA faculty should contain the following elements:

The Abstract is a brief summary of the thesis that should not exceed 250 words. It presents an introduction to the subject, the key statement of the thesis, which methodology was used, and a conclusion.

The Introduction clearly defines the problem, issue or question which the thesis intends to address. In other words, the author presents the hypothesis or proposed answer to the research question. In the justification, the author reveals the problem’s importance both from a practical policy perspective and how the study will contribute to theoretical development in political analysis and/or strategic studies. For CISA, a problem’s practical relevance is determined by its strategic prevalence in today’s security environment and its impact on policymaker decision making. The analytical (scientific, academic, or theoretical) justification concerns the larger implications of the problem and the author’s prescribed solution to address the problem in practical terms.

The Literature Review lays out historical and contemporary understanding of the problem and shapes the research project by integrating existing knowledge and assessing the strengths and weaknesses of past research designs. By examining these findings, this narrative explores the correlations and divergences in previous studies, incorporating those results into the subsequent analysis.

The Research Design provides the structure for organizing the author’s argument, generating data and information, and applying relevant theories and frameworks to interpret evidence. This construct provides coherence and integration necessary to a successful thesis. The research design should be determined by the purpose and style of the study and may include observation (descriptive research, case study, or survey), experiments, quantitative, qualitative, inductive, deductive, and/or other relevant methods. The Research Design may be presented in a stand alone chapter.

The Analysis is the main body of the thesis in which the author applies the research methodology to interpret evidence and support the conclusion. As with the research design, the structure of the analysis (e.g., division into chapters) will depend on the style and scope of the study. This section presents the core of the argument underpinning the author’s thesis about the research question, acknowledging and refuting counter-arguments.

The Conclusion synthesizes findings, provides recommendations, and acknowledges continued uncertainties and ambiguities about the understanding of the issue or the implications and/or applicability of the proposed practical solutions or actions.

*Note please refer to the CISA Formatting and Structure Guidelines for further guidance.


Students at CISA can take advantage of the outstanding library available on campus. The NDU Library is considered one of the greatest repositories of information on national defense, international security, policy and strategy, international relations, management of information resources and mobilization of national resources. The collection consists of over 500,000 bound volumes, pamphlets, periodicals, microforms, audio visual materials, government documents, and 50,000 classified documents. Library personnel provide a full range of research services and guidance in the use of materials in an environment designed to support research and study. The prudent student will go beyond the Internet and utilize the NDU Library as well as other resources.

Students should use primary materials, where appropriate. For example, researchers can conduct their own work through experiments, interviews, surveys, and other forms of data gathering. Students should work with their Thesis Advisor to ensure they comply with all relevant policies and regulations regarding human subjects, as described in the Human Subjects Research Policy, including in the use of interviews.

Aggregate data, such as survey results, voting tabulations, or social and economic data, will be relevant to some but not all questions. When appropriate, the student should engage aggressively with aggregate data sets. The ability to manipulate and use data in relevant and plausible ways can be extremely useful. 
 Length, Format, and Citation

The finished thesis should be 60-120 pages, double spaced, properly paginated (do not number the pages of the title, the disclaimer, any table of contents or reference pages) with standard margins and Times New Roman 12 point font.
The written thesis presentation must meet high standards and demonstrate meticulous attention to style and publishing details, including spelling, grammar and punctuation. Students should consult the CISA Citation Style Guide or The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010) for any questions regarding style and format.
Thesis must adhere to the CISA Thesis Formatting and Structure Guidelines.
Any questions in format or style should be directed to the student’s Thesis Advisor.  

Grades and Credits for Thesis

The Thesis must represent graduate level work in both substance and form. The final product will receive a grade of Exceeds Expectations (A to A-), Meets Expectations (B+ to B), or Does Not Meet Expectations (below B). Students earn six credits by completing 6943 Thesis.