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Research Based Paper

Research-based Master’s Paper Approach


The research paper option gives students the opportunity to conduct individual research and write a substantive research report under the guidance of a single faculty advisor, who also evaluates the work. SILS has many prior examples of master’s papers to help you see what types of research SILS students have done in the past. Your paper may focus on any topic related to library or information science, so long as you have appropriately scoped your plans such that they are feasible to complete in a single semester. A faculty member, who will direct the research and paper writing process, must approve the topic.

  • The master’s paper option might be a good choice for you if:
  • you are considering applying for PHD program in the future,
  • you already have a strong foundation of practical elements in your chosen field such as significant work experience or have already completed multiple field experiences in your chosen area, and/or
  • you enjoy working alone and excel at self-directed learning.

Required coursework:

INLS 778: Research Methods and Proposal Development (3rd semester)

As part of INLS 778 you will develop a comprehensive research proposal as the final assignment in INLS 778. You will need to secure a faculty advisor who will supervise your master’s paper and evaluate your final report

INLS 992: Master Paper (4th semester) 

During your final semester you will carry out your proposed study, evaluate your findings and write your final paper.

Picking your research topic:

Research-based papers should be on topics relevant to the work of information professionals, following the conventions appropriate to published papers or theses in the relevant domain. These papers may fall into two broad categories:

  • Answering questions through empirical research. This is probably the most common type of question-oriented paper. Empirical research papers seek to answer a well-defined research question and thereby advance knowledge in a particular area relevant to the work of information professionals. These papers should describe the research design and the use of qualitative and/or quantitative methods for data collection and analysis. If the collected data is sharable, it should be deposited in the Carolina Digital Repository ( with the paper itself upon submission. Interviews, usability studies and surveys are some of the most common methods that fall into this category.
  • Analytical investigations. Some question-oriented papers advance knowledge by investigating, analyzing, and/or synthesizing ideas, texts, and datasets collected by others. Much important research in law, economics, and policy, as well as the humanities, takes this form. To fulfill the final requirement, a paper of this type must involve original research. It should be of publishable quality, and go beyond expectations for the final paper of a course. Historical studies, policy-oriented papers, and theoretical analyses fall into this category.

Either type of question-oriented paper will include 1) an introduction that provides a rationale for the research (i.e. the question), 2) a literature review, 3) presentation of results or ideas, and 4) the development of conclusions or recommendations. The conclusions should include some evaluation of the impact of your work, either with respect to related work, or with respect to your initial plans or expectations. Ideally this evaluation will include feedback from potential users of the results of your research.

Research-based Master’s paper registration: 

Registration for INLS 992 (Master’s Paper or Practicum) is required for both MSIS and MSLS. Students must register for INLS 992 for 3 credit hours. The registration for the Master’s paper or practicum is handled electronically. To register for the practicum students must:

  1. Fill out the SILS Class Enrollment Request Form
  2. Attach the required learning contract. Your learning contract shoud include at tentative schedule for completing your research paper, a tentative schedule of meetings with your master’s paper advisor. This should be agreed upon with you and your master’s paper advisor.
  3. Attach a copy of your INLS 778 proposal to your form. The proposal should describe your
  4. Once you have uploaded all the required documents, finish completing the form
  5. Agreed to the honor code statement and hit submit
  6. The form will be routed to the appropriate people for approval
  7. Once your request is approved, you wil be registered for INLS 992.

Research-based paper course requirements: 

Students registered for the reserach paper will meet with their master’s paper advisor as detailed in their learning contract.

FAQs about the Research Paper Approach

When should work on the Master’s paper start?

Work on your Master’s paper could start as early as your first semester, though most students will not spend sustained time on this until their third semester. As you are exposed to ideas and concepts in your coursework, make note of possible ideas for your master’s paper research and save readings or other resources that closely relate to your specific area(s) of professional interest. During your second-to-last semester, you should plan to take INLS 778 (Research Methods and Proposal Development), in which you will learn about methodological approaches used to answer questions in LIS and evaluate those approaches for applicability to your area of interest. In this course, you will be develop a plan to conduct original research in this area by developing a proposal for your paper.

By the end of INLS 778, you should have: 1) a well-defined proposal that outlines the proposed plan or work; 2) a rationale for it as a capstone and integrative experience; and 3) an agreement with a faculty member who will serve as your paper advisor in your final semester and who will approve your final proposal. Your paper will then be completed in the following semester (your last), during which you should enroll in INLS 992.

How much work should a Master’s paper involve?

Work on your Master’s paper may begin as early as your first year (see the answer to the question “When should work on the Master’s paper start?”).

During your final semester, you should expect to spend approximately ten hours per week on work related to your paper. You will enroll in INLS 992 to receive credit for these hours. This estimate is in line with UNC’s definition of a credit hour: one hour of in-class instruction plus at least two hours of out-of-class work per week, which translates to a total of approximately 135 hours over the course of a 15-week semester for a 3-credit course like 992. Your INLS 778 instructor and your paper advisor should provide you with guidance to select and refine a paper topic that will be feasible to complete within these parameters.

How and when are papers approved? Who supervises them?

At the end of your second-to-last semester, you must turn in a paper proposal signed by a faculty member (see the answer to “When should work on the Master’s paper start?”). By signing the proposal, a faculty member has agreed to supervise and evaluate your paper. All papers are to be supervised by a faculty member and the satisfactory completion of a final paper is determined by that faculty member.

How will papers be evaluated?

Master’s papers will be evaluated on 1) the clarity, organization, and relevance of the literature review, 2) the clarity and originality of the results or ideas presented, and 3) the extent to which the student has provided significant conclusions or recommendations.

Empirical research papers may also be evaluated on the appropriateness of the research design, the care involved in data collection, and the presentation of the data itself (which should be deposited in the Carolina Digital Repository if possible).

Analytical investigations may also be evaluated on the extent to which they involved original research.