Reader's guide to the HC&P Master's Paper

We appreciate your taking time from your busy schedule to serve as a Master’s Paper reader. In order to give all readers a common starting point, we have developed these basic guidelines for reading and evaluating the Health Care and Prevention (HC&P) Master’s Paper.

A. Purpose of Master’s Paper

Most important, the Master’s Paper should synthesize the knowledge the student has acquired from all his or her sources–courses, the practicum experience, and the research for this Master’s Paper–and make a contribution to the field of health care and/or prevention. This means that the Master’s Paper is a more intensive and extensive exercise than is any assignment in a given course. Most papers have at least 50 references and are usually 40 to 70 pages long, double-spaced, but these are suggestions and not requirements. Papers must meet margin and other requirements of the Graduate School. Publication is an option rather than an expectation.

Note that this is not a “thesis”–it is a “Master’s Paper.” The Graduate School has a specific definition for master’s theses, and the word “thesis” should not appear in an HC&P Master’s Paper in order to avoid any confusion about which requirements govern the work.

B. Responsibilities of First and Second Readers, and How They Differ

Both readers are involved from the start, and both approve the general topic and outline. The first reader works more closely with the student, getting drafts as sections are completed, reading in detail, and giving line by line comments. The second reader gets full or partial drafts, as desired and in agreement with the first reader and the student, and reads for general methods and content but not line by line. Both readers must approve and sign the final paper.

C. References

References should follow the Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts (URM) of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), found at, whenever possible, while using necessary modifications for the purpose of assuring the most complete and proper citation style for the student’s particular research, such as APSA style for policy papers, or for the journal to which the paper is being submitted for publication, if publication is being considered. Students should rely on their Master’s Paper readers for guidance on when and how to incorporate additional citation styles or modifications into the URM.

References should be numbered consecutively throughout the paper, and a list of references should follow the main text of the paper, unless the student is using another citation style appropriate to his or her paper type, in which case the student should follow that reference style’s guidance for citations and reference lists.

D. Topic and Writing

The topic of the paper should be tightly focused, in consultation with the Master’s Paper advisor. This is a Master’s Paper, not a doctoral dissertation, and students should concentrate on answering a small question well, within the limited scope of the paper, rather than trying to answer a large question poorly. The paper should be well written. It should be able to communicate the research question, its context, and the student’s findings clearly, even to nonspecialists. Even a well-researched paper on a good idea should not be approved unless it is well written.

E. Types of Papers

HC&P students usually choose from five general types of papers:

  • A thorough systematic review of the research literature related to a specific health-related topic. This must be a critical review and summary for the purpose of making recommendations for development of a program, change in policy, establishment of standards, program evaluation, or other application of the current evidence.
  • An evaluation of a public health or clinical program (including any curriculum, intervention, project, or other program implementation). This can be limited to the development of a scientifically valid evaluation plan without actually collecting the data to perform the evaluation, or it may involve collecting or examining existing data that would contribute to an actual program evaluation.
  • A research design that includes a description of the data collection phase, including construction of data collection instruments, plans to pilot test measurement instruments, and methods of analysis of data, but stops short of actual data collection.
  • An analysis of original data collected by the student or collected by others (e.g., a faculty member), or a secondary data analysis of data collected for other reasons. This may be written in either of two ways: (1) as a typical Master’s Paper; or (2) as a research paper potentially suitable for submission to a journal for publication. If the student chooses option #2, the Master’s Paper must also include appendices providing more in-depth information about the research question (including a systematic review of what is known on the topic), more discussion of research methods and of why the research design and measurement/analysis approach was chosen, as well as a detailed discussion section that considers strengths and weaknesses of the research and implications for future practice or research. This paper may use quantitative or qualitative methods.
  • A policy analysis, in which an important health policy question is subjected to rigorous analysis, including recommendations for practice, research, or further policy development.

Although the first type of paper described above is a systematic review, note that it is a more extensive systematic review. All other papers should include at least a limited systematic review of some part of the medical/health literature. All papers should deal with a question of importance to the health of the public or the improvement of the functioning of the health care system. All papers should discuss the implications of their findings for public health.

F. Evaluating the Paper

The following table may help you consider the quality of the student’s paper.



Meets Expectations

Exceeds Expectations

Topic appropriately focused? Topic lacks direction or clear goal Topic well defined Highly specified and clear; gives good rationale
Systematic review and critical appraisal of the literature present? Not included or not sufficient Thorough review giving constraints; limitations discussed Very thorough review (unlikely to have missed anything); well-done critique of current literature
Sophisticated thinking about the topic? Really only scratches the surface Clearly beyond superficial level; meets expectations of someone with professional public health degree Obviously a great deal of thought went into paper; in-depth thinking is evident
Population-level thinking? Does not go beyond the individual level or addresses populations in superficial terms Adequately considers the health problem in the context of the population Clearly has a mastery of population science concepts
Implications for public health or health policy? Not considered Includes sufficient description of implications for health policy, future research, and/or health of a population Implications particularly compelling
Quality of writing? Poorly written Follows rules of grammar; good sentence and paragraph construction; written as much as possible in active voice; no misspelled words; paper is well organized and easily readable; uses (when applicable) subheadings Clearly and elegantly written; one or two revisions short of being submissible for publication