The Final Project: Professional Reports and Theses

Students in the CRP program have two choices for a final project to earn their Masters Degree (MSCRP):

  • You can write a Professional Report (PR), or
  • You can write a Masters Thesis

Should you write a Professional Report or a Thesis?

Most students choose to write a Professional Report (PR) rather than a thesis. Your decision should be based on: 1) the purpose of the project for you; 2) the types of questions that interest you, and 3) the coursework that comes with each option. A PR is typically a more applied project and can allow you to produce an example of the type of work that you hope to do after graduation. PR topics are more practice-oriented and often result in recommendations for a specific place.  You can think of a PR as a work sample that you will be able to show to prospective employers to give them a sense of your interests and skills.  A thesis is typically a more academic project and places greater emphasis on  theories framing your topic and justification of your particular research questions and study site.  You should also allow more time to conduct thesis research. Students intending to pursue doctoral studies often choose to do a thesis. Students in the Latin American Studies and Sustainable Design dual degrees are required to choose the thesis option.

The thesis option requires that you dedicate more of your electives to your thesis project.  Thesis students are required to take Research Design (offered in the fall semester only) and two semesters of Thesis research and writing time (Thesis A and Thesis B). You must take Thesis B the semester you graduate. PR students take only one writing course (Professional Report), which must be taken the semester that you graduate.
 

PROFESSIONAL REPORT OPTIONS

OPTION 1. Planning research project
This is the most common and open-ended PR option. This type of PR focuses on an individually selected topic of personal interest that relates to an ongoing planning debate and issue. Most students start with a broad debate or problem in the planning field and narrow down their topic from there. In addition, students can start with a good or bad planning-related situation or case and then contextualize the case within broader debates or bodies of literature. Students can also start with a place that interests them and develop research questions from there. The place could range from a street corner to an entire city or state, it must be compelling for the student.
 
Research for this type of PR will usually involve secondary data sources and library research. However, some students may include primary data emerging from observations or interviews. Some students may also choose to travel as a part of their research. The final product of this PR option is a report that includes a literature review, an explanation of the planning issue, your findings, and your analysis of the problem in light of the research conducted. See examples of previous PRs on our Thesis & Professional Report Guidelines website.
 
OPTION 2. Client-based project
This type of PR is based on research conducted on behalf of an external organization (a city department, other governmental organizations, a nonprofit organization, a research institute, or a private firm). A client-based PR may emerge from an internship, a Practicum course, or simply a close working relationship with an organization. Working for a real-world client allows students to engage with current planning problems, to engage deeply in a planning issue, and to develop the necessary skills to meet the requirements of a project client. The client-based project will usually require students to conduct some primary research, both quantitative and qualitative. Working with a client, students will identify a research question or problem, select appropriate research methods, analyze alternative scenarios, and make recommendations to the organization. Students also need to conduct a thorough literature review in consultation with their PR readers.
 
The final report will be a document prepared for the client that includes a literature review, a summary of the methodology and your analysis of the issue, as well as other elements requested by the client. The final report will be deeply rooted in the specific client planning issue and reflect the student’s ability to apply their planning education to real-world problems. The final report may be design-focused, quantitatively oriented, or primarily text-based.
 
OPTION 3. Planning evaluation research project
This is the most prescriptive of the three PR options. In this type of PR, students center their PR on the work of an organization (public agency, non-profit organization, and other similar organizations). This may be an organization with which the student is affiliated, hold an internship or have another working relationship. They may propose to evaluate a project, plan, or ordinance implementation developed by the organization, or otherwise conduct an analysis of planning-related activities pursued by the organization. In order to guide and structure their observations and subsequent analysis of the organization’s work, students will work closely with their readers to develop a critically reflective study. The student will be expected to conduct a literature review in order to develop criteria and standards for the evaluation, and may be required to complete readings on program evaluation.
 
The plan evaluation research project may require that the student conduct on-site observation of the organization or process they are evaluating. Students may also collect additional information from meeting agendas and conduct interviews with fellow planners and stakeholders focused on the dimensions of planning practice they have selected. The final report will include a literature review, synthesize the student’s observations, and present their evaluation. Before pursuing such a Planning Evaluation-based project, students should consult with Graduate Adviser who will suggest readers with experience in plan and program evaluation. Students should develop their research methodology in close consultation with their PR readers.
 

HOW DO I CHOOSE A TOPIC?

The range of topics for your PR or thesis is almost unlimited. This freedom of choice is inspiring but can also make it difficult to decide! You can start with a broad debate or problem in the planning field and narrow down your topic from there. Or you can start with a good or bad planning-related situation or case and then contextualize the case within broader debates or bodies of literature. Or (as many students do), start with a place that interests you and develop research questions from there. The place could range from a street corner to an entire city or state...but it must be compelling to you.

Also consider topics that are related to your personal interests as well as your career goals. A PR or thesis is a great opportunity to learn more about something you care about...and it's a great chance to produce a significant, independent body of work to show to potential employers.

Another source for good PR or thesis topics are classes, class projects, and internships. A term paper can be a great springboard for a thesis, since you will have a head start on your literature review. A class project can introduce you to a planning problem, a case, or a place, and give you a great foundation for future, independent research. And an internship will give you deep insight into the work of an agency or organization, providing you with contacts for interviews as well as an opportunity to conduct an analysis of the organization itself. (In case you wish to focus your PR on the work of the organization where you hold your internship, speak with Graduate Adviser about options and further directions in order to avoid any conflicts of interests.)

To get a better sense of the kinds of topics that are appropriate for either a PR or a Thesis, you can search for past projects in the UT Digital Repository.  To find these, go to the "UT Electronic Theses and Dissertations" page on the UT Library website (www.lib.utexas.edu). You can then use the search menu to search for electronic theses and dissertation and search by department or subject (for example, "transit," "water," etc.). This should help you identify recent reports or theses. In addition, and to access reports prior to 2008, you can consult with the reference librarians in the Architecture and Planning Library in Battle Hall.
 

THE ABSTRACT

The first step toward completion of your PR or thesis is to write a short abstract that presents your topic and why you want to research it. The abstract is a 150-250-word description of the topic, why it’s important, and how you want to study it. You will (1) describe the broader planning debate/issue/concern that you wish to engage with, (2) describe the specific case AND place that you want to investigate, explaining why this case AND place might illuminate this broader debate/issue/concern in planning, (3) propose tentative research question(s), and (4) explain methods you might want to use. Once you submit your abstract, you will be matched with faculty members who will serve as your readers and help you with the following step: your proposal.
 

The Proposal

The second step is to write a proposal in consultation with your readers. In your proposal, you will describe your topic and explain how you will investigate it.  Your proposal should: 1) introduce your topic and explain its relevance; 2) specify the questions/hypotheses that will be addressed; 3) delineate the methodology you will use, and explain why it is appropriate to your questions; 4) include a provisional chapter outline; 5) include a research plan and timeline; and, 6) include a source bibliography. Please see the following examples of PR proposals:

If you are planning to collect information from people, you must also consider the ways that your research might affect them and plan to mitigate any potential risks to participants. To better understand what risks your research might pose and whether you need to take extra steps to protect participants, you should first complete the university's IRB (Institutional Review Board) online training for student researchers. (Note: Expand the section "Apply for IRB review" and scroll down for information on submitting your proposal for review after you complete the training). Often our student research projects receive expedited review or a waiver from the full review process because our projects typically pose little risk to participants. For additional information about how the process might apply to your project, please contact the IRB program coordinator for the School of Architecture.
 

pr/thesis workshops

In order to graduate on time, you need to start working on your PR or Thesis research already in your first year.  We help you do this by offering three PR/Thesis workshops in your first academic year and one workshop in the fall semester of your second year. The workshops are not required but strongly recommended.

The workshops in your first year help you first identify a PR or thesis topic, next to write an abstract, and finally to develop your preliminary proposal. In spring semester you will also participate in a matching process so you can start working with your first and second readers before the end of your first academic year. This process positions you to start conducting your research in the summer. NOTE: After the matching process is completed, your readers will guide the development of your PR or Thesis. The Graduate Adviser is still available for general advising and coursework related questions, but your readers will assist you with the content and structure of your PR or Thesis.

In fall semester of your second year, we offer a fourth workshop in collaboration with the Graduate Writing Center designed to help you finish your proposal, outline your PR, and start writing. The Graduate Writing Center can provide you with further assistance with your writing, including resources on time management and strategies for tackling large writing projects. This series of workshops makes it easier to finish your PR or thesis in time for graduation in May.

In the spring semester of your second year, the Graduate Adviser is still available for general advising and coursework related questions, but your readers will assist you with the content and structure of your PR or Thesis. Please follow the deadlines for PR or Thesis submission provided in the official academic calendar, and follow the format instructions provided by the UT Graduate School.
 

Forms, Rules and Deadlines

The registration process and deadlines differ between the PR and Thesis options.

Thesis students: You need to enroll in Thesis A and Research Design in your penultimate full semester and Thesis B in your last semester. Before you can enroll in Thesis A, you must obtain the signatures of your first reader and Graduate Adviser on the PR/Thesis form in DocuSign. In order to enroll in Thesis A, you need to submit the form by the last class day of the full semester preceding the semester you wish to take Thesis A.

PR students: You need to enroll in the PR course in your last semester. Before you can enroll in the PR course (CRP 398R MASTER'S PROFESSIONAL REPORT), you must submit your final PR proposal to your readers and Graduate Adviser, using the PR/Thesis form in DocuSign. The deadline to submit the proposal varies semester to semester, but always falls two weeks prior to registration for the following semester. Please consult your Graduate Advising Calendar for the exact date. Once you have submitted your PR/Thesis form and it is approved by your two readers and Graduate Adviser, you will be permitted to enroll in the PR course.

IMPORTANT: DocuSign PowerForms require an instructor's UT EID email address. An EID email address is the EID followed by "@eid.utexas.edu" (<eid>@eid.utexas.edu). 
CRP Graduate Programs EID Address List
If not on the pdf above, you can find an instructor's UT EID in the Directory.

So, if you are intending to write a Thesis and graduate in May, you would be submitting your proposal by the end of spring semester in order to enroll in Thesis A in the fall. If you are intending to write a PR and graduate in May, you would be submitting your proposal in the fall semester.

Whether you are writing a Thesis or a PR, the Chair of your committee must be a member of the CRP Graduate Studies Committee. The second reader can another UT faculty member or (for a PR) can be a professional outside of the university with knowledge of your topic.

A suggested timeline for planning, writing and filing your PR or Thesis for spring graduation:

Task

Thesis               

Professional Report

Discuss topic ideas with faculty Fall semester of first year Fall semester of first year
Write abstract and be matched with readers Early spring of first year Early spring of first year
Write draft proposal, discuss with faculty, agree upon timeline for research and faculty review Late spring semester, first year Late spring semester, first year
Obtain signatures, submit final proposal and form By the end of spring semester, first year By mid fall semester; date TBA
Contact IRB program contact, determine if proposal review required, submit proposal for review Late spring semester, first year Late spring, first year
Enroll in courses Enroll in Research Design and Thesis A, fall of second year Enroll in PR course, spring of second year
Conduct research Begin in summer before year two Begin in summer before year two
Present full draft to committee for review and comments By end of March or date agreed upon with committee
Have format checked and approved by the graduate school (format guidelines) Early April (while awaiting faculty feedback)
File final version with the graduate school (submission instructions) Last class day of spring semester
Graduate!! Late May. Congratulations

award-winning professional reports and theses

The following are examples of exemplary Professional Reports and Theses completed by CRP graduates in recent years: