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About the Thesis

Who should write a thesis?

If you wish to write a thesis, the department expects that you will have thought deeply about your topic, normally in the context of prior course work about that author, genre or general area. It is ideal if you can locate an adviser and develop a topic by the end of the second semester of junior year. You should submit your proposal to the honors director by the end of the second (spring) semester. For 2020, the deadline will be Friday, May 1. Proposals for theses must be clearly, fully and specifically developed in about 500 words (two pages). They should also include a completed application form and GPA calculation form, which must be requested by email from Whether or not you apply in the late spring or the early fall, you will need to spend part of the summer reading, thinking and clarifying your topic.

The 8 credits for the thesis are in addition to the regular requirements of the major, so in thinking about whether or not to apply for honors, you should consider also how you will complete the major itself. In fact, this is one reason so many good students choose not to do honors; they find they just have too many other things they want to learn. The worst reason to undertake a thesis is simply for the honors designation itself; the best is that you strongly desire to do extensive independent work on a sharply defined topic. We also recommend that thesis writers take no more than three classes in addition to the thesis, and that they take a course in literary theory, e.g., CLT 300 or English 285. 

What should I write in my application?

In 500 words (two pages), describe your project so that the English Department and SHIP can evaluate its feasibility. In other words, provide the essential information that answers the key questions: What? Why? How?

  • What do I want to write about? (Topics, texts)
  • How am I qualified to undertake this project? What previous courses or training have I had in the author(s) or field(s)? (Preparation)
  • Why do I want to write about that topic, and why does it matter? Why is this worth investigating and what is at stake? (Relevance or "So What"?)
  • How do I want to write about it? What approach or steps will I take, and what parts or sequence do I imagine the project having? (Method, Preliminary Design)

The department would also like to see a provisional bibliography.

Examples of successful thesis proposals are available in the English Department office, Pierce Hall 105, to give you a sense of genre, and types of topics students have pursued in the past.

What is the second reader’s role?

The second reader, who is appointed by the department at the start of the project, will read a draft of the completed thesis, which is due in the first week of the spring semester. In a few weeks the thesis adviser and the second reader submit their comments and advice to the department's administrative assistant, who sends copies to the thesis writer and the director of honors. The adviser and second reader are allowed to consult with each other to make sure they agree on procedures and method. At the end of the spring semester, when the completed thesis is due, thesis adviser and second reader assign their grades independently. If these grades differ significantly, the department will appoint a third reader.

How do I prepare the manuscript?

Guidelines for preparing an honors thesis are available in the Office of the Class Deans.  Educational Technology Services is available for consultation and can provide equipment, some materials and guided assistance for the mounting of visual materials. You must submit two copies of your thesis to the college. One copy is given to the department's director of honors. The other copy (on acid-free paper) is turned in to the senior class dean, College Hall 101, for later submission to the library.

Can I get an extension?

An extension of up to five days from the initial due date may be granted at the discretion of the departmental director of honors. A further extension of no longer than two weeks from the initial due date may be granted only by the chair of the Subcommittee on Honors and Independent Programs upon written application from the departmental director of honors. 

What happens during the thesis presentation?

At the thesis presentation, you will have 15 minutes to explain your project to an audience that includes your thesis adviser and readers, and some English faculty members and students. You may also invite family and friends. The idea is to communicate some of what you were investigating, what you've found out, and receive some public recognition for the honors work you've done. Somewhere in the presentation, give a summary of your purpose and your conclusions—the briefer, the better. You may want to read a paragraph from your introduction or ending or give a concrete example from your work to support your general points. For another 15 minutes after your talk, the audience will be given an opportunity to ask you some questions. This is a friendly audience. Remember, too, that this oral presentation counts for only 15% of your overall thesis grade.

Who will evaluate my thesis?

Your thesis adviser and second reader each provide an honors designation (highest honors, high honors, honors, pass, or fail). If they substantially disagree, a third reader is assigned by the department. The final honors designation, submitted for recommendation to the Subcommittee on Honors and Independent Programs, is based on three separate components:

  • Evaluation of the final honors thesis by at least two readers: 60%
  • Evaluation of the honors examination by at least two faculty: 10%
  • GPA within the major: 30%