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About the Thesis

Choosing Your Topic

Careful thought should be given to the selection of a topic for the thesis. In choosing a thesis topic, the student must make sure that the necessary research materials (data) are available.

The student is expected to discuss prospective topics for her thesis with one or more faculty members. The final topic must be approved by the thesis adviser. A student may ask any member of the department to serve as her thesis adviser, but the final determination rests with the director of honors. A thesis topic should be broad enough to be educational but narrow enough to be manageable.

The following are not acceptable thesis material:

Writing Your Thesis

What is an acceptable thesis?

A thesis is an argument, not a mere collection of facts. Therefore, it must be analytic, not descriptive or reportorial. It must give evidence of the writer's analytical skills and critical judgment. The best way to achieve this analytical focus is to view the work of the thesis as an intellectual problem of persuading the reader that your argument is correct. We assume that you are familiar with the rudiments of economic theory. Your thesis work is an opportunity to show that you can apply the theory you have learned to a particular situation, or, alternatively, to show that you can deal creatively with a problem in pure theory. It is safe to say that while your thesis can be insufficiently theoretical, it cannot be excessively theoretical. Of course, theoretical does not necessarily mean mathematical or geometric. Many good theses in economics contain no math and no geometry.

Planning and organizing your thesis

There are many ways of taking notes, and you have probably developed your own. Notes kept on 3" x 5" or 5" x 8" cards are flexible and lend themselves easily to rearrangement as your chapters begin to take shape. Full citation of the source on the card at the time the note is taken will save time that will otherwise be wasted in looking up the book or article from which the note was taken. When typing your thesis, backup your draft frequently and make sure you keep one or more back-up copies of your thesis files in a safe place. Computer problems are not acceptable excuses for late submissions.

The student is expected to take the initiative in planning her work. The faculty thesis director will discuss the problems that emerge, recommend source readings and criticize the organization and preparation of the manuscript. Note that the writing of an honors thesis does not follow the same pattern as the writing of a term paper. When writing a term paper, the student may not consult the instructor until the finished paper is completed. But the adviser of an honors thesis expects to be consulted frequently and during every stage of the writing process. Most advisers expect to meet with the student at least once a week.

The thesis should be clearly and gracefully written. Spelling and grammar must be correct and the final copy must be carefully proofread.

The Structure of the Thesis

A good thesis must be couched in analytical categories, and it need not be very long. You should be able to write a good economics thesis in no more than 30–35 pages, and no thesis should run more than 40 pages. Tables, charts and other addendum can be inserted in an appendix. Appendix pages do not count in the total thesis length.

Title page

The title page of the thesis should include the title of the work, the name of the author, the date submitted, and the phrase, "Submitted to the Faculty of the Department of Economics, Smith College, in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts with Honors." Sample theses of other years may be examined in Neilson Library.

Submitting Your Thesis

It is desirable that the student turn in a completed first draft of her thesis to her adviser one month before the final deadline.

Students doing a year-long thesis are encouraged to submit a first draft of their thesis at the beginning of the second semester for comments from their two readers. It is highly recommended that thesis writers avail themselves of this option.

Two copies of the final draft, each bound in a spring binder, must be handed to the director of the honors program. One copy will be returned to the student later in the spring. A third copy should be made if the student intends to use the thesis as an example of her work in applying for a position outside of Smith.


Students must submit the final version of their thesis to the director of honors no later than April 15 (for two-semester theses). Seniors who graduate in January should consult with the director of honors about their deadlines.


Each thesis will be evaluated by two readers, neither of whom is the thesis adviser, assigned by the director of honors. These readers will independently assign a grade for the written thesis. The grade on the honors thesis will be an average of these two grades.

Oral examination

Honors students are also required to take an oral examination that focuses on the content of the thesis. The oral examination takes place at the end of the spring semester after the thesis is submitted to the honors director and is attended and graded by the two faculty readers of the thesis and the student's thesis adviser.