The process of developing and completing a thesis project may seem a bit daunting at first, so we’ve put together the following steps to help make this process manageable.
Ideally, you start this process in the term before your final year—for instance, if you plan to graduate in a spring term, you would start in previous spring term. That timeline gives you ample opportunity to find a faculty advisor, determine the range of your project, conduct research and write the thesis. Of course, some students work on a slightly different timeline, and if you have questions, please get in touch with your advisor.
Steps for Completing a Thesis
Suggested (but not required) timeline: Three semesters before you intend to graduate
Deciding the exact topic and scope of your thesis is often an ongoing process, but it is important to start with a particular vision for what you’d like to complete. It is equally important to find a faculty member to serve as your thesis advisor. Your faculty advisor will guide you through the thesis process and help you determine the focus and scope of your project.
Thesis projects frequently grow out of a paper or project that a student completed as part of an undergraduate course in English. For instance, you might decide to expand the original paper/project from a course that you’ve taken with your faculty advisor. Then, what started out as a 10-page research paper with five sources may evolve into a 50-page thesis that responds to and builds upon the work of some 20 scholars and critics. Your thesis advisor will help you determine what is appropriate for your particular project.
Most students work with faculty members with whom they have taken classes and on topics that are in the faculty member’s area of interest. It is extremely rare for a student to have a thesis advisor with whom they have never taken a class or did not know prior to embarking on the project.
To inquire about a faculty member’s interest in directing your thesis, you might attend their office hours to speak about the proposed project or email them about the project. If you email them, you should remind them of the class(es) you took with them, describe the project that you’d like to undertake and offer to meet with them to discuss further, if the faculty member would like to do so. Please be aware that faculty members may be unavailable to direct theses for a wide variety of professional and personal reasons.
Suggested (but not required) timeline: Two semesters before you intend to graduate
Once you have a faculty advisor and a project idea, you should complete a thesis application. This application includes a summary of the proposed thesis project, your thesis advisor’s signature and the Undergraduate Program Manager’s signature.
The application must be submitted to the appropriate College of Arts and Sciences office no later than one term prior to the student's graduation term; however, it is strongly recommended that students complete and submit the thesis application before they begin their thesis coursework.
Students who are not in Arts and Sciences Honors should see the “Research Distinction” section of College of Arts and Sciences website for application instructions.
Students who are in Arts and Sciences Honors should see the College of Arts and Sciences Honors Program website for instructions.
Suggested (but not required) timeline: Enrolled in two credits per term for the semester prior to the one you intend to graduate and the semester that you intend to graduate
To graduate with research distinction, you must complete at least four credit hours of thesis coursework in English 4999 (or English 4999H for Arts & Sciences Honors students). Typically, students enroll in two credit hours in the autumn and in the spring of their senior year. Occasionally, other arrangements are made: For instance, some students enroll in thesis hours in the spring of their junior year and through senior year, or they may enroll for thesis hours over the summer, or they might complete all of the credit hours in a single term (this final scenario is not advised).
To enroll in thesis coursework, email the Undergraduate Program Manager Katie Stanutz (.3), cc-ing your faculty advisor, prior to the first day of the term.
Suggested (but not required) timeline: Two semesters (the one prior to the one you intend to graduate and the semester that you intend to graduate)
Most students work on their thesis over the course of an academic year. How that work develops very much depends on the exact project, and your faculty advisor will help you create a plan. Research projects involve identifying, (re)reading and analyzing primary texts, as well as collecting and considering scholarly work, theoretical concepts and/or archival material—plus, of course, writing and revising the thesis itself. Creative writing projects involve meticulous drafts and revisions of the manuscript.
Required timeline: The defense must be completed and the accompanying paperwork signed and turned into the appropriate College of Arts and Sciences office before 5:00pm on the last day of classes of your graduation term.
All students must participate in a one-hour defense of their thesis project after it is complete. The defense is run by your faculty advisor and is attended by a second English department faculty reader. Arts and Sciences Honors students must have a third faculty reader from another department. Your faculty advisor will help with identifying and asking these faculty members.
“Defense” is the traditional name, but a thesis defense is more of a discussion. Your faculty advisor and reader(s) will have read the thesis prior to the defense, and in the defense, they will ask you questions about your work and offer comments. The discussion often covers topics such as why you undertook this project, your process, the thesis content, potential areas for improvement and avenues for further exploration. If you have questions about the structure of your particular thesis defense, consult with your faculty advisor—they will make sure you know what to expect and that you are prepared for it.
After this discussion, the faculty members will confer to discuss the merits of the project and if they would like any revisions to be made. We strongly encourage you to upload a copy of your thesis to the university’s Knowledge Bank.