• English Department


  • Senior Thesis Information

    As part of your degree requirements in English, you will be asked to write a senior thesis. This letter outlines the objectives of the senior thesis and provides general guidelines for completing the project.

    What is a senior thesis?

    Your senior thesis is a long analytical and interpretive paper (about 25 pp) or a work of creative writing on a topic of your choice. The thesis is completed under the supervision of an English Department faculty member.

    As a capstone experience in the English major, the senior thesis will demonstrate your ability to engage a significant question about literature: it will display your proficiency as a reader and writer, show your aptitude for research, prove your ability to evaluate secondary sources, and give you the opportunity to develop a cogent analysis and interpretation of a literary work or its equivalent (e.g. film, theatre production). If your focus is on creative writing or pedagogy, you will be able to present a work of poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction as your thesis, or explore a topic related to teaching methodology.

    As you move through the major requirements, you should look at each class and each paper as possible stepping stones to this capstone requirement.

    When do I write my thesis?

    Normally, students sign up for thesis in their senior year. Thesis is designated as ENG 434 and is equivalent to one credit hour. However, it is also possible to complete one’s thesis in the junior year. Because the project often requires more time than anticipated, the Department strongly encourages students to sign up for thesis no later than the fall semester of their senior year. (Theses attempted in the spring semester of the senior year often result in near-nervous breakdowns and work of unremarkable quality.)

    How do I write my thesis?

    The best strategy is to divide the project into several stages.

    Finding a topic. As you approach your senior year, recall the English courses you have taken. Ask yourself: what has interested me in the courses I have pursued? What was my best paper? Could I develop this paper into a thesis? The subject you investigate should matter to you, so that the time you devote to it will be enriching and worthwhile.

    • For literature concentration: Consider what period, author, work, or question you would like to investigate. The project should advance your thinking and deepen your knowledge of literature.
    • For writing concentration: You can develop a work of poetry or fiction into a thesis project. You may also develop a topic concerning a writer's technique as crafted throughout his/her works (key texts, as an example) or a movement in writing.

    To propose a thesis in creative nonfiction, you must first complete Writing Creative Nonfiction, ENG 420. A creative nonfiction paper with a meta-cognitive and research attachment is required for this thesis. (Details will be discussed in depth with the faculty advisor.)

    • For English education majors: You may explore the subject of teaching writing with emphasis on methodology, the writing classroom environment, new practices grounded in writing theory, or the writing process with its history and practice in the classroom.
    • For double majors: Students who double major in English and another field may seek permission to write a double thesis. This is possible, although advisors from both departments have to approve the topic. It is also understood that the thesis receives a separate grade from each advisor.

    We recommend that you speak with different professors and ask them to help you clarify your ideas. Begin the process early, so that your topic and, possibly, preliminary research, are firmly established before the actual semester when you have to submit the thesis.

    Finding a thesis advisor

    Keeping your general topic in mind, seek out a faculty member who is best qualified to direct your thesis. For example, if you want to write about representations of women in Victorian fiction, you should work with an advisor who teaches courses and has expertise in that area. Stop by to discuss your proposed thesis with the professor during his or her office hours. Once a faculty member has agreed to be your advisor, you may sign up for thesis (ENG 434) with that person. Registration represents a commitment to complete your thesis under the guidance of the faculty member you have chosen.

    Writing the thesis

    After you have registered for thesis, visit your advisor during his or her office hours as soon as possible. At that time, you and your advisor will determine how frequently you should meet to discuss your progress, how to approach your research, what deadlines to set for reviewing rough drafts, how to develop arguments, etc. You should expect to hand in at least one rough draft and plan to complete the entire project by Thanksgiving break (for the fall semester) or by May 1st (for the spring semester).

    Attached are thesis evaluation forms for literature and creative writing adopted by the English Department. These forms do not determine your grade; rather, they are tools the Department uses to review how well students perform in the areas of analysis, research, and writing. The information is used strictly for the purposes of curriculum assessment and does not affect your grade. We supply the forms for your reference to use as guides for revising and proofreading your thesis.

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