Tips for Writing an Honors Thesis

Tips for Writing an Honors Thesis

A. Plan ahead: field research, or not?
B. Choosing a topic
C. Finding your faculty advisor
D. Writing a prospectus
E. Compiling a bibliography
F. Doing the research
G. Writing the thesis

A. Plan ahead: field research, or not?  The LACS Senior Thesis is a great opportunity to turn a semester or a summer abroad into a research project. If you think you might want to write your thesis on your own research abroad, you should talk with a LACS advisor before heading out, and work on defining a topic in advance. If you do want to do a field research project in Latin America or the Caribbean, your work will be much easier (and your results much better) if you do all of the following steps, except for the actual write-up, before you leave. We at LACS are investigating possible sources of funding for LACS majors who want to do research abroad during the summer before the senior year.

B. Choosing a topic.  Planning for your senior thesis, which you should begin during your Junior year, starts with defining a topic. For help in defining a topic, talk with the LACS undergraduate advisor or with any of the teachers of your LACS courses.

C. Finding your faculty advisor.  Before the end of your Junior year, approach a faculty member to serve as your thesis director. This may be a professor who has taught a favorite course, or a faculty member who has worked on a related topic (whether or not you have ever had a class with him or her). For help in finding a professor who can help you work on your topic, talk with the LACS undergraduate advisor.

D. Writing a prospectus. By the beginning of your Senior year (in September, if you plan to graduate in May), write a one-page (300 word) prospectus. The prospectus is a kind of preliminary guideline that you write for yourself (and your advisor). In it, you should set out what your topic is; how you plan to research it; and give a brief review of the available written work on your topic.

E. Compiling a bibliography.  Now that you have a topic, go to the library (or search on MIRLYN) and find out what other scholars have already written on the subject. Share your bibliography with your thesis advisor, who will probably be able to help you refine it—add other titles that you will find useful and interesting; steer you away from unpromising approaches. If you are going to do field research, you will find that it really helps to do some reading before you start. You will have a much better idea of what to expect, what to look for, what hasn't been done yet, and which approaches will be most fruitful. (If you aren't going to do field research, then the bibliography is even more crucial!)

F. Doing the research.  Will you be going abroad to do research? It will go best if you have a clear idea of what you are looking for and what ways you will be using to find it. If your research involves people, please contact the LACS advisor to discuss Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval. Even if you finish your research by the end of the summer before your senior year, you will probably need to do a fair amount of reading on the topic during the following semester. If you do not do research abroad, then the reading is your research. If your thesis research is substantial or time-consuming, or if you have a need to develop an understanding of research procedures for your approach, you may find it worthwhile to enroll in the junior honors seminar or an independent study course in a relevant department.

G. Writing the thesis. Before your last semester at UM begins, let the LACS Student Advisor know to give you an override for enrolling in LACS 399, the Senior Thesis writing course. This operates as an independent study course; the shape of the course depends on arrangements that you make with your thesis advisor. Usually you will follow the following timeline:

  • Before enrolling in 399: complete all the steps above (define your topic, find an advisor, write a prospectus, compile a bibliography, compile a bibliography for your topic.
  • Early January: Meet with your thesis director, present your preliminary bibliography and get suggestions for further reading, and make arrangements for regular meetings during the semester.
  • By early February: Give your advisor a complete bibliography and a detailed outline of your thesis.
  • March: Give your advisor a first draft of your thesis.
  • April: Final draft of thesis due to your advisor by the date that you agree upon, which should be no later than the last day of classes. (Some advisors require the thesis one to two weeks earlier; be sure to agree upon this point at the outset.)
  • One copy of your thesis should be left with the LACS office at the end of the semester. (Ask your advisor whether s/he wishes to keep a copy as well.)