5 Tips on Writing Your First Undergraduate Honors Thesis…
Writing an undergraduate Honors Thesis is one of the most important factors for graduating with Honors at Emory & Henry. Not only does the successful completion of an Honors Thesis illustrate your mastery of your major(s), but it also is one of the best ways to prepare for the large-scale projects that await in graduate school or your future career. For more information on the Honors Program’s thesis process, visit the Honors Thesis Purpose page (coming soon). But for now, let me reassure you of something; while the task of writing a thesis may sound daunting, it isn’t as bad as you might think, and here are some tips to help you get started.
Tip 1: Start early, but not too early.
While most students become masters at the art of procrastination during their time as undergraduates, there are just some things that you want to give yourself plenty of time to accomplish. Planning, researching, and writing a thesis, even an undergraduate thesis, takes a significant amount of time, and you need to make sure that you leave yourself plenty of time to effectively complete every step of the process.
The Honors Program helps you begin this process during the spring of your junior year through a one-credit Honors Thesis seminar, and it is at this point that you really need to get down to business. If you have a topic in mind before then, that’s great, but it is by no means necessary; if you go into this class having barely thought about your thesis at all for the past 2.5 years that you have been in school, then you will still be perfectly fine. This class is meant to guide you through all of the introductory steps of picking a topic, forming a research question, beginning your research, and drafting a thesis proposal. With these basic steps out of the way, you will be in good shape to work on your research over the summer - which is highly recommended - and be able to come back for your senior year ready to write and refine.
Tip 2: Work closely with your advisor or committee.
One of your essential resources during the thesis process will be your thesis committee. This is a group of faculty at Emory & Henry, and outside readers if applicable, who will help guide you through the research and writing phases of your thesis. They will also form the panel to which you have to defend your thesis during the spring of your senior year before you can graduate with a College Honors Diploma. Both of these aspects mean that you should work very closely with your committee members, or at least with your main advisor, while researching, writing, and revising your thesis; not only will they provide a wealth of knowledge to help you along the way, but they will also ensure that you have patched any holes and answered any crucial questions before you go in to defend your thesis, which will ultimately help the defense go much more smoothly. Remember - even though the thesis is your project, you are never in it alone.
Tip 3: Do something that interests you.
Choosing a topic on which to write a thesis is a daunting task, as, no matter what you choose, the process of completing a thesis in that subject will be difficult. However, there are some things that you can keep in mind during that first decision process that will make the rest of the thesis be a little bit easier.
First, try to pick a topic that interests you. You will spend a lot of time researching and writing on that topic, and the more invested you are in the topic, the easier it will be to stay motivated and focused throughout the entire project. Remember that being interested in something is not necessarily being passionate about it; it is often beneficial to pick a topic in which you are interested but not passionate, as this will help you maintain the sort of scholarly distance that is necessary to argue your thesis objectively. If no topics of this sort immediately come to mind, one helpful place to start can be thinking through previous research papers and topics that you have found engaging and see if you may want to expand one into a full thesis.
Second, remember to be creative. While the majority of honors theses take the form of a written paper, different disciplines may allow you to alter the format of your thesis to something that is more compatible with your interests. For instance, Mary Ruth Pruitt (class of 2014) combined her love of illustration with her passion for writing in the form of The Rodentiad, a graphic novelization of Homer’s Illiad; while there was still an essay portion of her thesis, the main component was her graphic novel. If you have a creative format for your thesis in mind, then feel free to run it by Dr. Lane and see what he thinks; the Honors Program is always open to new ideas.
Tip 4: Set small goals.
One of the reasons that the Honors Program encourages students to start their thesis process early is because this makes the timeline of the project much more manageable. However, this is only true if you use that time to your advantage. One of the best ways to do this is to set small goals. For example, if you set a goal to read and annotate two sources per week over the summer, then you will come back to school in August with at least 20 sources ready to go. Larger goals, however, are much less manageable; for instance, if you set yourself a goal to “research the thesis topic” over the summer, you may be much less prepared when other deadlines start to roll around.
I keep mentioning working over the summer because of the importance of managing your time and working consistently. As you are planning your research schedule and setting goals for yourself, keep in mind when you will have more time to work on your research (such as breaks) and when you may have less time (such as during exam periods). While you want to work as consistently as possible, recognizing when you will have less time to work makes it easier to make up for those times when your schedule may be more forgiving.
Another way to make setting small goals effective is to have someone (or multiple someones) to keep you accountable to those goals. If you are writing an honors thesis, then you are already probably a relatively self-motivated student; however, it is always helpful to have someone on your side to keep you motivated to meet your goals. This person doesn’t have to be your advisor; in fact, it may be less stressful to you to make this person a relative or a good friend. Just make sure that they are on board with the process from beginning to end!
Tip 5: Don’t Panic.
Are you scared yet? If you are, then don’t worry; you can do this. Remember that you have a gigantic team behind you - friends, family, professors, your honors cohort, the rest of the program - who all want to help you succeed. Even though the bulk of the project is your responsibility, that does not mean that you are in this alone. Talk to your advisors and current honors scholars and alumni about any concerns that you may have; they will be more than willing to help you through it, as they have all done this before too. Also, remember to talk to everyone who is interested in your project. Not only will their encouragement help keep you motivated, but those conversations can be the best way to formulate new ideas and arguments that will help you along the line. Remember, when you were accepted into the Honors Program, you started down a path that would prepare you for this moment, so don’t fret, and good luck!