Writing a Senior Thesis
by Karise Carrillo and Alyssa Lundahl
What is a Senior Thesis?
A senior thesis is an undergraduate project, which may take the form of a paper, presentation, or creative performance (depending on your discipline). A senior thesis is modeled after the master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation. The goal is to demonstrate an undergraduate’s ability to independently and creatively think about a topic usually requiring research.
Why Write a Thesis?
- Fulfills requirements for the Honor’s Program
- Looks terrific on a Curriculum Vitae
- May allow you to graduate with distinction
- Helps you gain additional experience with research writing
- Helps you decide if you would like to continue with an academic career – graduate school consists of writing many papers!
How to Write on Time
Theses require a lot of work and have multiple steps. Be mindful of the following when crafting your thesis:
- Enroll in your department’s senior thesis class (an independent study).
- Determine deadlines for submission – various colleges, departments, and the Honors Program may have separate due dates.
- Choose faculty advisors who will help you and have time for you.
- Plan your defense early – consider your own and your advisors’ schedules in advance. You’ll need to schedule plenty of time for revisions.
- Submit early to allow time to re-submit documents that may get lost or corrupted in transit.
- Fill out appropriate graduation forms (regardless of whether or not you are in the Honors Program).
- If working on a faculty member’s project, ask EARLY in the writing process about whether you can submit part of their project as a senior thesis. You don’t want to hear “NO” at your defense!
Thesis Writing Tips
- Consider using or expanding upon your McNair or UCARE research or choose a topic that is manageable for an undergraduate project.
- In Neihardt, there are manuscripts of past senior honors theses to peruse.
- Use the appropriate manuscript style for your discipline (e.g., APA, ASA, MLA, Chicago). Unless this is a creative arts project, use the structure from your discipline. This isn’t a free write!
- Know the appropriate paper length for your discipline and stay within that range.
- Clear writing = clear thinking. In the words of Dr. Richard Lombardo, keep your readers in mind when writing. Don’t simply try to sound smart. Your goal is to educate others on a topic with which you are most familiar.
- Have many people read your thesis for revisions and content (e.g., faculty mentors, graduate student mentors, McNair staff, friends and family – this helps to ensure laypersons can read it).
- Don’t be downcast if you need revisions after your defense; this only improves your paper!
Note: Be sure to check with the requirements of your department to ensure that these guidelines apply to your specific program of study.