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.

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