A successful thesis requires a viable proposal, goal-setting, time management, and interpersonal skills on top of the disciplinary skills associated with your intended area of honors. This guide will walk you through the thesis process.
Planning the Senior Honors Thesis/Project
Students planning a thesis will be registered for the 1 or 2 credit-hour Thesis Proposal Preparation during the semester before their senior year (spring of junior year for those in a traditional four year program). During this proposal preparation semester the student and faculty advisor will work together to narrow the thesis topic, write the proposal, and create a reading list. The student will be required to attend a series of workshops during the semester that offer assistant with library resources, Writing Center services, and Honors College expectations.
The thesis student and the faculty advisor will sign a contract at the beginning of the semester that states clearly our expectations for the proposal and outlines in detail those workshops listed above (see example on page 25). Student attendance at these workshops is mandatory and the student will not be registered for the remaining thesis hours if s/he cannot demonstrate satisfactory completion.
At the end of this semester, the student should be prepared to submit a polished proposal. More information on the thesis proposal is provided later in this section.
Selecting an Advisor
All theses must be formally directed by a full-time member of the Kent State University faculty in an appropriate discipline and defended before a committee of the faculty. Co-advisors are permitted if necessary. A student with a history major, for instance, might wish to do a thesis that deals with the literary trends of a particular historical period (e.g., the Restoration or the French Revolution). In such a case, the student could have a primary advisor from History and a co-advisor from English. In another case, a student might have a double major—e.g., French and International Relations—and might wish to do the thesis in such a way that both areas are covered, perhaps writing the thesis in French but on an international relations topic. In such a case, co-advisors would be essential. In general, however, the student chooses a single advisor in his/her major discipline and, with the help of that advisor (and the Honors staff, if necessary), judiciously chooses the remaining members of the oral defense committee.
The advisor should be not only a person quite knowledgeable about the area the student wishes to explore but also one with whom the student has a reasonably good working relationship. In some cases, the student may know the general topic he or she wishes to explore and will search for an advisor who is an expert on that topic; in other cases, the students may wish to work with a particular advisor, whatever the topic, and will ask that person for guidance in selecting a specific topic. Many faculty members, understandably, will not take on the direction of a thesis/project for a student whom they have not had in class or have not directed in previous independent study. Some advisors will allow the student wide choice of topic; others may prefer that the student join their own ongoing research project.
Selecting a Topic
As indicated in the preceding section, some students start with an idea, others start with an advisor. Some students select a topic about which they are curious and desire to know more. Others are motivated less by a personally attractive topic than by the apprenticeship opportunity in a team doing cutting-edge research, where the topic is already well defined. Either way, at the heart of the thesis or creative project is the motivation to learn. Even if the topic has been fairly well defined by others, the student will have to learn enough about it to write the thesis proposal in her or his own words. If the student is initiating the topic, the advisor will help refine it for the proposal. A research topic should not suggest merely a synthesis of information, a sort of glorified research paper. Good topics do require background knowledge, but they should focus on an interesting question or problem that can be approached analytically, not just descriptively. A creative project should evoke hard thinking about the work to be done in its context of tradition and practice, and it should include an essay that steps back from the work to consider it intellectually. Above all, the topic must be realistic—that is, the student must be able to complete it satisfactorily in the semesters planned for the thesis. A topic that is too broad will not allow you to say something significant and interesting about it. A topic that is too ambitious may prevent timely graduation. Feasibility is a criterion for approval of a thesis proposal.
Drafting the Proposal
The thesis proposal is a formal document that sets forth the parameters of the intended work. Some care, therefore, should be given both to its content and its appearance. The proposal should be literate (i.e., no sentence faults or misspelled words), it should have substance, and it should be neatly presented. A thesis proposal should consist of four or five well-written paragraphs and should include a reading list.
It should reflect a carefully thought-out approach to the subject with sufficient elaboration to enable the advisor, the thesis coordinator, and the Honors dean to know just what it is the student intends to do. Sometimes a student will write a carefully-constructed paragraph describing the experiment he/she plans to carry out but will give no point of reference or framework that will allow the reader to see this project in a larger context. A related but opposite problem is writing a detailed and clear background statement and never getting around to stating what the actual thesis will entail.