Writing an Honors Thesis in Political Science

There are two types of honors thesis: 

1. The Honors Program requires a thesis from its students. For this thesis, you choose one adviser, and you follow whatever expectations and requirements are set by the adviser or negotiated with the adviser. This thesis is due by the end of your last semester. When you finish, obtain a form from the Honors Program and have your adviser sign it, indicating that you've completed this requirement. More information can be found on the Honors Program website, or in the Thesis Handbook
2. The College of Arts and Sciences allows a thesis from its students who want to graduate with a higher level of "distinction" than they would merit without a thesis. (See the College's website for types of "distinction" and cutoffs of GPA.) For this thesis, the expectations are higher, the procedures are more elaborate, and the deadline is earlier. 
The thesis for the College will satisfy the demands of the Honors Program, though the thesis for the Honors Program won't satisfy the demands of the College. 

Students who aren't in the Honors Program may do an honors thesis for the college if they locate faculty members who are willing to serve as their advisers.

The rest of these guidelines apply only to the thesis for the College. 

How to Begin: Contact two faculty membres to serve as advisers. Normally they should have expertise in the area in which you want to research. Usually both will be in political science, though students can have an adviser in another department or even another college. (When you have an adviser from another department or college, you need to decide which procedures to use if there's a difference.)

With your advisers' approval, you may register for up to six hours of Political Science 399H. (Complete a form and obtain the supressed code number from the department's undergraduate adviser.) You may take the six hours in one semester or spread over two to three semesters. Usually students take three hours in the fall of their senior year. Normally advisers give an 'incomplete' for the first semester and, once the thesis is done, a grade that applies to each semester. Obtain the official forms from the College's website, the College's Advising Office (107 Oldfather) or the Dean's Office (1223 Oldfather). 

Schedule: You need to start sooner than many students plan to, because the thesis is more time consuming than most students expect it to be. 

Second Semester Junior Year: In addition to the above steps, decide your topic. See "Nature of the Thesis" below.) To decide your topic, you will probably need to do preliminary research at least.

First Semester Senior Year: Do the rest of your research or all of the research. You may want to begin the writing. You must fill out the "Prospectus Form" and have your advisers sign it. Then retain this form until you submit it with your completed thesis. 

Second Semester Senior Year: During the first month and a half, wrap up loose ends and write the thesis. Hand in your completed draft and schedule the oral exam. (See "Nature of the Comprehensive Exam" below.) Some advisers may ask you to hand in sections as you go along rather than the entire thesis all at once. 

The thesis is due to the College about six weeks before commencement (late March for spring graduation). Check here for the exact date. This deadline means that the draft should be turned in about one month sooner (early March for spring graduation). You need to give your advisers time to read it, mark it, and suggest changes, from stylistic improvements to substantive revisions, and then allow yourself time to make the changes. You also need to allot time for the exam and time for your advisers to write an evaluation of your thesis and your performance on the exam. (Note to advisers: Use the "Thesis Evaluation Form," which the students should provide.)

Note: this deadline means that most of the work needs to be done before this semester. You will have only about six weeks during this semester to work on the thesis.

When everything has been done, the advisers will submit your thesis, with the required forms, to the College.

Nature of the Thesis: The thesis should be different in scope, not just greater in length, than a research paper for a class. You should try to do original research, in which you can make an original contribution to the existing research on the topic. You should not do merely a literature survey of the existing research, in which you piece together the conclusions of other researchers and writers.

However, the department understands that it's easier to define "original research" in the abstract than in practice and also understands that faculty might have slightly different views as to what constitutes original research. At a minimum, you need to pose a problem or question, conduct a study that illuminates it, and draw a conclusion from the findings. In the process, you need to demonstrate sustained effort and substantial rigor. For further guidance, you may want to peruse copies of past theses in the department office. 

The advisers may set whatever page length seems appropriate.

The thesis must include an abstract of not more than one page identifying the topic and summarizing the methods, findings, and conclusions. The thesis also must include references (footnotes or endnotes or other form of references) and a bibliography. The advisers may require a particular style, though the department does not. Whatever style is used should be clear and consistent.

Nature of the Comprehensive Exam: The College requires a "comprehensive exam," which may be written or oral. Normally it is oral, and it is a defense of the thesis. It is essentially an informal conversation in which the advisers ask questions about the methods, conclusions, and implications of the thesis and perhaps questions about the relationship between the thesis and other research or knowledge in political science. The advisers may request a written exam instead. 

Whether an oral or written exam, the advisers will write a paragraph summarizing your performance. (Note to advisers: Use the "Thesis Evaluation Form," which the student should provide. If the exam was written, you must attach a copy of the question and answers.)

An oral exam may seem like a daunting prospect, but the higher hurdle is the thesis itself. If you can do the thesis, you should be able to answer questions about it. Don't worry about the exam. 

Graduation with "Distinction:": The Department does not determine whether students graduate with "distinction." The College of Arts and Sciences Committee on Academic Distinction and Awards for Students determines whether students graduate with "distinction" after it considers various aspects of students' records-the GPA, the strength of the program, the number of courses taken P/N, the number of courses taken at the 300 and 400 levels, as well as the thesis and the advisers' evaluation of the thesis. Most, though not all, students who complete a thesis do receive the level of "distinction" that their GPA and thesis could qualify them for. 

For more information, visit the College of Arts and Science's page here