Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Senior Thesis?

A thesis is an original research project in a subject that interests you that will contribute to existing research in political science. It poses a clear and concise question. It theorizes as to what the answer to that question might be. It offers evidence to support a conclusion or argument.

What are the elements of the thesis?

A thesis generally has six components:

  1. a concise and clearly stated research question

  2. an overview and critique of the relevant scholarly literature

  3. a statement that answers the "so what" question; in other words, a justification of the import of the research question and a defense of the approach used to answer the question.

  4. a discussion of the materials/data that will be used to answer the question and a description of the methodology employed

  5. coherently written chapters that address the research question

  6. a conclusion that uses the research to answer the research question

How long is a thesis?

The length of theses vary, and they can range from 30 to 100 pages.

Is primary research indispensable for an honors thesis?

It is not compulsory to include primary sources in your research (e.g., historical archives, participant interviews, survey data). Nevertheless, depending on your subject, the use of these sources could greatly enhance your argument and help you achieve a higher level of honors. You and your advisor should determine what sources will be included in the thesis depending on the topic and the feasibility of collecting such data.

If I am a double-major, can I write a joint thesis?

Yes. Each department must approve the proposed topic.

How frequently must I meet with my advisor? How many hours per week must I work on my thesis?

There are no fixed standards. However, it is very important to the success of your thesis that you meet regularly with your advisor. Very early on in the advising process you and your advisor should reach an understanding on how often you will meet and on your individual calendar for thesis completion.

Can I work with a graduate student as a thesis advisor?

No. The department requires students to work with faculty members in their honors theses.

Can I write a thesis in one semester?

No. The department expects students to work for two semesters on their theses. Students studying abroad in the fall semester of their senior year must consult with the honors director, and agree on a plan of work, in the spring of their junior year.

What is Politics 99d, and do I have to take it?

Politics 99d is a required course for thesis writers; yes, you have to take it. You register for 99a/b or 99d with your thesis advisor.

How does the politics department help thesis writers?

The politics department has a series of seminars run by the Honors Director that are intended to assist students with their first-time effort to do serious social science research. The seminars offer insights into how to formulate a research question, structure a research design, gather data/evidence and organize a thesis. Students do not receive a grade for their participation in these seminars, but participation is strongly encouraged. These meetings are a great opportunity to ask questions, think through problems that you may have encountered in your work, and get guidance from the Honors Director.

Typically there are four seminar meetings in the fall; these are devoted to basic issues on how to conduct political science research, how to define a research question, how to find useful resources in the library. In the spring, there is one meeting during which we discuss the thesis defense, how to build a thesis committee, and how to format your thesis. 

Students may also apply for a small grant offered by the politics department to help cover their research-related expenses. The Greenberg Scholar grant program is especially valuable to students conducting original research who may need to travel to conduct interviews, to visit archives, or may require specialized equipment or software. Students writing honors theses are encouraged though not required to apply for this funding opportunity. The application deadline is in mid-October.  

What is Politics 50b, and do I have to take it?

Politics 50b is a course on research methods and modes of analysis in political science. While it is not currently required, it is strongly recommended that all students who are interested in writing a thesis take the course.

This goal of this course is to provide you with an introduction to the methods that political scientists use to answer questions about politics. Students in the course will examine the general framework for pursuing scholarly questions in political science as well as explore specific applications of methods employed in political science research. Students should emerge from the course better-equipped to undertake your own research and better able to evaluate the work of others.

How many copies of my thesis must I submit?

Prior to the oral defense you must submit four copies of your thesis (one to each of the readers and the honors director). After revisions, two copies must be submitted to the department.