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Bryn Thompson, Administrative Assistant

Guide to Senior Essay

In November of your senior year, you will be asked to submit a proposal for the essay to the English Department. Below are suggestions for Writing the Thesis Proposal. Please use this link for the "Launching Your Senior Essay" document that contains suggestions and ideas for thesis preparation.


Be sure your name and the project title are on the prospectus. Please turn in two hard copies to the English dept. office.


  • To demonstrate to your audience the viability of your project.
  • To define the project for your senior thesis.
  • To locate yourself within the critical debate about your chosen literary texts.

The faculty members who read your proposal will evaluate its viability.

  • Will the question or problem you intend to investigate work as a project? I.e., is it a substantial problem, not trivial or obvious? Is it focused enough? Can it be explored in 30 to 40 pages and completed in one semester?
  • Can you use the tools of literary analysis to which you've been introduced in other courses?
  • Are you familiar enough with the works in question? Are you far enough along in your thinking for a one-semester project?

Your proposal should also be useful to you, the writer.

  • It should help you crystallize your thinking; sharply define the problem you wish to address; and provide you with direction for the early stages of your investigation.
  • Define the problem that makes this paper important, even necessary; suggest why you want to pursue it.
  • Explain how you will proceed: What is your strategy for addressing this problem and for clarifying its issues? What is your method or theoretical approach? It need not be a named school; it may simply be a focused close reading. Whatever method you choose, explain why it suits this problem.
  • Give some indication of how far along you are in the project: What research has been done? Are any sources particularly relevant? Does your project grow out of significant reading or writing you've already done, or out of a course you've taken?
  • Suggest what you hope to discover in writing the thesis; this may take the form of some tentative conclusions or a set of hypotheses that build on your current understanding of the problem.
  • You need not describe your sources in the proposal itself, unless your project involves a well-known critical debate -- or if you've learned something particular from a critic who applies the same analytic tools to similar texts.
  • As part of your thesis proposal, you are required to submit a preliminary annotated bibliography that gives readers a sense of the scope of your research to date, and possible future directions. Annotations, while brief, should indicate how you intend to integrate these texts and ideas into your own project. You should include both primary and secondary sources, including texts that you will use to support the methodological or theoretical underpinnings of your thesis. You can also include some works that you have not yet read, but that you think may be useful based on initial research.
  • Demonstrate your scrupulous attention to sentence structure, diction, grammar and punctuation.

Reminder: Your proposal is not a contract. Your project is likely to change, expand, or shrink in unexpected ways as your thinking and your research evolve. Your proposal, however, must stand on its own as a workable plan.

In late April of your senior year, you will be asked to submit your Senior Essay in its final form to the English Department for review.

The essay should be 30-40 pages long ,not including notes, bibliography and other apparatus. The text should be double spaced and typeface should be set in a readable, 12 point font like Times New Roman. Margins should be 1" all around. Essays should conform to the guidelines for style and format in The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers.

The final draft of the essay should also include these elements:

1. Title Page
  • Title (Ex.: "Obscure Desires in 19th Century Novels")
  • Name
  • Class
  • Date
  • for (name, adviser)
  • Department of English
  • At the bottom of the title page: a short paragraph, or precis, 100 words, summarizing the essay.
2. Body of Essay
3. Notes
4. Bibliography

Once you turn your two bound essays in, they are distributed to your thesis adviser and to a second reader, who is another faculty member in the Department. Your adviser will write his or her response to your essay as well as reflect upon the semester as a whole. The second reader will offer his or her comments only on the final draft of your thesis.
Your thesis adviser will read the second reader's report, and your adviser may use his or her report to explain or respond to the second reader's comments. You will receive both reports in full. You can typically pick up your reports in the English Department office during Senior Week.
After you read through your reports, we encourage you to meet with your thesis adviser to discuss any questions or responses you might have, as well as to think about how these reports can be useful for your future endeavors.

You will receive one grade on your thesis, which will reflect the grades given both by your thesis adviser and the second reader. If there is a great disparity between the responses of the first and second readers, the essay will be given to a third reader to resolve the difference; that reader offers only a grade evaluation and no comments.

Essay Schedule - Spring 2016


January 19

First day of classes


February 12

Ten pages due in your adviser's box or via email (whichever you both decide in advance) by 5:00 p.m.


March 4

Ten more pages are due in your adviser's box by 5:00 p.m. (this is the last day of classes before spring break).


March 25

Rough draft of complete thesis due in your adviser's box by 5:00 p.m.


April 25

Two bound copies of the essay are due in the English House Office by 5:00 p.m. Celebratory refreshments served on the lawn (rain site in the ante room).