Senior Thesis Resources
General resources and advice
- Advice for Senior Thesis Writers by Barbara Hall
- Senior Thesis Advice From Those Who Have Done It: Sections include General Advice and Morale Boosting, Defining a Topic and Doing Research, Working with your Adviser, Writing and Revising, Navigating the Emotional Dimensions of Thesis, and Department Specific Advice
How do I go about choosing a topic?
What can I do to get started the summer before senior year?
If you want to get started, one thing you can do is brainstorm about potential topics for your thesis project, typically based on prior coursework. In some disciplines, it may be helpful to look through previous syllabi or course projects to discern patterns of interest. What kinds of questions or themes have you been drawn to repeatedly? You might talk with faculty members in your department near the end of your junior spring; you can bounce ideas off of them and ask them to suggest summer reading related to your areas of interest. In the fall, you’ll bring some potential ideas to your advisor and work with them to define a topic. It’s best not to get too far along until you talk with them.
How do I go about conducting research? What research resources do I have access to through Haverford Libraries?
- Research Librarians by Subject Area
- Library Senior Thesis Resources
- Advanced Research Strategies workshop
- Additional Research Tutorials
How do I organize my research?
Develop an organizational system before you get too deep into your research. There are many ways to do this. One way is to keep a physical notebook or digital folders where everything thesis-related can live. Take robust research notes, with page numbers and key themes and passages, so that you can easily find a source when you need it. There’s nothing more frustrating than searching and searching for a quotation you want to incorporate but can’t find. Consider cross-referencing or color-coding some notes, so that you can more easily locate notes from different sources related to the same theme or sub-topic. You can use Zotero or other software (librarians can teach you how to do this) if you like to keep track of your sources in this way.
- Zotero Tutorial, Haverford Libraries
How do I create an annotated bibliography, literature review or abstract?
- Annotated Bibliographies, UNC Writing Center
- Literature Reviews, UNC Writing Center
- Abstracts, UNC Writing Center
- How to Write an Abstract by Tyler Bradway
- Writing an Annotated Bibliography, Haverford Libraries
- Writing a Literature Review, Haverford Libraries
When do I actually start writing?
Some thesis writers believe they need to complete all their research before they begin writing. Not so! You can write informally throughout the research process. Taking thoughtful notes on your reading is a form of writing. Jotting down organizing ideas or additional research questions is a form of writing. In the humanities, drafting a close reading of a portion of a text gives you something to work with later in the process. A senior thesis is rarely written in a linear way, from the beginning to the end; rather, it typically takes form by piecing together reading and research notes; a literature review and theoretical framework; data, interviews, close readings, or other primary evidence; and informal drafts of your analysis. When you’re ready to start writing a full draft of the project, your task will be easier if you have some informal writing to incorporate. In some disciplines, it’s helpful to come up with subtitles for different sections and to gradually write 5-7 page drafts of each sub-section, not necessarily in order. It’s helpful to your reader as well as to you as a writer to break the project into sections. It may be useful to draft a working introduction and, when appropriate, a literature review, but keep in mind that you’ll need to revise the introduction once you’ve written a full draft. We learn what we want to say by writing, and by the time you’ve completed a draft, you will likely want to tweak the introduction.
How can I create a writing schedule?
Reflect on your writing habits, both productive habits and unproductive ones. What time of day works best for you? Do you like to write alone or in the company of others? Are there particular spaces on campus or off campus where you like to work? What habits impede your writing? Once you’ve given some thought to your writing process, create a weekly schedule and add it to your google calendar or whatever form of calendar works for you: your schedule might be writing one hour every day, or it might be larger chunks of time three or four days a week. Some days will be more productive than others; that’s part of the process. Procrastination is often part of the process, too; think about how you procrastinate and build in some time for your procrastination rituals. If you create a weekly schedule, you won’t feel as if you need to work on your thesis at every free moment. Put in your scheduled time, and then take a break. Your brain will still be working out thesis problems while you’re doing something else. Clock in and clock out. Take a walk or a run. Share a meal with a friend. Take a nap. Do whatever replenishes you and gives you energy to tackle your thesis again the next day.
How can I navigate the emotional dimensions of the thesis, and what can help when I’m feeling confused and behind on my thesis?
Are there strategies that can help me with writing anxiety and procrastination?
How do I nurture a productive relationship with my adviser and figure out how best to respond to their feedback?
How can I build a thesis support network within and beyond my department?
Start with your fellow majors. If your thesis adviser sets up collective meetings with their advisees, or your department organizes you into pods, that group can be a core support network for you. You can also organize a meeting of this group or a regular meeting of other majors you know. It’s important to share information, questions, and strategies for navigating both the academic and emotional dimensions of the process. The Writing Center will match you with a senior thesis writing partner on request, typically a fellow senior in your major of division. (Email the Director at klindgre [at] haverford.edu to request a partner, or fill out this form). The Writing Center also has faculty tutors who have worked with a lot of seniors and are familiar with the ups and downs of writing a senior thesis. You can also find your own partner–a friend or fellow major– and establish weekly meetings for mutual help with brainstorming, accountability, and problem solving. Of course there will be plenty of work you’re doing on your own, but at every stage you can share questions, preliminary writing, and the inevitable thesis anxieties with other thesis writers. Even when you’re researching or writing alone, you can do so in shared space with other writers. You can reserve a study room in the library or join a regularly scheduled time and space such as Write Here Write Now or Thesis Café, both of which are organized by the Writing Center and OAR.
How do I prepare for an oral presentation of my thesis?
The oral presentation is a highly distilled version of your thesis that should cover your key research questions, key findings, and key examples of your evidence or data, whether that’s in the form of close readings of texts, visual art, film or video clips; ethnographies or interviews; tables, graphs, and figures; or other forms of representing and analyzing evidence. You are welcome to make a Writing Center appointment to work on preparing and practicing your talk; you can also work with our Oral Communication Specialist, Nimisha Ladva.
- Tips for Preparing and Practicing a Senior Thesis Presentation
- Tips for Preparing and Practicing a Presentation in Math
Are there other things I can read if I want more information about strategies for tackling a thesis project?
The Writing Center and the OAR have many books about writing that you can borrow, including:
- Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
- The Clockwork Muse: A Practical Guide to Writing Theses, Dissertations, and Books, by Eviatar Zerubavel
- How to Write a Lot, by Paul J. Silvia
- The Craft of Research, by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams
- How to Write a BA Thesis, by Charles Lipson