University of Vermont

The Honors College

How to Write an Honors Thesis:

By Rachel Conrad

Rachel Conrad

To successfully pursue college honors, I suggest you follow the directions I have outlined below. I've only made it through step eleven, but I've got my fingers crossed that everything else will go according to plan.

  1. Pick a topic. (Or don't. It is likely going to change five times anyway, so you could just skip right to step two).
  2. Make coffee, and drink it.
  3. Attempt to find an adviser, read a bunch, change (or, if you skipped step one, choose) your topic, look for a new adviser, change your topic again, and do more reading.
  4. Drink more coffee. .
  5. Write three drafts of your proposal over spring break, go on a cross-campus scavenger hunt to accumulate the appropriate signatures, submit everything by the deadline, and pray to whichever deity you see fit that it is accepted the first time.
  6. While you're waiting to hear back from the proposal committee, get yourself a cup of coffee.
  7. Spend a good portion of your summer in the library or lab, doing research. You like books and Petri dishes better than the sunlight, anyway.
  8. People will inevitably ask what your project is all about; you should practice coming up with a concise, complete, and articulate answer. You'd be surprised how difficult it is to explain a year's worth of research in two sentences or fewer. (It's best to have a short version for the people who are only asking to be nice and a longer version for those who really care).
  9. At some point, you'll need to realize that you cannot actually read everything that may be tangentially related to your topic, which has probably changed again by now, and decide to start writing.
  10. Procrastinate, then pull an all-nighter to make a self-imposed deadline. Spend the next day alternating between falling asleep in class and drinking coffee.
  11. Revise. A lot. Be prepared to hate half of what you write, delete most of it, and start again. If you're working in a lab, foresee setbacks, explosions, and rats that bite.
  12. Print and submit your final copy. The Honors College will give you money to print, so you can use what you saved to buy more coffee.
  13. Passionately defend the tiresome tyrant that has ruled your life for the past year and a half, or more, to your thesis committee.
  14. Depending on how you feel afterwards, either frame your final copy or burn it. If you opt for the latter, keep a backup somewhere in case you change your mind or want to apply to graduate school.
  15. Finally, see the payoff for a job well done and graduate with honors. Don't forget to mention that on your resume, it may come in handy some day.
  16. About the author: Rachel Conrad is not an anti-intellectual. She may, however, have a coffee addiction. She is currently between steps eleven and twelve on the "How to Write an Honor's Thesis" list. Assuming you want the short version, her project, advised by Professor Elizabeth Fenton in the English department and titled "Transforming Tuberculosis: A Brief History of Literary Consumption and Henry James's The Wings of the Dove", first details the shifts in medical, socio-cultural, and literary perceptions of tuberculosis at the turn of the twentieth century and then provides a close reading of the aforementioned text through this critical lens. If she doesn't burn the thing, she'd be more than willing to let you read it.

    Last modified April 01 2010 01:21 PM