My So-Called Honors Thesis: Getting Started

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During the summer and the early part of fall semester, all of the honors seniors are still in the initial research stage. We’re gathering more and more information about our topics, broadening our knowledge while narrowing our specific questions. Our ideas are developing, evolving, and for many of us, they’re changing. This is normal; they probably will continue to change throughout the entire process.

I don’t know how my fellow writers feel, but I do know that just the idea of writing a paper this long stresses me out—let alone the actual work. So, how do we deal with this stress enough to accomplish something of value during the next couple of months?

1. Use our advisers.

That’s what they’re there for. They’re helpful with motivation (if you have someone checking up on you every few weeks, expecting you to have something tangible, you’re going to get some work done) and with information (if you’re stumped, they’ll at least be able to point you in the direction of some good literature on the subject).

2. Break up the work.

My adviser helped me a lot with this, actually. I’m an English major, and my thesis is about travel literature. More specifically, my thesis is looking at the relationship between travel writing and the idea of “Otherness,” how they have interacted and influenced each other throughout the years, both by looking at examples of the normal relationship and by looking at two exceptions to the norm, Margaret Fuller’s At Home and Abroad and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love.

Sounds complicated. But my adviser helped me break it down, and these are now my research steps:

  • Research travel literature, its definition and history
  • Research/define “Otherness” (briefly, anything different from the self)
  • Look at examples of the normal relationship between the two
  • Consider: how is Fuller an exception?
  • Consider: how is Gilbert an exception?

This is still only the initial research part of the project; it will (hopefully) all be synthesized in the final draft. Yet, separating these ideas now and giving myself a deadline for every point makes the initial research seem more manageable and much less mentally taxing.

3. Work on it every day.

I’ve found this is the best way to stay on track. If you do some reading, note-taking, freewriting, etc, every day, even if it’s only for 15 minutes, you’ll get used to working on your project. The work will become routine. Some days you’ll have to work more than others, obviously, but for now, doing a bit of productive work every day will help us stay on top of things.

4. Stay organized.

This part is difficult for me. Normally, I’m almost ridiculously unorganized, but I know that with a project this big, I’m going to be in big trouble later on if I don’t keep track of my sources, information, and notes. I’m still working on different methods of organization, but that’s what my next post will be about. Until then, good luck!



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