My So-Called Honors Thesis: Getting Back in the Groove

The beginning of spring semester is marked every year by a case of Post-Break Sadness: spending break at home with our families, stuffing our faces with cookie dough, and napping to our hearts’ content was fantastic, but now we have to get back to work. Procrastination over even the simplest assignments is hard to combat (as I can easily attest–I even procrastinated on writing this blog post), and that goes double for going back to work on our honors theses.

While I closed out last semester feeling accomplished and even somewhat confident about my progress, I realized almost as soon as the ball dropped on New Year’s that our deadline seems much, much closer when viewed from this side of 2014. When the semester started, the pressure of it was daunting, and at times so overwhelming that I could not figure out how I was ever going to complete this project–how do I even begin again? Luckily, I figured out how (after a week and a half or so of whining to myself about it and making excuses not to walk to the library because of the ridiculous cold weather) and I came up with a few tips and steps to share.

1. Talk to your advisor and/or readers.

We are in the final semester now. Weekly meetings are probably necessary at this point, especially if you’re like me and need someone besides yourself to hold you accountable and keep you on track. When I know I have a meeting with my advisor coming up and that I have more work to do, Netflix looks, well, at least slightly less tempting, and I’m more likely to trek up to the library and be productive.

2. Ease in.

For me, at least, setting overambitious goals is a sure way to impede my progress. If I tell myself I will complete much more than I know I’m capable of, I will feel too overwhelmed to touch it. I came back from break thinking to myself, Sure, I haven’t thought about my thesis in three weeks, but of course I can jump right in and write ten pages before the week is out. But when I sat down with my books and actually thought about the amount of work in front of me, I psyched myself out.

I needed to get back in the mindset first. Start by rereading your draft(s), your notes, any information that brings you back to what interested you in the topic in the first place. Remind yourself why you’re putting yourself through all of this work. Once you’ve got your juices going again, then you have my permission to start writing again–but a little at a time, at first. Ease into the water, don’t dive in headfirst.

3. Work on it every day.

I’ve said this in previous posts, and I’ll say it again, if only to remind myself. Even if I’m only rereading what I’ve already written, or reading a few more pages of a book I need, thinking a little about the topic and the project every day keeps me in the mindset and keeps me going. Additionally, because we are in the last semester, I have to set aside many more chunks of time in the middle of the week to work on it–otherwise, I won’t finish in time.

4. Write.

Even if the research process is never fully over, there comes a time when we can no longer be afraid just to sit and write the thesis. Even if we haven’t read every single book listed on the reference page of that one really helpful source, or fully wrapped our minds around the idea of what “otherness” means to every person in every culture, ever, we have to get our own ideas out. It’s okay if I don’t fully understand everything that my critics Pratt or Said are saying, as long as I understand what I’m saying–and I won’t fully know until I write it all down. Our ideas are valuable, even if half-formed; and as for completing them, well, that happens as we go along and as we revise.

All in all, don’t let Post-Break Sadness get you down. Ease in, but don’t be afraid to get in the water. Once we’re back in the groove, we can feel more confident about finishing these projects and get back to enjoying our last, senioritis-and-application-filled semester in peace.

My So-Called Honors Thesis: Organizing Sources

As an often ridiculously disorganized person, one of the hardest things for me to do during the long process of writing this thesis is keeping all of my sources straight. Right now, I have probably over 20 sources, including books, articles, parts I’ve photocopied from books, etc. I have lists of writers given to me by my readers and advisor that I’m supposed to look up. I have my primary sources, and books I found at Half Price Books that looked like they could potentially be helpful but haven’t even touched yet. How do I keep track of the growing mound of sources on my bedroom floor?

Well, first of all, I should probably put them somewhere other than the floor. That would be a good start. But, luckily, I found a few tips on how to keep everything straight.

1) Pick a uniform way to keep a list of your sources. Whether you want it in a note on your phone, a document on your computer, or scratched down on a yellow legal pad, keep your list in one place so that you always know where to find it.

2) With every source you find, add it to the list. And when you add it, record full citations. That means all of the info necessary for whatever citation method you are using (MLA, APA, Chicago) and putting it down in that format. It will be much harder to find these citations later on than it is to just write them down while you have the source right in front of you.

3) The “Writing an Honors Thesis” packet* created several years ago by Dr. West, former director of the Honors Program at Bellarmine and current Chair of the English department, recommends noting the following while scanning and browsing sources:

  • Use abbreviated subject headings in your list. Have two or three words that remind you what the source is about to label it, rather than the title or author’s name.
  • Include basic notes on the source, whether these include quotes, statistics, key points and arguments, etc.
  • For lab or field research, make sure to include your carefully recorded data, along with dates and other factors.
  • You should also definitely include your interpretation of the source. Ask yourself questions about the context and significance of each source, like: Why was it written? What was the author’s agenda? How does this source answer (or complicate) my research questions? Does it pose new questions for my project? How reliable is the source?

So, hopefully, you are more organized than I am right now, but, more than likely, these tips will help all of us get everything straight. Right now, I’m going to go pick those books up off my floor and hopefully find a nice shelf for them.

-Kristie

*The “Writing an Honors Thesis” packet can be found both online and in the ARC in a green binder, and it contains a lot of useful information.

My So-Called Honors Thesis: Getting Started

Kristie pic

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!

-Kristie