A Practical Guide to Writing an Honors Thesis

One of the most critical yet daunting tasks for honors students is writing an honors thesis. A thesis requires reflection, and it is also a multi-stage writing process. Besides being a stepping stone for students who plan to pursue graduate studies, a thesis also allows you to discover how scholars conduct research and transform raw information into a coherent story and analysis.

Though you have a chance to grow as a researcher, an analyst, writer, and a critical thinker, writing a successful honor thesis requires hard work, planning, and dedication.  

Writing a thesis honor is undoubtedly a significant undertaking. The immense amount of time you apply means you end up with 60 to 80 pages of written material.

If you’re one of those students that have decided to write an honors thesis, but you don’t know why this tip sheet is for you. In this post, you’re going to learn all that you need to know about an honors thesis ranging from the definition, the purpose of a thesis, and most importantly, the key steps of writing a successful honors thesis that will impress your professor and earn you HD grades. KEEP READING ON!

What is an Honors Thesis?

Well, that depends on your field of study. However, all honors theses share at least two of the following things:

  • An honors thesis must be based on your original report
  • An honor thesis takes the form of a written manuscript, and it presents the findings of your research. Most thesis averages between 60 to 80 pages in humanities. For social sciences, the manuscript is shorter as it depends on whether the project involves a lot of qualitative or quantitative research. In contrast, in hard sciences, these manuscripts may be shorter and take the form of the laboratory report.

What’s the purpose of an honors thesis?

There are many reasons why students write an honors thesis. Some of these reasons include:

1.     Satisfying intellectual curiosity

A thesis gives you a chance to follow your passions, explore the topic further, and most importantly, contribute some original ideas and research in your field.

2.     Allows students to develop some transferable skills

Even if you won’t stick to your field, the process of writing a thesis hones skills that will help you serve well in your future work. This is because most jobs require problem-solving and written and oral communication skills.

To write a successful thesis, here are the essential requirements:

  • Ask smart questions
  • Develop investigative instincts to find answers
  • Conduct in-depth research on databases, conduct tests in the library, and navigate libraries and other key research venues
  • Proper time management
  • Being flexible enough to switch your research if your initial plan falls
  • Sharpen your argumentation skills
  • The organization is a lengthy piece of writing
  • Polishing your prostration skills as you’ve to defend your thesis before peers and members of the faculty

3.     A chance to work with faculty mentors

Another reason for writing a thesis is that it allows you to work closely with faculty members. This is a rare chance because you barely meet your instructor in some universities.

But a thesis will allow you the opportunity to work one on one with a faculty mentor who enriches your intellectual development. Your adviser will also serve as a reference for your graduate school and when looking for employment.

4.     The thesis opens a window into future professions.

Conducting a thesis gives you a chance to understand what it’s like to conduct research in your field. It also allows you the chance to decide whether you need to pursue further studies or work in that field in the future.

Hacks for Writing a Successful Honors Thesis

As you’ve read in this post, writing an honors thesis is a complicated and challenging task you can come across. Here are the top hacks to help you ride through the storm and write a successful honor thesis.

1.     Getting an idea of what is expected in your field

The first thing you need to do is review other honors theses that other students in your discipline have done. This will promptly give you an idea of the kind of topic that you can cover.

2.     Choosing a topic for your thesis

So how do you choose a topic for your honors thesis? You should start thinking about your topic as early as your junior years. This way, you can start researching, and it will be easier during your senior years.

Here’s how to choose a topic:

  • Make it a norm to read widely in the fields which interests you—also look out for professional journals in your field and identify what they consider “hot” areas of research
  • Book an appointment with your faculty adviser. Your adviser will help you narrow down to the potential topics
  • Again, look at the past thesis that has been submitted to get a sense of the typical scope of the research

Characteristics of a good topic

A good topic is fascinating. That means it should grip your imagination. Failure to choose a good topic, you find yourself struggling.

  • A good topic is doable. It doesn’t matter whether a topic fascinates you, but you need to ensure enough research material. Gain, you need to narrow down your topic.
  • A good topic contains a guiding question that will help focus your research.

Goal setting and time management

Suppose you’re already in your senior years. In that case, you already understand how tight your schedule is—from a load of courses to part-time students. All these moments are time and energy-consuming. But don’t panic.

The trick here is to start strategizing how to make time for your honors thesis. That may mean taking a lighter course load or eliminating some extracurricular activities.

Here are a few suggestions for goal setting and managing time throughout the thesis writing process:

1.     Starting early

Don’t wait until you’re in senior years to start working on your thesis. If you intend to conduct substantive research, you need a clear timetable.

2.     Your timetable should include clear goals. 

First, identify the final date of submitting your thesis. From there, you can work backward from the deadline but be sure to figure out the time you allow for each writing stage.

3.     Work daily on your thesis.

Spare some time daily to work on your thesis—even if it is just fifteen minutes brainstorming or journaling about your topic—maybe taking some notes.

No matter the little you do, the crucial thing is that you’re accomplishing some form of active production and, in the process nurturing good writing habits to keep your project moving in the right direction.

4.     Be accountable to someone else other than yourself

To stick to your goals, you need to, let say, form a peer group where you will be helping each other stick to your goals.

Even if your adviser asks you to work independently, don’t fret out! You can still ask them to set up periodic meetings to turn in your project in installations.

Brainstorming and Freewriting

It’s always challenging to keep your creative juice flowing, especially if you’re handling a lengthy writing project—that’s where freewriting comes in.

Keep with you a small notebook where you write down ideas that come into your mind. It’s also essential that you schedule time for freewriting. Here are some ways to stimulate your freewriting:

Questions to help you brainstorm at the start of your thesis:

  • What do you already know about the topic?
  • Why is the topic important?
  • How is the topic important to others apart from myself?
  • What’s there more to learn about the topic?
  • What’s the main question you want to solve?
  • Is there a source of additional information regarding the topic?
  • Will the study contribute to the existing body of knowledge?
  • What’s the goal of your research project?

Additionally, here are questions that you need to bear in mind to reflect throughout the thesis:

  • What’s the main argument, and how is it changing since I started the research
  • Is there substantial evidence supporting my study?
  • Are there specific questions the sources don’t answer?
  • Does your research challenge other studies in the field?
  • Does your study contradict or oppose other researchers?
  • What is the most frustrating, surprising, and rewarding part of the research?
  • What does your research contribute once it’s done?

Researching and note-taking

To write your thesis, you’ll need to consult both primary and secondary sources of information.

And no matter the type of research you’re conducting, the thesis writing process involves a lot of note-taking. Here are the best practices for note-taking.

Start by developing a research system.

Your research system can be anything ranging from computer files, note cards to notebooks. Despite the form you choose, here are the cardinal rules to follow:

  • While taking notes, always differentiate between a paraphrase and a direct quote. This is important because you don’t want to find yourself plagiarizing someone else’s work.
  • Next, write down the full citation. Don’t be lazy! It’s more challenging to find the proper citation once you move from a specific material.
  • Don’t merely record quotes, facts, and arguments. Instead, aim at interpreting them.

Overcoming the dread of drafting

Why do we all fear drafting? The answer I simple

Drafting is more complex than you think. It requires synthesis, which is one of the complex forms of thinking and interpreting your notes.

Here are tips on how you can start drafting your thesis:

  1. Start by sorting your research into analytical categories

Some students prefer categorizing their notecards, others may copy-paste students while others still prefer staking notes, books, and photocopies. There is no single way around it, and you need to figure it out!

  • Be sure you draft working arguments.

That means you should formulate a thesis statement for your entire project and each chapter. Also, you need to keep in mind that your working thesis statement may change as you begin working on your project.

  • Split your theses into manageable pieces

Don’t yet start thinking about the big picture. While your eyes are on the big picture, it always wise if you break it down into manageable chunks of writing. In the end, these tiny bits of prose will add up quickly.

  • Just begin writing!

It doesn’t matter which part you begin with; just write. Sometimes, the introduction is the tricky part of starting writing. So you can begin the middle of a chapter. The key here is to grab hold where you have the most substantial evidence and your ideas clearly.

Tips for Revising an Honors Thesis Draft

As Peter Elbow advises in Writing with Power, writing is problematic because it requires two conflicting tasks: you create and criticize.

Whereas the two tasks are related, creating comes in the drafting phase, while revising is where criticizing the work comes in. Don’t leave your revising up to the last minute—it can be overwhelming.

Here are some of the common challenges that you may face when revising an honors thesis:

1.     Juggling Feed from various readers

It’s one thing to request your faculty adviser, a peer, a faculty reader, or even your professor to help you with advice on writing your honors thesis.

Managing their feedback is another? You’ll probably feel overwhelmed by the prospect of including all their feedback. Bear in mind that some advice is better than others.

Faced with such a circumstance, be sure to stick with your faculty adviser’s feedback since it is the one who has the most weight when it comes to the approval of your thesis.

2.     Refine your argument/thesis statement

It’s especially easy to lose sight of your main idea, especially when writing a project of about 70 pages. That’s why you must go back and clarify your argument once you’ve drafted your thesis and do the same for every chapter while ensuring that they match the evidence you provided.

3.     Organize and Reorganize the thesis

 Again, when writing an average of 70 pages, things may get a little mixed. That’s why you need to create a reverse outline for each chapter.

Creating a reverse outline for your honors thesis can help you see the significant sections and move things around so that your project has a logical flow of ideas.

4.     Save time for the small stuff.

 Though your evidence, argument, and organization are the most important to look at, be sure to spare some time to polish your prose. By this juncture, you’ve spent so much time on the thesis, and you don’t want minor errors becoming a spoiler for your reader.

How to Structure an Honors Thesis

Now you have written your honors thesis draft, and it is time to structure your honors thesis so that you can turn it in for grading. Successfully structure your thesis by strictly following the order assigned below. Here are the general stages of the thesis. You might look at your assignment instructions to see the need of your faculty.

Stage #1: Title page

Again, you will need to check with your faculty about the specific requirements of the title page since they can vary depending on the academic style they prefer—that can be APA, CMOS, Harvard, CBE, among other popular conventions.

Generally, though, center the contents on one page and include the following details:

  • Title of the thesis
  • Your name
  • Honors thesis
  • Name of department
  • Institution   
  • Approved by: (located at the bottom left corner)

Stage #2: Acknowledgement (optional)

Though the acknowledgment is not mandatory when writing an honor thesis, you may include it to thank advisers, librarians, interviewees, among other contributors—then this place to place it. If you received a grant, be sure to include it here—and it should be followed by thank you notes towards every person who helped accomplish your thesis writing.

Stage #3: Table of contents

Though a table of contents comes at the beginning of the thesis, be sure to write it last so that you capture every heading and subheading in your topic.

Stage #4: Abstract

Another part of an honors thesis that should be written last is the abstract. An abstract is a general overview of your entire project, and it ranges between 200-300 words.

An excellent trick to approach the abstract of the honors thesis is to answer the questions below; here’s how:

  • What did you do in your research?
  • Why did you do the research, and what questions were you answering?
  • How did you conduct your research? or what methods did you use?
  • What did you find out? What are the key results?
  • Why is the result important or significant?

Stage #5: Introduction

The introduction of your thesis should provide the following details:

  • Background information on the topic
  • A brief review of the current knowledge on the topic
  • Highlights the existing gap in knowledge, states your objectives and how they fit into the gap
  • Includes a hypothesis
  • Outline how the thesis is organized
  • Outline the methodology

Stage #6: Literature

The literature review can be a part of the introduction though it can be included separately. A literature review evaluates previous studies on the topic you’re researching to find a gap in the knowledge your research intends to fill.

Also, be sure to organize your literature review around the critical debates or themes. You can also use the chronological sequence to explain the occurrence of events.

Since you’re using other people’s research, be sure to cite and reference the literature review. And because it is within the work, you strictly in-text cite or use footnotes—though this depends on the style your professor asks. It’s also worth noting that an effective thesis should be around 15-30% of the entire thesis.

Stage #7: Write methodology

The methodology is one of the most accessible parts of writing an honors thesis. Here, outline the method you choose and why; when, what, where, how, and why you did what you did to get the results.

Stage #8: Results

This section of your thesis outlines your finding to your research or research hypothesis. It’s often written in text and presented in figures.

Since the results are facts of your research, include a brief comment on the significance of critical findings. Further details are included in the discussion section.

Stage #9: Discussions

The discussion part of your thesis should address the following issues:

  • Provides a comment on your findings
  • Explaining the meaning of your findings/results
  • Interprets your results to a broader context while indicating what you expected or unexpected from the results

Stage #10: Write the conclusions

The conclusion part for your honors thesis is an integral part of your project. Here, emphasize that your research’s main aims/objectives have been attained.

Again, emphasize your most important results but note the limits and make suggestions calling for further research.

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As you can see from the above guide, writing an honors thesis is one of the daunting and time-consuming processes. That’s why many students dread it! But not you with access to this free tips sheet!

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