Thesis FAQs

Many questions arise when writing and preparing to write a senior thesis.  Below, you will find a Q&A based on questions posed by previous thesis writers.

Do we need to publish our theses?

No.  Some theses are deemed exceptional, and are put in the Falvey Library archives.  The Honors Program and Falvey are responsible for this process.

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Are there any resources that can help me navigate my way through research?

Here is a book recommendation to help guide you through the process: Booth, Colomb and Williams, The Craft of Research.

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What if I get stuck?

Your primary resource is your Tutor.  The instructor of record in Senior Thesis I is also available as a resource to work with you through the snags you may face.  It’s important to understand that a long-term project like this proceeds in fits and starts, sometimes contains blind alleys, and usually changes or evolves as it goes forward.  So it’s critical not to get anxious about these challenges but rather to bring them to your Tutor, Reader, and other faculty to get help sorting through them.

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What is the function of the Reader?

Minimally, the Reader exists as a resource that you want to exploit throughout the process to make sure you are engaging in the breadth and depth of the research you have chosen.  In other words, you can use the Reader to make sure your bibliography or literature review is what it needs to be.  You can use him or her to make sure that your topic, hypothesis, or research design is adequate.  Also, the Reader reads the early draft of the manuscript and the final draft, giving comments which you must incorporate.  Of course, you can use the Reader’s talents in more ways, meeting with him or her throughout the process.  But this is up to you and the Reader.

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Does the senior thesis need to be interdisciplinary?

No.  It is not necessary to choose a topic that combines several fields of study.  Focusing your topic within one discipline often gives your thesis rigor and depth.  Of course, this does not mean that you cannot write an interdisciplinary thesis.

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Can I change my topic if I hit a dead end?

This is between you and your Tutor.  Topics evolve as research moves forward.  So generally, the answer is yes.

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What is a good method for approaching a senior thesis topic: zoning in on a topic of interest and locating material on that specific topic or doing preliminary research to locate a topic?

There’s no general answer to this question that works for everyone.  Some work better inductively; others work better deductively.  The intellectual autobiography assignment is designed in part to help people with more amorphous interests focus in on a set of questions or issues that they are interested in.  One way of proceeding is to make something like a March Madness bracket.  At one end, list all the interests you have – this could be a list of 8 topics; or four, depending on how focused you are at this point.  Then begin to choose which of those you are more interested in, until you have singled out one. 

Again, your Tutor is your primary resource.  Of course, the Honors Program is always available to you as a resource as well.

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How far outside of the bounds of a traditional thesis can we take this?

In the past, we have had students write poetry and do poetry readings during their defense; produce documentaries, etc.  So the boundaries are pretty wide open.  Just be sure to clarify what you are doing up front. 

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How long should the thesis be?

Length should be determined by what is appropriate for the particular subject. In the past, theses using Social Science methodology have ranged from 20 to 60 pages; those in the Humanities from 60 to 80 pages; and theses in the Natural/Mathematical Sciences typically have been 10 to 30 pages.  These are guidelines; not requirements.  The length should be determined primarily in conversation with your Tutor and Reader.

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What are the expectations regarding sources and bibliographies?

You should engage in conversations early on with your Tutors in order to clarify what they expect you do read throughout the process. 

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How much flexibility do I have with the process? What if my schedule is more demanding in the fall than in the spring, or vice versa?

It is important to make adequate progress in meeting the deadlines that the senior thesis experience has always imposed.  You also need to be ready to make your research conference presentation in December.  In terms of the reality of when you write the bulk of the thesis, that is between you and your Tutor. 

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What makes a thesis great?

The most important goal of the thesis experience is to sharpen and expand your mind by having you sit with a focused question or topic throughout many months.  Writing up the results of that process has a profound effect on your intellectual development.  So in that sense, the excellence of the thesis is subjective – what has been its effect on your intellectual development?  Making that happen means primarily working closely with your Tutor to develop and focus interesting topics and then wrestle with the questions and problems that arise throughout the course of your research.  Making the thesis great also means breaking the research and writing out into manageable parts and making steady progress on these as you move forward.

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Can I collaborate with people outside Villanova?

Absolutely.  You can even have a Reader from another institution.  Just be sure to clear this with your Tutor before you proceed.

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Since we attend a thesis class in the fall, how often should we meet with our Tutors?

Minimally, you should plan on meeting with your Tutor several times each month.  Of course, this depends in large part on your schedules and the expectations that your Tutor brings to the relationship.  But weekly meetings are often the best way to make sure you are making adequate progress on your research, asking the appropriate questions, and exploiting your Tutor’s expertise in your chosen area of research. 

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Is there any formal institutional approval process for surveys?

Yes.  Students who will be doing surveys or working with human subjects need to go on the web site of Villanova’s Office for Research and Sponsored Projects and fill out and submit the Application for Review of Human Subjects Research

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Digital Thesis Archives

To view previous senior theses in their entirety, please browse the Falvey Library Digital Archives.

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