A senior thesis is a lengthy, usually investigation-based text written in the final year or semester of an undergraduate's study. Senior theses are typically written in the area of a student's major and are intended to demonstrate the student's expertise in his or her field of study. In this way, a senior thesis can be understood as the undergraduate equivalent of a master's thesis or doctoral dissertationâ€”it it intended to be a large undertaking that proves a student's mastery in his or her chosen field.
Some undergraduates are confused when they first hear the term "senior thesis," because they have probably only used the word "thesis" to describe a thesis statementâ€”a sentence or group of sentences that encapsulate the essential point of a text. A senior thesis is not a sentence or a group of sentences but a multiple-page document. However, it also encapsulates an essential pointâ€”the essential point or focus of a student's area of study.
A senior thesis will likely be the largest academic undertaking a student does in his or her undergraduate experience. Many universities realize this, and require that students enroll in courses designed specifically for assistance with the composition process. However, even with this type of guidance, the expectation for senior theses is that students work independently and individually to generate a unique academic text. Therefore, it is imperative for students to carefully plan their projects in order to meet the deadlines and expectations of his or her institution. This usually requires beginning the process months before the thesis is due.
The first step for a senior thesis is selecting a specific topic. This topic should be related to the student's major (or sometimes minor) field of study. Sometimes, students come to their senior thesis topics by talking with professors in their field in order to establish an area of interest. Other times, students choose a topic on which they have already worked or written, and use the thesis to expand that previous work into something of greater depth and originality. Regardless of how the topic is chosen, it is important for the student to select a topic that intrigues her, as the composition process is long and requires considerable devotion.
After the topic has been selected, the senior should form a thesis committee. This committee is typically comprised of three professors at the student's institution. One of these will be the thesis advisorâ€”the primary source of guidance for the pupil. The other two will be auxiliary committee members. The committee is designed to assist a student in all aspects of the composition process; therefore, the student should openly and regularly communicate with the committee in order to receive valuable feedback and guidance throughout the duration of the thesis project.
Senior theses require a significant amount of data collection. It is advisable to perform this research before the writing process begins, as the student cannot write an informed thesis without being aware of the relevant literature existing on his or her thesis topic. This research will likely take several weeks or even months, and should be done under the close advisement of the student's committee.
Once the research has been completed and a student is ready to compose his or her senior thesis, it is important that he or she construct a plan that includes both a general organization of the thesis and personal deadlines to keep the student on track. Senior theses are frequently required to be thirty pages or more, which means they will take a while to write. Furthermore, they will require the student to write in an in-depth and detailed way. Therefore, it is advisable to leave at least one month for just the writing aspect of the senior thesis process. This will give the student enough time to compose multiple draftsâ€”all of which should be submitted to the student's committee for review.
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