William and Mary

English Department Honors Thesis Guidelines

An Honors essay on a literary topic should exhibit both the candidate's knowledge of the subject, and scholarly and critical judgment. While it must be based on firm knowledge, including relevant scholarship and criticism, it is not merely a paper that collects and presents the conclusions of others. The essay should show that the candidate has grasped and explored the subject independently and has independent conclusions about it.  Essays should run to a length of 40 to 70 double-spaced pages, or 12,000 to 20,000 words.

Quality rather than quantity is the important criterion. Organization should be clear, but in an essay of this length, formal chapter divisions, table of contents, introductions, and prefaces would be inappropriate.

The creative writing thesis will be an original, arresting text or set of texts that demonstrate good knowledge of the chosen field and genres.  Ideally, it will also make use of sophisticated or complex concepts and/or methodologies, fully create an imagined world, using fresh and vivid language, and constitute an innovative addition to writing in its field.  A fiction thesis should be at least 40 pages, and a poetry thesis should be at least 20 pages.  The most ambitious creative writing theses may run over 70 pages for fiction and over 30 pages for poetry.

The award of Honors recognizes that the student's written work, supplemented by the student's ability to discuss his or her project and research at the oral examination, has been an appropriate use of 6 credit hours (the equivalent of two upper division English classes). A literature thesis that is awarded Honors must demonstrate independence of thought and an awareness of relevant scholarship, and must contain a clear, well-structured argument. High Honors will be awarded to work with a depth of scholarship, cogency of argument, and clarity of presentation that surpasses the requirements for Honors. Highest Honors will be awarded to work that is truly exceptional.  The creative writing thesis that is awarded Honors must demonstrate satisfactory ability in the chosen genre (novel, short story, poetry, etc.).  To be awarded High Honors, a creative writing thesis must demonstrate excellent ability in the chosen genre.  A creative writing thesis that is awarded Highest Honors must be truly exceptional.  Historically, very few theses receive Highest Honors.  A list of past honors theses is on the Charles Center's site.

For both literature and creative writing projects, students' skill in defending their written work in the oral defense will be taken into account.

The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations is the guide in matters of documentation. Footnotes or endnotes may be used. A formal complete bibliography should come after the footnotes. (This bibliography should not be annotated.)

Honors theses must be prepared in a specific manner, i.e.:

1. A binding margin of 1 and ½ inches must be provided on the left side of each page. All other margins must be at least one inch.

2. The title page must conform to the format shown on the Charles Center website for honors.

3. One copy of the Honors thesis must be submitted to the Director of Honors in English by 5:00 p.m. Friday April 15, 2011.  Three other copies should be distributed to the student's examining committee (one copy per committee member) by the same deadline.  These copies may be printed on any type of standard paper.

4. After the examination, the student must correct any typographical, grammatical, or stylistic errors identified by the committee, and submit one copy to the Archives of Swem Library, along with an electronic copy.  The final version of the thesis must be uploaded to the Honors Theses community in the William and Mary Digital Archive no later than Friday May 13, 2011. See instructions for doing so at