English Department Honors Thesis Guidelines

An Honors essay on a literary topic should exhibit both the candidate's knowledge of the subject, and her or his 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 lengthy creative writing theses may run 70 – 80 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.  The creative writing thesis that is awarded Honors must demonstrate satisfactory ability in the chosen genre (novel, short story, poetry, etc.).  

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. Committee members will sign the cover page at the completion of the exam.  One signed cover sheet will be submitted with a digital copy that will be archived by the university; take an additional cover sheet if you wish to have a bound, signed copy.
  3. One copy of the Honors thesis must be submitted to the Director of Honors in mid-April, at a date determined yearly by the Charles Center. (A digital copy will suffice for the Honors Director).  Three hard 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 digital copy to the Archives of Swem Library, with a signed cover sheet.  This copy will be uploaded to the Honors Theses community in the William and Mary Digital Archive. See instructions for doing so at https://digitalarchive.wm.edu/.