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Thesis Guidelines & General Advice on Preparing for the Baccalaureate Examination

A New College Thesis in English or Literature can take many forms. An extensive research paper that engages several works of literature, uses a recognizable method of literary analysis (close-reading, textual analysis and explication, bibliographic or historical criticism, and/or a theoretical approach or apparatus such as historical materialist, psychoanalytic, feminist, new historicist, postcolonial, etc.), and shows some familiarity with important secondary criticism on your topic is typical. Theses that incorporate work or approaches from other disciplines as individual chapters or interwoven throughout, that include a chapter of original work (creative writing, film, creative non-fiction, performance, visual or sculptural art) is also fairly common. A good rule of thumb is to remember that your committee has areas of expertise that are limited, and we are more comfortable with a project for which we think we can give good guidance and that we feel competent to evaluate. Theses that are less conventional research papers, such as annotated editions of texts, web/interactive editions, translations, or collections of variant texts with substantial analysis and annotation are also good possibilities.

Length is also flexible, though a good standard to consider is a thesis consisting of three chapters of 15-20 pages each, with an Introduction and a Conclusion usually drafted after the chapters are mostly complete in final form. Theses may range from about 45 pages on the concise end, to 80 pages on the long end; it is not advisable to write a longer thesis unless there are extenuating circumstances such as extensive appendices of primary but rare materials, or if your project is a less traditional one (a translation, an adaptation, an interdisciplinary one that includes visual or textual materials, etc. I warn people that I am unlikely to read a thesis that is longer than 80 double-space pages; it just takes more time than I can give you. 

You must:

°Include a Works Cited or Bibliography that documents the sources and secondary materials that you cite or that influenced your thinking;

°ALWAYS include all appropriate citations, references, and credit for the work of others;

°any supporting  material such as illustrations, DVD or CD of film or sound files that you aren't including, etc. should be included as appendices.

 Link to Library Format for Senior Thesis Projects: https://sites.google.com/a/ncf.edu/jane-bancroft-cook-library/library-services/writing-services/thesis-information/thesis-submittal-guidelines/thesis-format-title-abstract

Thesis Research & Writing Schedule

Semester 1: Thesis Research Tutorial

Goal: Out of a 3-chapter thesis, draft at least 1 chapter and get through revisions to a good draft copy.


Mod 1 (7 weeks): Research, build Bibliography, choose primary texts or materials (i.e. what are you examining in your thesis—author, work, issue, object), and begin writing.

Produce a 2-page Prospectus:

What is your thesis topic? What are you looking at, how will you approach it, and what is important to you to find out or to argue?

Produce a Reading Bibliography & keep a good annotated bibliography as you read:

°What primary works do you need to read to develop your project?

°What secondary works do you need to read to support your project? Consider journal articles as well as books. Sometimes an article can give you a quicker and more succinct grasp of an argument.

°Keep a record (and back it up) of EVERYTHING you read or look at in your research. You may want to go back later to something that seemed uninteresting in the early stages.

°An annotated Bibliography that includes full bibliographic citation, formatted in the reference style you will use and 1-3 sentences summing up the point of the article/book/essay can help you to find something later on for a quote or reference.

°Consider what reference style to use (MLA, Chicago, Cambridge, other?), and try to make sure you use it consistently from the first notes you take.

°Consider whether you want to use the library’s “RefWorks” online Bibliography creator and data management software. If so, try to use it consistently from the very beginning. You will get better at manipulating it only if you use it. You probably won’t find it an efficient use of your time to try to convert to using it halfway through your thesis project!


See Caroline Reed or any of the other librarians for help finding sources, determining how to use RefWorks, etc.


Mod 2 (7 weeks):

Begin writing a section of your thesis, and be prepared to revise several times before the end of the term. Try to carve out a dedicated chunk of time for writing each day or at least 3 times a week. Don’t try to do it all in a single 10-hour chunk once a week, but do plan ahead for other class assignments, etc. Your goal should be to produce 5 new pages for each thesis tutorial meeting, or to revise your last draft.

At this point, you may find a thesis-writing support group of friends helpful, or you may find that you need to think through your project on your own and share it only with your thesis sponsor. Discuss with your sponsor whether you need regular deadlines (“I want to see 10 pages next week”), or whether you would rather skip a week’s meeting and bring a longer draft in two weeks time. Discuss whether you find regular feedback on very rough draft material helpful, or whether you would prefer to get feedback when you’re closer to a paper-style draft of your section or chapter.

Be aware that your writing processes may need to change or be adapted. Discuss how you write with your sponsor and be open to trying new techniques. Try writing on the computer but also drafting longhand. Try outlining. Try making an outline of work you’ve already drafted. Try freewriting. Try pasting quotes in and discussing them. Share your work and get feedback from a friend or from someone at the WRC. Go to a thesis workshop at the WRC, or request a one-on-one writing meeting with a SWA. If you find a SWA who seems particularly helpful to you, try to make appointments with her or him regularly.  The goal is to keep producing material regularly so that there’s time to revise and you never feel too pressured or overwhelmed.


January Interterm:

Goal: draft your second chapter of the thesis.

You will need this time to keep moving ahead on your thesis. Plan your time so that you have a couple of good blocks of time most days to work on the next section of your thesis. If you make good progress, Spring will be a breeze; if you get too far behind, February and March will be tough.


Semester 2: Thesis Writing Tutorial

During this term, you will complete the thesis to the standards necessary for a Baccalaureate Examination and schedule your Bacc Exam. You will need to complete the thesis to this stage in time to get it to your committee before the Bacc Exam, count on 1-2 weeks in advance, depending on your committee members.

Mod 1:

Goal: to draft the 3rd and final section of the thesis.

 You will need to complete drafting your thesis by Spring break, following week 7 of the term. You need to write an Introduction (if you need one) and a conclusion. Both should be easier now that you know what you are introducing and what you are concluding, but these can be difficult to write. Remember that your two readers will, most likely, not have seen other parts of the thesis and so will need your Introduction to lead them into your topic clearly and precisely. A bad introduction sets a reader up for a negative reading!

You will also want before Break to contact your faculty and find out when they are available for your Exam. Ideally you’ll want to use the Bacc Days, but you may need to be flexible, depending on your committee members’ schedules. Don’t wait until the last minute, but don’t schedule your Bacc before you know that you’ll be ready either!


Mod 2:

After break week, you are really under pressure. You need to have your thesis ready to give to your committee in Week 10, so you have about 2-3 weeks in which to revise everything and make sure that your Introduction and Conclusion are written clearly and revised.


Baccalaureate days occur in Week 12; there are some very late Baccalaureate days in Week 14, but you don’t want to use these if you can help it. You may schedule your Baccalaureate anytime that your faculty are willing and available, but it would be smart to use the Bacc days if you can since you know that people will be free then.

General Advice on Preparing for the Baccalaureate Examination


°Prepare the thesis carefully for the Bacc committee. You will get a chance to make some changes and the committee may even recommend or require some changes (usually typos and references, but sometimes as much as a new introduction or additional discussion of a key issue). But, remember that your committee members will be reading the entire thesis in a few sittings, so the easier it is to read (clean, well-proofed, well-written, correctly cited, double-spaced, paginated, etc.) the more likely they will have a positive reading experience. If it’s redundant and repetitive, messy or badly laid out, badly edited with lots of grammar and usage errors, or lacks information on citations you will have a cranky thesis committee!


°The Baccalaurate Examination can take many forms, but most commonly it is a hour to two hours of oral discussion between you and three faculty. It may open with a presentation by the examinee, and then it usually cycles around the table with questions from each examiner.


You may make a brief presentation at the beginning, but you are not required to do so in English or Literature baccalaureate examinations. It could be helpful to explain your project, how you chose it, what you thought you were going to find and what you really did find, and anything else that you want people to know going in. Speaking first can be a good way to warm up if you are nervous, but do expect your examiners to arrive with questions of their own anyway.


            You cannot really predict most questions that you will get, unless you’ve left a big and obvious hole in your argument. Some questions will be very specific about the thesis or about a particular work. Others will be larger, more general questions and may ask you to think beyond the boundaries of the thesis itself. Some may remind you of something you read in class with them and ask how it intersects with your thesis. It’s ok to say that you don’t remember that work well and ask for a reminder.


            You should try to answer the questions as best you can, but you can also use a question as a way to think about something new, to add a new insight, or to point out something that you think is interesting or that you’d like to think about more in a future project. It’s ok to change your mind or to revise statements you’ve made in the thesis; the exam is part of the larger thesis/bacc project, not simply a “defend this thesis” moment. If you really don’t know how to answer something say so—you can ask for clarification, or you can say “I was thinking about it more like this….”


            Discuss the exam in advance with your thesis sponsor to get some sense of what to expect. Bring copies of your transcript and of your Student Audit for each member of the committee and a copy of your thesis so you can follow our questions!