Graduating with Honors in English
Honors in English at Ithaca College (also called “departmental honors”) is a distinction conferred upon graduating seniors who complete and defend successfully a research-oriented thesis paper. The purpose of this document is to outline the process governing the composition of the thesis, and to clarify as fully as possible the department’s procedures for evaluating honors projects.
A student who pursues departmental honors will undertake an extensive research project beginning in the fall semester of his or her senior year. In the spring semester, the project will conclude with the presentation and defense of a lengthy thesis paper. This paper should offer an original analytical argument and should reflect a sustained engagement with contemporary critical discourse. Over the course of the academic year the student will work closely on his or her project with a faculty advisor, who will offer guidance in gathering primary and secondary literature for the project and provide feedback during the various stages of its development. When the thesis is complete and, in the judgment of the faculty advisor, ready to defend, the student will submit it to the thesis committee. The distinction of honors will be conferred by the committee following a successful oral defense of the thesis.
Departmental honors is distinct from H&S Honors, and so students need not be affiliated with the H&S Honors Program in order to propose a senior honors thesis in English. However, the English Department does maintain specific eligibility requirements. Students who plan to pursue an honors thesis:
1) Must be entering their final academic year of study prior to
2) Must have completed eight of the twelve English courses that the curriculum requires, and
must receive a grade of “A-” or higher in four of these courses.
III. Project Timeline
A. Spring Semester of the Student’s Junior Year:
Ideally, the student should define a broad field of interest from which the thesis topic will emerge, and secure the participation of a faculty advisor. The faculty advisor and the student will work together to develop a short bibliography designed to help the student become conversant particularly with the primary literature in the field.
This preliminary work on the senior thesis is not mandatory; however, it is strongly recommended. The student should be aware that much of the fall semester should be devoted to research in criticism and context, and so advance study of primary material will be extremely helpful in structuring research over the fall semester.
B. Fall Semester of the Student’s Senior Year:
The student will enroll in ENGL 49801, Honors Project I, a three-credit course of thesis-level independent study, with the faculty advisor. The purpose of the work undertaken by the student in the fall semester is to produce and defend a prospectus essay that will outline the analytical goals of the larger thesis project. As such, the student should expect to spend much of the fall semester researching primary and especially secondary texts and compiling an extensive bibliography. The student should also construct a thesis committee, which will consist of two additional faculty readers.
Week 2: By the end of the second week of the fall semester, the student should submit a preliminary abstract that identifies a specific topic of interest and a series of relevant literary texts. The student and faculty advisor will collaborate on a more detailed bibliography that should devote attention particularly to secondary material in order to help the student become better acquainted both with criticism and context.
Week 10: In the tenth week, the student should submit to the faculty advisor a draft of the prospectus essay as well as an updated bibliography. The prospectus essay should be double spaced in Times New Roman 12-point font within the standard margins, and should be between eight and twelve pages in length. The prospectus essay must include a “literature review” section; that is, an overview of recent critical work that is most relevant to the thesis project.
By Week 14: Following revisions as recommended by the faculty advisor, the student will submit the prospectus essay to the full thesis committee at least one week before the prospectus defense is scheduled.
Prospectus Defense: The prospectus defense should be about one hour in length and should provide the student with the opportunity to discuss his or her project in greater detail with the members of the thesis committee. In this meeting, the committee will provide the student with suggestions on specific directions in which the project might be taken and to identify areas of possible concern. Although the prospectus defense is meant to offer important advisory input, it is important to note that the primary goal of the defense is for the committee to evaluate the student’s progress and determine whether s/he is prepared to proceed on to the thesis stage. Near the conclusion of the defense, the committee will decide by majority vote whether the project may continue.
If the committee decides that the project may continue, the student will enroll in a second course of independent study with his or her faculty advisor for the spring semester. In addition, the student’s course grade for the fall independent study will be assigned by the faculty advisor alone.
If the committee decides that the project may not continue, the faculty advisor will assign a grade for the student’s fall independent study, and the student will not move on to write the thesis paper.
Provisional Pass: In some cases, when the
committee feels that the written prospectus and prospectus defense
are insufficient to allow the project to continue, the committee
may decide by consensus to allow the student to move on to the
thesis stage pending the submission of further work. The nature of
this work will be determined by the committee, and should be
submitted and evaluated no later than the third week of the spring
semester. There is no formal oral defense required for material
submitted under the provisional pass.
If the committee decides that the work submitted is insufficient for the project to continue, then the student will finish the semester in an advanced independent study under terms to be decided upon by the student and the faculty advisor. The student will not move on to write an honors thesis.
Following a successful evaluation, the student should submit one final,unmarked copy of the prospectus to the English Department, where it will be kept on file.
C. Spring Semester of the Student’s Senior Year:
The student will enroll in ENGL 49802, Honors Project II, a second three-credit course of thesis-level independent study, with the faculty advisor. During the spring semester, the student should expect to continue researching but most importantly to draft and revise the thesis paper. Although the precise structure of each individual project will vary, senior theses in the English department are comprised typically of an introduction and three analytical chapters. All completed papers:
1) Should be double spaced in Times New Roman 12-point font
within the standard margins;
2) Are usually between fifty and eighty pages in length;
3) Must contain a full bibliography.
The student and the faculty advisor should agree on a timetable for the completion of the thesis, which should be submitted to the full committee—following the recommendation of the faculty advisor—at least two weeks before the scheduled date of the defense. The faculty advisor must approve the thesis and certify that it is ready to defend before it is sent on to the committee.
Thesis Defense: The thesis defense should be
about one hour in length and is primarily evaluative in nature. The
student should begin with a brief description of the aims of the
project, which will be followed by questions from the committee.
Toward the end of the meeting, the committee will decide by
majority vote whether to confer the distinction of departmental
honors. The final grade for the project will be determined by the
If the committee votes not to confer departmental honors, then the student’s final grade will be determined by the faculty advisor and the student will receive full credit for an advanced independent study.
Following a successful defense, the student should submit one final bound and unmarked copy of the thesis to the English Department, where it will be kept on file.
Approved by the Department of English, April 2008.