The Honors Thesis in English
Each year, a few English majors write senior honors theses. Doing so is not a requirement of the major, but a thesis does fulfill the Senior Capstone Writing Requirement for English majors. Creative Writing minors who are also English majors are neither obliged to write a senior thesis nor guaranteed that opportunity. Copies of past Honors Theses may be consulted in the English Department Seminar Room and Library (Payne 212) or in Leyburn Library.
English 493 (3, 3) — Senior Honors Thesis.
Rules Governing the Senior Honors Thesis in English
- To be eligible for the Senior Honors Thesis, a rising senior must have four 300-level English courses at Washington and Lee. The four courses may be comprised of a minimum of two completed 300-level English courses and two winter term courses in which the student is enrolled and in good standing. Prospective Honors students must have a cumulative grade-point average of 3.00 or above and a grade-point average of at least 3.5 in the major; they must declare their candidacy in writing to the department no later than 14 February of their junior year. The declaration takes the form of a page long proposal, approved by an advisor, and submitted to the Department chair for circulation to the full faculty. These requirements will be waived only in exceptional circumstances and only with the approval of the majority of the voting members of the departmental faculty.
- Prior to February 14, during Winter Term of their junior year, Honors candidates must submit a page-long written description of their project to their director to gain approval. This proposal is circulated to the English faculty for comments and suggestions as well as approval.
- Successful Honors candidates will register for English 493 in the Fall and Winter Terms. Throughout both terms they will have frequent conferences with their director and will be actively engaged in work on their thesis. They may attend the optional monthly honors thesis workshop meetings. A significant submission of 20 polished pages of writing should be made to the advisor by the end of Fall Term. Students who fail to submit 20 polished pages to the advisor by the end of exam week of fall term will be subject to automatic conversion of their 493 to 403 and they will be required to take 413 in the winter term. Students must also secure the agreement of another member of the English faculty to be a second reader.
- The candidate must complete the full-length complete draft of the thesis by the end of the Winter Term, to be submitted to both the advisor and the second reader. Students who fail to submit a full, complete draft to advisor and second reader by the end of exam week in winter term will be subject to automatic conversion of their 493 to 413 and 403. If the final grade is not submitted at the end of Winter term, the instructor may submit a WIP grade only if the thesis candidate is registered for Spring Term. WIP grades are not allowed with Spring Option. Even with a WIP extension, the candidate must submit the final copy to the director and the second reader no later than end of the first week of Spring Term. New drafting should not be undertaken during Spring Term. The extended time should be used only for revision and polishing.
- A completed thesis must earn at least a grade of B in order to result in Honors in the major. If it does not, it will result in the conversion of English 493 to English 413 and 403. Determination of the grade for the project will be made by the director and the second reader. If they cannot agree on an appropriate grade, the director may decide to submit the thesis to a third reader for a decision.
- One copy of the thesis must be delivered to the Leyburn Library, and a bound copy must be left in the English Department Seminar Room and Library (Payne 212).
- The candidate is required to give a public presentation based on the thesis work. These presentations are scheduled at the end of the winter term and/or the beginning of the spring term of the senior year.
Special Guidelines for the Creative Thesis
All the above rules governing the Senior Honors Thesis in English also apply to creative theses, meaning extended works of fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry.
In addition, students writing creative theses must:
- Include in their proposal (due Feb. 14th of the junior year) a preliminary reading list of at least 10 sources, generated in consultation with the thesis adviser. These sources could include literary models, craft books, and/or critical and theoretical texts appropriate to the project. It is fine to draw on one kind of source more heavily than others (literary models, for example), as long as there is some variety.
For example: a portfolio of poems based on Paleolithic cave paintings might inspire a list including similar sequences by other poets; art books; critical studies of ekphrasis; historical and archaeological sources; the tourist web site for Chauvet Cave.
- Generate, as part of their final thesis (complete draft due at the end of winter term, senior year), a critical preface contextualizing the creative project (about 3000 words). This preface may demonstrate a broader scope of reference and a more personal point of view than most essays for regular English courses. It should describe the origins of the project and reflect on the process of writing and research. However, it should also deploy the core skills you have developed through the English major, proving that you can:
- write clear, persuasive analytical essays driven by arguments about texts;
- read closely, recognizing subtle and complex differences in language use;
- seek out further knowledge about literary works, authors, and/or contexts, and document research appropriately, adhering to the highest standards of intellectual honesty;
- derive pleasure and edification from a broad range of texts.
The preliminary reading list may be the basis of your "Works Cited" but it's natural for such lists to evolve along the way. Expect at least one meeting per term with your thesis adviser devoted to your reading list-the preface is not an afterthought. It should evolve alongside the creative piece.
For example, the preface to that poem sequence on cave paintings might begin by asserting the relevance of cave painting to contemporary experience; offer a history of the phenomenon; discuss the role of ekphrasis in recent English-language poetry and critical responses to such endeavors; include a close reading of part of David Wojahn's sonnet sequence "Ochre," your inspiration for the project; and conclude with a more personal meditation on the questions and problems that emerged during your months of work.