PHIL A498 - Senior Research Project

Students in the B. A. Philosophy program are not required to write a Senior Research Project. However, it is required if a student wishes to graduate with Philosophy Department Honors.

The Senior Research Project offers you the opportunity to write a substantial piece of written work of high quality that is well-researched, argumentative and well-written. Your thesis should show sophisticated critical-thinking skills, knowledge of the chosen topic, and familiarity with the relevant primary and secondary literature. There are no strict thesis length requirements but you should aim to write a thesis of approximately thirty pages.

Writing a thesis might sound like an alarming prospect, but if you follow these steps you should be able to complete the Senior Research Project without too much trouble.

Step One: Plan Ahead
According to Philosophy Department policy, in order to sign up for the Senior Research Project, you need to be a senior and to have successfully completed the Philosophy Core Courses with a grade C or better. The Senior Research Project is a 3-credit course and you might think that you do not have to start thinking about the thesis until your final semester. This would be a mistake! Since the Senior Research Project is quite a lengthy process from start to finish, please start thinking about your thesis the semester before you intend to submit it. Please do not start thinking about your thesis at the beginning of the semester in which you intend to graduate – or you might not!

Step Two: Choose A Topic
Choosing a thesis topic is perhaps harder than it might appear. A good strategy is to think about the philosophy courses you have particularly enjoyed, and then, within those courses, to consider which topics you found particularly interesting. You might also consider developing a topic which you have written about and conducted some research on already. Another strategy is to consider a philosophical argument, discussion, article or book that you find particularly challenging, or one that you think is misguided, and then consider writing a response or thinking about how you could contribute to the discussion.

Step Three: Choose an Advisor
When you have a good idea of the topic that you would like to write about you should think about which member of the faculty you would like to direct your thesis. (Your thesis director can be either any permanent, full-time member of the department or another faculty member as approved by the department chair). It is probably a good idea to choose a thesis director whose area of expertise or interest matches your thesis topic. Your Senior Research Project advisor does not need to be the same person as your academic advisor but can be.

Step Four: Submit a Prospectus
After discussing your topic with you and helping you clarify your project, your thesis director will ask you to submit to him or her a prospectus. The purpose of submitting a prospectus is to help you clarify the main ideas and argument of the thesis. It is very important that you have a clear idea of what you intend to write about before you start writing. The prospectus should have the following features:

  • Title of Thesis

  • Statement of main argument of the thesis. (What position are you arguing/defending in the thesis? What reasons do you present in support of this position?)

  • Thesis structure (identification of main sections)

  • Bibliography (an annotated bibliography of 5-10 sources that you believe are central to your thesis).

Once you have submitted the prospectus to your advisor he or she will read it carefully and give you suggestions that will help you write your thesis. You may well discover that the main argument of the thesis needs to be redefined, or you need to revise the proposed argumentative structure.

Step Five: Get on a Writing Schedule
Once your thesis has been approved by your thesis advisor, you and your advisor will arrange dates on which you will submit the different sections or chapters of the thesis. Possibly, your advisor will ask for a complete first draft before reading the thesis.

For many people, the most difficult part of writing a thesis is the reading and research that comes before the writing stage. If this describes you, then make a schedule that gives you enough time to adequately complete this first stage.

Step Six: Talk to Your Thesis Advisor
Despite the image many people might have, philosophy is not a solitary enterprise but an activity that involves other people. If you are having trouble organizing your ideas and arguments, or you have discovered a line or argument that you find fascinating and wish to pursue, then talk to your advisor. Your advisor can suggest alternative research strategies, useful additional sources, or other ways of helping you progress with your thesis.

Step Seven: Submit a First Draft of the Thesis
Finally! You have written your thesis and it is time to submit it to your thesis advisor.

(Depending on the preferences of your thesis advisor, you may be asked to submit the thesis progressively and review each section/chapter as you complete it, or your advisor might want to see a draft of the complete thesis before beginning his or her review). The most important thing to remember at this stage is that you have submitted a first draft of the thesis. This means that after your advisor has read the thesis you can expect to make revisions. Nobody writes a perfect piece on the first draft, every paper needs and can be improved by someone reading the work closely and making helpful suggestions.

What revisions can you expect to make? Customarily, your advisor will ask you to:

  • Sharpen your arguments

  • Expand the discussion - particularly of arguments with which you disagree

  • Clarify the points that you are making

  • Respond to possible objections

  • Correct stylistic or typographical mistakes

  • Add or delete a paragraph or section

Bear in mind that there is considerable range in the amount of revision that your thesis advisor will ask you to make. Perhaps your first draft is very strong and the suggested revisions are not that extensive; but perhaps, your first draft is not as strong as you thought and the suggested revisions are considerable. To reduce the possibility of, and the disappointment that might follow the latter, it is very important that you regularly communicate with your thesis advisor as you are writing the first draft: by the time that you are ready to submit the first draft you should not have substantial doubts as to its overall quality.

Step Eight: Submit a Second Draft of the Thesis
When you have read your advisor’s comments and suggestions, you need to talk to your advisor about them to make sure you understand what he or she is asking you to do. (If you are not clear on your advisor’s concerns then you increase the likelihood of being asked to make further revisions in the future). Once you are clear on your advisor’s concerns then you need to go back to your thesis and make the suggested revisions.

Your advisor will read the second draft of the thesis and determine whether you have successfully completed the suggested revisions. It is possible that your advisor may decide that further work needs to be done and he or she will ask you to make more revisions. If you have successfully made the suggested revisions, then your advisor will approve the Senior Research Project as completed.