Thesis & Doctoral Culminating Projects

As always, the honors adviser in the intended area of honors is the gatekeeper about whether a given thesis topic and supervisor are acceptable. The thesis proposal doesn't require a timetable, but you and your supervisor should have a clear idea of how much you should accomplish on a monthly basis all the way through completion. Not all of those monthly benchmarks will be actual written work; for many Scholars the write-up won't come until toward the end. If you fall behind during the earlier part of the thesis timeline, it will be difficult if not impossible to make up that ground later.

You should take proactive steps against procrastination by making yourself accountable to someone other than yourself. Scheduling regular meetings with your thesis supervisor - even if you're working in same lab routinely - is the best way to do that. Some majors have required thesis seminars which will bring you together with other thesis-writers in your major. Think ahead, preferably well before the time of your thesis proposal, about what your thesis work will mean for your senior year schedule. There are many reasons to plan to include the summer between junior and senior year in your research timeline: All of the ones just mentioned, plus the benefit of devoting yourself full-time to the thesis, whether it's in a lab on campus or in the field.

In science and engineering, writing is typically "summative": It is, literally, a write-up of actual physical work or simulations you have done. In the humanities, on the other hand, writing is typically "formative" in that the real intellectual work of the project is indistinguishable from the writing.

Course Requirements

Some fields, such as social sciences, typically fall somewhere in between. These distinctions among types of writing are important because they dictate different timelines for the transition from research to writing, and whether a clean transition even makes sense. They also impact how much time you'll need for successive drafts. In a summative writing field it's relatively unlikely that you'll have to go back and make big changes as that would strongly suggest that the underlying research is flawed.

Guidelines for Submission of Master’s Theses to the Library

In a formative writing field it's the norm. Your thesis supervisor will have ample experience in these workflow issues so you should make it a big part of your initial discussions and you should keep on track with whatever you agree to. Regardless of the field, writing comes more easily to some people than to others, and for different reasons. For some people, including some Scholars, it's a relative struggle just to produce an acceptable piece of writing, while for others, probably including a lot more Scholars, it's a struggle to produce something that meets their own demanding standards.

Here is some advice for both groups:. Scholarly writers have to organize their material, [and] express an argument clearly enough that readers can follow the reasoning and accept their conclusions.


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They make this job harder than it need be when they think that there is only One Right Way to do it, that each paper they write has a preordained structure they must find. They simplify their work, on the other hand, when they recognize that there are many effective ways to say something and that their job is only to choose one way and execute it so that readers will know what they are doing. Especially if you're in the social sciences, you should consider getting and reading the whole book, which is still available.

The sooner you can get to an acceptable completed thesis, in advance of the submission deadline, the more time you have to make it an exemplary thesis.

In This Section

Sometimes early chapters are easier to write once you have the bulk of the thesis committed to paper—and that's almost always the case for the Introduction, which presents a completed work and can't be written earlier except as an exercise to help you imagine the completed work. Especially in those "formative writing" fields, the solution to writer's block is to write something even if you have no confidence it will be there in that form at the end. Treat writing like researching: Not every book and article you look at will end up cited in your thesis, and not every day in the lab will be reflected in your results.

While some thesis supervisors will be eager to provide feedback as soon as you start producing writing, others may be inclined to wait until you've written the bulk of your thesis. The sooner you can get feedback, the better! Of course, the other side of the coin is that you need to get used to accepting feedback and, at your discretion, incorporating it into your work.


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  • Make sure you are clear about which suggested changes are in effect required. A required change is one without which the supervisor won't approve the thesis. Suggested changes are just that, suggestions that can be accepted or politely declined. The final proofreading and formatting of your thesis can't be done in an hour or most likely even a day, so be sure to leave time in your timeline for those important tasks.

    A thesis really is forever, especially in the electronic age, and ideally it shouldn't be a source of embarrassment to you months and years down the line. It's very likely that your thesis will quote from the works of others to some extent. You must acknowledge this use and provide an appropriate citation, but you do not need permission to use works in the public domain works on which a copyright never existed or on which copyright has expired. To determine if a work is in the public domain, go to the following website , made available through Cornell University.

    If you use copyrighted works, refer to Section of U. Copyright law, otherwise known as the fair use doctrine. Below is the applicable language:.


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    • The fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching including multiple copies for classroom use , scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include —. All four factors must be considered when conducting a fair use analysis. The Fair Use Checklist is an excellent tool in making a fair use determination.

      Again, you must acknowledge the source of the content. If the use does not qualify as a fair use, you may not include the material without written permission of the copyright holder. For additional information, visit Penn State's Copyright Law website. When requesting letters of permission, be sure the grantor is aware that the work will be made available to the public through Penn State's Electronic Theses and Dissertation website. Any letters of permission should be submitted along with the thesis cover page. You are solely responsible if you violate copyright law; Penn State will not be held liable.

      There is a very strong presumption in favor of fair use when citing scholarly work, the purpose of which is after all to be utilized in future scholarship; likewise, in scholarship about copyrighted works e.

      User Guide for Penn State Thesis Template (PSTT)

      Planning A Thesis. An ideal thesis project should do many things, including: Satisfy your intellectual curiousity Give you the opportunity to work closely with faculty mentors Develop transferable skills Clarify your post-graduation plans Quality In the end the single biggest factor in determining thesis quality is your level of interest in and engagement with the topic, so it's worth the time and trouble to consider multiple possibilities rather than going with the first one that seems attractive to you.

      Purpose At this point it's useful to review the purpose of the thesis, from the SHC's perspective.

      Research-Oriented Majors You should avoid the temptation to stick with your first lab placement merely out of convenience if the topic is not interesting to you. A Thesis Needs A Thesis. From Interest to Thesis One of the major problems Scholars encounter is how to translate an interest in a topic into a thesis.

      Term Paper vs. Honors Thesis A term paper can be spectacularly ambitious, lengthy, and well-done but its only goal is to demonstrate that the student has mastered the material.

      Indiana University of Pennsylvania

      The feasibility of a given thesis problem is bounded, as mathematicians might say, by several factors including: Time Unlike a doctoral dissertation, which is ready when it's ready even if that turns out to be a year or more past the original expectation, the honors thesis shouldn't extend your time at Penn State by design. Resources Resources are a potential issue in that even a comprehensive and well-funded university like Penn State doesn't have the physical infrastructure for every possible kind of research.

      Abilities The constraint that's least discussed but is probably most important, of course, is your abilities. Realistic Ambition Ambitious yet reasonable expectations for the thesis, in terms of what you will learn and how the final product will contribute to knowledge, are not uniform across all fields. Proposal, Supervisor and Area of Honors.

      The Department of Biobehavioral Health (BBH) Penn State

      Thesis Proposal When is the thesis proposal due? The thesis proposal needs only two things: Topic What the thesis will be about Supervision Who will be supervising you The SHC staff doesn't review the content of the proposal, so the intended audience is your would-be thesis supervisor and the honors adviser in your intended area of honors. Thesis Supervisor Your thesis supervisor is the professor who has primary responsibility for — wait for it — supervising your thesis.

      Don't put too much stock in second-hand information about a professor, but if after meeting him or her you have concerns then you should certainly consider continuing your search.

      Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD) Formatting Requirements

      While a good thesis can come of a strained supervisor-student relationship, it's not likely. Area of Honors Major as Area of Honors The standard scenario is that a Scholar has one major and writes the thesis under the supervision of a thesis supervisor in that major. Area-Specific Requirements The honors adviser is the gatekeeper for any area-specific policies or requirements beyond the thesis itself. Honors Adviser An honors adviser from the area in which you are pursuing honors must read and approve your thesis.

      Multiple Majors If you have more than one major, you can do one of the following: Pick one major and write a thesis for honors solely in that major Pick a topic that can legitimately earn honors in both majors Write multiple theses, one for honors in each major The first scenario is the most common, followed by the second depending on how closely related the majors are. Second- and Third-Year Entrants including Paterno Fellows If you were admitted to the Honors College after your first year or via the Liberal Arts Paterno Fellows program, you are expected to write your thesis for honors in your entrance major.