Honors Thesis /Major Paper Advice

The following tips were compiled, in part, from student commentary; much of this advice applies also to the major paper option. If you have a suggestion to add, please contact the Director of the English Honors Program, Dr. John Miles, at jdmiles1@memphis.edu.

Developing a topic:

  • In each of your Upper Division English courses, consider expanding your paper into your thesis or major paper. Upper Division honors courses should help you define research problems and identify approaches pertinent to your subject.
  • If you already have a research topic in mind, you might contract a related course for honors credit in order to pursue a special research project that would lead to an honors thesis in a later semester.
  • Consider an Independent Study with your Director the semester prior to registering for thesis hours in order to conduct substantial research for your project.
  • If your thesis research is based on a study begun in one of your Upper Division classes, you might ask the instructor of the course to be your Director.
  • Pick a subject that you really like; it will be with you for quite a while!


  • Get started early. It's best to pick a subject you have already started working on in class.
  • In one of your first meetings with your Director, make a schedule: setting up appointments, being sure your Director knows all your deadlines, etc. Then, keep track of your progress. Your Director can help you think about how to schedule things, because your Director has more experience in determining how long you will need to spend on the various stages of research, writing, and revising. Your Director will not, however, supervise you to see that you meet deadlines; that is your responsibility.
  • Plan to spend a lot of time doing reading and research in addition to the actual writing.
  • Don't start to write your paper until you are sure you have a clear focus and know what you are doing!
  • Meet with your Director regularly.
  • Treat self-imposed deadlines and appointment with your Director just as if you were going to a class meeting. Do not allow yourself excuses.
  • Remember: You will receive a letter grade (A-F) for the thesis course.
  • Reward yourself in some small way for meeting each goal you have set.


  • Save time in bibliographic searches by using the bibliography and footnotes in one or more of your sources. This will lead you quickly to the primary sources. Note the source where you found the item listed.
  • Be sure you are familiar with common databases such as JSTOR.
  • Follow MLA style for literature papers.

Working with your Thesis Director:

  • Your Director is an advisor, consultant, and resource person. The Director expects a student to make changes in response to suggestions about the direction, scope, and methodology of the study. But the Director is neither parent nor taskmaster; the scholarship, the organization and production of your draft, your ideas and conclusions, the adherence to instructions and deadlines, these are up to you. (However, your Director must approve your work.)
  • Your Director has agreed to serve in this capacity as a favor to you; having seen your earlier work, the faculty member believes in your ability to carry out the work. Your Director receives no rewards for enabling you to conduct this project within the framework of the English Honors Program, none, that is, other than the pleasure of observing your success! Please respond appropriately to your Director's efforts on your behalf by taking initiative in your work, keeping your appointments, and expressing your gratitude.


  • As you're working on your thesis, don't forget to participate in the opportunities afforded by the University Honors Program! The Works-in-Progress Symposium provides opportunities to present and receive feedback on your work right here at the University of Memphis, and you can also travel to present your research at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, with financial support from the University.