English Honors Thesis/ Major Paper Guidelines

Major Paper and Thesis Scheduling:

  • You should meet with your Thesis Director the semester prior to your thesis semester to confirm arrangements and begin research.
  • Submit the Application Form for English Honors Thesis (or Application Form for English Honors Major Paper) by the third Friday of the semester in which you are enrolled in ENGL 4996 or planning your Major Paper.
  • Set up a schedule of intermediary deadlines and conferences with your Director to discuss research, and, once you begin writing, sections of your initial draft.
  • For thesis only: submit Thesis Prospectus by the last Friday in September for students completing work in the Fall semester or the last Friday in February for Spring. The prospectus must be approved by your Director before submitting it to the Director of English Honors. You may email your approved prospectus as a Word attachment to Dr. John Miles at jdmiles1@memphis.edu.
  • Expect to write multiple drafts of at least some sections of your thesis.
  • Always allow your Director ample time to read your manuscript and suggest corrections.
  • After your Director has approved your final draft, your second reader may also suggest changes. Allow two weeks for the second reading and your final corrections. Never give a draft to your second reader without previously consulting with your Thesis Director.
  • Submit a hard copy of the thesis or major paper to Dr. John Miles, Director of the English Honors Program, by the last day of classes during the semester in which you are enrolled in the thesis course (ENGL 4996).


  • Theses are typically 30-40 pages; they may be longer, and some (particularly those consisting of poetry) may be shorter. Ultimately, the thesis will be of the length appropriate to the subject as proposed by the student and Director and approved by the English Honors Committee.
  • Major papers are typically 15-20 pages.

Overview: Thesis vs. major paper:

  • Like the thesis, the major paper is written with the supervision of a faculty advisor. It similarly requires independent research or original creative writing and is produced in multiple drafts. The thesis requires a second reader as well as a director; only one supervisor is needed for the major paper.
  • You receive 3 hours of credit for the thesis (ENGL 4996 which counts as an elective, not towards your concentration); the major paper does not receive degree credit. You will receive a letter grade (A-F) for ENGL 4996.
  • Like the thesis, the major paper should entail independent scholarly or creative work; its options for topics (see below) are equally broad. Either may develop from initial work in one of your classes.
  • The major paper option does not entail a formal prospectus, unlike the thesis. It does, however, require you to inform the honors director of your plans: the topic of your paper, your advisor's name, and when you plan to submit the paper.


  • Format guidelines for the final thesis draft are available from the University Honors Program Thesis Manual. The Department of English does not require a particular method of binding, but we do stipulate a consistent citation style, etc., for either thesis or major paper.
  • You must submit a signed acceptance form with your final draft of either thesis or major paper.
  • For thesis organizational options, see Prospectus Guidelines.


Students design topics with assistance from their Directors. Possible types of inquiry include:

  • Original research, in which the student works with primary documents previously untreated by scholars, such as journals, letters, and other types of private writing, in combination with interviews where appropriate; field research in linguistics or ESL; empirical studies in professional writing.
  • Scholarly argument which casts a new view on an old topic.
  • Review of a substantial body of material (literature, field research, document analysis, theoretical schools, etc.) representing primarily new knowledge for the student, with a presentation that synthesizes, evaluates or discusses its implications.
  • Original work in fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction.
  • Students should work on a topic within their declared English concentration. For a topic outside of the concentration to be approved by the English Honors Director, the student must have completed substantial Upper Division coursework in that field of study.

For further guidance in selecting a topic, see advice!