Anatomy of a Thesis

Anatomy of a Thesis

A thesis is not a term paper. In the process of completing a thesis, you will do a thorough investigation of background literature/research (referred to as a "Review of Literature," a "Bibliographic Essay," or simply "Background") related to your thesis question and to your mode of inquiry. This portion of your thesis is similar to what is typically thought of as a "term paper." However, a thesis goes far beyond the requirements of a term paper in that it involves original inquiry or creative activity of some kind.

In general, every thesis project requires that you:

  • explain clearly what you are up to and why.
  • review thoroughly the research/thinking that has already been done relative to your particular issue of interest.
  • explain how you will conduct your inquiry or creative activity.
  • carry out some inquiry or creative activity that has not been done before.
  • publish the results of your inquiry or creative activity.

All University Honors Theses require:

  • Title Page
  • Signature Page
  • Abstract
  • Acknowledgements

The format for these items is specified by the Honors College and is available in Franklin House and on the Web.

An Honors Thesis in a science or social science field will typically (though not always) consist of the following parts:

  • Introduction
  • Background/Review of Literature
  • Statement of the Problem/Hypothesis
  • Materials and Methods/Methodology
  • Data
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • References/Works Cited

Some fields (e.g. history, anthropology, literary studies) lend themselves to a more narrative structure. For example, an historical thesis might include:

  • Introduction and statement of historical issue
  • Historical narrative
  • Bibliographic essay

A literary thesis might proceed through:

  • Introduction and statement of thesis focus
  • Description of analytic mode or framework
  • Preliminary review of relevant literature
  • Original literary analysis integrated with relevant literary criticism literature

An anthropological thesis typically includes:

  • Introduction and description of the study
  • Context
  • Descriptive/ethnographic essay
  • Interpretation

In some fields (particularly mathematics) and in some instances, a particular thesis problem or topic will dictate an even looser, more problem-determined structure for the written thesis.  Below is a link for the Biology Department thesis procedure.


Students in the performing arts and in technical fields (such as Industrial Technology and Computer Science) may choose to complete a thesis project that involves performance (e.g. a musical composition, the development of software, or a design/invention) to a greater degree than it involves a written record of inquiry. The Honors College encourages students to develop theses projects that match their interests, talents and field of study closely. In all cases, the results of the thesis inquiry must be "published" i.e. available to interested persons. This publication must include a written explanation of the intent of the project as well as a written description of the intellectual, practical and/or creative context for the work. It may include alternative media such as musical score, videotape, slides, a computer disk or even a WWW address.

Students are urged to consult closely with their thesis advisor and the members of their committee regarding the "parts" appropriate to their particular thesis project. It is also helpful to take a look at theses completed by past Honors graduates. These are available in Franklin House.