Guidelines for Honors Theses in the English Department

These guidelines are intended for both faculty and students, to facilitate the process of planning and completing honors theses in the English department (i.e., English majors and film and media studies majors). They should be used in conjunction with the Honors College requirements for theses; a student must meet both English department requirements and Barrett Honors College requirements to successfully complete the thesis.

General departmental guidelines appear first; following these are guidelines specific to creative writing. For further information on honors theses in linguistics, please contact Professor Mark James; for theses in literature, contact Professor Claudia Sadowski-Smith; for film and media, contact Aaron Baker

  • Students wishing to write a thesis in the English department are usually English majors or minors, and the thesis is usually in the area of concentration. However, directors may choose to to work with students who are not English majors or minors, or whose theses will not be in the areas of concentration. For example, for rare exceptions involving creative writing, see the guidelines specific to creative writing at the end of this document.
  • The minimum number of committee members will be two, a director and second committee member, and the director must be an ASU faculty member (tenure-line or lecturer). However, a director may insist on stricter requirements (e.g., having a third member, or that all members must be faculty).
  • It is the student’s responsibility to formulate the thesis topic, to request faculty to serve on her or his committee, to submit the necessary forms, and to ascertain and inform the director of the committee of all honors college requirements and deadlines.
  • An honors thesis prospectus should be submitted to the director of undergraduate studies, Professor Robert Sturges, by October 1 for a defense in the following spring semester, or by March 1 for a defense the following fall. The prospectus must also be submitted to Barrett, the Honors College, by their deadline, which may differ. Students are encouraged to submit the prospectus earlier than the due date. The prospectus should give contact information for the student, state the topic and working title for the thesis, list the committee chair and second reader, and indicate a tentative date (month is sufficient) for the defense. It should be signed by the student, the committee chair, and the second reader. This may be a copy of the prospectus which the student is required to submit to the honors college, as long as it meets the above requirements.
  • In the case of a multidisciplinary thesis where English is one of the disciplines involved, these same guidelines will apply.

Honors Theses in Creative Writing

There is no guarantee of approval for creative theses; they are not automatic for every honors student who has a concentration in creative writing. Creative writing professors will accept as thesis students only those they believe best qualify for thesis work.

Likely candidates for acceptance as thesis students will most often have passed Portfolio Review and taken at least one advanced (400-level) course in the thesis genre. On rare occasions, non-creative-writing-concentrators may be accepted as thesis students at the discretion of the instructor. Students with no academic experience in creative writing are unlikely to find acceptance.

The creative writing faculty are unlikely to chair a committee unless they have already worked with that student in a classroom situation.

Creative Writing Thesis Requirements

  • The thesis prep workshop offered by BHC
  • The prospectus: The prospectus is worked out and written early in the student’s first thesis semester. The advisor and the student will confer about the selection of the second reader. Professors will likely require that the student read some texts in their genre of choice. The writing in either poetry or fiction will also begin during ENG 492, and will be completed during the second thesis semester, ENG 493.
  • Fiction: Professors will expect the student to write and revise between 30-50 pages of prose. The length of the project will be agreed upon between the student and the committee chair according to the individual context.
  • Poetry: Professors will expect the student to write and revise 14-21 pages of poetry. The length of the project will be agreed upon between the student and the committee chair according to the individual context.
  • Attendance: All students are expected to attend at least one poetry reading or one fiction reading.
  • The Defense: All students will present an excerpt of their work in a formal reading, approximately 6-8 poems or 5-10 pages of fiction. The presentation is followed by a discussion with the committee on specific aspects of the thesis concerning both conception and execution.

Thesis FAQ:

Are there best practices for honors projects?

Great writers are necessarily great readers: we hope that any creative thesis will follow plentiful reading in relevant contemporary literature and will include continued reading throughout the writing experience. Great writers are also hard-working writers. We expect an honors student not only to advance a thesis to completion, but demonstrate growth as a writer.

What advantages are conferred by a creative writing thesis?

When a creative project is complete, the student will have a body of work large enough to serve as a work sample in a graduate school application. He or she will also have tested the waters of writing outside the classroom, which is quite different from the workshop environment (and more closely resembles the general experience of The Writer’s Life…). The creative writing thesis both cultivates a student’s independence and also enables a close working relationship with the faculty mentor.

Can I do a group project?

Writers band together—this has been true forever!—to start publishing ventures, to collaborate (with each other, with visual artists, with composers, with engineers), or to reach out into the larger community (in service of the art, in service of the community itself…). ASU CW welcomes projects in which this kind of collegial and/or interdisciplinary vision brings students together and enlarges our experience of the literary arts.

What internships are available to BHC students?

Hayden’s Ferry Review: Interns for HFR get a behind-the-scenes look at how an internationally-distributed literary magazine is run. Responsibilities include reading and voting on submissions, writing features for the blog, assisting in social media, handling subscriptions, organizing fundraisers and more. Contact: hfr@asu.edu

Superstition Review: s[r] is a national online literary magazine produced by undergraduate students at ASU. The mission of SR is to promote contemporary art and literature by providing a free, easy-to-navigate, high quality online publication that features work by established and emerging artists and authors from all over the world. We publish two issues a year with art, fiction, interviews, nonfiction, and poetry.

Students will be exposed to all parts of magazine management such as production deadlines, corresponding with authors, choosing and formatting work for publication, conducting interviews, event planning, curating blog content, social media management, advertising, and other detailed steps of the publication process. During this internship students have the opportunity to become proficient in many technologies that are required in today’s job market. To learn more, email founding editor Patricia Murphy at pcm@asu.edu.

Honors Contract Requirements

All creative writing courses *may* accommodate honors contracts, and all creative writing faculty work regularly and enthusiastically with honors students. We ask that you approach your professor early in the term to discuss whether a project is possible and what form it might take, and to establish a work schedule, plan, and deadlines.

Honors contracts may be for 1-8 hours of instruction, as determined by the professor in consultation with the student. In poetry, the writing usually involves no more than three pages of new poems in response to outside readings and/or a short paper responding critically to a selection of poems decided upon by student and professor. In fiction, the writing usually involves a single short story and/or a short paper responding critically to a selection of fiction decided upon by student and professor.

For additional information, please contact Faculty Honors Advisor Assistant Professor Sally Ball (sally.ball@asu.edu).