Senior Honors Thesis

The Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service offers senior undergraduates the opportunity to earn an award of honors in the major through the successful completion of a thesis and specific cumulative and major grade point averages.  The standards and expectations of honors-quality work are consistent with the idea that students graduating with honors from the school are the premier thinkers and writers at Georgetown. Students who earn honors receive a transcript notation and recognition at the Tropaia honors ceremony during commencement weekend.

Read completed SFS honors theses through GU’s Digital Library.

Why write a senior honors thesis?

A senior thesis allows you to examine a significant scholarly issue in detail and to focus your time and attention on an important issue in which you are deeply interested.  A thesis is an original work of thought and research, not merely a summary of the work and ideas of others. “Original research” means that the student has defined an important question, has closely examined the existing scholarly literature and relevant primary sources on that topic, and has offered some argument, evidence or ideas on the topic that go beyond what is contained in primary and secondary source material.

The benefits of writing a thesis include:

  • Exploring a topic of your choosing in greater depth;
  • Learning to develop a concise and testable research hypothesis;
  • Creating your own research design;
  • Working closely with a faculty mentor;
  • Developing methodological skills using statistical techniques;
  • Collecting and collating primary data and sources;
  • Navigating libraries, archives, databases and other research venues;
  • Contributing to your field by becoming an ‘expert’ on one issue;
  • Showing readiness for graduate school and professional life by developing transferable skills;
  • Demonstrating ability to stay committed to a lengthy project;
  • Improving time management skills;
  • Presenting and defending research findings to a group of peers, faculty and deans; and
  • Building self-confidence in working on a major independent project from start to finish.

To determine if writing a thesis is right for you, ask yourself:

  • Do you enjoy research and writing?  Do you have an idea for a question or problem you would like to explore in a year-long project?
  • Do you want to demonstrate your ability to undertake a significant research project as readiness for graduate school or to a prospective employer?
  • Do you enjoy working independently on projects?  Do you want to develop a close working relationship with a faculty mentor?
  • Are you willing to make the commitment to writing a thesis over other options including writing a one-semester thesis in the context of a certificate program, pursuing a meaningful internship, or spending time on extracurriular activities during your senior year?

If you answered “yes” to the questions above, writing a thesis may be a good fit for you.  Discuss your interests with the curricular dean of your major and a faculty mentor.

How to prepare in your sophomore and junior years

In your sophomore year:

  • Talk to your dean and faculty members about topic ideas;
  • Attend campus lectures on topics of interest to begin to gather ideas on thesis topic;
  • Take appropriate classes to provide sufficient background in your areas of interest – upper-level language classes are excellent preparation for reading primary source documents (IECO and IPEC majors should complete ECON 122 by junior year at the latest);
  • Take core and major foundation classes (e.g,, GOVT 006 and 121 for IPOL; regional history courses for RCST; CULP 045 for CULP);
  • Define possible topics within your major during the major declaration process;
  • Attend thesis presentations of graduating seniors, the Carroll Round and other thesis workshops; and
  • Keep on track with course count and requirements to ensure that you won’t need to take an overload your senior year. If possible, it is ideal to take only four classes while writing your thesis during your senior year.

In your junior year:

  • String together courses that relate to your topic utilizing core, major and elective courses;
  • Identify a faculty mentor with the appropriate expertise and with whom you believe you can work well;
  • Attend the Carroll Round (for IECO and IPEC students);
  • Discuss your topic with your mentor and dean and develop a specific hypothesis;
  • Read relevant materials and attend a workshop on developing a thesis proposal;
  • Continue to take appropriate classes relevant to your topic;
  • Do background reading on topics of interest;
  • Talk to students doing an honors thesis and see whether this is something you want to tackle;
  • Discuss an appropriate courseload for senior year with your dean;
  • Submit a thesis proposal by the deadline (for CULP, IHIS, IPOL, RCST and STIA);
  • Submit a letter of intent by the deadline (for IECO and IPEC).

How to select a topic for your thesis

Selecting a topic that will maintain your interest and is feasible given the scope and access to sources is your first challenge.  Here are some questions to ask while exploring potential topics:

  • What classes did you like and why?
  • In looking over course syllabi of these classes, what issues stand out?
  • What debates did you find interesting?
  • What paper did you write that you would like to continue?
  • What articles, journals and newspapers raised compelling questions you’d like to explore in further depth?

Here are some other tips to keep in mind while selecting a topic:

  • Select a topic you are able to sufficiently explore within the allotted time frame;
  • Select a topic that is fascinating to you and will hold your attention;
  • Select a topic that is neither too narrowly or broadly conceived;
  • Revisit your major declaration essay to recall your individual themes, questions, and case studies of interest;
  • Talk to a faculty member who knows about the topic to see if your topic has not been done before, and get help in defining your topic;
  • Think about how your exploration of a topic provides an original contribution to the field;
  • Identify a well-defined topic that is closely linked to a larger issue which you can explain;
  • Engage in brainstorming and pre-writing to articulate your initial ideas; and
  • Within your topic identify a single precise question – a hypothesis – that your thesis will answer.

Questions to brainstorm at the beginning of your project:

  • What do I already know about the topic?
  • Why do I care about this topic?
  • Why is this topic important to others?
  • What more do I want to learn about this topic?
  • What is the main question that I am trying to answer?
  • Where can I look for additional information?
  • How will my work inform my larger field of study?

Developing a hypothesis

Every thesis must have a hypothesis.  A hypothesis is a specific question that your thesis will answer. It should be expressed in clear pointed language. You need a hypothesis that:

  • Has not been adequately addressed in the scholarly literature;
  • Expresses one main point and is specific;
  • Does not have an obvious answer, but is answerable;
  • Takes a stand by showing your conclusions about a subject;
  • Deserves research because it will make a meaningful contribution to our understanding of a larger problem or issue;
  • Is falsifiable – can be contradicted by empirical observation and data;
  • Can be answered within the allotted time frame; and
  • Is reasonable, given your background, resources and skills.

Here are some sample hypotheses from thesis papers:

  • Raffael Correa’s project of reform represented a worsening of the legitimacy deficit of Ecuador’s government.
  • The Chinese government managed nationalism through newspapers in the EP-3 incident.
  • Is Islamic feminism in Spain a Spanish or Islamic movement?
  • Household spending on entertainment and education is correlated with socio-economic class in Ecuador.
  • Why are some states more embedded in the non-proliferation regime than others?
  • To what extent does the presence of the Internet challenge the durability of the French state?
  • What are the prospects for Turkey to complete the consolidation of its democracy against the realities of its cultural and historical challenges?
  • What factors explain Tanzania’s long history of peace in light of its war-prone neighborhood?
  • If women assert their rights within a framework of Islamic justice rather than secular equality, what are the implications for female participation in a democratic state?
  • IECO and IPEC majors should refer to the Carroll Round Proceedings journal for samples of thesis topics and hypotheses.

Developing a thesis proposal / Writing a letter of intent

Writing a research proposal is very different from writing a term paper.  A term paper presents a topic and draws conclusions about it; a research proposal identifies a hypothesis and proposes an argument about how to answer it. The proposal is not an iron-clad plan. Rather, it is an argument about why you should be allowed to pursue research in the honors program. The proposal should be 4-6 pages in length and must be reviewed by the faculty mentor prior to submission to the curricular dean.

Your proposal should include the following sections and information:

  • Brief introductory section to set the scene for your topic. You may consider beginning with a relevant quote or anecdote.  State your hypothesis clearly. Identify your faculty mentor.
  • Literature review to show your familiarity with the topic and relevant scholarly literature in the field.  Sum up what has already been done on this topic and explain your unique contribution.
  • Methods section in which you describe how you will go about doing the research. Explain how you will test your hypothesis and what specific data/sources you will use.  Identify any problems you foresee in obtaining the necessary resources.
  • Analytical section in which you describe the implications of your results.  You should begin to address the ‘so what’ question of what your results might reveal.
  • Feasibility and limitations section in which you outline your course background and skills (languages, statistical competence, etc.) appropriate to carrying out the research and producing a convincing argument.
  • Preliminary bibliography to include a listing of both primary and secondary sources.

Working with a thesis mentor

Mentoring a thesis demands serious commitment from faculty members. Accordingly, you should choose your mentor carefully and with confidence that he or she has the time and inclination to serve.

The mentor has three primary roles:

  • Experienced advisor during the early stages of defining and structuring a topic;
  • Scholarly guide to the main literature on the thesis topic and to appropriate resources; and
  • Intellectual partner and constructive critic during research and writing phases of the project.

How to find a good mentor:

  • Talk to professors with whom you’ve taken a course;
  • Ask for recommendations from professors, your curricular dean, and field chair;
  • Check bibliographies for articles or books written by Georgetown faculty;
  • Look through the Schedule of Classes to see who is teaching on your topic/region of interest; and
  • Peruse departmental websites and the directory for information on individual professor’s research interests.

Use of Sources

SFS honors theses are expected to include the use of primary sources and secondary sources.

The definition of and need for “primary sources” depend on the subject of the thesis. Primary sources might include:

  • legal, philosophical or other texts;
  • historical archives or other document collections;
  • works of art and literature in original languages (or, where appropriate, in translation);
  • scientific papers and technological sources;
  • cultural artifacts;
  • economic, survey or other statistical data;
  • interviews conducted by the student;
  • newspaper or other first-hand accounts of events;
  • memoirs; and
  • Websites and business records.

Thesis Format

The thesis should be written in a clear, professional, and engaging style. The quality of the writing is inseparable from the quality of research and is considered by the committee to be an important part of a successful thesis. Most are 60-80 pages in length, though this will vary by major.

Three complete hard copies of the thesis should be turned in to the curricular dean, and an additional hard copy should be submitted directly to the faculty mentor. An electronic copy should also be sent to the curricular dean.  IECO and IPEC majors should see specific information below.

The manuscript should be typed, double-spaced, on one side of 8 1/2-by-11-inch paper.

  • The pages should be numbered.
  • The cover sheet should include
    • the thesis title
    • the student’s name
    • the mentor’s name
    • the phrase “A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Award of Honors in [Major Field], Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, [Semester and Year].”
  • Notes and references may be given as footnotes, endnotes or in-text citations. However, notes – including the citation of electronic sources – must follow a consistent, recognized scholarly format appropriate for the field in which the thesis is written. (Please consult your faculty mentor for the appropriate style – styles vary across disciplines.)
  • The thesis must contain a full bibliography or list of references.
  • Illustrations, maps, appendices or other materials may be included if they are essential to the argument advanced in the work, all materials must be fully cited, whether from primary sources or taken from published sources.
  • Thesis pages should be bound or secured.