The Honors Program
Each year, a few English majors write senior honors theses. Doing so is not a requirement of the major, but a thesis does fulfill the Senior Capstone Writing Requirement for English majors. Creative Writing minors who are also English majors are neither obliged to write a senior thesis nor guaranteed that opportunity. Copies of past Honors Theses may be consulted in the English Department Seminar Room and Library (Payne 212) or in Leyburn Library.
English 493 (3, 3) — Senior Honors Thesis.
Rules Governing the Senior Honors Thesis in English
- To be eligible for the Senior Honors Thesis, a rising senior must have four 300-level English courses at Washington and Lee. The four courses may be comprised of a minimum of two completed 300-level English courses and two winter term courses in which the student is enrolled and in good standing. Prospective Honors students must have a cumulative grade-point average of 3.00 or above and a grade-point average of at least 3.5 in the major.
- Students who meet these conditions must apply to be accepted as an honors thesis candidate no later than 1 February of their junior year. The application, found here, requires information on advisers, GPA, courses taken, a page-long description of the project pre-approved by the prospective thesis director, and a preliminary bibliography. A department committee reads the applications and confers decisions to the chair, who will notify applicants of their status before fall registration occurs in March. These requirements will be waived only in exceptional circumstances and only with the approval of the majority of the voting members of the departmental faculty. Please note that if you studied abroad and your course work is not included in the application, you can still submit and provide an explanation to the department chair.
- Successful Honors candidates will register for English 493 in the Fall and Winter Terms. Throughout both terms they will have frequent conferences with their director and will be actively engaged in work on their thesis. They are expected to attend bi-weekly honors thesis meetings convened by the chair. Twenty polished pages of writing should be made to the director by the end of Fall Term. Students who fail to submit 20 polished pages by the end of exam week of fall term will be subject to automatic conversion of their 493 to 403 and required to take 413 in the winter term. Students must also secure the agreement of another member of the English faculty to be a second reader.
- The candidate must complete a full-length complete draft of the thesis by the end of the Winter Term, to be submitted to both the adviser and the second reader. Students who fail to submit a complete draft to adviser and second reader by the end of exam week in winter term will be subject to automatic conversion of their 493 to 413 and 403. If the final grade is not submitted at the end of Winter term, the instructor may submit a WIP grade. Even with a WIP extension, the candidate must submit the final copy to the director and the second reader no later than end of the first week of Spring Term. New drafting should not be undertaken during Spring Term. The extended time should be used only for revision and polishing.
- A completed thesis must earn at least a grade of B in order to result in Honors in the major. If it does not, it will result in the conversion of English 493 to English 413 and 403. Determination of the grade for the project will be made by the director and the second reader. If they cannot agree on an appropriate grade, the director may decide to submit the thesis to a third reader for a decision.
- One copy of the thesis must be submitted to the Leyburn Library's Digital Repository by filling out the webform at https://managementtools3.wlu.edu/WLUForms/WLU/Default.aspx?Form=290. (Creative Writing Thesis writers may wish to limit access to their thesis, which they may hope to publish later.) A bound copy must be left in the English Department Seminar Room and Library (Payne 212).
- The candidate is required to give a public presentation based on the thesis work. These presentations are scheduled at the end of the winter term and/or the beginning of the spring term of the senior year.
Special Guidelines for the Creative Thesis
All the above rules governing the Senior Honors Thesis in English also apply to creative theses, meaning extended works of fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry.
In addition, students writing creative theses must:
- Include in their proposal (due Feb. 1st of the junior year) a preliminary reading list of at least 10 sources, generated in consultation with the thesis adviser. These sources could include literary models, craft books, and/or critical and theoretical texts appropriate to the project. It is fine to draw on one kind of source more heavily than others (literary models, for example), as long as there is some variety.
For example: a portfolio of poems based on Paleolithic cave paintings might inspire a list including similar sequences by other poets; art books; critical studies of ekphrasis; historical and archaeological sources; the tourist web site for Chauvet Cave.
- Generate, as part of their final thesis (complete draft due at the end of winter term, senior year), a critical preface contextualizing the creative project (about 3000 words). This preface may demonstrate a broader scope of reference and a more personal point of view than most essays for regular English courses. It should describe the origins of the project and reflect on the process of writing and research. However, it should also deploy the core skills you have developed through the English major, proving that you can:
- write clear, persuasive analytical essays driven by arguments about texts;
- read closely, recognizing subtle and complex differences in language use;
- seek out further knowledge about literary works, authors, and/or contexts, and document research appropriately, adhering to the highest standards of intellectual honesty;
- derive pleasure and edification from a broad range of texts.
The preliminary reading list may be the basis of your "Works Cited" but it's natural for such lists to evolve along the way. Expect at least one meeting per term with your thesis adviser devoted to your reading list--the preface is not an afterthought. It should evolve alongside the creative piece.
For example, the preface to that poem sequence on cave paintings might begin by asserting the relevance of cave painting to contemporary experience; offer a history of the phenomenon; discuss the role of ekphrasis in recent English-language poetry and critical responses to such endeavors; include a close reading of part of David Wojahn's sonnet sequence "Ochre," your inspiration for the project; and conclude with a more personal meditation on the questions and problems that emerged during your months of work.