Goals for honors theses
The point of an honors theses is to carry out a scholarly project from
start to finish, with help. Typically this is a students first
experience of doing this, so guidance is essential at all stages. The typical stages are:
1. Formulate a question. The question should neither be trivial nor impossible to answer in the time available. The student should understand how the question arises from past literature. That is, the student should know, and be able to write about, what is already known and what is not yet known about the topic. The student should be able to explain why the topic is worth pursuing, both for practical reasons or theoretical reasons, to the extent each type of reason is relevant.
2. The student should know how to find relevant literature
efficiently and how to summarize it. This should have been learned
in the capstone seminar, but these may be done concurrently.
3. If the project involves collection of data, the student should understand the problems of data collection such as sampling or experimental design, and the various relevant approaches to data analysis and presentation, including relevant statistical analysis and graphics. The Web site fivethirtyeight.com, run by Nate Silver is an excellent example of the kind of critical approach to data that students should understand, insofar as data are relevant to their projects.
4. The student should be able to put together a report, in a way that
is appropriate for the relevant discipline. The report should be something another student could understand, so it should clearly
explain the relevant background, the results, and the conclusions. Writing such a report requires some of the same skills described
above for the capstone seminars, such as being able summarize and fairly criticize previous literature. The student should draw
conclusions that point out what might be interesting and important
in the project, but should also show awareness or limitations and