Department Honors Thesis


1.  Students wishing to write a department honors thesis should enroll in three hours of PSCI 4399, Independent Study, both semesters of their senior year. During pre-registration the semester before the start of the senior year, a student should choose a thesis advisor and discuss the proposed thesis topic with the thesis advisor. At this time, it is the responsibility of the thesis advisor to give the student a copy of the thesis guidelines. Students may not use the same paper for their honors college thesis and department honors thesis.

2.  In general to be eligible, a student must have an overall grade point average of at least 3.5 at UCA and a 3.5 in the Department of Government, Public Service, and International Studies.

3.  The first semester of the independent study will consist of a readings course which culminates with a completed research design paper for a specific research question. The research design should be a complete draft of the first two sections of the content of the honors thesis (see below). During the first semester, the student will be required to hold regular meetings with the thesis advisor, during which the student will present a summary of all materials which has been read during the semester. In these meetings, the student will be informed about the different parts of the paper which will be required and the reasons for the inclusion of each part. Failure to make regularly scheduled meetings will result in removal from the honors thesis process. Failure to complete a research design paper at the end of the first semester will also result in removal from the process. At the end of the semester, the student must submit his or her research design paper to a faculty committee.

4.  At the end of the first semester, the student must select a three person faculty committee for their honors thesis. The faculty committee should include your thesis advisor and two other full-time faculty members from the Department of Government, Public Service, and International Studies.  The choice of the two other faculty members must be done in consultation with the thesis advisor and should be based on the faculty expertise in the proposed area of research. In exceptional cases, the student can petition to have an adjunct faculty member serve on your committee. After the selection of committee members, the student must complete the Department Honors Thesis form (see link below) and turn it in to the department chair.

Department Honors Thesis Form

5.  The faculty committee will guide the completion of the department honors thesis with the thesis advisor serving as committee chair. It is recommended that the committee as a whole meet with the student at least three times in the second semester. First, at the beginning of the semester, the committee and the student should have an organizational meeting to discuss the thesis proposal and timetable for completion. Second, at mid-term of the semester, the committee and the student should review the progress and schedule an oral defense time. Third, the committee and the student should conduct an oral defense of the honors thesis, no later than the last week of classes.

6.  At the end of the first semester the student will receive an incomplete (X) grade, which will be changed to a grade at the end of the second semester.

7.  The research design paper will be read by the three person faculty committee. In order for the student to proceed with the department honors thesis process the committee members must believe that it merits continuation.  It is the responsibility of the committee members to return the research design paper with comments to the student prior to the first week of the semester.  After reading the faculty comments, the student may in the first week of the second semester exercise an option not to continue with the department honors thesis if they so desire.  If so, the student then must drop the independent study for the spring semester and will receive a grade for the first semester. A  student cannot receive six hours of independent study for the research design paper.

8.  The second semester of the department honors thesis process will involve the student completing the honors thesis paper.  At the start of the semester a strict deadline schedule will be established for the student to hand in each section of the paper.  Failure to meet deadlines will result in termination of the honors thesis.  The honors thesis must be finished two weeks prior to the end of the semester to allow faculty time to prepare for the defense.

9.  The honors thesis defense shall consist of the student giving an approximately 15 minute presentation. This will be followed by questions and comments by members of the committee and other faculty members in attendance. Faculty input is limited to questions or comments about the actual paper which the student has written. After commenting on the paper, faculty members may if they wish make suggestions about methods of improving the paper in writing.

10.  Following the department honors thesis defense, the student and all guests will be asked to vacate the room for a short period of time. During this time, the committee will formulate their recommendations and determine as to whether the thesis deserves to be granted department honors. The approval of a department honors thesis may require the student to make revisions according to the committees specifications.

Course Description:

The purpose of the two semesters of independent study is to give the student the guidance necessary to complete the department honors thesis. This will be accomplished through individual guidance.

Suggested readings for this class are as follows:

1. Hoover, Kenneth R. The Elements of Social Scientific Thinking, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2003).

2. Weston, Anthony. A Rulebook for Arguments, (Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing Company, 2001).

Course Requirements:

1.  The major requirement of this course is to complete the honor thesis and to orally defend it before the committee and faculty of the department. The paper should contain the following elements: a) Title page, which includes your name, instructor’s name, course number and title, and date; b) Body of the Text (see “Content of the Honors Thesis” below); and c) Bibliography.

2.  The final honors thesis should be around 30 pages in length following all the format rules for a formal paper. For help in determining the proper format for margins, tables, bibliographic information, notes, etc., consult a writer’s guide such as Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973).

3.  In order to facilitate the process of completing an acceptable department honors thesis, the student and the faculty committee will establish a timetable for the second semester. The student is required to meet the deadlines of the proposed timetable. The purpose of this requirement is twofold. First, it is meant to give to the student a schedule to prompt the student to complete the final draft of the proposed honors thesis by the final due date; and, second, it allows the student to get feedback on the work completed and make revisions to the final draft if necessary. The due dates for the separate parts of the thesis can be found in the “Outline of the Course” section (see below). Failure to make adequate progress (as determined by the committee) will result in termination of the honor thesis.

4.  All sections of the honors thesis that are handed in will be returned with written comments covering content, format, grammar, and spelling. With each of the separate sections of the paper that you hand in during the course of the semester, you are also to hand in the accompanying notes and an updated bibliography. It is suggested that students try to have at least one other person proofread writing for clarification and more obvious errors before they are handed in. If the advisor has to act as the proofreader, your graded will be affected. Late papers will not be accepted.

Content of the Honors Thesis:

A formal research paper normally consists of three main sections. The first section contains the topic statement, explanation of the research problem, and review of the prior literature. The second section contains an explanation of the research design, procedures of data collection, and the method of data analysis. The third section contains the actual results of the data analysis and a discussion of the results. Your research paper, depending on the type of study, should generally involve each of the following sections (the particular sections, however, are dependent on the type of study that you do).


Identify and describe the topic you wish to study and establish its place in the field of knowledge that already exists. This should be done by inclusion of the following subsections into your paper.

Topic Statement

The topic statement should identify the area of study. It may indicate an important social issue or problem now, or something which relates to a social science theory or some combination of practical and theoretical problem. A one page statement is probably sufficient for this.

Explanation of the Research Problem

The explanation of the research problem goes considerably beyond the topic statement. At this point you should have clarified the specific focus of your study. It is important that you select a problem which has focus, draws upon political science theory, is feasible to carry out given your resources and time limit, and promises to make a unique contribution to the literature. Define the problem that your paper is examining and why it is important that the problem be answered.

The explanation of the research problem will necessarily include your first attempt at several important tasks, including your first attempt to identify and discuss relevant literature, your first attempt at describing how you conceptualize the problem, including identifying important concepts, issues, and perspectives. It should include a clear statement of the questions you will address or the hypotheses to be tested in the study. A good way to do this is to try to tell the reader what the bottom line will be when the study is complete. If you can’t describe that, you probably don’t have a good problem statement yet. In preparing your research questions, state clearly the particular hypothesis or hypotheses you will examine and test in your research. A hypothesis is a declarative statement signifying a relationship between two or more discrete variables. In order for a hypothesis to be acceptable, it must be capable of being tested. This means that operational definitions for all terms or concepts in the hypothesis statement must be clearly established. When a hypothesis contains a term or concept with undefined limits, it becomes untestable.

Review of the Prior Literature

The literature review should not be an exhaustive review of everything in the area, but should focus on broad literature which sets the tone, and then specific literature which addresses the issue or perhaps literature addressing a similar issue in a way which can be adopted to this problem. This phase of the project provides an opportunity for you to examine the theoretical considerations which are relevant to your research. From reading the literature on the subject, you will begin to appreciate the relationships among the variable/factors associated with your topic. This will in turn enable you to formulate more relevant hypotheses.


This section should explain how you plan to study and resolve the problem that your topic is centered around. It should also explain what types of data you plan to use in your study. This can be done by inclusion of the following sections or topics in your paper.

Research Design

Delineate the project’s design and approach. In order to produce a meaningful, concise, and well-organized research project, you must clearly define your paper’s structural boundaries by explaining what you will and will not be including. This section should describe the design of your study. This section should include a description of the architecture of the proposed research design and defense of it relative to the various types of validity based on your perspective of the phenomenon, your reading of the literature, and the current state of knowledge in this area. State assumptions made. What assumptions have you made about the behavior or the environment under examination? Assumptions often enable you to exclude extraneous factors or they enable you to focus in on pertinent factors.

Data Collection Procedures

This section should discuss the data collection procedures you will use (there may be more than one) and should provide some justification of your choice of those procedures over alternatives. You should describe the data collection procedures in sufficient detail so someone else could evaluate how likely they are to be adequate for your task. State under what conditions the information will be collected and analyzed.

Method of Data Analysis

From the beginning, you need to keep in mind how you will ultimately analyze the data. Your choice of analysis method may draw heavily on past research. In addition, your choices here must be consistent with all of the earlier decisions you made in terms of substantive assumptions and the limits of the methods used to collect data. Note the project’s limitations. If there are problems with fully being able to test the hypothesis, be sure to let the reader know what these are and how they can be resolved.


This section should include the evidence that you have gathered to present to prove or disprove your original hypothesis or hypotheses. This section of the paper should include the following.

Results of the Data Analysis

This section should report the findings of your study. It typically includes any tables that you present as evidence, interviews, and so on. It is the main body of the work and includes all the evidence which you have discovered which helps to resolve, or in some cases further complicates, the problem that you have selected. Analyze the data. In the body of the paper, systematically examine those factors which have been included in your design. The object of the exercise is to search for explanations and/or relationships between and among the included factors/variables. You then highlight those relationships that are meaningful.

Discussion of Results

By the end of your paper, you should be in a position to either confirm or deny your hypothesis. The confirmation or denial of the hypothesis(es) is in no way related to the quality of the research. In fact, some of the most interesting research has denied or rejected seemingly obvious hypotheses. Your opinions should be limited to this section only. This section should discuss your findings and place them in the broader context. At this point you want to go back to the more general level and discuss the implications of the findings, how they relate to prior literature, and so on.

Outline of the Course:

The second semester of the honors thesis involves completing and defending the thesis. In registering for three more hours of PSCI 4399 the second semester of the senior year, the student is contracting to meet with the thesis advisor at all scheduled meetings and to complete all assignments on time per the established timetable (see suggested timetable below). Failure to live up to these expectations will result in the termination of the project and no credit being given for the second semester. Students are therefore warned to make sure that they have the necessary hours to graduate at the end of the semester. To document that students have been informed of this policy please sign a copy of the schedule.

Student signature ________________________________________

Week One: Organizational Meeting with Faculty Committee to review the research design and proposed timetable for completion.

Week Six: Midterm Review with Faculty Committee to review progress and schedule oral defense.

Week Thirteen: Final Draft of Honors Thesis (submit copies to all faculty members of the Department of Political Science).

Week Fifteen: Oral Defense of Honors Thesis

Finals: Complete Revisions of Honors Thesis (submit copies to faculty committee).