Honors Thesis Guidelines
Guidelines for the Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures Honors Thesis
[For Students, Advisers, and Thesis Supervisors—revised October 2015]
The Schreyer Honors College has a description of the honors thesis and offers advice about how to choose a topic, find an adviser, and budget one’s time located at
The Honors College describes the thesis as “a scholarly piece of writing in which the writer is expected to show a command of the relevant scholarship in his (or her) field and contribute to the scholarship. It should confront a question that is unresolved and push towards a resolution.”
The thesis is likely to be one of the most challenging and rewarding assignments of a student’s undergraduate career. In the process of pursuing a topic, conducting independent research, formulating, articulating and crafting a sustained argument, students will build on what they have learned in coursework, gain insights into literary, cultural, and/or linguistic scholarship and methodology, and develop their talents as writers and thinkers. Once the thesis is completed students will have the satisfaction of knowing they have produced a work of scholarship that will be permanently archived in the Schreyer’s (electronic) thesis archive and the Penn State Library system.
The Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures expects honors theses to be based on thorough research and to offer an original interpretation. Students are required to undertake a meaningful degree of primary source research in crafting the thesis. The nature and extent of the primary research may vary according to the question pursued and the field of study. Students may, for instance, explore topics in German or Russian literature, film, culture and civilization, history, second language acquisition, or linguistics.
Students are also expected to situate their research and analysis within the scholarship of the field and to clearly articulate and support the significance of their project and its contribution. Students whose work involves extensive primary research should be careful not simply to present a narrative or an inventory of their sources, but to center the thesis on the analysis and interpretation of their research in such a way that their thesis makes an argument. Advisers should help determine the appropriate balance between primary research and scholarly contextualization, between presentation of the evidence and interpretation.
Finding a Thesis Adviser
Your thesis will be supervised by a thesis adviser, and the final thesis will need to be approved by both the thesis adviser and your honors adviser. In the case that these are the same person, a second reader will need to be selected. It is your responsibility to secure a thesis adviser by the end of your junior year. You should consult with the honors adviser for your major in deciding whom you might ask to be your thesis supervisor/adviser.
Length, format, and structure of the thesis
The honors thesis is expected to be approximately the length of a standard scholarly journal article in the field. The text must be double-spaced with one-inch margins.
Think of your thesis in terms of chapters. Each chapter is a subtopic related to the whole. A chapter should present an argument supported by evidence; it could almost stand alone as a research paper, but as a chapter, it should establish its connection to the larger argument and/or preceding and succeeding chapters at least at the beginning and the end.
As a ballpark figure: you should envision the thesis as being comprised of three, or maybe four, substantive chapters—with, in addition, a shorter introduction and a conclusion.
Bibliography and References
The thesis must include a complete bibliography citing all the materials used for the thesis. The bibliography and in-text reference must be formatted according to the standards accepted in the field.
Style and Usage
The thesis is a formal piece of scholarly writing. Do not use colloquial expressions or contractions. Remember that the thesis is important—it is a source of pride and will be archived electronically (for all to read!). Go over the final draft and correct awkward phrasing; be sure to eliminate all errors in typing, spelling, and grammar.
German students are strongly encouraged to write their thesis in German, though the decision ultimately comes down to the topic, and will be made in consultation with the honors adviser. If the thesis is written in English, a 600-word abstract must be composed in German to accompany the English text. Russian students will write their theses in English.
The deadlines and other key dates can be found at the SHC website:
A SHC Thesis Proposal is due to the Schreyers Honors College in the spring term of the Junior year---usually mid April. The SHC Thesis Proposal outlines the scope of the proposed research and any special needs the student might have to pursue this topic, such as the need to travel to archival collections, order microfilm, and so on.
- It is a department requirement that your SHC April Thesis Proposal include a preliminary bibliography.
This proposal will be approved by the honors adviser; the thesis supervisor (if that person is not the honors adviser); and by the Schreyer’s Honors College. This means the student must have a fairly well defined topic and a committed thesis supervisor one full year before the thesis is due.
- It is a department requirement that you have a detailed outline of the entire thesis, along with a draft of at least one of the chapters by the end of the first semester of the year of thesis writing.
- Additionally, the department requires that a complete draft of the thesis be submitted to the thesis supervisor one week prior to the SHC “Mandatory Thesis Format Review Deadline” (which is usually early March for the Spring semester and early November for the Fall semester).
Students may sign up for up to six credits of coursework to be taken during the year of thesis research and writing, three credits of which may be counted toward the major. The appropriate course number is GER494H or RUS494H.