Guidelines for Departmental Honors in English

For general requirements regarding departmental honors, view the College Catalog and section 7.7 of the Faculty Handbook.

Expectations Concerning the Project

Honors projects should exceed two 300-level English courses in the amount and rigor of work required.

Honors work offers the opportunity to pursue a topic intensively. The finished project should constitute intellectual work of high quality.

As stipulated by the faculty, honors projects take two semesters to complete and provide two course credits toward graduation. One semester of the honors course can be counted toward the English major.

A student may opt to conduct research over the summer between the junior and senior years.


It is recommended that students interested in honors in English take English 365 (Seminar in Literary Criticism) or English 395 (Problems and Possibilities: Literary Research Seminar).

The student will initiate the honors project, taking responsibility for selecting a topic and identifying a thesis adviser. As far in advance as possible, (preferably by May of the junior year but no later than the first week of fall semester senior year), a student wishing to pursue honors must submit to the thesis adviser a 250-word project description and the form entitled “Application to Pursue Honors in English.” The faculty member who has agreed to supervise the thesis will sign this form and submit it to the Associate Department Head.

Normally, faculty will direct no more than two projects (independent study or honors) in any semester, so it is to the student’s advantage to contact prospective advisers early.

The Thesis

Some theses explore questions about the meaning, structure, conventions, and significance of written texts through an original analysis of one or more primary texts and a thorough study of secondary sources. Other theses consist primarily or partially of original work in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, film, screenwriting, theatrical production, or performance art. Honors theses in English commonly are 50 pages or longer.

Copies of theses written by previous English majors are housed in Skillman Library. To locate these through Skillman’s online site, select “Lafayette Library Catalog,” then under “Basic Keyword Search” type “Dept. of English Honors Thesis.”

The Prospectus

By early October, the student should give the adviser a prospectus that includes (a) a 250-word revised description of the thesis project, (b) a preliminary bibliography, and (c) a schedule.

The Thesis Committee

The thesis committee consists of the thesis adviser, at least one other member of the English Department, and one member from outside the department or outside the institution. The latter persons are selected by the adviser in consultation with the student. When the other members of the thesis committee are selected, the adviser will provide them with the revised project description that was submitted in early October and with “Guidelines for Departmental Honors in English.” Normally, the thesis committee is constituted by the end of the fall semester.


The student and adviser should schedule regular meetings (at least every other week) throughout the academic year, but for the most part the student will work independently.

The student should devote to the project at least the amount of time taken by meetings and out-of-class work for a typical 300-level English course: ten or more hours per week.

In the fall of the senior year, the candidate should do most of the research and draft at least one-fourth of the thesis.

At the end of the fall semester, the thesis adviser will inform the associate head and (if they have been selected) the other thesis committee members of the candidate’s progress. If the adviser decides that the first semester’s work is of high quality (meriting a grade of A), the adviser will give the associate head a note nominating the student as a candidate for departmental honors. If, on the other hand, the adviser believes after one semester that the project will not be completed on time or at a level appropriate for honors, the first semester’s work will be credited on the student’s transcript as Independent Study, provided that this work meets the Department’s guidelines for Independent Study (described on a separate handout).

An adviser wishing to use this option should notify the registrar and associate head in writing.

According to faculty regulations, the thesis must be submitted to the thesis committee at least two weeks before the end of classes. Therefore, a draft of the thesis should be complete soon after midterm of the spring semester. The honors candidate is advised to share this draft with all members of the thesis committee; that way, the student will have ample time to address all readers’ questions and concerns. The adviser will remind other members of the thesis committee that if they have significant criticisms or suggestions for change, they are to notify the adviser well before the defense.

The Defense

The defense, which takes place no later than Friday of the exam period in the second semester, is a conversation lasting about an hour among members of the committee and the student regarding the thesis. At the end of this conversation, the student and any guests are asked to leave the room. At this time, the committee members decide whether to award honors; if they so decide, they then sign a form provided by the Academic Progress Committee. Once a conclusion about the thesis has been reached, the thesis adviser will inform the student of the committee’s  decision.


By faculty regulation, departmental honors are awarded only to those projects that earn a grade of A. Lower, but passing grades, are treated as Independent Study credit. The thesis adviser must give the grade in writing to the associate head no later than one week after the last day of classes. Unanimous approval by committee members is required for honors to be awarded.

Distribution of the Thesis

The English Department pays for the copies of the thesis that are distributed to members of the thesis committee for use at the defense. This copying will be done by the English Department secretary. At least two weeks before the end of classes, the student must submit the thesis to the secretary and find out when the photocopying will be completed. Once copies have been run off, the student should promptly deliver the thesis to all members of the thesis committee.

If the student is awarded honors, the English Department will pay for up to six soft-bound copies of the thesis. Once the adviser has approved the final version of the thesis, the student should ask the English Department secretary to fill out a Reprographic Services form, then take this form and the completed thesis to the Faculty Service Center in 13 Marquis Hall. When the student picks up the soft-bound copies, she should give one copy to the thesis adviser, one to the secretary, and one to Skillman Library. The student also should ask the other members of the thesis committee if they would like a soft-bound copy of the thesis. The remaining copy/copies are for the student, who can choose to have additional copies made at his/her own expense.

Applying to Pursue Honors in English

Fill in this application (PDF file) on line, print it, and discuss it with the faculty member you would like to direct your project.

Important Deadlines for Those Pursuing Honors in English
April of the junior year Attend the Department-sponsored meeting on pursuing honors in English and begin contacting potential thesis advisers. Students studying abroad spring semester junior year should check their Lafayette email accounts for information about pursuing honors.
By May 1 of the junior year The student submits an honors application (PDF file) to the proposed thesis adviser, and the adviser, having approved the application, passes it to the Associate Department Head, who in turn registers the student for honors (ENG 495).
First week of classes in the fall Deadline for registering for honors in English.
By early October The student submits to the adviser a prospectus that includes a revised description of the project, a preliminary bibliography, and a schedule.
By early December The student writes at least one-fourth of the thesis.
End of fall semester The adviser lets the student and the associate head know whether the student will continue to pursue honors in the spring. If the thesis committee has been constituted, the adviser forwards to its members copies of the revised project description.
Shortly after spring break The student submits a complete draft of the thesis to the adviser and ideally, to other members of the thesis committee. Shortly thereafter, all members of the thesis committee inform the adviser of any significant criticisms or suggestions for change.
2 weeks before spring final exams begin The student distributes the completed thesis to the thesis committee.
By Friday of spring final exam week The student defends the thesis before the committee.

February 2007, October 2010, April 2012