THE INITIAL STAGES
The first stages of research should begin during the summer after your Junior year. This is a time to undertake both background and theoretical reading. Your work will lead you to take the first steps in moving from topic to argument, perhaps the most important aspect of the whole thesis project. A topic is a well-defined area of interest; an argument consists of the point you want to make about your topic and the reasons that support it.
When you return in the Fall, it will be time to set about more focused research. Refining your topic and determining your argument is part persistence and part trial and error. You should expect to write a number of drafts of every part of the thesis project. Thoughts that are not written down may be lost and, furthermore, are impossible for your adviser to address in detail. Joint concentrators must follow the joint department’s tutorial guidelines and calendar.
EXTENDED RESEARCH AND WRITING
Once you have completed your prospectus, you will begin an extended period of research and writing. A project as large as a thesis should be done incrementally. Plan to work on your chapters separately—first researching, then writing. At this stage observing a strict timetable is essential. Set aside time for intense research on a given chapter. When that time is up, start writing immediately. Of course, research will not stop completely until you begin editing your thesis, but succumbing to the temptation to continue research will prevent you from pacing your writing properly. The more you work over each chapter, the better your thesis will be. And remember, as long as you start writing early, you will have time to reopen any line of research later on.
A requirement of approximately 15-20 pages (the “first chapter”) to be submitted to the office of the Head Tutor by the Tuesday after Thanksgiving has been established by the program in order to encourage you to begin writing early.
In the process of writing, you are bound to meet with a variety of difficulties. Your thesis adviser can be instrumental in working through certain problems, but do not hesitate to make use of informal advisers. Talk over your difficulties with your friends and also tutors and Teaching Fellows. Perhaps even show a draft to someone who knows nothing about your topic, as a test of how well your ideas are coming across. The Writing Center, located in the basement of Barker Center, can be a valuable source of advice on the mechanics of writing. The Center offers special help on senior theses in addition to its regular services: conferences by appointment and drop-in hours, not to mention a wide array of handouts and reference books on writing.