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Ciara Knisely

Tips for Writing Your Senior Thesis Paper

by Ciara Knisely | Mar 05, 2018

Hi, Spartans! I have returned from my blogging hiatus after a crazy fall semester! I thought that since my senior thesis paper was the main reason I haven’t blogged in a while that I would write out some tips I learned after completing mine, especially because many of my friends/peers will be doing the same thing soon enough. My experience will be biased toward what I did as an english major, but I think that these steps should be pretty universal.

First of all, what is a senior thesis paper???

  • Not all disciplines have to take a senior seminar course or write a senior thesis paper, but at least for english majors, we are required to take the English Senior Seminar course to graduate. Within that class, we write a lengthy, in-depth analysis paper based on a central theme that we explore in literature throughout the seminar.

Choosing a Topic and Researching

  • Different majors have different processes for writing a thesis paper. When choosing a topic, it’s important to brainstorm something of your own creation and to be inspired. For us english majors, this means that some sort of reading (we read novels and memoirs in my English Senior Seminar) or researching will be necessary in order to figure out what you’ll be passionate enough to write a long paper on.
    • Sidenote: make sure you choose a topic that you’re genuinely interested in learning more about! This may be the longest paper you’ve ever written, and I can guarantee that it will suck if you’re not interested in what you’re talking about.


  • Once you get past the brainstorming stage and your ideas are chosen and formulated, it’s time to start writing. The writing process works differently for everyone, so if you’re struggling with starting out, I’d suggest skipping the introduction paragraph and diving right in to your main points. Once you get that down, your introduction will come naturally. (I personally have to write my intro paragraph first, but that’s just me.) You can also visit the Writing Center (maybe you’ll see me there working!) and we can help you with any stage of the writing process.
  • Drafts: I had 6 drafts for my paper. I think that’s a decent number, but I used up a lot of paper printing out each draft several times. It’s suuuuper important to keep all of your drafts, and it can be really helpful to reference them when you get stuck. For English majors, we also had to turn in every draft with our portfolio, too, so keep those drafts!
    • I also know that my SCE, or Senior Comprehensive Exam (again, not everybody has one!) will revolve a lot around my senior thesis paper, so showing professors the progress you made while writing your paper can really testify to your improvement.
  • Organization: once you have decided your paper is done, I suggest reading it through slowly, figuring out a short summarizing phrase that encompasses what each paragraph is about, and writing that down in the margins. Once that’s done, go through and read just your summary phrases and ask yourself: “does this order make sense? Do my arguments flow naturally? Should something be argued before something else? Am I missing something important?” These questions will help you bridge any organizational gaps in your paper.
  • Finalizing: The hardest part is over now!! After lots and lots of editing and re-organizing, sometimes things get a little messy. Besides reading it over before handing it in, go through and clean up all the loose ends. Make sure that all formatting is correct, you’ve completed any formal requirements for the paper, your citations are correct, and that there are no repeated sentences or accidental mess-ups.

Now I only have my SCE to worry about, but I never expected my thesis paper to take up so much of my time. The process can be rough, but I promise that if you put all of your effort into it, you will finish with a work of writing that you can be really proud of! As seniors, it’s our time to show what great thinkers we have become after our years in college. And, your professors will be your biggest source of improvement, so trust what they tell you and ask them for help on every draft!

Good luck to all seniors working hard this semester, and all the juniors preparing for their final year!
Ciara Knisely ’18 is an English-Creative Writing major and Journalism minor, and hopes to continue her writing career in the future. She spends her time working at the Writing Center on campus and is a Co-Editor of the Oak Leaves newspaper.