Senior Thesis Guidelines

Guidelines prepared by Prof. Nicoletta Pireddu
Comparative Literature Program Director

Special thanks to Profs. J. Zhang, S. Hager, and S. Lee 
for their input on this document. Material regarding timing of proposals and CPLT 402 updated by Prof. Emily Francomano.

Each Comparative Literature major will write a senior thesis during the senior year.

Seniors with a 3.5 GPA in their major and a 3.5 overall GPA are entitled to count the Comparative Literature thesis requirement as an honors thesis. They will receive a letter of invitation from the Comparative Literature Program Director by the beginning of their senior year, and will have the option of either working at an honors thesis or submitting a regular senior thesis.

The following remarks are supposed to provide Comparative Literature majors with a series of requirements and suggestions for their undertaking, and to help faculty members in their task as thesis mentors.

Senior Thesis Topic and Structure

The thesis topic should be comparative in nature. It should involve authors, works, or movements belonging at least to two literary and linguistic traditions (usually the student’s primary and secondary concentration). For instance, a comparative examination of James Joyce’s and Italo Svevo’s representation of the modernist self; the influence of Fernando Pessoa upon Antonio Tabucchi; Charles Baudelaire as a translator of Edgar Allan Poe.

Alternatively, the thesis can privilege works from one literary tradition, provided they are analyzed with the aid of two distinct theoretical or disciplinary approaches. For instance, an analysis of Walter Pater’s The Renaissance, from the standpoint of literary theory and of art history; an examination of Balzac’s Old Goriot from a narratological and a sociological point of view; a reading of Virginia Woolf’s personal diaries according to a psychoanalytic approach and through the lens of feminist studies; a comparison of a novel and of its film version.

Students who wish to write a thesis on topics that do not conform to the above-mentioned formats, should discuss closely with the Comparative Literature Program Director, and provide strong and convincing reasons for their projects. The Director, in consultation with faculty members in areas pertinent to the prospective project, will decide whether the thesis proposal is feasible and compatible with the definitions and the boundaries of Comparative Literature.

Students are recommended to avoid working on subjects for which they do not have adequate preparation. They should not turn faculty advising for the thesis into an informal tutorial aimed at broaching a totally new topic. In special cases, however, the thesis mentor may agree to offer the student the option of a 3-credit independent study. This option should be discussed and dealt with by the mentor, the student, and the Comparative Literature Program Director on a case by case basis, and should not be the standard procedure. 
Students are also discouraged from focusing on works they cannot read in the original language.

The approximate average length of the thesis is 30-40 pages, including notes but excluding bibliographical references. 
The thesis will be written in English, but all primary works discussed in the thesis should be consulted and quoted in the original languages. Whenever necessary, an English translation of the quotes may be given in endnotes.

What are the expectations for a good thesis?

The thesis should be supported by a cogent argument. It should demonstrate originality of thought, analytical strengths, and ability to examine texts in a comparative and interdisciplinary perspective. It should also comply with the standard criteria for quotations and bibliographical references.

Thesis Mentoring

The thesis will be mentored by a faculty member whose teaching and research are comparative in nature, and related to the thesis topic. The choice will be made in consultation with the Comparative Literature Program Director. Due to the comparative and multilingual quality of the project, more faculty members may be involved as mentors in the project, whenever necessary or appropriate.

Steps and Deadlines

Due to the rather demanding work required for a Comparative Literature thesis, majors are invited to think of their project as early as possible.

The study abroad year can be a valid occasion for an initial reflection on the thesis topic. It is recommended that Comparative Literature majors remain in contact with the Program Director from abroad, so as to make sure that enough coordination exists between courses taken at foreign universities and the Georgetown Comparative Literature curriculum, not only in order to guarantee a thorough development of their overall program, but also in view of the thesis project.

By the Spring semester of their junior year, students should decide who could be the most appropriate mentor for their thesis, after consultation with the Comparative Literature Program Director. They should approach that faculty member with the following information and documents:

  • a list of courses on the student’s transcript that are relevant to the thesis topic;
  • a preliminary proposal
  • a copy of these guidelines to be left with the mentor.

The preliminary thesis proposal should include:

  • a discussion of the topic that the thesis intends to examine, with particular attention to the comparative aspect of the project;
  • a comment on the major texts around which the project will revolve

Once the mentor has agreed to direct the thesis, it is expected that the central issue, material and methodology illustrated in the preliminary version of the thesis proposal will be better defined and expanded upon the mentor’s suggestions.

A formal thesis proposal is due by the end of Add-Drop period Fall semester of Senior Year.

The thesis proposal should include:

  • a discussion of the topic that the thesis intends to examine;
  • an explanation of how the student will address the central question, with particular attention to the comparative aspect of the project;
  • a comment on the major texts around which the project will revolve;
  • a bibliography of relevant primary and secondary sources to be used for the thesis research.

As soon as an agreement has been reached about the content and format of the proposal, a copy of the document should be signed by the mentor and submitted by the student to the Comparative Literature Program Director for review.

During the preregistration period in the Spring semester of the junior year, students should register for CPLT 401 (the mandatory 3-credit Senior Thesis writing tutorial to be taken in the Fall semester of the senior year). In consultation with the Program Director and their thesis mentor, students are also recommended to choose other courses that have connections with their thesis (i.e., courses on periods, genres, authors or issues pertinent to their projects).

Students can and are invited to begin their preliminary research on the topic already in the Spring semester of their junior year, by reading sources in their bibliographies, by adding new items, by further elaborating on their project, and/or by familiarizing themselves with the thesis process with the aid of their thesis mentor and of the Program Director.

In the Fall semester of their senior year, students will continue working at their projects within the framework of the CPLT 401 tutorial. Mentors with help students get a good grasp of effective thesis writing techniques, and will guide them to appropriate resources. Students are expected to meet regularly with their mentors, and to submit to them their written work in progress, so as to receive feedback and suggestions about further revisions whenever necessary. Particular attention is to be devoted to the comparative nature of the research project. By the end of the Fall semester of their senior year, students are required to have submitted to their mentors at least a 12-15-page document on their thesis topic, either as a formal paper to be substantially revised, expanded and incorporated in the actual thesis in the subsequent months or as a first portion of the thesis itself.

In the Spring semester of their senior year, students will continue working at their projects within the framework of the CPLT 402 seminar or tutorial (depending upon number of majors in a given year).

It is expected that students will complete and submit a copy of their complete thesis to both their mentors and the Program Director by at least two weeks before the end of spring semester classes. Students should consult with their mentors to determine exactly when in advance of the submission date mentors wish to receive the definitive version of the thesis. Mentors should be given enough time to read and evaluate each work, and to provide a final grade for the CPLT 401 tutorial taken in the Fall semester. Since the final grade for CPLT 401 is awarded retroactively, students receive an “IP” grade for the tutorial on their Fall transcripts. Upon satisfactory completion of the thesis, the grade is changed to a final letter grade and a grade is awarded for CPLT 402. In line with the university policy, no additional credit is given for the thesis work accomplished during the Spring semester.

The Comparative Literature Senior Honors Thesis

Rising seniors whose overall and major GPA is 3.5 are invited to write an honors thesis.

The guidelines given above for the topics and structure of the Comparative Literature senior thesis also apply to the honors thesis.

However, the research standards and expectations for honors theses are very high. A student who receives an award of honors is supposed to have performed at the highest level that Georgetown University can attain. 
A Comparative Literature honors thesis is expected to provide evidence of original research, accomplished with strong analytical skills. Students should carefully investigate what the existing scholarship has produced on their topics, and offer innovative and sophisticated arguments in a well-defined theoretical framework. 
The expected length for a Comparative Literature honors thesis is at least 50-60 pages, including notes but excluding bibliography, title page, and table of contents.

For both Senior and Honors Theses, the manuscript should be double-spaced, typed in 12-point Times font, on single-sided 8 1/2 –by-11 inch paper. Left and right margins should be 1 ¼ inches. Top and bottom margins should be one inch. Pages should be numbered, except the title page. 
The title page should contain the thesis title, the student’s name, the mentor’s name, and the phrase “A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Award of Honors in Comparative Literature, Georgetown University, [Semester and Year]”. 
For footnotes, endnotes and citation standards, students should follow a standard scholarly format like the MLA Handbook or the Chicago Manual of Style.

The steps and deadlines for the Comparative Literature honors thesis, as well as the mentoring process, are the same as those illustrated above for the senior thesis. However, Comparative Literature honors students are also required to give an oral presentation before a small group of faculty members (among whom the Comparative Literature Program Director) and peers by the end of April of their senior year
Faculty members invited to the presentation should be chosen in consultation with the thesis mentor and the Program Director, so as to form a consistent Thesis Committee. Copies of the thesis should be given to the thesis mentor, the Comparative Literature Program Director, and to the other Thesis Committee faculty members prior to the date of the oral presentation. 
At the end of the oral presentation, the thesis mentor, the Program Director and the other Thesis Committee members will convene to generate a final evaluation of the student’s thesis, and to deliberate in favor or against the “distinction” award. 
In case additional revisions of the thesis are necessary after the oral presentation in order to incorporate comments from the Committee, students should turn in a copy of the final version of the thesis to their mentor(s), as well as to the Comparative Literature Program director, by May 1 at the latest.

By the end of the Spring semester, in addition to the retrospective grade for the Fall semester tutorial for thesis writing (CPLT 401), the final assessment for the honors thesis will be posted on the students’ transcripts as either “Senior Honors Thesis” or “Senior Honors Thesis with distinction”.

For any questions about these guidelines, as well as about any aspects of the thesis, please feel free to contact Professor Emily Francomano.