The Senior Essay

The Senior Essay Handbook

Requirements and Guidelines for the Senior Essay

In the English Department, as in other departments, the Senior Essay consists of an extended research and writing project (critical, not creative) undertaken with the guidance of a faculty advisor. The Senior Essay is not a requirement for completing the English major, nor is it required for receiving distinction in the major. It does, however, offer a satisfying way to fulfill one semester of the senior requirement. Writing an essay provides an opportunity for those who are eager to pursue a special interest, who like to write long papers, and who work well independently. Be warned that it entails inexorable deadlines and exacting effort; it can be thrilling to write a senior essay, but only if you are committed to the project. Procrastination has repeatedly proved a grave mistake. Given an essay of this magnitude, you cannot leave reading, writing, and ruminating until the last minute. If you have any doubts, take a Senior Seminar.

In addition to the prospectus and final draft, you will be asked to hand in, at the end of four weeks, five to ten pages of writing or, if appropriate, an annotated bibliography so that you, your advisor, and the department will know how your work is proceeding relatively early in the term. By the end of the seventh week, an extended piece of writing should be submitted.  And by the end of the tenth week, a rough draft is due (to ensure the essay will be carefully thought through and receives feedback from your advisor before you revise).

You will be expected to consult frequently with your advisor throughout the semester, both about your research and about the substance of your developing argument; we recommend at least four meetings, with bi-weekly meetings as the norm. Typically, finished senior essays range from 30-40 pages. Some drafts are considerably longer (40-50 pages) and require cutting as well as revising; other drafts are shorter (25-30 pages) and require expansion as well as revision of the argument.

Specific requirements are as follows:

1. In the term before you intend to write your essay (see Important Dates), you must hand in to the DUS office a completed proposal form for ENGL 490 or 491 and a prospectus, which includes the following information:

(a) a description of your topic (approximately 2 pages)

(b) a bibliography of the reading and research, both primary and secondary, you intend to undertake (If part of your project will consist in looking for sources, you must still indicate subjects that you will pursue in your research.)

(c) a list of the introductory and advanced courses you have taken that have prepared you to do independent work on your topic

(d) a schedule of meetings with your advisor

(e) your advisor’s signature

If you intend to pursue a two-semester essay (not commonly done, but a possibility for substantial research projects), please conceptualize your project in two parts so that you can submit an essay for evaluation at the end of the fall semester.

Within two weeks after you submit your prospectus, you will receive an email from the senior essay committee, via the Registrar in the DUS’s office, granting approval or asking for clarification. Approval is not automatic, and the Senior Essay committee may stipulate revisions to the project as a condition of approval.

2. By the end of Week 4 of classes, you must hand in five to ten pages of writing, along with an annotated list of at least two secondary sources relevant to your essay; or, if the project requires a substantial amount of research, an annotated bibliography of the works you have consulted together with an outline of the reading you have still to do. You may decide, in consultation with your advisor, which of these options is the more appropriate for you. This work should be turned in to your advisor.

3. By the end of Week 7 of classes, you must hand in ten to twelve pages of writing (possibly inclusive of your earlier five pages) and, as part of that writing or separately, a brief discussion of your project’s engagement with one or more secondary sources.  This work should be turned in to your advisor.

4. By the end of Week 10, you must hand in a full or almost full draft to your advisor: consult your advisor for details.

Failure to submit the draft on time or the preliminary work described above may affect the final grade received for the essay.

5. The final essay is due by noon on the last day of classes in the fall term and on the Friday before the last day of classes in the spring term (see Important Dates); it should include a bibliography of works consulted. Submit the essay to the DUS office electronically (pdf preferred) by emailing it to the departmental registrar.

Your essay will be read, graded, and commented upon both by your advisor and by a second reader chosen by the Senior Essay Committee. The two readers’ reports, will be available from the DUS office two to three weeks after you hand in the final draft. The department will keep a copy on file so that students in the future can see what kinds of projects have been undertaken.