English Honors Sequence

Information for Prospective Thesis Writers

To graduate with departmental honors, students must have a 3.5 GPA or above in English and a 3.3 GPA overall and have completed the two course sequence beginning with English 4996: “The Honors Seminar in English” and ending with English 4995: “The Honors Thesis.” The courses may not be taken simultaneously or in reverse order (despite the numbers being out of sequence). 4996: “The Honors Seminar” fulfills the Capstone requirement for graduation, but only students who complete both 4996 and 4995 are eligible to graduate with departmental honors. 

Honors Theses may be critical or creative in category. Students interested in pursuing a creative writing thesis should have completed the three-course sequence in their chosen genre prior to taking 4996. The creative writing thesis has two parts: first, a substantive creative work of poetry, fiction, or nonfiction, and second, a critical essay that accompanies the creative work's key themes.

In order to enter the sequence, students must complete an application packet to be submitted electronically to the Director of Undergraduate Studies, in the spring semester before their senior year. The due date for the Honors Thesis Sequence application is February 1. The application packet should contain the following elements (items 1-4 should be in one document, item 5 can be attached separately):

  1. Area: indicate the field or area of English in which you wish to work (such as “19th c. American,” “Linguistics,” “Creative writing—Fiction”)
  2. Topic: a brief description of the topic or topics that you are interested in pursuing in your thesis.
  3. Advisor: a ranked list of at least three faculty members who would be suitable advisors for this project. These faculty should be selected from the list of faculty available on the English department website. Other advisors may be approved with permission from the Director of Undergraduate Studies.
  4. Writing sample of 5-15 pages (students wishing to write creative theses should submit examples in the genre of the proposed thesis). This is most likely a paper from a previous class. The sample need not be related to your proposed thesis topic but should be the best possible example of your critical or creative work. 
  5. Unofficial transcript of courses

The Director of Undergraduate Studies will route applications to the faculty; each faculty member will individually select one or no more than two theses to direct. If your application is not selected by your first choice of advisor, it will be passed on to your second choice, and so on. Note that neither advisor nor topic can be guaranteed, especially in the case of creative writing applications. 

Upon the conclusion of the process, and prior to the start of early registration, the Director of Undergraduate Studies will notify you of your advisor. At that time you will be issued a permission number to enroll in 4996. Before you enroll in 4995 with your faculty advisor, you will be issued a second permission number. 

Additional Information 

  • For most students, the application process will take place in the spring semester of their junior year. Please note, however, that 4996 is only offered in the Fall Semester and must be taken before 4995. Therefore, if you are planning to graduate in December, you will need to adjust your schedule accordingly. 
  • The nature of the "description of the proposed topic" will be different for each student. You will not be bound by this description, but it should represent your best effort possible in your current circumstances.  Creative writing applicants should use this description not only to indicate the planned creative project but to indicate possible topics of interest for the critical portion of the thesis as well.
  • Students should remember that this is a long timeframe and that unforeseen circumstances may alter arrangements. The Director of Undergraduate Studies will do all possible to make sure all qualified students complete honors theses but unfortunately can offer no guarantees.

Information for Current Honors Thesis Writers

The Honors Senior Essay represents a significant independent project that culminates a student's undergraduate career. There are two main varieties of senior essays: critical and creative.

Guidelines for each are as follows:

Critical: The critical essay is a thesis of 25-40 pages in length involving a significant component of research in its preparation and composition. Topics should be specific enough to enable a deep degree of inquiry, but broad enough to justify the thesis's longer length. Above all the thesis should represent the individual perspective and scholarly identity of the student. 

Creative: The creative honors thesis consists of two parts: a critical essay as well as a creative work (or works) in fiction, poetry, or creative non-fiction. The creative work and/or collection of works should be from 20-30 pages in length. The critical introduction  showcases the research skills of the creative writer as a complement to the creative work spotlighted in the body of the thesis. This introduction should reflect the capacities and interests of the individual student, and therefore will be quite various in approach. It is up to the student to decide how explicitly he or she wants to make the connections between the critical and creative portions of the thesis. Some possible approaches, however, may include:

1. The student may choose to write a research essay on a question of form that relates to the longer creative piece. For example, a student producing a sonnet sequence in her poetry thesis may choose to write an essay researching the history and theory of the sonnet sequence form in Renaissance England.

2. The student may choose to write a research essay on a thematic topic that intersects with the longer creative essay. For example, a student writing a novella set on board a sailing ship may choose to write an essay researching several notable works of maritime fiction.

3. The student may choose to write a research essay on the work of an individual writer or group of writers. For example, a student writing a memoir may choose to write an essay on contemporary memoirists such as Joan Didion or Cheryl Strayed.

In all cases, the department expects that honors-caliber work be equally on display in the introduction and the main creative thesis. The introduction should be approximately 10-15 pages in length and demonstrate familiarity with research methodologies appropriate to the discipline. Students should cite a minimum of 8 sources on a Works Cited page. Students with questions about the content and form of the introduction should contact their advisor or the Director of Undergraduate Studies.


Final decisions about the time frame for thesis composition will be arranged by thesis-writer and advisor, however, thesis-writers should plan to meet with their advisors at the minimum once a month during the spring semester. At the beginning of the semester, a schedule for submitting drafts and revisions as well as a final due date for the essay should be established. At the same time, advisor and advisee should agree on mutually-acceptable critical orientations and approaches to research.

Grades on the final honors thesis are given by the individual faculty thesis advisors and should reflect both the student’s work throughout the semester and the quality of the final product. Students should consult with their faculty thesis advisors about their grading policies. Students must receive a grade of a B or above on the honors thesis (4995) to be awarded departmental honors in English.

Timeline for Thesis Completion:
By the beginning of the semester, students need to be registered in 4995 with the advisor they were assigned during the application process. The undergraduate advisor Mary Moore will issue permission numbers to approved students during the early registration period.

During the semester, students are encouraged to consult the Ellis Library Humanities librarian Anne Barker (barkera@missouri.edu) and other members of the reference staff. Also take advantage of the library's research guides to 4996 and 4995, available here: http://library.missouri.edu/guides/courses/english4996rev/

At the completion of the semester, both Critical and Creative essay writers must submit an abstract of their work. The abstract is a formalized summary or precis of the materials, argument, and methodology used in the senior essay. The abstract should be from 250-500 words in length. If you have any questions about writing an abstract, please consult your faculty advisor or the online resources listed below:

Senior Essay abstracts should be submitted electronically to your faculty advisor or the Director of Undergraduate Studies at the end of the term. Abstracts will be published in an online archive on the departmental website.

Grading Procedures: Your faculty advisor will submit your final grade to MyZou at the completion of the semester. The faculty member reserves the right to issue an incomplete or failing grade if the essay is not completed according to agreed-upon guidelines.