Senior Thesis

A senior thesis is one option for the sociology major's 400-level course or "capstone" requirement. This page answers some common questions about the thesis process. If you have any other questions or want to discuss the possibility of writing a thesis, please feel free to contact the department's thesis coordinator, Gayle Kaufman, at gakaufman@davidson.edu.

Senior Thesis Application (DOC)

Why Do a Thesis?

It's an opportunity to explore a topic of your own choosing in depth. It allows you to bring together much of your previous coursework, or to link your sociological learning to issues and questions that matter to you.

Who Should Consider Doing a Thesis?

  • Anyone who is intrigued by a sociological question and wishes to seek an answer through individualized research rather than through the formal structure of a senior-level class.
  • Anyone who is considering applying to a graduate program that has a research emphasis should do a thesis. It will give you valuable experience, it will enhance your qualifications for admission, and it may help you decide if graduate studies are right for you.

Where Do Thesis Ideas Come From?

  • Ideas can grow out of previous courses, both substantive and methodological. There may be topics from previous classes that you want to spend more time thinking about, or you might consider using the research done in your methods course as a starting point for your thesis.
  • Ideas can also come from your own intellectual concerns and commitments, your volunteer activities, your personal interests, your extracurricular engagements. A thesis can be a great way to explore questions that matter to you but that you have not yet had a chance to research.

The Thesis Process: An Overview

  • The student decides upon a topic of interest, discusses it with one or more faculty members, and asks one faculty member to serve as the chair of the thesis committee and one faculty member to serve as the secondary reader (two readers if doing an honors thesis).
  • The student meets with the department thesis coordinator to inform him or her of the student's thesis plans.
  • The student signs up for Sociology 495, with the chair of the thesis committee as the instructor.
  • The student meets with the chair of the thesis committee to develop a syllabus and plan for the semester-long independent thesis course. The syllabus and an independent study form must then be submitted to the Registrar's Office to complete the enrollment process.
  • The student writes a thesis based on the completion of original empirical research, presents the thesis in an oral defense during the final weeks of the semester, and submits a final version of the thesis to their committee and to the department thesis coordinator so that it may be archived in the department's thesis collection. 
  • Students are also encouraged to create a poster presentation of their thesis for the annual Social Science Poster Fair.

General Advice for Thesis Writers

  • Writing a thesis requires significant commitment and the ability to work independently, to organize one's time appropriately, and to set deadlines for oneself. Be serious about setting weekly work goals and deadlines. 
  • Meet with your chair regularly (weekly or semi-weekly) and your reader(s) occasionally. 
  • Don't hesitate to ask for help when you get stuck or encounter a problem. We are here to be resources for you in this process.
  • Back up your files!  Losing thesis data or drafts can be devastating.
  • Get started as soon as possible. Doing some work in advance over the break is certainly not a bad idea.
  • Think with others. Talk about your thesis with your friends, your roommates, your family, and your classmates. Doing so can help you clarify your ideas and their questions can lead you to important insights.
  • Make sure you are excited about your thesis question, and that you want to spend the semester working with this subject.
  • The process can be frustrating and overwhelming at times, but it also rewarding. Stick with it and you'll be amazed at what you can produce.

Structure and Format for Theses

  • The length of a thesis usually varies according to subject matter. Usually a length of 35 pages to more than 100 pages is acceptable to a thesis committee and the Sociology Department. Honors theses may be longer than regular theses because they require more in-depth research.
  • All theses should be one side only, 12 point Times New Roman, double-spaced (except block quotes and tables), 1.5 inch margins on the left side and 1 inch on the right, top, and bottom, and unbound (no staples, bindings or hole punches).
  • The thesis should contain the following components:
    • Title Page - title of thesis, your name, the names of the committee members, and thesis date.
    • Acknowledgments - students often thank committee members, research participants, and others who have helped.
    • Abstract - this includes research problem/topic, description of the data, summary of important findings, and conclusions. Typical abstracts are about 150-200 words long. The abstract should be centered on a separate page.
    • Table of Contents - (i) one page refers to the page numbers on which chapters in the thesis begin, and (ii) a second page gives page references to tables, graphs, and other figures, such as maps, photographs, and diagrams.
    • Introduction - state the research problem/topic/question, discuss the significance of your research, and outline what will be covered in your thesis.
    • Literature Review - summarize previous findings related to your research and critically evaluate the literature.  State your hypotheses at the end of this chapter.
    • Research Design - provide details on your sample, describe your variables and measurements, and discuss your analytical strategy. Your research can be qualitative and/or quantitative.
    • Results - report findings, based on your data analysis.  Tables presenting results should appear in this chapter.
    • Conclusion - link your findings to the literature review in your thesis, describe limitations of your research, and discuss the implications of your research for policy and/or future research in the area.
    • References - all citations in the text of your thesis should be included in the reference section, and vice versa. See ASA style guidelines.
    • Appendices - IRB approvals, interview/survey questionnaires, informed consent document, coding sheets, and other extra materials. Raw data is not to be included.

A Note on Honors

In order to receive honors in sociology, a student must have an overall GPA of 3.2 and a GPA of 3.5 in all course work taken in the major.  The student must also complete a senior thesis and receive a grade of at least A-, as well as the overall recommendation of the department. Honors theses have a chair and two additional readers.