Department of Linguistics University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Senior Theses and Departmental Distinction

Writing a senior thesis provides you with valuable experience in conducting your own, large-scale research project. Completion of a thesis is one of the main requirements for graduating with Departmental Distinction in Linguistics. A senior thesis is a notable achievement which will lend weight to your résumé or graduate school applications.


In order to write a senior thesis and qualify for departmental distinction, you must maintain a grade point average of 3.4 in all linguistics courses forming part of your major. (Foreign language and "linguistically relevant areas" courses are not considered in determining if this requirement has been met.) This requirement must be met both at the time you begin work on your thesis and at the time you graduate.

Initial Planning

If you intend to write a senior thesis, the time to begin planning is early during your junior year. First, decide on a general area within the field of linguistics in which you would like to work: phonology, syntax, semantics, sociolinguistics, etc.

Next, identify a faculty member to serve as your thesis supervisor. Your thesis supervisor may be any faculty member interested in working with you who has an appointment in the Department of Linguistics. (Several faculty members from other departments have part-time or zero-time appointments in Linguistics, and are eligible to serve as thesis supervisors in the Linguistics Department.) Of course, it is advisable to choose a supervisor who works in the general area you plan to research.

You must also inform the Undergraduate Advisor of the Linguistics Department of your intention to write a senior thesis and choice of supervisor. Normally, this should be done by the end of the second semester of your junior year.

Together with your thesis supervisor, you should identify a more specific topic for the thesis, and develop a plan for completing it.

Writing the Thesis

To write the thesis, you must register for at least 4 credit hours of LING 391 – Honors Individual Study, with your thesis supervisor as the instructor. Normally, these hours are divided over two semesters. Meeting regularly with your thesis supervisor, you perform the research and write the thesis. The research techniques and style of presentation will depend on your topic; work closely with your supervisor to be sure they are appropriate.

There are no specific requirements regarding the length of the thesis, but it is expected to be a substantial work, commensurate with the time allowed and the recognition which an honors thesis bestows. Undergraduate theses are not required to be of professional, publishable quality, but they are expected to make some sort of original contribution to the field, and to present it effectively and accurately.

As you near completion of the thesis, you and your supervisor should identify a second reader for the thesis. This may be any agreeable faculty member with an interest in your topic. Inform the Undergraduate Advisor, who will issue a formal invitation to the second reader.

Deadlines and Formatting Requirements

The thesis must be turned in to your supervisor and second reader no later than the first day of the month preceding the month in which you plan to graduate. (For example, if you plan to graduate in May, you must turn in the thesis by April 1.) The supervisor and second reader may ask for revisions; when these are completed to their satisfaction, the thesis supervisor should sign the certification form. The final version of the thesis and certification form signed by the thesis supervisor must be turned in to the Head of the Department of Linguistics by the last day of instruction. The form must be signed by the Head, and turned in with the thesis to the LAS Honors and Awards Office no more than a week after the last day of instruction.

The university sets strict regulations regarding the format of honors theses. These are summarized in Instructions for Preparation of a Bachelor's Thesis, available from the LAS Honors and Awards Office.

Evaluation of the Thesis and Levels of Distinction

Your thesis supervisor and second reader jointly grade the thesis. In addition, they decide on a level of Departmental Distinction, based partly on the thesis, but also taking into account your overall performance in the program. Possibilities include no distinction, distinction, high distinction, and highest distinction. If you receive distinction, this information will appear on your university transcript.