Honors Thesis Guide

Guidelines for the Department of Economics Honors Thesis

Every student who writes a thesis in economics is mandated to take ECON 489M (Honors Thesis) for two semesters. Normally this entails taking 2 credits in the fall semester and 4 credits in the spring semester. ECON 489M is a year-long course during which students meet as a group with the professor (i.e., it's not an independent study course). During the first semester the emphasis of the course is on helping students narrow their focus to a feasible topic, begin planning out the thesis, and doing some writing. They receive two credits for this first semester. The second semester continues with the bulk of the writing of the thesis, and students present their theses to their classmates during the latter part of the second semester. Students receive four credits for the second semester. Each semester of ECON 489M entails multiple assignments, and deadlines for those assignments as well as expectations of the students will be clearly defined in the class.

The Thesis

The Honors College describes the thesis as “a scholarly piece of writing in which the writer is expected to show a command of the relevant scholarship in his (or her) field and contribute to the scholarship. It should confront a question that is unresolved and push towards a resolution.” The thesis is likely to be one of the most challenging and rewarding assignments of a student’s undergraduate career. In the process of pursuing a topic, conducting independent research, formulating, articulating and crafting a sustained argument, students will build on what they have learned in coursework, gain insights into economic scholarship and methodology, and develop their talents as writers and thinkers. Presenting the thesis to their classmates is also a very enriching experience, and final thesis drafts often incorporate comments that students receive from their colleagues. Once the thesis is completed students will have the satisfaction of knowing they have produced a work of scholarship that will be permanently archived in the Penn State Library system. The Economics Department expects honors theses to be based on thorough research and to offer an original interpretation. Students are expected to undertake some degree of primary research using original sources. The nature and extent of the primary research may vary according to the question pursued and the field of study. Students are also expected to situate their research and analysis within the scholarship of the field of economics and to clearly articulate and support the significance of their project and its contribution. Students whose work involves extensive primary research should be careful not simply to present a narrative or an inventory of their sources, but to center the thesis on the analysis and interpretation of their research in such a way that their thesis makes an argument.

Specifics about Honors Thesis

  1. Form for first and final drafts: The thesis must be typed, double-spaced, with pages numbered consecutively. Page 1 should be the first page of text of the thesis (i.e., your Introduction begins on page 1). Direct quotations from sources, if placed in a separate paragraph and indented, may be single-spaced. Please allow at least approximately one inch margins (note that the Honors College may require a larger left margin, so you should make sure that the version you submit to them meets their specifications).
  2. Title and signature pages: Please consult the Honors College website for information on the format of the title page and signature page for your thesis. The signature page should allow for two signatures: that of your thesis supervisor, and Dr. Chuderewicz’s signature as Honors Adviser. If Dr. Chuderewicz is your thesis supervisor, then have Professor Tybout sign as your honors advisor.
  3. Length of the first draft should not exceed 40 pages of text, unless you’ve received advance permission from your ECON 489M instructor. Tables, graphs, and diagrams in the text, and the list of references, endnotes, and appendices (if used) are not included in this page limitation. There is no limit on the length of the final draft. Most completed theses are on the order of 50-60 pages total. There is no minimum, but theses virtually always exceed 30 pages.
  4. A table of contents, to appear at the beginning, is required. Division into chapters, headings, and subheadings is recommended, in order to assist the reader in understanding the organization of the thesis.
  5. A bibliography or "list of references" is required. References should be in alphabetical order, by author or publishing agency (e.g., U.S. Bureau of the Census or World Bank, if no individual author is listed). All authors should be listed, along with the year of publication (many students seem to have trouble retaining the need for this type of referencing) and other information that would allow a reader to actually locate the reference if so desired. Multiple citations for the same author should be listed in order of year of publication; if there are multiple publications for the same author in the same year, use letters (e.g., 2004a, 2004b, ...) and order these alphabetically. There is no need to separate your bibliography into types of publications, e.g., books, articles, and documents. Most important is that you be consistent in your use of a referencing style.
  6. Footnotes (if used) should be numbered consecutively and may be placed either at the bottom of the page where they appear in the text or at the end (as endnotes) of the body of the thesis (before the bibliography and any appendices). They should not be used for referencing.
  7.  All tables and graphs should provide an indication of the original source at the bottom. In addition, tables and graphs should always be stand-alone – i.e., the reader should be able to understand the table or graph simply by looking at it, without reference to the text. This requires an adequately descriptive title and may also require explanatory notes.
  8. Referencing: Direct quotations must be put in quotation marks unless they are single spaced and placed in a separate paragraph (see #1 above). Such quotations, as well as the paraphrasing or use of an author's ideas, must be referenced. The acceptable method is to cite the author's name or names, the year of publication, and the page number (for a quotation) in the text; the full reference should then appear in your bibliography. (If there are more than two authors, the in-text reference should give the last name of the first author followed by et al.) This method eliminates the need for using footnotes for referencing; footnotes should be reserved for ideas related to but subsidiary to those being developed in your text (see #6 above).
  9. Proofreading: Please take the time to carefully proofread both your first and final drafts. A "typo" is no excuse for faulty punctuation and spelling, especially in an age of spellchecking software. But remember that for all intense and porpoises, spell checking won’t defect all your errors, if you know what I mien.
  10. Submission: The Schreyer Honors College requires electronic thesis submission; please see their website for the relevant submission dates.