Doyle Online Writing Lab

Tutoring Thesis Students

In many ways, helping thesis students is the same as helping any other student. This page focuses on aspects that may differ.

  1. Student theses are by nature very specialized. Your job is not to check for content, but to help with writing. If you feel that your lack of knowledge of the subject impedes your ability to read the thesis, you may want to refer the student to another tutor who has more coursework in that field. It is worth remembering, however, that every thesis has a fourth reader--someone outside of the student's area of expertise. The thesis's argument and writing should be clear enough for the outside reader to understand it.
  2. Thesis students often show up for help in the last month (or week) before their thesis is due. This creates special problems for the tutor.
    1. What if the document is too long to read in one tutoring session? You probably only want to tackle one chapter per session. If the student is looking for feedback on the whole document, contact Julie Maxfield to coordinate the details of working one-on-one with a senior outside of your regular shift.
    2. What kind of feedback is appropriate? You should ask the thesis student what kind of feedback she desires and what her timeframe is for revisions. It is also useful to find out if she has received specific comments from her advisor or first reader.
    3. Am I allowed to proofread? Although we generally discourage proofreading, it may be appropriate to proofread a thesis. By the time a thesis is due, both the student and her advisor may have read it so many times that they no longer see the typos. It is reasonable to mark these. You can also do the student a service by helping her make a list of repeated errors (e.g. its vs. it's).
    4. What if the student only wants me to proofread for typos but there are major structural problems with the thesis? Obviously it is ideal to help students attend to structural problems. It is worth remembering, however, that thesis students may be very stressed and under extreme time constraints. Make sure you are as diplomatic as possible if you find structural problems. Make it clear that a few good structural markers can help a thesis greatly, often more than eliminating typos ever will. Adding a clear thesis and structural markers need not take a lot of time.
    5. Are subheadings or other divisions ok in thesis chapters? In general anything that helps clarity is a good thing; however, thesis advisors have their own beliefs about subheadings. It is useful for the student to ask her advisor and to refer to articles published in her field to determine what is the norm for the field.
    6. What if I can't tell what the argument is? Take the student through Joseph Williams' four parts of the academic argument ("The Problem of the Problem"). Get her to tell you what those four parts are for her thesis. These four parts should be included in the introduction. The student may want to use the same process to clarify the argument for each chapter.

Senior Thesis Links

Avoiding Plagiarism (Purdue OWL)
Citation Formats
The Problem of the Problem (Joseph Williams, University of Chicago)
Research Paper Links (Purdue OWL)
Thesis and Your Senior Year (CUS)
Thesis Templates (CUS)
Writing a Thesis (Dartmouth U.)
Writing a Senior Thesis in Anthropology (Reed)
Writing a Senior Thesis in Chemistry (Reed)
Writing a Senior Thesis in Psychology (Reed)
Writing a Senior Thesis in Sociology (Reed)
Writing Research Papers (USCD)