Thesis Requirements

Registering for a thesis in the Department of Political Science represents an important academic commitment on the part of the student. Thesis enrollees are expected to fulfill all requirements regarding length, form, deadlines, etc.

One-unit theses will normally range between fifty and seventy pages in length. The final length of the thesis will, however, be determined in consultation between the student and the advisor. The department emphasizes that broad and extensive research central to the analytical subject matter of the work in a variety of sources is an essential component of any thesis, regardless of length.

Outlines, drafts, and theses are due at noon on the dates indicated. They should be submitted directly to the thesis advisor. If the advisor is not available, they should be submitted to the department Administrative Assistant in Rockefeller 110.

Register for your thesis. Use an add/drop form that you can pick up in either the Political Science Department Office or the Registrar’s Office to register for your thesis. You will need signatures from both your thesis advisor and your major advisor on the form.

No student will be permitted to withdraw from his or her thesis after the conclusion of the official Vassar drop period for the first semester. Exception to any of these deadlines may be only by action of the entire department and only in truly extraordinary circumstances.


First Drafts

First drafts must be in the form of a finished thesis; that is, they should be in their complete and final form, neatly typed and proofread, with all footnotes included. First drafts which are not in this form will not be accepted by thesis advisors. Theses that have not been handed in by one week after the first draft deadline will not be accepted, and the thesis grade automatically becomes an “F.”

Theses which do not meet the first-draft deadline are not eligible for Departmental Honors.

Final Drafts

You must hand in two copies of your final draft. The original must be in a black thesis spring binder which will be kept by the Department; the copy is returned to you. The final draft of your thesis should be carefully typed, accurately proofread, properly documented, and professional in appearance. Your thesis will be graded with a letter grade (i.e., not a Pass-Fail or a Satisfactory-Unsatisfactory). Theses that have not been handed in by one full week after the final draft deadline will not be accepted, and the thesis grade automatically becomes an “F.”

Standards for Departmental Honors at Graduation

  • The writing of a senior thesis, the thesis to have received (in addition to a letter grade) the grade of “Distinction” from both the first and second readers, and to have met all senior thesis guidelines and deadlines. The grade on the thesis must be an A- or above in order for the thesis to merit distinction. In exceptional cases the department may accept an educational project comparable in value to the writing of a thesis; the project must also receive the grade of “Distinction” from two faculty members.
  • At least a 3.60 cumulative grade-point average in Political Science coursework. This average includes work done in the spring semester of the senior year. (Please also note: For majors who take Pol 269 (Model UN) more than once, only the grade that is received the first time is calculated into a major’s departmental GPA.)
  • The passing of an oral examination based on the thesis or educational project.
  • Final approval of the department.

Ida Frank Guttman Prize

This prize is awarded at graduation for the best thesis in Political Science that meets the deadline for final drafts of theses.

2022–2023 Thesis Deadlines

“A” One-Semester Theses (300-01)

  • Thesis outline due: Thursday, October 27.
  • First draft due: Wednesday, November 23.
  • Final draft is due: Wednesday, February 1.

Two-Semester Theses (for one unit, 301-01 and 302-51, 1/2 unit each semester)

  • Thesis outline due: Thursday, October 27.
  • First draft due: Wednesday, February 1.
  • Final draft is due: Monday, April 3.


Working with Your Advisor

Writing a thesis is a challenging and exciting endeavor that necessarily involves considerable conversation between you and your advisor. During this process, it is essential that you maintain contact with your advisor, who will be able to guide you in focusing the topic and generating arguments, in selecting appropriate sources, and in drafting outlines, chapters, and the final thesis.

Choosing a Topic and Getting Started

Seek a topic that truly interests you. You will be working on it intensely over a long period of time, so you need to be intellectually engaged with your subject. There are several preliminary questions you should ask yourself in determining your topic:

  1. Is the subject sufficiently narrow and well-defined to address in a thesis of 50–70 pages?
  2. Can you realistically research it using Vassar’s library and other resources available to you?
  3. Is the subject one that lends itself to analysis rather than simple description, i.e., what is the explanatory value of the thesis?

To focus your topic, formulate the central question your thesis seeks to answer. You should not, however, feel compelled to generate a hypothesis or analytical question never before analyzed. You are writing an undergraduate thesis, not a doctoral dissertation or a book, and you should have realistic expectations of yourself and your topic. Finally, be aware of the assumptions you bring to your topic; self-awareness helps one avoid an overly biased or constrained definition of a topic.


The success of your project depends on the breadth and depth of your sources. The amount of research required for a thesis is the amount needed to investigate a topic thoroughly; quantitative guidelines are not very useful. Throughout the research process, you will have to determine which sources to consult and which to exclude from this process. You need to exercise judgment (in consultation with your advisor) about which sources are the most pertinent to your thesis as you proceed.

Early on in the process, you must familiarize yourself with the range of secondary and primary sources relevant to your topic. Although many students believe that books constitute the best secondary sources, articles from scholarly journals and other periodicals are often more useful. One strategy is to begin with a few, recent, key secondary sources and use footnotes and bibliographies from them to identify additional sources. Once you understand the debates in the secondary sources, you will examine primary sources, which are the raw materials of research: diplomatic documents, diaries, speeches, election data, survey results, legal cases, or original philosophical texts. It is possible to start your research with primary sources, but in either case the thesis must demonstrate in some fashion that you are familiar with both the primary and secondary materials.


Writing styles vary, but, in general, a thesis presents a carefully drawn argument supported by specific evidence and cogent reasoning. If your thesis focuses on a text (e.g., in political theory), you should include a closely reasoned examination of that text and an analysis of the secondary literature that speaks to the theme or themes that you are examining. If your thesis involves the generation or re-examination of empirical data, you should take your reader through a step-by-step evaluation of the data and/or your examination of the data. Relate your approach and interpretation to the major analyses of your subject. Explain how you arrive at your findings and what their significance is with respect to the other studies of your topic.

From the very outset of the thesis process and at all stages, you should organize your thoughts in writing. In addition to the required thesis outline, you will find it helpful to construct an outline of each chapter. You will probably discover that the outlines change as you write sections of the thesis. Do not shy away from changing your original organizational scheme if another is more effective, but do your best to clarify a clear organizational structure in mind as you write.

Write and rewrite: writing and rewriting help clarify ideas and research strategies. Strive for writing that illuminates difficult or dense ideas or data and makes the thesis enjoyable to read. Write lucid, simple prose that avoids jargon, unsubstantiated assertions, and broad generalizations. Each section and paragraph must have a clear focus that contributes to your general argument. Edit all parts of the thesis for clarity and consistency of analysis and for style. Check the grammar, punctuation, and spelling thoroughly.

You should be in close conversation with your advisor at each step of the thesis process. You might ask your advisor to read and comment on your writing ahead of any of the deadlines, giving your advisor sufficient time to read and provide useful feedback.

Documentation/Academic Honesty

Academic honesty is an essential component of any paper, the thesis included. When quoting, paraphrasing, or borrowing ideas or data, you must give proper attribution. Correct citation with full bibliographic information is a necessary ingredient of scholarly work. If one cites sources properly, it will be easy for others to track down those sources. If you are not sure whether to cite, it is better to err on the side of caution; cite. There are three basic forms of citation: endnotes, footnotes, and intratextual references. Consult your advisor about which form she/he finds acceptable. Then be consistent in the form of citation you employ. Include a complete bibliography for all the sources you have used in researching and writing the thesis. In editing the thesis, be sure you have been thorough and accurate in your citations.

Final Product

The final copy of your thesis should present a finely crafted argument that is thoroughly supported by reasoning and evidence. It should be free of all errors of substance and style and should have a professional look. One copy will be placed in the department archives, where it will be available to future generations of political science students.

As a reminder, thesis writers must adhere to all thesis deadlines. Exception to any of the deadlines may be only by action of the entire department and only in truly extraordinary circumstances.