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Department of Justice Studies - Honors Thesis Guidelines






  • Students must have a 3.40 GPA in the major or have permission of the department head in order to be eligible to write an honors thesis. Students must have a 3.40 in the major at the time they register for the A phase and they must maintain this 3.40 GPA while working on the honors thesis. The honors thesis coordinator will verify that each student’s GPA meets these requirements before allowing him/her to register for 499 each semester. If a student’s GPA falls below 3.40 his/her committee will review the student’s progress on the thesis and reserves the right to terminate the thesis process at that point.


  • Ideally, students should have completed JUST 201 prior to beginning the thesis. At the latest, students should complete JUST 201 by the end of the A portion of the thesis. The honors thesis coordinator will verify that JUST 201 has been successfully completed before allowing students to register for the B portion.


c) Under normal circumstances students will receive a grade for each phase of the honors

colloquium and at least a B grade will be needed to continue to the next phase.




  • 499A students must meet with the honors thesis coordinator no later than the fourth week of class to identify a topic and establish a committee.


  • One-year/adjunct faculty members do not serve on honors thesis committees. However, we encourage students to consult with those one-year/adjunct faculty members who have expertise relevant to the student’s thesis.


  • Honors thesis committees are comprised of three faculty members. Under normal circumstances the chair must be a member of the Justice Studies department. No more than one member may be from outside the department.


  • The honors thesis coordinator will be responsible for ensuring that committees include faculty members with expertise appropriate to the thesis topic. It is particularly important that the committee chair have methodological and substantive expertise that will allow the student to successfully complete his/her research.





  • Under normal circumstances students will receive a grade for each phase of the honors colloquium and a B grade will be needed to continue to the next phase. Should an incomplete grade be given the needed work must be completed by a time set by the committee chair in consultation with the honors thesis coordinator.


  • Colloquium grades will be assigned by the committee chair in consultation with the committee and the colloquium instructor. It is the responsibility of the colloquium instructor and the readers to communicate concerns regarding the student’s progress to the committee chair. The colloquium instructor will email students’ grades to their committee members each semester so that readers are kept “in the loop.”


  • Barring extraordinary circumstances, students will not be allowed to take the A and B phase of the colloquium simultaneously. JUST 499A is typically taken in the spring semester of junior year and JUST 499B and C follow in subsequent semesters.




Although theses will vary in precise structure and number of chapters, every thesis must contain the following sections:


  • Abstract: The title of the thesis must be followed by a one-paragraph (maximum 300 words) abstract that summarizes the research question, theoretical argument and/or hypotheses, research approach, and results.


  • Introduction: This section identifies the question the researcher is posing and explains why that question/problem is important. The introduction should also provide a brief overview of the paper’s structure.


  • Literature Review: This section summarizes all of the major theoretical and empirical contributions by researchers in this field. The purpose of the literature review is to demonstrate that the student has mastered the prevailing theories, and is familiar with how researchers measure, examine, or analyze the relevant concepts. A literature review is not a long string of direct quotations from various authors; rather, the student must demonstrate his/her own understanding of this material by summarizing, analyzing, comparing, organizing, and critiquing this work in his/her own words. It is particularly important to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, insight, and utility of current research on this topic, rather than simply reciting others’ works. Are there gaps in the literature? Unresolved controversies? Poorly defined concepts? In short, a thorough literature review will not only describe but critically assess the current state of the literature. If the thesis involves an empirical test of hypotheses, these hypotheses must be justified based on this literature and formally stated in this section.


d) Research Design: The length and precise content of this section will vary based on the

nature of the research question being posed. However, this section must specify in detail the methods the student will use to investigate the research question. The thesis is not a book report. The student is expected to make an original contribution to the discipline, and this requires having a research question that can be tested or evaluated in a systematic manner. “Original contributions to the discipline” could include (but are not limited to): testing an existing theory using new data, measures, or cases; synthesizing existing theories to create a new theoretical framework and then testing hypotheses drawn from this new framework; examining a fresh interpretation of a specific text, concept or principle.


The research design section details these systematic methods. For empirical theses, this involves specifying the operational measures of each variable, data sources, and statistical techniques (or qualitative methods), and evaluating the reliability/validity of key measures and the internal and external validity of the overall design. For normative theses, this involves specifying the analytical methods, sources, and standards of evidence the student will employ to answer a theoretical question, prove the credibility of a particular interpretation, or examine and test a new understanding of a specific text, concept or principle.


e) Analysis: One or more chapters which present the results of the data analysis, case

studies, or application of the model/theory. For normative theses, at least one chapter should focus on drawing reasoned conclusions based on the theoretical analysis. This might involve the recognition of more than one credible interpretation. The parameters for this analysis should be clearly established in the preceding section (research design). Students must follow the requirements of the Honors College and the preferences of their thesis committee regarding the display of tables and figures, if these are to be used.


f) Conclusions: This section summarizes the results of the analysis and discusses the

implications of these findings. Where relevant, students should tie their findings back to the arguments and controversies highlighted in the literature review. Depending on the research topic and methods used, the conclusions section may include conditional forecasts, suggestions for further research, or policy recommendations.


g) Bibliography: The bibliography will only contain works actually cited in the thesis. It

must include at least 25 sources.





  • The honors thesis is a formal project. As such, citations must conform to a recognized

academic style. The exact format of the citations will be determined by the committee

chair in consultation with other members of the committee.


  • Any tables, charts, or figures reproduced in the paper must include information about the original source within the table/chart/figure.


c) Students should consult the honors program stylistic guidelines for the appropriate

manner to organize the thesis in terms of the internal organization of the thesis regarding

such matters as headings, placement of tables, use of quotations, etc.




  • Because the purpose of the literature review is to portray the state of research on the topic, it will consist primarily of academic sources. An academic source is a book or article whose primary audience is academics, rather than the general public. (This typically means articles that appear in peer-reviewed journals and books published in academic or other scholarly presses). Magazines, newspapers, and books written by non-academics are not considered academic sources. A dataset is not an academic source, in that it contains no theory or analysis. Datasets must be cited in the bibliography according to the preferences of their copyright holders.


  • Students will avoid using Wikipedia for the reasons discussed above. Authors are not clearly identified by Wikipedia, nor will the student, in most cases, be able to ascertain the qualifications of any Wikipedia contributor.




  • Students should not turn in, for credit in other classes, portions of the thesis. They may, however, with the consent of the instructor, write on a topic that is an extension of their honors thesis project.


b) Students who successfully complete all three phases of the honors thesis course may

substitute the honors thesis for the senior seminar based on their performance in JUST

499B and the permission of the department head.