Senior Thesis Proposal Guidelines


Empirical Research Thesis

All seniors interested in writing a senior thesis involving empirical research for their graduation requirement are required to submit proposals and receive approval from the department. These proposals should conform to the American Psychological Association style. That is, they should be organized in sections as follows:

1. The COVER PAGE should appear in APA style.

2. The ABSTRACT should contain a brief summary of the content and purpose of your proposed research. The length is typically 100-250 words, but usually no more than 120 words. The abstract should describe the problem under investigation (in one sentence if possible), the subjects (specifying important characteristics such as number, type, age, sex), the experimental method, (including apparatus, data-gathering procedures, complete test names), and the potential findings / implications.

3. The INTRODUCTION should outline the background research and reasoning which form the basis of your hypothesis. For your thesis proposal you should only describe directly relevant findings. The purpose of the introduction is to inform the reader of the specific problem under study, the research strategy used and how the problem is related to prior work. In writing the introduction, keep these three questions in mind: (a) What is the point (hypothesis) of the study? (b) What is the rationale or logical link between the study and the research design? (c) What is the relationship between the study and previous work in the area? By the end of the introduction the reader should understand the relevant background research and the question(s) you hope to answer.

4. The METHOD section should indicate your proposed method and research design. Describe the methods that you will use to answer the question outlined in the introduction. It is very important that your proposed methods permit you to answer the question(s) you outline. This portion of your proposal will typically contain subsections for participants, materials, and procedures.

5. The RESULTS section should detail the analyses you plan to run. You might want to include in this section a brief description of the predicted findings.

6. The DISCUSSION section should go into more depth regarding your expected results and their implications. How will this research advance our understanding of the area under investigation?

7. The REFERENCE section should contain a listing of all of the references listed in your proposal in proper APA style.

Proposals are approved by the third week in each semester. Revisions or elaborations of the proposal may occasionally be requested by the Department.

To help you in writing your proposal, there are several samples available from Toni Day in the psychology department.

Community-Based Research Thesis

All seniors interested in using community-based research (CBR) as their graduation requirement, are required to submit proposals and receive approval before they can begin their placements. Although empirical research proposals follow APA style, community-based research proposals may differ; a method or results section might not be appropriate. We strongly encourage the use of appropriate sub-headings in the proposal (e.g., “Background”, “Site Description” or “Student Responsibilities”), based on the requirements below. At the minimum, a proposal should include the following in roughly the same order:

1. A three- to five-page summary of research that may be relevant to the placement. For example, if you are working with behaviorally-disordered children at St. Mary’s, prevalence of the disorders or social problems linked with such behaviors and a brief summary of treatments and therapeutic settings for such children would be appropriate. Specifically, we ask students to anticipate how courses in Psychology or knowledge of psychological theory may relate to their placements.

2. A description of the site, the services offered at the placement, and the “mission” or “philosophy” of the agency or workplace.

3. A rationale for volunteering at the site. Specifically, students should articulate how the placement constitutes a service to the community and what kind of learning might take place.

4. A general description of the student’s responsibilities at the site.

5. An agreement signed by a supervisor at the site, the student, and the faculty advisor, specifying the schedule and requirements for the placement (number of hours, etc.).  A copy of the agreement used by the Harward Center will be made available in a class meeting.

6. References should be in American Psychological Association format (see Manual).

Students should make every effort to contact their CBR placements and supervisors soon after the proposal is accepted, given the late due dates of fall proposals.


Theoretical Review and Integration

A literature review paper critically evaluates the previous research in a field of study. The purpose of the review is to summarize what is known for the reader and to point out the strengths and shortcomings of prior research. You may write about any aspect of the topic you wish, although your paper must be organized in a logical way. Review articles are most often organized topically. One section, for example, may review research on human beings, and another section may review studies with other animals.  Or the different sections could review articles supporting different competing theories. If you plan on writing a theoretical review then your proposal should:

1. Begin by setting the stage for the review you will write. Briefly describe the specific area of research and the types of studies that you will review. If there are two (or more) sides to the issue, be sure to mention that here. Also, if necessary you should give any operational definitions in the first part of the paper. If you plan on focusing on only certain aspects of the prior literature then you should address this issue somewhere in the opening section. Be aware that if you plan on focusing on only a portion of the prior literature then you will need to clearly articulate (and defend) this decision at the outset.

2. In the body of the paper you will describe the way you plan to organize your review.  Be sure to use section headings in the body of your paper and describe the major research articles you plan on including in each section.

3. The discussion/conclusion/closing section should start with a brief summary of the issues you believe you will cover. This section should then discuss the implications of the review.  What will this review add to the literature?  Why is this review needed?  For example, after reviewing all of the research, do you suspect that you will discover areas that haven’t yet been studied that should be? Based on your review, do you think you will find converging evidence from a number of studies that indicate a specific theory should be modified?

For additional help see Bem’s (1995) article on writing a review and The University of Washington’s handout on writing a psychology research review.

For examples of review articles see these journals:

  • Psychological Bulletin
  • General articles published in Psychological Science
  • Perspectives on Psychological Science
  • Current Directions in Psychological Science
  • Reviews articles published in Psychonomic Bulletin and Review
  • Clinical Psychology Review
  • Health Psychology Review
  • European Review of Social Psychology

Proposals are approved by the third week in each semester. Revisions or elaborations of the proposal may occasionally be requested by the Department.

  • Contact Us