The Senior Project

From your friends at the Bard College Learning Commons

Before You Begin

You must have fulfilled 92 credit hours before you register for a Senior Project. It’s also a good idea to have fulfilled all your distribution requirements and completed any incomplete courses.

Set up a regular weekly or biweekly meeting time with your Senior Project adviser. Think about when you’ll want to plan your midway and which professors you’d like to ask to be on your board.

Work with the research librarians at Stevenson Library to find out what materials our library has, what materials you can find at other libraries, and which materials can be ordered through interlibrary loan.

Ask your adviser to recommend a particular handbook or style manual for your citations and bibliography. For example, the social sciences use the APA citation style, and literature uses the MLA Handbook. Ask now, so as to save time later. A bibliography of some of the handbooks recommended by the faculty and available at the College library is included at the end of this chapter.

Strategies for Writing Your Senior Project

Writing serves as a tool for discovery and a way of joining conversations among peers who are jointly seeking answers to shared questions and questions of shared import. Therefore, the following process for crafting your senior project that we suggest is recursive. That is, writing is a complex process in which you ruminate, conduct research, generate, organize, draft, revise, and re-compose your ideas in a circular fashion. You might begin writing in order to discover your topic, questions, interests, and thesis, revising as you go, and then conduct the balance of your research while writing and revising, only to revise and recompose your man ideas later. So while there is no particular order that can be prescribed for everyone, and the following set of suggestions may be pursued in circular order, past experience has shown that what works best is to begin writing as soon as possible, even if only to isolate the subject of your interest. Much of the advice that follows is adapted from “Elements of the Academic Essay” by Gordon Harvey, Harvard University, in conversation with Bruce Ballenger, from his book, The Curious Researcher.

Start by thinking about and writing down questions you have that the reading you’ve done has brought up. These will help you to define your topic and to formulate questions. Use your writing as a way to think through your ideas.

Ask questions: according to Bruce Ballenger, most writing – be it a personal essay, a poem, or an instruction sheet for a swing set – tries to explore important questions. That’s especially true of a research paper. The challenge in choosing the right topic is to find one that raises questions to which you’d really like to learn the answers. Later, the challenge will be limiting the number of questions that your paper tries to answer. As you get started, look for a topic [in your field] that makes you at least a little hungry to learn more. Consider the intellectual challenge that your topic poses and where you will be able to find more information about it… If you’re considering several topic ideas, favor the one that might offer the most intellectual challenge to you.

Outline the problem or question that underlies your project. That is, explain the intellectual context in which your question matters. In academic essays, questions usually arise from an arguable understanding of an important issue. The author of an essay joins an intellectual discussion or promises to clarify something that would otherwise remain obscured or mistaken by offering his or her researched opinion on the matter. Establishing the problem or question is the primary role of an essay’s beginnings. If it doesn’t promise to illuminate, deepen, explore, or respond to a problem, an essay risks irrelevance.

A useful device is to give each chapter a title in the form of a question. Each of these questions will be a chapter or chapter-section. If you have too many questions, chapter sections are useful. If your guiding question has four subordinate questions, and each of those subordinate questions has three subordinate questions, then you have four chapters, each of which would have three sections. If you still have too many questions, your project may be too broad. Work with your Senior Project adviser to refine it.

Formulate your thesis. Not to be confused with a topic, which represents only the subject area of an essay. A strong thesis has an argumentative dimension. This means that the writer explores a question and offers a response that remains arguable, even controversial. That is, you must be able to advance your thesis and explain and refute counter arguments. What distinguishes a good thesis from a question left unexplored, or a fact that is clearly demonstrable in the text, or an observation (an interpretation so obvious that no intelligent reader would challenge it), is its “arguability.” Although writers often wish to delay announcement of the thesis, good academic writing generally states the thesis early on, and then returns to develop a more nuanced and complex form of it later on and throughout the text.

Research: You want to go back to your research materials, this time searching for answers to the questions you have identified. The idea here is to gather material that will allow you to address your questions, to consider different answers to them, to defend one answer and reject others, etc.

Your research on your topic will produce evidence that has been overlooked or previously undiscovered that may serve to prove your thesis. Frequently, however, academic writers re-examine evidence that others have looked at before, in which case the evidence is more likely to suggest or persuade readers that the writer’s approach is a fruitful one. Since a good thesis must be arguable, academic writers are especially obligated to consider counterevidence, to grapple directly with facts, patterns, or passages that resist or complicate the essay’s main argument. Writers must orient readers to the sources of the evidence, which must be cited.

As you conduct your research, keep careful notes and bibliographic citations. Make certain that your photocopies are complete and clean, that your bibliographic information is complete, and that you note page numbers for quotes. You don’t want to waste time and energy going back and finding sources you’ve found once already, and you don’t want to confuse your authors’ words and ideas with each other’s or with your own.

Revise and proofread as you write. Ask yourself if you’ve said everything you want to say. Are your arguments well formed? Have you used your evidence to your best advantage? Don’t be afraid to change what you have written: move things around, delete things, add things, and revise wherever you see an opportunity for improvement. (Don’t forget to recheck grammar, spelling, and especially transitions.)

Continue writing through your ideas in order to develop a more nuanced and complex form of your thesis.

Beware: college essays are frequently organized either by repletion (where each paragraph develops evidence of the same proposition: “X is clearly present”) or by chronology (where evidence appears in the essay in the same order that it appears in the text): both of these patterns are inadequate. Sections of a good argument proceed in a logical way, but also develop the implications of a thesis more deeply as the essay progresses. The reader should understand how each new section extends the argument that’s come before and prepares the reader for the argument that’s still to come. Reflective sentences, broader-gauged thoughts about where the writer stands now on his or her questions, or thoughts about how this essay fits into questions in the writer’s field – any of these gestures made at moments of transition guide this review/preview, and complex essays frequently include one to two reflective sentences in their introductions or at moments of transition between paragraphs and chapters.

Analysis generally grows out of or refers directly to the evidence, while reflection builds upon analysis to support larger claims. Other strategies that indicate reflection are: consideration of a counterargument, definitions or refinements of terms and assumptions, and qualification of previous claims. Reflection is important throughout an essay, but reflective moments should be especially rich and full in between sections of the argument and in the essay’s conclusion.

You might think of each chapter as a mini-project. (When you’re feeling overwhelmed by the idea of writing a complete project, remember this—if your outline calls for four chapters, you’re essentially writing four essays.) That said, be sure to remind the reader at the beginning of each chapter how it connects to what came in the chapter before, that is, how it connects to the guiding question. This will help ensure that the reader follows the overall argument of the project from the beginning to end. Be sure to employ transitions in your writing: connect one paragraph to another, one section to another, and one chapter to another.

Each chapter should be able to stand alone as a short(er) paper on the question that guides that chapter. Since a thesis must be arguable, no evidence in a good academic argument can speak for itself – all of it must be processed by the writer. Typical strategies of analysis are to highlight significant details of the evidence and to name patterns that might otherwise be undetected. When working with written evidence, it’s good to observe the rule of two: the writer should supply at least two words of analysis for every word of a citation.

Revise and Proofread (again). You’ve put a lot of time into this project, and while you want to be done with it and hand it in, you want the finished project to reflect all the energy and care you have invested. Don’t turn in a paper that hasn’t been carefully vetted for argumentative, compositional, and organizational errors. Ask yourself if you’ve said everything you want to say. Are your arguments well formed? Have you communicated clearly the role of each chapter in the overall project? Don’t be afraid to change what you have written: move things around, delete things, add things, and revise wherever you see an opportunity for improvement. (Don’t forget, however, to recheck grammar, spelling, and especially transitions afterwards.)

Revision takes time and involves re-seeing and re-writing. A few tips: (i) give yourself as much time as possible between writing and proofreading; the longer you wait, the better a job you will do; (ii) give yourself as much time as possible when revising your project. Revision means seeing again, and writing again, which means that you will actually still be engaging the project of writing as you are revising.

As you reach your conclusion, realize that the conclusion shouldn’t simply restate the argument (though it does that, too), nor should it recapitulate the introduction. Rather, the conclusion should remind the reader of what you were trying to do in the project and how each of the chapters constructed your argument. A conclusion should also register caveats, exceptions, and other relevant points that qualify the project’s accomplishments.

Good proofreading (iii), one form of revision, involves careful editing for grammatical, typographical, spelling, and other forms of misuse. For this, have a friend (roommate, tutor, etc.) proofread the paper for you; and be sure to (iv) read the paper aloud. (Failing to proofread might lead your board to ask you to go back and revise it after you’ve handed it in. Nothing feels worse than walking out of your board knowing that you’re still not done.)

Go over the paper three times. The first time, check for high order concerns, such as your guiding questions, focus, development, and approach. Are they original? Interesting? Reflective of your interests? The second time, check to see if your sentences are as clear as they should be and excise clichés, slang, and vague phrases or jargon. Finally, check for grammatical and mechanical errors, including spelling mistakes (computerized spellcheckers are unreliable).

Your introduction—which you may want to write after you’ve drafted your chapters—literally introduces your thesis to the reader. It should be long enough to give the reader some context for your argument and include summaries of the argument outlined in each chapter and how each chapter relates to the thesis.


For more information, contact the Bard Learning Commons at x7812 or . Visit our website at:

A fine resource for conducting research is offered by OWL Purdue, at this website:


Ref. BF 76.7 .A43 1994 American Psychological Association. Publication Manual of the

American Psychological Association. Washington, D.C., American Psychological Association. 1994.

Ref. Z253.U69 1993 Chicago Manual of Style . 14th edition. Chicago: University of

Chicago Press, 1993.

Ref. T11 S386 1994 Council of Biology Editors. Scientific Style and Format: The

CBE Style Manual. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Ref. T 11 D33 1998 Day, Robert A. How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper. 5th

edition. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998.

Ref. LB 2369 .G53 Modern Language Association. MLA Handbook for Writers of

Research Papers. New York: Modern Language Association, 1995.

Ref. PN 147 G444 Modern Language Association. MLA Style Manual and Guide to

Scholarly Publishing. New York: Modern Language Association, 1998.

Ref. PE 1408 .S772 2000 Strunk, William S. and White, E. B. The Elements of Style.

Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2000.

Ref. LB 2369 .T8 1996 Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses,

and Dissertations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Online Resources:

 Bard Learning Commons :

 Bard Libraries:

 Bard Senior Year Experience:

 Dean of Student Affairs website:

Citations and Bibliographic Guides

  • NoodleBib: Generate, edit, and publish an MLA Works Cited list or APA References list that complies with the rules of the current MLA Handbook and APA Publication Manual. To use NoodleBib, you must first create a personal folder. Click on the New User link and follow the instructions.


  •  APA Guide to citations
  •  MLA Guide to citations (also available at the Learning Commons)


  •  Chicago Manual of Style guide to citations

On-line Research:
  • Stevenson Library's Guides to Research in the Disciplines
  •  Online! A reference guide to using internet sources:
  •  International public library, links to newspapers worldwide:

Writing Academic Papers

 Rules of thumb for proper citation:

 ·         Talk with your senior project advisor for preferred citation format.

·         Consult bibliography and footnote sections of periodicals in your discipline.

·         Be consistent, whichever citation format you choose.

For additional resources, please see the Learning Commons website’s “Resources for Students” page: