Proposal guidelines

  • ab•stract \ n. a brief statement of the essential content of a book, article, speech, court record, etc.; summary.
  • pro•po•sal \ n. a statement, theorem, etc. set forth for argument, demonstration, proof, etc.; refers to a plan, offer, etc. presented for acceptance or rejection
  • pro•spec•tus \ n. a statement outlining the main features of a new work

Your senior thesis proposal to e submitted in the spring of the junior year should include the following:

  1. a tentative title for your project
  2. a 5-7 page statement
  3. a bibliography
  4. the signature of a Religion department faculty member who will act as your advisor

Whether we call it an abstract, proposal or prospectus, each of the above definitions from Webster’s New World College Dictionary gives some clues as to what your statement should entail; brevity, a plan, and an outline of the key features of your project.

A helpful way to begin your proposal is with a question that you want to investigate. Instead of beginning:

My thesis is about the exegetical techniques of Martin Luther.

Try beginning:

How did Martin Luther’s biblical commentaries reflect a significant departure from medieval exegetical methodology?

The question format allows you the leeway you need to do more research. It also sets you up to discuss how you propose to go about researching and answering this question. The key ingredients to your proposal should be

  • defining the key questions to be investigated
  • describing the nature of the source materials to be examined
  • stating the choice of methods, theoretical approach, and hermeneutical tools to be used to pursue your investigation

In general, your proposal introduces us to the topic of your project. It should also communicate why the topic is important and give some hint to its broader significance within the field of religious studies.

Preparing for the proposal

Writing the proposal should be the culmination of a process that involves preliminary research on the topic, some discussion with faculty members, and some probing of your own thoughts about what interests you. Choosing a topic can be difficult if your interests are wide ranging; even after choosing a topic, narrowing the focus to one that is feasible for a senior project can be even more of a challenge. Some of the following questions might help you as you embark on the proposal.

  • Are you beginning with a question that is unresolved? What puzzles you? What do you want to find out?
  • Do you care about the question? Are you clear about what you are asking? What observations have led you to the question/ What hunches do you have about possible answers?
  • Is the topic interesting? Can it be made interesting to others?
  • Can the topic be researched? How can it be researched? What kinds of information are necessary to answer the question posed?
  • Does the topic present problems that can be explored or solved with analysis? Does it provide you with an opportunity to do some creative and original thinking?
  • How does your specific topic, and the questions it generates, relate to the broader issues in the study of religion?

Senior thesis style guidelines


Approximately 40 pages (that is, about 10,000 words, double spaced using as 12 point font). This length refers to the preliminaries (e.g. introduction) and the main text and excludes endnotes, appendices, and bibliography.


Discuss with your advisor which academic style of citation and notation is most appropriate for your thesis, as this will differ according to academic subfield.


  • Typed, double spaced on 8.5 x 11 inch paper
  • Margins should be 1.5 inches on the left, and 1 inch on right, top, and bottom
  • Footnotes or endnotes (single spaced, though double space between each note). Footnotes are often in small font than the main text. Endnotes should be 12 point.
  • All pages should be numbered. Preliminary matter should be numbered with Roman numerals, and the remainder, beginning with the first page of the introduction and continuing to the last page of the bibliography should use Arabic numerals.
  • You must include a title page, a table of contents, and a bibliography
  • Optional elements (often included by seniors but not required) include acknowledgments, chapter titles and subdivisions, a list of illustrations, preface, and appendices

The title page should conform to the following model:

[Title] A senior thesis Presented By [Full name of author] to The Department of Religion in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the major in Religion [name of your school within Columbia] [month, year of submission of thesis]

Copies and binding

You must submit two copies of your thesis, one to each reader. The copies should be bound separately. We recommend velo binding with a clear vinyl cover available at most of the copy stores near or on campus. The author’s name and the title of the thesis should be visible on the front of each bound thesis.

Place and date of submission

Two copies of the thesis should be hand delivered on the specified date in April, one to your advisor and one to your second reader. Keep in mind that the Religion Department office closes at 5 p.m.: plan to turn in your thesis no later than 4 p.m.

The thesis deadline is a firm one. Missing it may have an impact on your final grade. If you miss it for any reason, please contact your advisor directly.

Some final pointers and pieces of advice

  • Carefully proofread your final thesis before copying. In fact, have another pair of eyes – a roommate or good friend – proofread it as well. The author is often so familiar with the text that he or she can miss typos, etc.
  • Check for consistency in spelling, abbreviations, citations, and transliteration of foreign words
  • Check to make sure that all sources, both cited and paraphrased, are properly acknowledged and make sure the quotations are correctly formatted
  • Make sure that you have enough paper, toner, and ink in your printer to print out the thesis
  • Allow time for computer-related snafus during the final printing. Mangled discs, broken printers, and other computer-related excuses are not acceptable in accounting for late theses.