Literature Thesis: Make Your Paper Relevant and Personal

Literature theses are a master’s candidate’s way of showing what they have contributed to the sum of knowledge in their field. A thesis in literature studies can be a dry or obscure piece of writing for an in-group of academics, or it can be something that highlights and explicates a topic for wider discussion in the field. Obviously, the latter is going to be more exciting to write and read, and more fun to complete. How can you make sure that your literature thesis turns out as a vibrant and compelling invitation to learn more about the subject?

7 Ways to Include Variety in Literature Theses:

Often your thesis advisor has some specific area of research that they want you to pursue in order to further their larger project plans. This is sometimes inconvenient and constraining (and not only in Literature). However, often, you can pick topics and approaches that make the process more humane and less stupefying dull. Even if your advisor is strongly encouraging you to examine an issue that links to or supports their larger and longer-term efforts (and this happens frequently), you have the right and the responsibility to make your literature thesis your own. This is your graduate degree, after all.

Literature theses can address at least these eight ideas:

  • an author (e.g., Jane Austen),
  • a period (e.g., 18th Century),
  • a genre (e.g., the marriage novel, picaresque novel),
  • a gender (women’s writing, for example),
  • a subject (love and marriage, for example),
  • a culture or region’s creative products (British, South American, African, for example),
  • a style (magical realism, or satire, for example),
  • other category of literature, or some combination of the above.

Six ways to expand your research for theses in literature on one author. Look for:

  • An author’s writings about themselves;
  • Family writings about the author or their work;
  • Different drafts, versions, and editions of the author’s works, as well as different formats (Was their work made into a play? Movie? Translated? Published in parts in a newspaper or other periodical?);
  • Letters from or to the author;
  • Reviews from the year(s) of publication of their work;
  • Similar works published at the same time, for comparison. Works of literature reflect their time period even more than the author, sometimes.

Two Ideas to increase the relevancy of your literature thesis, by connecting your topic to:

  • relations between genders/races/minorities/indigenous peoples;
  • relations between economic classes.
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