SDS 499 A/B - Senior Honours Essay/Thesis

"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research - would it?"

Albert Einstein

SDS 499A/B: Senior Honours Essay/Thesis is the program's undergraduate thesis opportunity. With faculty supervision, it lets students dive-deep into a personal research interest (or continue supervisor research in a new way) over two consecutive terms. 

What to expect

Under the supervision of an SDS faculty member, students focus on an area of Social Development Studies in-depth over two terms. An Honours Essay/Thesis can be an empirical research project or an essay of a theoretical nature.

  • For an empirical project, the student develops a research question and uses appropriate methodology to collect and analyze data.
  • For a theoretical project, the student integrates and evaluates existing evidence to offer new interpretations and hypotheses.

Expect to either complete a substantial essay involving detailed literature research and analysis, or a scholarly report involving literature review, research design, data collection, and analysis.

The Honours Essay is an optional course for those who have a strong interest in conducting original research and/or wish to gain greater experience in research design, data analysis and interpretation. It is recommended for students who are comfortable working independently, have good writing skills, and are planning to apply graduate school (especially programs that require research experience, i.e. may have their own graduate thesis).

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  • Level at least 3A students in the 4year Social Development Studies plan
  • SDS Major average of 80% or higher (or supervising faculty permission)
  • Successful completion of SDS 250R (Social Statistics) and SDS 251R (Social Research)

Things to know

  • SDS 499A and 499B are 0.5-weight courses each (1.0 unitd total)
  • A numeric grade for SDS 499A will be submitted only after completion of SDS 499B. It will show "IP" or "in progress" until this occurs.
  • Students who opt to do an SDS specialization may be able to take this course towards requirements, provided the topic studied fits with the chosen specialization. Subject to department approval.


  • Connect with an SDS faculty member towards possible supervision at least 1 month before the desired working term

    • This is a list of our full-time faculty and their research interests.

    • Ideally your topic should align somewhat with your supervisor's expertise so they can best support you. Please email them directly to inquire about supervision opportunities. See tips below.

    • You will need to work with them to complete the application form, including articulating project details, scope and timeline.

  • Submit the SDS 499A/B Application Form  to (or to your academic advisor) by the first Friday of the starting term.

  • A successful applicant will be notified and manually enrolled in SDS 499A by the department for the first applicable term; second term will be 499B.

Tips for finding a supervisor

The topic of the Honours Essay will ideally be based on a combination of interests between student and supervisor (see Faculty Research Interests).

One approach for selecting an Honours Essay topic is for the student to first find a supervisor who has general interests similar his/her own, and then for the student and the supervisor to develop an Honours Essay proposal which complements the faculty member's current research. Alternatively, some students have more specific research ideas and will seek a supervisor as a result. Students are advised against developing an Honours Essay project in too much detail before securing a supervisor.

All full-time faculty members in the SDS Department are potential supervisors. Think carefully about what you want to tell a faculty member about yourself before making contact. For example, you may inform a potential supervisor of the following:

  • terms and dates for which you are seeking a supervisor
  • reasons why you are interested in doing an honours essay
  • your cumulative overall and SDS average (highlight improvement if applicable)
  • your grades for SDS 250R and SDS 251R
  • your prior courses in the area of study proposed
  • your educational and career goals
  • your previous volunteer or work experience

Start planning for your project during your 3B term by selecting a potential supervisor according to area of interest and arranging a meeting. To see the variety of topics and approaches other students have taken, have a look at copies of SDS/ISS 499A/B projects available at the desk of the Lusi Wong Library.

Thesis requirements

What does the final product look like?

Length can vary depending on the topic and the expectations of the supervisor. Typically Honours Essays average about 60 pages (minimum 35-40), with 30-40 unique references. Talk to your supervisor about what is appropriate for your project.

For an empirical research project, the following sections are required in the Essay:

  • abstract
  • introduction (literature review and the hypothesis)
  • methods (participants, design, testing procedures, measures)
  • results
  • discussion
  • references
  • survey materials in an appendix (if applicable)

The sections and subsections required for theoretical papers will be slightly different than for empirical research projects, and will vary according to the topic being studied. If possible, students should plan the layout for the theoretical paper in the SDS 499A term because the plan may guide their literature review. Students should consult with their supervisor about the layout.

Normally students will receive feedback from their supervisor on at least one or two drafts of the essay before the final paper is submitted for marking.

The Honours Essay must follow APA style (APA Publication Manual also available at the Lusi Wong Library). Sample Honours Essays are available in the Lusi Wong Library.

What is the due date for the final paper?

The final version of the Essay is due for grading by the last day of the examination period for the SDS 499B term - see Important Dates.

Once your supervising professor has evaluated your work and assigned a grade, make any recommended revisions. If you are willing to share your work, you can produce a final copy bound in Cerlox or in a presentation binder for the Lusi Wong Library and/or email a copy of your essay to for department records.

Do I have to hand anything in at the end of 499A?

Typically, by the end of Term 1 (SDS 499A), you should have developed an extensive bibliography and completed the required readings and research, or designed an empirical study and made progress in collecting data. You will submit a progress report of approximately 5 pages in length that includes the following information:

  • a title page identifying the document as a "SDS 499A Progress Report", with the proposed title of the project; student's name and email address; the name of the honours essay supervisor
  • a statement of the general topic of the proposed study
  • a brief account of the background literature the student has read, together with a brief explanation of its relevance for the project (annotated bibliography)
  • a clear statement of the research questions and/or the major hypotheses that the study will address
  • a brief statement of the further steps that will be necessary to complete (e.g., collecting the data)

If your project involves collecting data from human participants, you should aim to have your ethics application submitted by the end of Term 1 as well.

How is the essay graded?

Supervisors are given the following guidelines when they are asked to recommend a final grade for the Honours Essay:


An outstanding essay, one of the best you have seen in years, involving rare dedication and a tremendous amount of independent work, at the level of a strong graduate student.


A truly excellent essay, representing an impressive level of achievement all round (e.g., clear and effective writing throughout; illuminating, correctly reported data analyses; probing, well-informed introduction and discussion sections), and unusual independence.

Very Good

A strong essay, representing a high level of competence overall, but having some specific, nontrivial shortcomings that the student could have rectified; with a fine level of independence.


A good essay overall, but one that has more major shortcomings than we would typically expect in a strong honours essay; usually with a modest level of independence.


A just satisfactory essay, clearly below the level we would typically expect, with serious shortcomings; typically with a relatively low level of independence.


Just barely acceptable as an honours essay, far below the level we would typically expect, with lots of serious shortcomings and a low level of independence.

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