Senior Honours Essay

The Senior Honours Essay (SOC 499A/B) is an option for students in the Sociology four-year general and Honours major plans.

Over the course of two terms, students are asked to demonstrate their ability to think sociologically and work independently by writing a report based on original research which uses some of the things learned in their courses in theory, methods, and the various other subject areas of sociology.

This research may take a variety of forms, but generally, students who complete a senior honours essay are interested in:

  • collecting and analyzing some data 
  • analyzing in a new way data collected by someone else 
  • criticizing, elaborating, or extending some area of sociological theory
  • gaining experience in anticipation for graduate school

This research is done in consultation with a member of the faculty in the Department of Sociology and Legal Studies. (In double/joint Honours academic plans, the faculty member may be from either department). SOC 499 A/B is the equivalent of two SOC 400-level courses, and is completed over two terms.

Enrolling in SOC 499A/B

  1. You must find a faculty member who is willing to supervise you.
  2. Once the faculty member agrees to supervise you, they (the faculty member) emails the Sociology and Legal Studies undergraduate advisor to confirm they are willing to supervise you providing:
    1. Student name
    2. Student ID number
    3. Terms in which each course will take place
    4. Description of the research/topic (topic title: 30 character limit including spaces)
  3. The advisor will provide you with a permission number after the add/drop period so you can enroll in 499A. Please reach out to the advisor again at the beginning of the following term for another permission number for 499B. 
  4. At the end of the firstterm, the faculty member will notify the advisor that you should receive an IP (In Progress) grade for SOC 499A.
  5. A numeric grade for SOC 499A will be submitted only after the completion of SOC 499B (at the end of the second term).

Choosing a supervisor

We have some suggestions regarding how to go about starting the process of choosing a supervisor. 

  • Only faculty members with the positions listed below can supervise SOC 499A/B. Please see the list of UWaterloo and St. Jerome's University faculty members. Bear in mind, however, that several faculty are on sabbatical leave each year.
    • Professors
    • Assistant professors
    • Associate professors
    • Non-Sociology faculty members (with a Sociology co-supervisor)
  • Consider 1-3 faculty members with research interests complementary to yours
  • Be open to various subject areas
  • Meet with prospective supervisors to discuss a general research topic of interest to you (why and what makes it interesting)

Choosing a subject

Please proceed as follows to pick a subject:

  • Pick a problem area that interests you. This may be, for example, something that was discussed in one of your courses. If you don't know what interests you, talk with faculty members.
  • Find one or more members of the faculty who are interested in your area of interest. You may know this from courses they teach, or you may browse the list of appropriate supervisors for ideas (see the "choosing a supervisor section" above).
  • Discuss your interests with the faculty members to find the person you would like to work with.
  • Ask the professor if they are willing to supervise your Senior Honours Essay. Determine the supervisor's expectations for the paper, how frequently you will meet with the supervisor, whether the supervisor wishes to review drafts of the paper, and the deadline for completion of 499B.
  • Inform the undergraduate advisor who your supervisor is.
  • Finish the essay on time! It is your responsibility to submit the final version of your senior honours paper so that your supervisor has sufficient time to read and grade it. If you miss your agreed upon deadline, you may miss convocation.

Remember: Don't delay choosing a subject and a supervisor. Individual faculty members limit the number of SOC 499 students they supervise. The earlier you start reading or collecting materials for your Senior Honours Essay, the more likely you are to finish on time. If your research requires that you submit ethical review materials to the Office of Research (for cases of proposed primary data collection), you must take this into consideration when setting your timeline.

Essay format

The Honours essay can take a variety of formats depending on the type of research. The following is the most common:

  1. Introduction (3-4 pages)
  2. Literature review (10-12 pages)
  3. Research questions/conceptual model (1-5 pages)
  4. Methodology (5-6 pages)
  5. Analysis/findings (10-15 pages)
  6. Conclusion and discussion (6-8 pages)

The total length is 35-50 pages, plus references and appendices.

There are special library privileges (extended loan period) for students working on their Honours essays. For more information, please contact the Sociology liaison librarian.

Suggested Benchmarks

We have suggested monthly and sometimes weekly benchmarks for students. Of course, you and your supervisor will discuss more concrete benchmarks for your own essay but these will provide a guideline. 

499A (September - December)

(1) Mid-September: Supervisor selected

(2) September - early October

  • Meet once a week with the supervisor to discuss the research field and possible topics

  • Development of research timetable; clarification of expectations; schedule for deliverables

  • Read and reflect

  • Identification of the research “issue” or “problematic”.

  • Begin to formulate (write) the justification for this topic (this is the introduction to the essay)

(3) October - early November

  • Meet regularly (once a week) with the supervisor to discuss the research literature in the area

  • Thorough assembling and reading of the research literature (library research and files)

  • Organization of the literature into conceptual themes and approaches

  • Critical reflection on the literature

(4) Mid-November

  • Preliminary draft of (a) Introduction and (b) Literature Review

(5) Mid-November - end of classes

  • Meetings to discuss (a) final research questions or conceptual model (theory issues, hypotheses, themes, concepts) and (b) methodology

  • Revisions to literature review and introduction

(6) Mid to end December

  • Submission of revised draft of (i) introduction, (ii) literature review, (iii) research questions/theory and (iv) proposed methodology (this constitutes the near complete first half of the essay)

499B (January - April)

(1) Mid-January

  • Meetings to discuss methodology

  • Further edits to drafts of literature review submitted in December

  • Submission of ethical review materials to Office of Research (for cases of proposed primary data collection only)

(2) Early February

  • Ethics approval granted

(3) February

  • Data collection

  • Formulation and organization of database

  • Occasional meetings with supervisor to discuss ongoing data collection and issues

(4) Late February - Mid-March

  • Data analysis

  • First draft of analysis write-up

(5) Mid-March - end of classes

  • Preliminary drafting of full essay (in progress) - i.e., drafts of (i) revised actual methodology, (ii) analysis and (iii) conclusions and discussion

(6) Mid-April (latest)

  • Submission of full essay draft

(7) Mid-late April

  • Revisions and submission of final draft

There are special library privileges (extended loan period) for students working on their Honours Essays. For more information, please contact the Sociology liaison librarian.

Writing the SOC 499 honours essay

The Honours essay is seen as the culmination of four years of study in Sociology, intended to reflect a synthesis of theory, methods, and substantive interests developed by the student during that time.

The essay is a research report investigating a scholarly topic of the student’s own interests, under the close direction of a chosen supervisor.

The project is intended to be original research, broadly defined. In many cases this involves primary data collection (participant observation, interviewing, questionnaires, etc.), although analysis of existing data is also allowed, as are strong theoretical pieces and other types of reports based mainly on library research.

The essay project spans two terms with the entire grade for both terms based on the final thesis draft. The grade is awarded solely on the judgement of the supervisor and you should check with your supervisor on the standards and expectations to be applied. For 499A an interim "in progress" grade (IP) is filed automatically by the department, to be replaced at the end of the 499B term once the final essay has been submitted.

The essay is expected to be of a high standard (and receive a correspondingly strong grade). This may involve two or more drafts, and students should arrange their schedules to permit submission of preliminary drafts so that there is time for review and further editing prior to the deadline for submission of final grades following the 499B term.

The range of topics, methods and formats is considerable, to be decided in consultation with the supervisor. A general rule of thumb is that the minimum should be equivalent to two term papers (approximately 40 pages, plus references), but many essays are longer and some shorter. Length is much less a determinant of grade than evidence of effort, organization, timely progress, good reasoning and sound presentation.