Writing in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese

An Overview

The Department of Spanish and Portuguese (SPO) offers a liberal arts major designed to give students a thorough grounding in the language, literature, and cultures of Spanish and/or Portuguese speaking countries and societies. Students are encouraged to complement their courses in Spanish or Portuguese with related and varied courses in other literatures, as well as in art history, anthropology, sociology, comparative literature, and other humanities subjects. In addition to serving as the focus for an education in the liberal arts, the SPO major can be the basis for graduate or professional study. In mostly small classes and seminars, allowing extensive student-teacher interaction, students become equipped to take up careers in many walks of life, including journalism, business, law, government, service, and international affairs. In language acquisition courses, students develop the ability to read, write and communicate in Spanish or Portuguese. Content-based instruction enable students to become cultural translators, by promoting knowledge and understanding of societies and cultures in Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa, as well as in diasporic communities and immigrant contexts. In more advanced seminars, often taught in Spanish and/or Portuguese, students engage global perspectives and international issues in greater depth. The senior thesis represents a culmination of this process. Seniors are expected to contribute to a particular field of inquiry, adding to a scholarly conversation by answering a significant question about Spanish or Portuguese languages or cultures in an original way, by reflecting on a substantial body of research, or by crafting an original creative project or translation. The Senior Thesis is normally written in English and should be between 15,000 and 20,000 words.

Goals of the Thesis

A senior thesis should aim to produce a critical study on the literatures, histories, and/or cultures of one or more Spanish and/or Portuguese-speaking areas in the world. Creative writing and translation works are acceptable as long as it they are accompanied by a critical apparatus. In most cases, independent work in SPO combines approaches that incorporate analytical tools associated with literary criticism and cultural studies.

Although each thesis experience is unique, the range of skills developed in the process of writing a senior thesis should serve students well beyond their time at the University. In all cases, senior theses build on what students have learned in the classroom and, ideally, in their experiences studying and/or researching abroad. The independent work serves as a platform through which to accomplish the following objectives:

  • Produce well-formulated and informed questions about an aspect of Spanish and/or Portuguese languages and cultures, identifying appropriate and successful strategies to answer them.  
  • Practice the art of reading for substance, argument, and nuance. 
  • Sharpen the ability to articulate and defend a position, in part by testing hypotheses, considering potential objections, and addressing contradictions. 
  • Develop deeper knowledge and understanding of Spanish and Portuguese languages and cultures, as well as the ability to relate the findings of a thesis or Junior Paper to a larger context. 
  • Write clearly and persuasively. 
  • In the case of creative work, experiment with new forms of expression and put a subject concerning the field of Spanish and Portuguese languages and cultures into broad and relational perspectives. 
  • Plunge into the subtlety of a foreign culture through its cultural differences, whether internal or external. 
  • Become skillful, confident, and enthusiastic about interacting with different ways of thinking. 

The Process of Writing a Senior Thesis

Brainstorming & Advising

The senior thesis is a major commitment of a student's time and energy, and an important yardstick for choosing a topic is willingness to spend many hours on a particular set of texts or problems. Sometimes, a thesis arises from material covered in class, or in previous research conducted within the context of a final paper or JP. Just as often, topics emerge from experiences abroad, longstanding, or new preoccupations, and conversations with faculty members. Students are encouraged to discuss potential thesis topics as early as possible with faculty members, so that they can develop a successful framework.

Students should select a Senior Thesis adviser by the end of September at the latest. Topics chosen in the past have ranged across the whole field of Spanish and Portuguese studies, and have included literature, politics, music, film, art, philosophy, socio-economic questions, and a variety of other issues. Given all of these possibilities, it is essential for thesis writers to define a topic or set of preoccupations that can be successfully addressed within the time constraints of the thesis calendar. To that end, in a small and intimate department like ours, majors can count on faculty members as a resource. Students are also encouraged to peruse the department’s archive of previous theses, available through the Undergraduate Administrator.

Working with an Advisor

The DUS will help find an advisor who will respond to the student’s main interests and be the most qualified interlocutor.

  • Majors meet their advisors as frequently as necessary. Even though there is no formula for an ideal number of meetings, advisors can meet their advisees as often as once a week but, at least, once a month, depending on the needs of the student.
  • Majors are expected to develop their own voice and bring their intellectual passion and energy to each meeting. They should be open to their advisors’ suggestions and feedback, and still feel that they “own” their work, and that they have autonomy to determine the direction of their research, in an open and productive relationship with their advisor. The DUS will be available to discuss the student’s progress and main ideas. 
  • For majors who opt for a creative thesis or a translation, the presentation of the materials, the structure of the thesis and the meaning of the project will be discussed on a case-by-case basis with the advisor(s) and the DUS. 

Recommended Reference Works (General)

Students can consult their adviser, the Director of Undergraduate Studies, and other faculty members for more project-specific sources, texts, and research methods. The following list of works has generally proved to be helpful.

For All Students

  • The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations
  • MLA International Bibliography (see Databases on University's library web site)
  • The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetics

For Students with a Focus on Spanish

  • Moliner, Diccionario del uso del español
  • Real Academia Española, Diccionario de la lengua española
  • Casares y Sánchez, Diccionario ideológico de la lengua española
  • American Heritage Larousse, Spanish Dictionary (Spanish-English, English Spanish)
  • Corominas, Breve diccionario etimológico de la lengua castellana
  • Real Academia Española, Nueva gramática de la lengua española
  • Solé & Solé, Modern Spanish Syntax
  • Rafael Lapesa, Historia de la lengua española
  • Bosque, REDES. Diccionario combinatorio del español contemporáneo
  • Reyes, Cómo escribir bien en español
  • Roca and Lipski (ed.), Spanish in the United States
  • Juan Luis Alborg, Historia de la literatura española. I: Edad media y renacimiento ; II: Época barroca ; III: Siglo XV III ; IV: El romanticismo
  • Jean Franco, An Introduction to Spanish American Literature
  • Sylvia Molloy, Las Letras de Borges
  • Angel Rama, La ciudad letrada
  • J.H. Elliott, Imperial Spain
  • Raymond Carr, Spain, 1808 - 1975
  • Stanley Stein, The Colonial Heritage of Latin America
  • James Lockhart and Stuart Schwartz, Early Latin America
  • Cambridge History of Latin America

For Students with a Focus on Portuguese

  • Antônio Houaiss, Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa
  • Domingos Paschoal Cegalla, Novíssima Gramática da Língua Portuguesa
  • António José Saraiva e Óscar Lopes, História da Literatura Portuguesa
  • Antonio Candido, Formação da Literatura Brasileira
  • Alfredo Bosi, História Concisa da Literatura Brasileira
  • Alfredo Bosi, Dialética da Colonização
  • Lourenço Dantas Mota (ed.), Introdução ao Brasil: um Banquete no Trópico
  • João Cezar de Castro Rocha (ed.), Brasil Nenhum Existe: uma pequena enciclopédia
  • Sérgio Buarque de Holanda (ed.), História Geral da Civilização Brasileira
  • Fernando Antonio Novais (ed.), História da Vida Privada no Brasil


Writing Center

An important resource on campus is the Writing Center.

Located in Whitman College, the Writing Center offers free one-on-one conferences with experienced fellow writers trained to consult on assignments in any discipline. When working on your JP or thesis, you can schedule 80-minute conferences with a graduate student fellow from Spanish and Portuguese or a related department. When booking an appointment, select the “by field” option, then if desired you may choose an appointment with a graduate student fellow from the Spanish and Portuguese Department. The Writing Center also holds general 50-minute regular conferences seven-days-a-week and drop-in hours Sunday through Thursday evenings.

Independent Work Mentor Programming

Recognizing the challenges of independent work, Independent Work Mentors from the Writing Center prepare workshops and programming to aid juniors and seniors in their research. Students should regularly check the Princeton Undergraduate Research Calendar (PURC) on the website of the Office of Undergraduate Research for upcoming programing and workshops, which cover topics ranging from preparing funding proposals to note taking, and from making an argument to draft review. Independent Work Mentors can help interested juniors and seniors form writing groups as a forum to discuss challenges they are confronting in their work and brainstorm strategies for dealing with various issues.

Research Support

The Office of Undergraduate Research serves to inform, engage, connect, and support currently enrolled undergraduates on matters related to research at Princeton; to enhance independent work through campus-wide initiatives and departmental collaborations; and to promote students' research achievements through research symposia and written and video communications. Their website is the central hub for information about undergraduate research including student-authored research advice on the PCUR blog, departmental Independent Work Guides, funding opportunities, and subscribe to PURC, the central calendar for upcoming events and deadlines.

Firestone Library Collections & Librarians

The Librarian for Latin American, Iberian and Latino Studies, Fernando Acosta-Rodriguez, is always available to offer guidance and suggestions regarding research, and particularly about the exceptional resources in Firestone Library. Princeton holds one of the world’s most impressive collections of Latin American Ephemera as well as manuscripts and papers of outstanding authors like Reinaldo Arenas, Julio Cortázar, Carlos Fuentes, Alejandra Pizarnik, Mario Vargas Llosa, and many others. Students are highly encouraged to explore and work with these materials. Regardless of the types of research that their projects might entail, students always benefit from making appointments with Fernando Acosta-Rodriguez as early as possible in the thesis research process.


Fernando Acosta-Rodriguez
Librarian for Latin American, Iberian and Latino Studies
[email protected]
Firestone Library B14-P
Tel.: (609) 258-3193


The Department of Spanish and Portuguese is pleased to offer a number of funding opportunities for undergraduate students. Resources are available to assist majors with the costs of senior thesis research, including travel abroad. The best time to use these funds is during the summer preceding the senior year. Students should discuss their plans with their adviser and/or the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

All applications for funding in support of senior thesis research will go through the Student Activities Funding Engine, or SAFE. Please do not apply directly to the Department of Spanish and Portuguese for funds in support of these activities, but submit an application through SAFE.

Juniors wishing to apply for summer research grants apply in the spring, while seniors may apply in the early fall for funds to conduct research over the fall break or during intersession.


Standards and Grading

The final grade will be determined by a consensus between the thesis adviser and a second reader. These general standards are adopted across several of the University’s departments.

A or A- thesis defines a research question, formulates, and advances a clear claim (hypothesis) or set of claims. It gathers, presents, and analyzes evidence in support of its claim(s) while reviewing and engaging the scholarship of others. It assesses critically the strengths and weaknesses of its own logic, evidence, and findings. Finally, it relates its conclusions to a larger context and makes an original contribution to knowledge. An A level thesis is clear, gracefully written, and well organized. It demonstrates that the writer has conducted a close and critical reading of texts and grappled with issues raised in the relevant scholarly literature. Its argument shows intellectual creativity, is sensitive to historical or cultural context, and is supported by a well-chosen variety of specific examples or pieces of evidence.

B+ or B thesis demonstrates many aspects of A level work but falls short of it in either the organization and clarity of its writing, the formulation and presentation of its argument, or the quality of research. Some theses in this category are solid works containing flashes of insight into many of the issues raised in the relevant scholarly literature. Others give evidence of independent thought, but are not entirely clear or convincing in the presentation of their argument.

B- thesis demonstrates command of the research material and understanding of historical or cultural context but provides a less than thorough defense of the writer's independent argument because of weaknesses in writing, argument, organization, or use of evidence.

C+, C, or C- thesis lacks a cogent argument and offers little more than a mere a summary of ideas and information, is insensitive to historical or cultural context, suffers from frequent factual errors, unclear writing, poor organization, or inadequate primary research, or presents some combination of these problems. Whereas the grading standards for written work between A and C are concerned with the presentation of argument and evidence, a thesis that belongs to the D or F categories demonstrates fundamental inadequacies.

D thesis demonstrates serious deficiencies or flaws in the student's command of the research material and construction of a cogent argument.

F thesis fails to demonstrate competence in the research materials or the construction of an argument, and/or is unfinished Above all, an F thesis indicates a student's lack of effort.

Senior Departmental Examination

The senior departmental/comprehensive exam will consist of an oral presentation of the senior thesis. It will be followed by questions from faculty regarding the thesis content and bibliography, as well as questions related to the course work done by the student in the department.

Senior Thesis and Departmental Prizes

Upon nomination by the Faculty, the Department of Spanish and Portuguese awards the following departmental prizes to distinguished students:

  1. Premio Ángel Rama
    For excellence by a first-year student or sophomore in advanced Spanish courses.
  2. Prêmio Machado de Assis
    For excellence in advanced undergraduate Portuguese courses.
  3. Premio María Zambrano
    For an outstanding Junior Paper in the Department.
  4. Premio Angel G. Loureiro
    For significant international research and experience for a junior or senior
  5. Ronald Surtz Prize
    For best independent work on Early Modern studies by a junior or senior major
  6. Vicente Llorens Castillo Senior Prize in Spanish
    For overall academic excellence by a graduating senior.
  7. Ricardo Piglia Best Senior Thesis

There are additional thesis prizes for which faculty can nominate majors, including:

  • Stanley J. Stein Prize in Latin American Studies Kenneth Maxwell Senior Prize in Brazilian Studies Carolyn Drucker Prize in Jewish Studies
  • Center for Human Values Senior Thesis Prize
  • J. Wells Henderson '43 Senior Thesis Prize in Law and Public Affairs



In preparing their independent work, students should consistently follow the MLA Handbook or The Chicago Manual of Style. More details regarding thesis submission will be sent by memo in March of senior year.

Title page format for a senior thesis (sample):

Thesis Title Your Name
Thesis Adviser's Name
Submitted to: Princeton University
Department of Spanish and Portuguese
This Thesis represents my own work in accordance with University regulations.

Senior Thesis Calendar

All papers are due on the date specified. For more details, please refer to the Senior Calendar on the Department of Spanish and Portuguese web site.


Christina Lee
Acting Chair
Rafael Cesar
Director of Undergraduate Studies
Janeth "Jane" Marquez
Graduate and Undergraduate Program Administrator
Alberto Bruzos Moro
Director of Spanish Language Program
Nicola Cooney
Director of Portuguese Language Program
Mariana Bono
Associate Director of Spanish Language Program
Catalina Méndez Vallejo
Associate Director of Spanish Language Program