Hi All Aspiring Research Candidates,
I just wonder how long – or how short – a thesis should be. A quick search gave me this result which ends up in yet another note (just for my failing memory, but good for my methodology of research, that is to repeat to yourself brilliant ideas and quote them appropriately, that is ALL that matters):
Quoted from “A Guide to Thesis Writing That Is a Guide to Life by Hua Hsu”
In “How to Write a Thesis,” Umberto Eco walks students through the craft and rewards of sustained research.
“How to Write a Thesis,” by Umberto Eco, first appeared on Italian bookshelves in 1977. For Eco, the playful philosopher and novelist best known for his work on semiotics, there was a practical reason for writing it. Up until 1999, a thesis of original research was required of every student pursuing the Italian equivalent of a bachelor’s degree. Collecting his thoughts on the thesis process would save him the trouble of reciting the same advice to students each year. Since its publication, “How to Write a Thesis” has gone through twenty-three editions in Italy and has been translated into at least seventeen languages. Its first English edition is only now available, in a translation by Caterina Mongiat Farina and Geoff Farina.
You may read the rest of the article, which is easy to read. Sharing with you some passages made me smile, as I recognize myself in the process.
Eco walks students through the craft and rewards of sustained research, the nuances of outlining, different systems for collating one’s research notes, what to do if—per Eco’s invocation of thesis-as-first-love—you fear that someone’s made all these moves before. There are broad strategies for laying out the project’s “center” and “periphery” as well as philosophical asides about originality and attribution. “Work on a contemporary author as if he were ancient, and an ancient one as if he were contemporary,” Eco wisely advises. “You will have more fun and write a better thesis.” Other suggestions may strike the modern student as anachronistic, such as the novel idea of using an address book to keep a log of one’s sources.
But there are also old-fashioned approaches that seem more useful than ever: he recommends, for instance, a system of sortable index cards to explore a project’s potential trajectories. Moments like these make “How to Write a Thesis” feel like an instruction manual for finding one’s center in a dizzying era of information overload. Consider Eco’s caution against “the alibi of photocopies”: “A student makes hundreds of pages of photocopies and takes them home, and the manual labor he exercises in doing so gives him the impression that he possesses the work. Owning the photocopies exempts the student from actually reading them. This sort of vertigo of accumulation, a neocapitalism of information, happens to many.” Many of us suffer from an accelerated version of this nowadays, as we effortlessly bookmark links or save articles to Instapaper, satisfied with our aspiration to hoard all this new information, unsure if we will ever get around to actually dealing with it. (Eco’s not-entirely-helpful solution: read everything as soon as possible.)
But the most alluring aspect of Eco’s book is the way he imagines the community that results from any honest intellectual endeavor—the conversations you enter into across time and space, across age or hierarchy, in the spirit of free-flowing, democratic conversation. He cautions students against losing themselves down a narcissistic rabbit hole: you are not a “defrauded genius” simply because someone else has happened upon the same set of research questions. “You must overcome any shyness and have a conversation with the librarian,” he writes, “because he can offer you reliable advice that will save you much time. You must consider that the librarian (if not overworked or neurotic) is happy when he can demonstrate two things: the quality of his memory and erudition and the richness of his library, especially if it is small. The more isolated and disregarded the library, the more the librarian is consumed with sorrow for its underestimation.”
My Notes ATA:
This article and his book give me some food for thought for the day: something to really ponder seriously on. I found in myself many of the tendencies he describes. It would be good to be honest with oneself as to HOW MUCH or HOW LITTLE we know about the world, and even about WHAT WE SHOULD KNOW and WHAT WE THINK WE KNOW.
“Know thyself” is already difficult, and to convey what you think you know about yourself, and what the world expects from you to demonstrate your knowledge through a piece of paper, is already the primary challenge of all students. But to convey the message that is to be read throughout time and space is a killing experience, it is like flying to the moon.
GHOSH, I am glad I am living in the digital age, to at least be able, in a few “clicks”, realise HOW LITTLE I KNOW.
Au Secours, Help!!! is my outcry to my Muses who visit me every night in my dreams, will you come and give me a hand to put down on paper what you and I discussed last night!!!
Welcome on Board, all my “doctorant” fellows and aspiring other PhD candidates, and share with me my despair.
Read more on my blog on Research Methododogy on
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