There are two ways to write a thesis that is useful after graduation. A student can write a thesis that becomes the foundation of a broader research project that will continue into the years ahead, if he has the means and desire to do so. Additionally, writing a thesis develops valuable professional skills that are useful after graduation. For example, the director of a local tourist office who authored a thesis titled “From Stephen Hero to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” will have developed skills needed for his profession. He will have done the following:
- Identified a precise topic,
- Collected documents on that topic,
- Ordered these documents,
- Reexamined the topic in light of the documents collected,
- Organized all this work into an organic form,
- Ensured that his readers have understood him,
- Provided the necessary documentation so that readers may reexamine the topic through his sources.
Writing a thesis requires a student to organize ideas and data, to work methodically, and to build an “object” that in principle will serve others. In reality, the research experience matters more than the topic. The student who was able to carefully research these two versions of Joyce’s novel will have trained himself to methodically collect, organize, and present information, and for other professional responsibilities he will encounter working at the tourist office.
As a writer myself, I have already published ten books on different topics, but I was able to write the last nine because of the experience of the first, which happened to be a revision of my own laurea thesis. Without that first effort, I would never have acquired the skills I needed for the others. And, for better or for worse, the other books still show traces of the first. With time, a writer becomes more astute and knowledgeable, but how he uses his knowledge will always depend on how he originally researched the many things he did not know.
At the very least, writing a thesis is like training the memory. One will retain a good memory when he is old if he has trained it when he was young. It doesn’t matter if the training involved memorizing the players of every Italian A-series soccer team, Dante’s poetry, or every Roman emperor from Augustus to Romulus Augustulus. Since we are training our own memory, it is certainly better to serve our interests and needs; but sometimes it is even good exercise to learn useless things. Therefore, even if it is better to research an appealing topic, the topic is secondary to the research method and the actual experience of writing the thesis. If a student works rigorously, no topic is truly foolish, and the student can draw useful conclusions even from a remote or peripheral topic.
In fact, Marx wrote his thesis on the two ancient Greek philosophers Epicurus and Democritus, not on political economy, and this was no accident. Perhaps Marx was able to approach the theoretical questions of history and economy with such rigor precisely because of his scrupulous work on these ancient Greek philosophers. Also, considering that so many students start with an ambitious thesis on Marx and then end up working at the personnel office of a big capitalist business, we might begin to question the utility, topicality, and political relevance of thesis topics.
Source: Eco Umberto, Farina Caterina Mongiat, Farina Geoff (2015), How to write a thesis, The MIT Press.
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