Gillian Dooley reviews 'How to Write a Thesis' by Umberto Eco, translated by Caterina Mongiat Farina and Geoff Farina

Gillian Dooley reviews 'How to Write a Thesis' by Umberto Eco, translated by Caterina Mongiat Farina and Geoff Farina

How to Write a Thesis

by Umberto Eco, translated by Caterina Mongiat Farina and Geoff Farina

MIT Press (Footprint), $39.95 pb, 256 pp, 9780262527132

In 1977, before personal computers and the Internet, Umberto Eco published How to Write a Thesis. It has remained in print ever since, but only now is it available in English. The book hasn’t been updated and makes no concessions to technological change. Space is devoted to card indexes and manual typewriters, offering alternatives if the student owns an IBM Selectric. Eco advises choosing a thesis topic for which ‘sources [are] locally available and easily accessible’.

Much of this has limited value for the twenty-first-century student. Also, Eco is giving advice for the Italian laurea thesis, which in scope is quite unlike the American or Australian PhD. Nevertheless, it is still true that primary and secondary sources must be accessible, even if they are not held locally, and Eco’s guidelines for manageable thesis topics remain sensible, if sometimes rather comical. He even explains to the time-poor student how to plagiarise a thesis from a sufficiently distant university to avoid detection, while carefully pointing out that the ‘advice we have just offered [is] illegal’.

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Gillian Dooley

Gillian Dooley

Gillian Dooley is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in English at Flinders University, and a Visiting Fellow in the Music Department at Southampton University. Her publications include an edited book of interviews with Iris Murdoch (2003), V.S. Naipaul, Man and Writer (2006), J.M. Coetzee and the Power of Narrative (2010), and journal articles on a range of literary topics including music in the life and work of Jane Austen. In 2005 she co-edited Matthew Flinders’ Private Journal and in 2014 she published an edition of the correspondence between Iris Murdoch and the Australian radical philosopher Brian Medlin. She has been a regular reviewer for ABR since 2002. She is founding editor of the online journals Transnational Literature and Writers in Conversation.

Comments (1)

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    I'm an Eco fan, and this vignette does provide a not unwelcome carrot to delve into a time capsule and, perhaps as suggested by Gillian, find some nuggets... Be it wisdom or even morsels of amuse bouche

    Thursday, 10 September 2015 14:39 posted by  Grace Chang

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