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Umberto Eco's wise and witty guide to researching and writing a thesis, published in English for the first time.

By the time Umberto Eco published his best-selling novel The Name of the Rose , he was one of Italy's most celebrated intellectuals, a distinguished academic and the author of influential works on semiotics. Some years before that, in 1977, Eco published a little book for his students, How to Write a Thesis , in which he offered useful advice on all the steps involved in researching and writing a thesis—from choosing a topic to organizing a work schedule to writing the final draft. Now in its twenty-third edition in Italy and translated into seventeen languages, How to Write a Thesis has become a classic. Remarkably, this is its first, long overdue publication in English.

Eco's approach is anything but dry and academic. He not only offers practical advice but also considers larger questions about the value of the thesis-writing exercise. How to Write a Thesis is unlike any other writing manual. It reads like a novel. It is opinionated. It is frequently irreverent, sometimes polemical, and often hilarious. Eco advises students how to avoid “thesis neurosis” and he answers the important question “Must You Read Books?” He reminds students “You are not Proust” and “Write everything that comes into your head, but only in the first draft. ” Of course, there was no Internet in 1977, but Eco's index card research system offers important lessons about critical thinking and information curating for students of today who may be burdened by Big Data.

How to Write a Thesis belongs on the bookshelves of students, teachers, writers, and Eco fans everywhere. Already a classic, it would fit nicely between two other classics: Strunk and White and The Name of the Rose .

The Definition and Purpose of a Thesis • Choosing the Topic • Conducting Research • The Work Plan and the Index Cards • Writing the Thesis • The Final Draft

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780262527132
Publisher: MIT Press
Publication date: 03/06/2015
Series: The MIT Press
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 110,901
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Umberto Eco was an Italian semiotician, philosopher, literary critic, and novelist. He is the author of The Name of the Rose, Foucault's Pendulum , and The Prague Cemetery , all bestsellers in many languages, as well as a number of influential scholarly works.


Bologna, Italy

Date of Birth:

January 5, 1932

Date of Death:

February 19, 2016

Place of Birth:

Alessandria, Italy


Ph.D., University of Turin, 1954

Table of Contents

Foreword Francesco Erspamer ix

Translators' Foreword xv

Introduction to the Original 1977 Edition xix

Introduction to the 1985 Edition xxiii

1 The Definition and Purpose of the Thesis

1.1 What Is a Thesis, and Why Is It Required? 1

1.2 For Whom Is This Book Written? 4

1.3 The Usefulness of a Thesis after Graduation 5

1.4 Four Obvious Rules for Choosing a Thesis Topic 7

2 Choosing the Topic

2.1 Monograph or Survey? 9

2.2 Historical or Theoretical? 13

2.3 Ancient or Contemporary? 16

2.4 How Long Does It Take to Write a Thesis? 17

2.5 Is It Necessary to Know Foreign Languages? 22

2.6 "Scientific" or Political? 26

2.6.1 What Does It Mean to Be Scientific? 26

2.6.2 Writing about Direct Social Experience 32

2.6.3 Treating a "Journalistic" Topic with Scientific Accuracy 35

2.7 How to Avoid Being Exploited by Your Advisor 42

3 Conducting Research

3.1 The Availability of Primary and Secondary Sources 45

3.1.1 What Are the Sources of a Scientific Work? 45

3.1.2 Direct and Indirect Sources 50

3.2 Bibliographical Research 54

3.2.1 How to Use the Library 54

3.2.2 Managing Your Sources with the Bibliographical Index Card File 58

3.2.3 Documentation Guidelines 62

3.2.4 An Experiment in the Library of Alessandria 79

3.2.5 Must You Read Books? If So, What Should You Read First? 103

4 The Work Plan and the Index Cards

4.1 The Table of Contents as a Working Hypothesis 107

4.2 Index Cards and Notes 115

4.2.1 Various Types of Index Cards and Their Purpose 115

4.2.2 Organizing the Primary Sources 123

4.2.3 The Importance of Readings Index Cards 126

4.2.4 Academic Humility 142

5 Writing the Thesis

5.1 The Audience 145

5.2 How to Write 147

5.3 Quotations 156

5.3.1 When and How to Quote: 10 Rules 156

5.3.2 Quotes, Paraphrases, and Plagiarism 164

5.4 Footnotes 167

5.4.1 The Purpose of Footnotes 167

5.4.2 The Notes and Bibliography System 170

5.4.3 The Author-Date System 174

5.5 Instructions, Traps, and Conventions 179

5.6 Academic Pride 183

6 The Final Draft

6.1 Formatting the Thesis 186

6.1.1 Margins and Spaces 186

6.1.2 Underlining and Capitalizing 188

6.1.3 Sections 190

6.1.4 Quotation Marks and Other Signs 191

6.1.5 Transliterations and Diacritics 195

6.1.6 Punctuation, Foreign Accents, and Abbreviations 199

6.1.7 Some Miscellaneous Advice 204

6.2 The Final Bibliography 208

6.3 The Appendices 212

6.4 The Table of Contents 215

7 Conclusions 221

Notes 225

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