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How to Write a Thesis

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  2,216 ratings  ·  211 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 229 pages
Published February 27th 2015 by MIT Press (first published 1977)
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3.90  · 
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 ·  2,216 ratings  ·  211 reviews

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This one's going on my shelf next to Steven King's On Writing as one of the best guides to putting together a long-form piece of written work I know of. It's cogent, it's comprehensive, and for a book aimed at new graduates, it's appropriately scary.

I want to say that I'd recommend it to anyone intending to write a thesis, but I recently lent this to a friend who's about to embark on his PhD (and who, incidentally, is one of the most vigorous scholars I've ever met). After a couple of months, he
Sep 03, 2017 rated it did not like it
God Umberto Eco is such a d i c k ---

--- and I don't want to give him any more attention than I already have, so I'll keep this short.

In the introduction, Francesco Erspamer tries to justify including 60+ pages of outdated library information in a 2015 edition. Things made redundant by the internet, like "be sure you are close to many libraries so you can find many books"; things made redundant by computers, like "index cards make it so you can put your sources in alphabetical order as you go";
Apr 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Additional tip: Instead of spending valuable time reading a book on how to write your thesis, actually write it.
Reading How to Write a Thesis by Umberto Eco, even an ‘updated’ version in this MIT Press edition, felt like a sweet exercise in futility. There’s something folksy and quaint about being told how to put notes on index cards and properly organize them and being given tips for using the library and talking to librarians. (Not too surprising, as Eco wrote this in the late seventies—almost forty years ago!) But with over twenty-three editions and countless translations, there’s something to be sai ...more
Jul 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Do not expect this book to tell you what to put in your thesis, or what to do with your life.

A wonderful little book that, while not being essential reading, imbues the reader with a quiet enthusiasm for the difficulties, complexities, and pleasures of researching and drafting a thesis. There are some pieces of advice that, for me, are particularly worth committing to memory (‘Write everything that comes into your head, but only in the first draft’, for example, and ‘Do not play the solitary g
Aug 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Posted on my book blog.

I'm currently enrolled in a Master's program and about to start working on my thesis in Museum Studies. Since I used to be a Medicine student, I'm more familiar with scientific research, so I wanted a book that was more focused on other kinds of works. This one by Umberto Eco seems to be regarded as the authority in the matter.

It was a nice read (even if the author can seem rather unorthodox at times) and overall quite useful. I read an older edition so the research chapte
Philippe Malzieu
Aug 31, 2016 rated it it was ok
Interest only for students or "doctorants". Why edit again a book destinated only for university people. Not bad, but far from other Eco's opus. Is it only for the money?
Lexxie (un)Conventional Bookworms
*I received a free ARC of How to Write a Thesis from MIT Press via Netgalley in exchange of an honest review*

ARC received on November 10th 2014.

When I saw that this has been translated to English, I requested it straight away. As a grad student, I'll take all the help I can get in writing a thesis that will make sense and help me get my MA.
Jan 15, 2018 rated it liked it
An interesting glance at research before modern computers where normal commodities. Hardly applicable to today's research process, and not particularly relevant to scientific domains.
May 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Umberto Eco wrote this book in 1977, after he noticed that increased access to higher education in Italy had created a mass of students who needed to write a thesis to graduate, yet had not received adequate instructions in how to undertake and complete such a project. Perhaps many of these students, from working class backgrounds, felt that to ask about these particulars would reveal the discrepancies between them and their more elite classmates. Eco himself barely mentions the sociological spe ...more
Ionut Chiruta
Apr 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
This little yellow-grey book picturing a bold-bearded man who, notwithstanding, encompasses a world of knowledge within his twinkle-flicker forehead has shared a part of his knowledge. The latter is reflected in How to write a thesis.
I deeply enjoyed this book, as I see myself getting ready for my dissertation. For a good part of the tips, academic rules, I was aware of their existence. Nevertheless, for the rest, I had Umberto Eco introducing them to me. Throughout the reading of this book, I
Swaraj Dalmia
Jan 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
I picked up this book, to gain a certain insight into the process of scholarly scientific research, and what i got was a very practical advice/guide from a respected scholar to a novice who might be starting his academic career.

For those who might be dissuaded by the phrase, 'a Thesis' in the title, one could paraphrase it into any form of research, be it journalistic pieces, a research paper, your dissertation or a book.

He delineates phases, from first choosing a topic, to compiling an almo
Elnurə Ağayeva
Jan 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I myself used to feel not ready for writing a thesis ( not something formal, for the sake of diploma of course; but real research work with decent outcomes). The thing making this situation even worse was the unawareness about the process and generally the lack of sources depicting it thoroughly, as a result, it was looking like an iceberg waiting for me in the future that I wasn`t capable of facing with.
However, thanks to this very book, I am extremely confident that it is not an enormous job t
Yasin Ramazan
May 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
very intuitive. with a few adjustments to new technology, the book serves as a guide to non-class students for survival in academics.
Dec 24, 2016 rated it liked it
Daddy Umberto's guide to writing a thesis on a typewriter in the italian university in the 70's without the internet. Plenty of hot tips on how to use index cards
May 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very enjoyable book about how to present coherent ideas in a written form.

There is a lot of technical advice about how to actually structure a written document (he uses a university thesis as the illustrative example, but I could see it being useful for many other purposes).

One of the the more practical takeaways for me was to start maintaining a file of index cards that contain bibliographic and directly quotable text as well as personal observations from books I read as a ways to look back an
Ankit Prasad
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Gem of a find!
Couldn't initially believe it's the same Eco, then was surprised that the English translation came out as late as 2015.

"Do not play the solitary genius."

"Citing a book from which you copied a sentence is paying a debt. Citing an author whose ideas or information you used is paying a debt. Sometimes, though, you must also pay debts that are more difficult to document. It is a good rule of academic honesty to mention in a note that, for example, a series of original ideas in your tex
Jasper Oostveen
As hilarious as it is useful, Umberto Eco's small but comprehensive guide has been a university classic for decades, and rightfully so. Eco guides the student, but also laughs at them. He scares them, but also motivates them. After reading this book, you will know how hard and yet how easy it is to start writing a good thesis. You will be motivated to finish it and be proud of your project. And most likely, in years to come, you will come back to this book whenever a large project calls for your ...more
May 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Really useful if you're writing a thesis or dissertation, even if some of the advice is dated; (this book both made me really miss card catalogs while also reminding me of the misery of attempting to edit on a typewriter).
Jan 04, 2019 rated it liked it
It’s scary and intimidating and I legit hated it.
It’s very helpful and it’s very much filled with great knowledge but fucking hell it gave me 17 panic attacks in the first chapter.

Will read it again when I start with my PhD.
Mar 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I found the ideas put forward by the author to be extremely helpful. The most helpful chapters were "Chapter 1: The Definition and Purpose of Thesis", "Chapter 2: Choosing the Topic", and "Chapter 5: Writing the Thesis", mostly because the ideas put in here are field agnostic (this is not to say that the other portions of book are valid only for a specific field) and highly relevant for someone who has ever had to write a research proposal or thesis.

Beginners like me, who tend to be overly ambit
Aug 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Every academic
Eco’s Wie man eine wissenschaftliche Abschlußarbeit schreibt is a basic read for students entering the final stages of their studies. Actually, the text should be mandatory for those entering university, it’s so elementary and important!
It’s an introduction with clear and helpful information with positive and negative examples, explaining why something has to/needs to be done, and other things should absolutely be avoided. It helps that the usually very dry, boring, and overly correct way of “H
Nov 10, 2014 rated it liked it
Despite the passage of 40 years since the first edition of this text, 32 from the second and almost 20 since I've read it the first time, and although many things have changed because now there is not such a deer need need for a library, but often it is enough a fast Internet connection, this book remains almost intact in its value for any college student. Even the English translation is done quite well, it would almost seem that the translator has read another book by Eco: "Experiences in trans ...more
Jan 30, 2015 rated it liked it
Even though I finished my dissertation last year, I picked this up when I saw it because I love Umberto Eco!! I had a hard time rating it:
Five stars because, as always, he writes clearly and beautifully.
Two stars because it is dated, having been written before the internet advent.
Five stars because there are actually examples of index note cards and I so remember writing them in high school and college - not exactly fondly remember, but they are useful. And I still use paper-and-pen notes.
Feb 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Excellent book for anyone interested in research, very reader friendly and down to Earth. The only reason for 4 out of 5 stars is the fact that is is quote old - 1977 and the rise of internet changed a lot the way we research issues. Incredibly well written conclusion and advises in the book, which cover all possible scenarios while researching. I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in research, indifferently from the amount of experience. A must read for doctoral students.
Feb 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Great book, given that author wanted to tell completely inexperienced students how to perform their day-to-day work on their thesis. Its approach is still state-of-art, but particulars became replaced with the tools of the 21st century: typewriter with LaTeX, literature index folder with Zotero, markers with annotated PDFs. I started to use Trello to organise literature that has some backlog items (such as read references and come back etc.). Don't think it's too old to be useful.
M.L. Rio
Sep 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a great book for people who have never written an academic paper longer than about ten pages, as it assumes that the reader has literally no idea what s/he's doing. So, probably a great thing to assign to undergraduates. It's certainly a product of its time (i.e., Eco spends a lot of time talking about how to organize notecards and the internet isn't even mentioned as a resource), but the majority of Eco's advice is still solid, and his writing style (as always) pithy and humorous.
Oct 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theory
Eco delineates the importance of an effectively researched thesis (or dissertation): step-by-step in an accessible, thoughtfully-formatted text that spans Humanities research projects, but is also adaptable and useful for all other fields of study. Eco's practical guide is essential for all students writing theses. I only wish I had this available when I was a senior undergrad. A must read.
Oct 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The practical examples (how to make reference to works, the structures, etc.) are way out of date by now, but the main line of thought is quite nice and may help someone in need - like myself - with some guidance on how to write a paper (or how to write any thesis at all).
Jan 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
I started this book terrified about dissertations this morning. But this book has made me feel much better with its handy dandy advice. After all a dissertation "is like cooking a pig: nothing goes to waste" and I now know I am not Proust or e.e cummings and nor should I write like them.
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Umberto Eco was an Italian writer of fiction, essays, academic texts, and children's books. A professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna, Eco’s brilliant fiction is known for its playful use of language and symbols, its astonishing array of allusions and references, and clever use of puzzles and narrative inventions. His perceptive essays on modern culture are filled with a delightful sen ...more
“There are many things that I do not know because I photocopied a text and then relaxed as if I had read it.” 7 likes
“The “thesis neurosis” has begun: the student abandons the thesis, returns to it, feels unfulfilled, loses focus, and uses his thesis as an alibi to avoid other challenges in his life that he is too cowardly to address. This student will never graduate.” 5 likes
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