of Paul Oliver: Writing Your Thesis

Paul Oliver. Writing Your Thesis: 2nd Edition (2004)

I’ve been delving into this little treasure during nap-times. Alex is about to spend three years writing a doctoral thesis and I find (astonishingly) that this is a genre with which I am completely inexperienced. Feeling unprepared to support him in his endeavor, I dug around in the Oxford Central Library and found this page-turner just waiting for me on the shelves. (Can’t believe no one else had snapped it up, but there it was…)  I am also beginning to read a recently published dissertation in Alex’s field (New Testament) so I have an example in mind. This matters, of course, because he will probably be asking me for all kinds of help on his homework. When he does, I’ll be ready.

So far in this work I have been provided with an overview of the task and distinguishing marks of a doctoral vs. a master’s thesis. Time has been spent on the characteristics of a good thesis and the process of developing a coherent argument.

My favorite part so far: “Throughout a thesis, it is important to exercise care in making statements which suggest an absolute or universal validity, or which make claims for which it is difficult to provide substantiating evidence.”
Sounds like great advice for everyone, not just thesis writers.

Here’s another little gem: “A thesis, particularly a Ph. D., is a very long document to read, and it is very easy for the reader to lose sight of the arguments which the writer is trying to develop. It is here that the writer can help the reader, by returning periodically to the main thread of the argument. In later chapters of a thesis it can be a useful strategy to refer the reader back to earlier stages of the argument.”
I found this part downright profound. It’s applicable not only to arguments in thesises (thesi? Maybe that will be in the book!) but to any arguments. Sometimes when I argue with Alex I find myself losing sight of the “main thread.” You know, like in the cargument* after visiting friends, it starts about what he forgot to tell you and before you know it you’re discussing whose fault it was that we were late to church last Sunday.

This is a great book, I’m learning loads.

(*cargument: the argument you have in the car on the way home. I am indebted to Roger Scharf for this term.)

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