This article was created with the aim of facilitating the students who arrive at the thesis and, more generally, to provide valuable advice to anyone who needs to write a critical work on paper material. Despite being the goal of every student, the thesis in particular can present some problems during its writing, both practical and in terms of content, also because it represents a “scholastic” type of work that is based on a fairly precise standard.
After the book by Umberto Eco How to do a thesis – already a few years -, and via the Internet, we address below, one by one, the fundamental moments of a good editorial, assuming that it is done by electronic means (computer ).
The layout includes the set of rules, essentially of a typographic nature, so that a text is inserted – therefore displayed – in a specific way on the page. The basic rules for good layout include:
- the use of protruding indentations for each paragraph (each “piece“) – for the thesis, the return can be 1 cm or 1.5 cm. The use of paragraphs should not be too “whimsical“. The paragraph should be conceived as a kind of unit of thought that is being developed. Thus the typographic scan in paragraphs visually reflects the “rhythm” of speech. The optimal size of a paragraph is half a page even if, of course, it is only an indicative indication.
- margins appropriate to the type of printing. Usually this option is already provided by the main writing programs (including Word), but in the case of the thesis a margin of about 2.5 cm can be expected above and below, and about 4 cm on the left and on the right. In the specific case of a thesis exceeding 150 pages, it is advisable to also include a left margin that takes into account the binding.
- a typographic division into chapters, through white spaces and titles. Each chapter should be numbered, so as to allow, especially if there are sub–chapters, to re–number these as subsections of the chapter, according to the following scheme:
- the use of classic fonts (characters), such as Times, Garamond, Century Schoolbook, etc. Other types of fonts can unnecessarily burden the visual appearance of the text and damage its readability. The font chosen must remain the same throughout the work, except for the notes and the page number, where it is possible to use another font (but always “classic“).
- a standard font size, which in the case of the thesis can vary from 12 to 14 points (without prejudice to the opportunity to enlarge the font in the titles, and to decrease it in the notes).
- a line spacing (ie a distance between the lines of the text) double for the thesis, of 1.5 points for another type of work.
A separate discussion deserves citations, notes and bibliography.
The writing of a thesis foresees at least 6 elements: the introduction, the text of the thesis (the object of the research) appropriately divided into chapters, the conclusion, the bibliography and the index.
On average of 4 or 5 pages, the introduction must present the work in a clear and succinct manner, justifying its existence and defining the method used. In particular, it may also be useful to explain the eventual division into parts.
The most classical thesis concerns a single author. It is preferable that this is a “minor” author, by definition less studied and that, therefore, he can allow more original contributions. Facing first–rate authors such as Goethe, Proust or Joyce can be a naive and / or risky choice: both because this choice involves the domination of an endless bibliography, and because – by definition – the problems open to these writers are very difficult and complex. It is however possible to choose to study a first–rate author on the condition of having a “peculiar” interpretation “cut“; you want because the work is concentrated on a work or a series of works by that author considered less important or at least less studied; you want because you adopt an original and non–inflated methodological approach.
The study of a minor author implies an initial presentation of his figure. This presentation must include a series of biographical information; but it is important not to limit oneself to a mere account of the life of the individual writer, and it is necessary to sketch a reconstruction as deep as possible of the relative cultural context. In the case of a “major“, the knowledge of his figure is instead taken for granted, although it is conceivable to illuminate some particular biographical aspect.
The single author is the most common object for a literary thesis, but it is also possible to pause to study more authors, perhaps highlighting the relationships, or analyze single themes or privilege a method.
On average of 6–8 pages, the conclusion in many respects may seem a duplicate of the introduction, given that it summarizes again the work done; actually it has a very different function. Mainly, its role is to “sum up” our research by clearly explaining what we have tried to demonstrate earlier in the text, perhaps devoting a paragraph to each area of research (for each chapter, or part).
Perhaps the most problematic part of the thesis is the bibliography, a place of reference, for the reader, of all our original work on research on texts. It must include not only the texts on which the thesis is based, but also all those of criticism, of methodology, of history, of culture or other to which direct or indirect reference has been made.
For each text it is necessary to specify:
- the name and surname of the author (possibly the initial of the name and surname) – for example: A. Gide
- the title (to be written in italics, preferably with a capital letter on the first noun, and after a comma separating it from the author) – following es. previous we will have: A. Gide, Les Nourritures terrestres
- the place, the publishing house and the year of the original edition, always after a comma. We will therefore have: A. Gide, Les Nourritures terrestres, Paris, Mercure de France, 1897.
- at the end of each bibliographic reference a point can be added.
The set of texts must be ordered according to a precise and coherent criterion throughout the bibliography, with relevant subdivisions. For example, one can distinguish between monographs (single books) and articles, or between literary texts and non–literary texts (of criticism, methodology, etc.), or, within literary texts, between prose works and poems , etc. Obviously, each category can intersect another. Within each subdivision it is necessary to choose a criterion for entering texts: the most current are the alphabetical or chronological criterion, relative to the year of publication.
A fundamental part of a critical text, the quotations accompany our reflection, demonstrating its relevance.
They can be inserted in two ways in the text:
- within our discourse, of a sentence of ours, when it is shorter than a sentence and being careful to insert it in the correct way (respecting the verbal time and the subject of the linguistic context). In this case the quotation is not distinguished by particular typographical devices, except for the use of quotation marks. Ex:
The scholar comes to formulate the law that, “with a shameless or stealthy, split or unconscious move, the nationalist imitates the presumed most adverse quality of the foreigner“.
- outside our discourse, in a separate typographic space. In this case we must distinguish the quote from the text. You can do this by using a different font size (one point less) and a narrower line spacing. Even the protruding re–entry may be slightly smaller, e.g. of 0.5 cm.
A fundamental rule for quoting is the exact reproduction of the text that we quote: it must not be changed. When, for contingent reasons, one needs to do it, it is necessary to make the reader understand that at that precise point the text has been manipulated, and this is possible with the use of square brackets and ellipsis:
- to signal a change of word – in this case the added or modified word must be inserted in the brackets
- to signal that the quoted sentence has already started or is not finished – in this case, suspension points are added before and / or after the aforementioned step, without capitalizing the beginning of a sentence
- to indicate that a sentence or a speech, within the quotation, have been omitted – in this case, instead of the missing text, some ellipses are added inside brackets (always square).
The text inserted in square brackets indicates our manipulation of the text, and therefore all the operations we want, even a change of language, are possible within it. Here is an example of a quotation where all the above cases are found:
- … in connection with the investigation by Fianchetti and Sonnino on child labor in the sulfur mines […] [la novella] ends up finding an ideological justification in nature itself …