Book Review: “How to Write a Thesis” by Umberto Eco

“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.”

29177253_2027134407542352_3348397843021824000_n.jpgTitle: How to Write a Thesis

Author: Umberto Eco

Publisher (of HU translation): Kairosz Kiadó

Date of (HU) Publication: 1996

Rating: 4/5

It is said that there are planners and pantsers. To my utmost dismay, I usually fall into the latter category. When it comes to writing a thesis, however, you can never be prepared enough. Looking up articles with advice on the process of thesis writing or buying books that discuss the question is like buying a survival kit before entering the jungle. When I wrote my thesis for my BA degree in English, I ventured forth without such a kit. I performed quite well and got an A, though, but it was a time I would not relive.

I’m completing another programme now, and in one of my current classes, we are required to read How to Write a Thesis by Umbero Eco. I thought I would share a short review of it with you, as a sort of encouragement.

Undoubtedly, this book comes in really handy, as it describes many aspects of thesis writing, from choosing a topic to the execution of the task. I have to be honest, though: I skimmed through some parts that discuss things we do differently from the way portrayed in the book (e.g. referencing).

I’d like to highlight two questions that are mentioned and discussed in detail: how to choose your subject matter and how to work with your supervisor.

Eco claims that an ideal topic is something that the student is interested in. To that end, she should be allowed to choose it based on her own preferences. The supervisor can of course make suggestions and help if the topic seems too vague or too difficult to handle, but he should not decide for his student if that can be avoided. The availability of primary and secondary sources should also be taken into consideration as well as the student’s abilities. When all is said and done, “[i]f a student works rigorously, no topic is truly foolish, and the student can draw useful conclusions even from a remote or peripheral topic.”

I have already mentioned the role of the supervisor, and I truly appreciate Eco for discussing how you should try to avoid being used. He goes on to describe the ideal supervisor as someone who is interested in your research but doesn’t want to take it over.

The book also includes plenty of useful information about proper referencing, tips on conducting a research, and many more. As I have said, I didn’t read each and every word, but what I did read, was sensible and rational. I think that, even if you read only parts as I did, How to Write a Thesis can give you a boost to start in time. And believe me, that will make your life a whole lot easier.


Were you ever required to write a thesis? Will you have to write one?
How did/will you prepare for it? Would you describe yourself as a planner or a pantser?


15 thoughts on “Book Review: “How to Write a Thesis” by Umberto Eco

  1. I think it’s a great book to read especially for students who are about to dive into doing their thesis. I’m sure it’s going to help so much. There’s definitely plenty to learn from it.


  2. I can’t even remember if I ever had to write one. I mean, I don’t remember writing one, but I would have thought I would have had to. LOL! Who knows!


  3. I’ve never had to write a thesis, but my husband is just finishing up his master’s degree and this looks like a resource he would wish he’d had when he started! A great idea for those pursuing higher education!


  4. This sounds like a really interesting and helpful book for anyone who needs guidance with proper referencing, tips on conducting a research, and writing a thesis. Great review!


  5. This sounds like a great book that I could have used when I was writing my thesis at the end of my masters. It was hard as I had no examples back then on how to write a proper thesis. I did pass with a high mark though.


  6. This is a great read! I read it both in Italian and Spanish back in the day when I wrote my thesis, and I always recommend it. I’m glad you are sharing your review because it is a helpful text that never loses relevance!


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