- that the topic responds to the interests of the candidate (whether related to the type of exams given, his readings, his political, cultural or religious world);
- that the sources to be used are available, that is to say, at the material level of the candidate;
- that the sources to be used are manageable, that is to say at the candidate’s cultural reach;
- that the methodological framework of the research is within the reach of the candidate’s experience.
How long does it take to make a thesis
Let’s say immediately: no more than three years and not less than six months. No more than three years, because if in three years of work you have not managed to narrow down the subject and find the necessary documentation, this means only three things:
we chose the wrong thesis superior to our strengths;
we are insatiable who would like to say everything, and we continue to work on the thesis for twenty years, while a skilled scholar must be able to set limits, even modest ones, and to produce something definitive within those limits;
the neurosis of the thesis has begun, it is left, it is resumed, one feels unfulfilled, one enters a state of dispersion, one uses the thesis as an alibi for many cowards, one will never graduate again.
The thesis requirements for six months are:
- the topic must be circumscribed;
- the topic, if possible, must be contemporary, in order not to have to look for a bibliography that goes back to the Greeks; or it must be a marginal topic on which very little has been written;
- all kinds of documents must be available in a restricted area and easily accessible.
The sources must be approached directly. Rather than committing unforgivable lightness, it is better to choose another thesis.
When working on books, a first-hand source is an original edition or a critical edition of the work in question.
- A translation is not a source.
- An anthology is not a source.
The reports made by other authors, even if supplemented by very large quotations, are not a source.
Within the limits set by the object of my research, the sources must always be first hand.
The scholar may sometimes go to the library to look for a book he already knows exists, but often he goes to the library not with the bibliography but to make himself a bibliography. Making a bibliography means looking for the one whose existence is still unknown. The good researcher is someone who is able to enter a library without having the slightest idea about a topic and come out of it knowing a little more about it.
To search for that whose existence is still unknown, the library offers us some facilities. The first is of course the catalog for subjects. That’s where a good library tells me everything I can find in its rooms, say, about the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
The work plan
The first thing to do to start working on a thesis is to write the title, the introduction and the final index, and that is exactly those things that each author, instead, does at the end. The advice seems paradoxical: start from the end? But who said that the index goes to the end? Certainly. But you will restructure it better if you have a starting point to renovate.
Be careful, because until you are able to write an index and an introduction you will not be sure that that is your thesis.
The drawing up
Who do you speak to by writing a thesis? To the rapporteur? To all the students or scholars who will have the opportunity to consult it later? To the vast public of the non-specialized? Should it be thought of as a book, which will go into the hands of thousands of people, or as a learned communication to a scientific academy? They are important problems because they concern first of all the expository form that you will give to your work, but they also concern the level of internal clarity that you want to achieve.
If you read the great scientists or the great critics you will see that, with few exceptions, they are always very clear and they are not ashamed to explain things well.
You are not Proust. Don’t take long periods. If they come, do them, but then break them. Don’t be afraid to repeat the subject twice, forget too many pronouns and subordinates.
The important thing is to do things tastefully. And if you have chosen a topic that interests you, if you have decided to really dedicate to the thesis the short period you have set yourself, then you will realize that the thesis can be experienced as a game, as a bet, as a treasure hunt.
If you play the game with competitive taste, you will make a good thesis. If you already start with the idea that it is an unimportant ritual and that you don’t care, you are beaten at the start. “