I’m more than a little excited about Umberto Eco’s How to Write A Thesis, originally published in 1977, and recently re-issued in English by MIT Press. Christian Sandvig over at Multicast discovers that the book is a mite dated in various parts; I haven’t gotten my copy yet, so I can’t verify, but here’s his evidence:
I was thinking of assigning it in doctoral seminars, but I regret that a great deal of the book involves scholarly practices that are no longer relevant to anyone. For instance: Is it OK to insert an unnecessary footnote in the middle of your text so that your footnote numbering matches up correctly with what you’ve already typed? (Meaning: So you don’t have to re-type the entire manuscript. On a typewriter.)
It turns out that it is not OK to insert unnecessary footnotes.
And there’s a whole bunch of things about index card management, diacritical marks, and library union indices. And some stuff about the laurea.
Ok, but still: regardless of whether one is tempted to add a footnote to save one typing (amazeballs: how did anybody finish anything back then?), the art and science of footnotes still strikes me as a reasonable discussion, as I read plenty of things where I am shaking my fist because the author has not footnoted something they ought, or have caused me to dig about in the endnotes for a lame-ass note when I really didn’t need to. This is coming from somebody with drafty drafty book plodding along with lots of janky, awful notes in it so far.
And while not even I am such a Luddite that I refuse to type on a computer, can I just say: KIDS TODAY. Um, I STILL USE INDEX CARDS.
Wanna make something of it?
My index card management usually entails throwing them into a pile and then arranging them when I finally get down to write, but it’s hard going in a book-length project, so I could probably stand some guidance there.
And while one probably isn’t terribly worried about the laurea in the US, I still like the idea. At least that way you learn where baccalaureate comes from.
Sandvig notes that Eco’s witty and direct advice is helpful in other ways, and he boils down Eco’s advice to 15 maxims. Go read.