Friday, July 27, 2007

Let me tell you how this thesis changed my life

I've picked up my research where I dropped it a week ago and now I'm suffering from the fear that some sort of revolution occurred in the conventions of literary analysis and no one bothered to tell me--or maybe it's just a coincidence that the first half-dozen articles I looked at all featured the same type of thesis statement, of which the following is the most egregious example: "In this paper, I will explain how the fortunate discovery of the source for a passage quoted in [work of literature] has helped me to formulate a deeper understanding of [author] as a [representative of a particular school of literary theory]."

If I read this thesis in a student paper, I would scribble some polite variation on "so what?" in the margin. This thesis is the academic equivalent of walking up to a stranger at a party and saying, "Let me tell you how X changed my life" (where X equals Buddhism or running a marathon or liposuction or studying Kabbalah or reading Kant or whatever).

As a sentence, it lacks flair, subtlety, rhythm, and any sense of the wonders of the language, and while it puts forth what may well prove to be an interesting idea, it makes no attempt to engage a reluctant reader or suggest that the idea may have relevance beyond the writer's personal enlightenment. On all counts, it's just a lousy thesis.

So why am I seeing it over and over and over again? I understand that the "In this paper I will show" structure is common in the sciences (another good reason I'm not a scientist!), but people who write articles in academic journals about literature ought to be able to produce a thesis statement that sounds as if it belongs in the world of literature--and people who edit such journals ought to be able to discourage the "Let me tell you how X changed my life" sort of approach.

But maybe I'm just a dinosaur. Someone out there must really like this kind of thesis statement or I wouldn't be seeing so much of it. Did someone change the rules while I wasn't looking? If so, I'd like to file a protest. Whom shall I sue?

1 comment:

Joy said...

As a faithful student, please allow me this one request: Please never make me write a thesis like that! Ick!