Monday, August 13, 2007

A Dissertation Upon Dissertations

In case any of my readers are also graduate students, you might enjoy these excerpts from Fordham University’s very tongue-in-cheek “A Dissertation Upon Dissertations” (HT: Evangelical Outpost):

What Is not a Dissertation
The set of all-things-not-doctoral-dissertations, as a logician might say, has a vast and varied membership. Ocean liners, the square root of minus one, and pickled herring spring to mind. There is in general little chance of mistaking most of these things for a doctoral thesis, even in dim light. There are, indeed, a few things that bear a superficial resemblance to dissertations—telephone books, for example—but the clever observer will soon learn to distinguish them. (In the case of the telephone book, for instance, one will quickly note a strict logical progression in its contents that sets it apart from all but a few dissertations.)...

Audience. You may one day turn your dissertation into a book, during the many leisure hours you can expect to enjoy as a well-paid and pampered junior faculty member at the fortunate college or university that you select from the many that will vie for your services. You will then bask in the admiration of the theological world and the less critically grounded adulation of the general public, while living luxuriously on your vast royalties. Perhaps there will even be a lump sum for the movie rights....

Style. A dissertation should naturally be written well. On the most basic level, this means using proper grammar and being acquainted with the elements of style. Many students write run-on sentences, they join independent clauses with a comma or even with no punctuation at all they should instead use a conjunction between the clauses or separate them by a semicolon or a period. Also, incomplete sentences. They sometimes fail to place a comma before conjunctions introducing dependent clauses for they are not well acquainted with the rules of grammar. Being graduate students, there is a tendency to use dangling participial phrases; as inexperienced writers, adjectival phrases are treated in the same way. It is fortuitous that most students do not fall into the lacuna of improper word usage. But in a sea of mixed metaphors, their writing sometimes fails to bear fruit of ironclad perfection. Be very careful of this, as well as using pronouns with no clear referent, speling, and that parallel construction is used to express correlative ideas. After all, it can be embarrassing when the first question from the readers at your defense is,"Did you ever go to high school?" If you use this document as your model and proofread carefully, especially if you use a word processor to alter your text, and you will have no difficulties.

Accuracy, conciseness, and clarity are more important in a dissertation than elegant phraseology. This is not the place to wax poetic or--even worse--homiletic. Humor is of course totally out of place in the Grove of Academe.

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