How to write a thesis – by Eco Umberto, Farina Caterina Mongiat, Farina Geoff (2015)

Umberto Eco was one of these professors. In 1977, just before he became famous for The Name of the Rose, he wrote a small handbook to help struggling students. How to Write a Thesis has been in print for over 40 years. Used and beloved by generations of students in Europe and beyond, it was only recently translated into English. What accounts for the enduring popularity of the book?

Eco’s style is wry and funny, even when delving into exacting detail. But what makes this small book, full of old-fashioned advice about typewriting, index cards, and libraries, still relevant today is Eco’s belief in the almost magical power of the thesis journey as a true foundation for future challenges in life. It’s an irresistible love letter to research and the creative thrill of rigorous process.

Your thesis is like your first love: it will be difficult to forget. In the end, it will represent your first serious and rigorous academic work, and this is no small thing.

But it’s not just for academics. Anyone who researches or writes for others will find something useful here.

In many ways, Eco’s advice about approaching the challenge is more important than the details—which are often either outdated, or can vary by institution. Here is a summary of the broader advice.

Click here to see full contents.

Table of contents

Foreword by Francesco Erspamer

Translators’ Foreword

Introduction to the Original 1977 Edition

Introduction to the 1985 Edition


1.1. What Is a Thesis, and Why Is It Required?

1.2. For Whom Is This Book Written?

1.3.  The Usefulness of a Thesis after Graduation

1.4. Four Obvious Rules for Choosing a Thesis Topic


2.1. Monograph or Survey?

2.2. Historical or Theoretical?

2.3. Ancient or Contemporary?

2.4. How Long Does It Take to Write a Thesis?

2.5. Is It Necessary to Know Foreign Languages?

2.6. “Scientific” or Political?

2.6.1. What Does It Mean to Be Scientific?

2.6.2. Writing about Direct Social Experience

2.6.3. Treating a “Journalistic” Topic with Scientific Accuracy

2.7. How to Avoid Being Exploited by Your Advisor


3.1. The Availability of Primary and Secondary Sources

3.1.1. What Are the Sources of a Scientific Work?

3.1.2. Direct and Indirect Sources

3.2. Bibliographical Research

3.2.1. How to Use the Library

3.2.2. Managing Your Sources with the Bibliographical Index Card File

3.2.3. Documentation Guidelines

3.2.4. An Experiment in the Library of Alessandria

3.2.5. Must You Read Books? If So, What Should You Read First?


4.1. The Table of Contents as a Working Hypothesis

4.2. Index Cards and Notes

4.2.1. Various Types of Index Cards and Their Purpose

4.2.2. Organizing the Primary Sources

4.2.3. The Importance of Readings Index Cards

4.2.4. Academic Humility


5.1. The Audience

5.2. How to Write

5.3. Quotations

5.3.1. When and How to Quote: 10 Rules

5.3.2. Quotes, Paraphrases, and Plagiarism

5.4. Footnotes

5.4.1. The Purpose of Footnotes

5.4.2. The Notes and Bibliography System

5.4.3. The Author-Date System

5.5. Instructions, Traps, and Conventions

5.6. Academic Pride


6.1. Formatting the Thesis

6.1.1 Margins and Spaces.

6.1.2 Underlining and Capitalizing

6.1.3 Sections

6.1.4 Quotation Marks and Other Signs

6.1.5. Transliterations and Diacritics

6.1.6. Punctuation, Foreign Accents, and Abbreviations

6.1.7. Some Miscellaneous Advice

6.2. The Final Bibliography

6.3. The Appendices

6.4. The Table of Contents


Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ The MIT Press; Translation edition (March 6, 2015)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 256 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0262527138
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0262527132
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 9.6 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.38 x 0.5 x 8 inches

One thought on “How to write a thesis – by Eco Umberto, Farina Caterina Mongiat, Farina Geoff (2015)

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