How to fail your dissertation

clear guidelines for guaranteed disaster

Failing your dissertation is admittedly not an easy task, but if you try really hard you can fail by ignoring all the good advice you have been given. If in doubt, you should adopt the suggestions which follow. They can be summarised as three main principles:

  • obscure the idea
  • mangle the sentences
  • ‘slovenize’ the diction
Obscure the idea

Make sure your topic is wide and vague. Then wander around the main idea without ever stating it precisely. If by mistake you do manage to choose a well-defined, suitably limited topic, do not despair. You can always take detours and amble away from the topic for a while.

Do not develop your ideas. Simply re-state them in safe, spongy generalisations. Don’t bother finding evidence to support what you say. Always point out this kind of repetition with the phrase ‘As previously …’. Better still, repeat word for word at least two of your statements.

Disorganise your discussion. For example, if you are using chronological order to present your material, keep your reader alert by making repeated jumps from the past into the present and back again.

Begin a new paragraph every sentence or two.

By generous use of white space make the reader aware he is looking at a page devoid of sustained thought.

Like this.

Mangle the sentences

Fill all the areas of your sentences with dead wood. Incidentally, ‘the area of’ will deaden almost any sentence, particularly when displayed prominently at the beginning.

Use sentence fragments and run-on or comma-spliced sentences. Do not use a main subject and a main verb, because the reader will get the complete thought too easily. Just toss in part of the idea at a time, as in this ‘sentence’.

To create variety, throw in an occasional run-on sentence, thus the reader will have to read slowly and carefully to get the idea, if there is one.

Your sentence order invert for statement of the least important subject matter. That will force the reader to be attentive to understand even the simplest points you make.

You, in the introduction, body and conclusion of your dissertation, to show that you can contrive ornate, graceful sentences, should use convoluted sentence structure.

Frequent separation of subjects from verbs by insertion of involved phrases and clauses, frequently giving rise to errors of concord, show that you know what can be done to a sentence.

‘Slovenize’ the language

Add the popular ‘-wise’ and ‘-ize’ endings to words. Say ‘Timewise, this procedure is faster’, rather than simply, ‘This procedure is faster’. Choose ‘circularize’ and ‘utilize’ in preference to ‘circulate’ and ‘use’. Practice will smartenize your style.

Use vague words instead of precise ones. From the start, establish vagueness of tone by saying ‘The thing is …’. Keep the reader guessing throughout a reading of your work.

Employ lengthy Latinate locutions wherever possible. Shun the simplicity of style that comes from apt use of short, old, familiar words, especially those of Anglo-Saxon origin. Show that you can get the maximum (L) not merely the most (A-S) from every word choice you make.

Inject some humour into your writing by using the wrong word occasionally. Write ‘then’ when you mean ‘than’ or ‘to’ when you mean ‘too’. Every reader likes a laugh.

Find a ‘tried and true’ phrase to clinch a point. It will have a comfortingly folksy sound for your reader. Best of all, since you want to end in a conversational, friendly way, sprinkle your conclusion with clichés. ‘Put a little icing on the cake’ as the saying goes.

Last word

Well, too ensconce this whole business in a nutshell you, above all, an erudite discourse on nothing in the field of your topic should write. Thereby gaining the reader’s credence in what you say.

Suggestion-wise, one last thing: file-ize this list for handy reference for the next time you have to write anything.

(Adapted from Emerson Society Quarterly, 1963)

© Roy Johnson 2004


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