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Thesis writing on Literature

Thesis writing on Literature: choosing Shakespeares work for your research

Dec 08, 2012 - Posted to  Thesis Writing
As part of your graduate education, a thesis is often required by academic departments to demonstrate several things; understanding and apprehension of a particular discipline, the ability to summarize and review literature, proficiency in analyzing and discussing findings, and the competency to maintain a logical and coherent argument. With all that said, does a dissertation really manifest all of these qualities? Yes, these qualities, and much more.
Students that choose to explore Shakespearean literature for their dissertation often face the challenge of satisfying the above mentioned goals as well developing a sufficient debate in the already saturated 'land-field' of Shakespeare criticisms and discussions. Initially this may seem as bit of a challenge considering the precedence of bringing to light new information or considerable contributions through dissertation work (though optimism should not be shattered).
For research and exploration there are a tremendous amount of combinations and evaluations that can be conducted with Shakespearean literature and other titles, concepts, theories, and disciplines. Put simply-Shakespeare, as well as other authors, offer a wealth of literature to dissect and dissolve for any student in need.

Identifying a thesis topic

As a general rule, thesis topics should be narrow, creative, and comprehensive. Most students already have a thesis topic in mind even if they are unaware of it. For instance, they may select something to enhance their career or job prospects, an enduring passion or interest, or a provoking question that has yet to be answered, and so on.
In order to narrow down a topic, some degree of reading and review of literature may need to take place as well. After a preliminary understanding, only the more extensive specifying and thesis formulation can develop with significant knowledge of the topic being explored. In selecting a preliminary topic to prepare you for library research, consider any specific characters, plays, poems, theories, concepts, and underlying themes related to Shakespeare as well as which sources are readily available to you. Likewise, aim to choose something that you are interested in and can see yourself spending a great amount of time researching and examining.

So to summarize; your topic should:

  1. Be something that you are genuinely interested in
  2. Be narrow enough to accomplish in a reasonable timeframe
  3. Be original and significant to your field
  4. Be thoroughly expanded upon using the sources available to you
  5. Be capable of being connected to relevant literary theories and concepts

Sample thesis titles courtesy Thomas Larque:

*Innes, P. Subjectivity in Shakespeare's Sonnets. Ph.D. University of Stirling. 1990.
*Barker, R.E. The destined livery: reading gender in British performances of early modern tragedy. Ph.D. University of Birmingham. 2000.
*Dunworth, F. Motherhood and meaning: the transformation of tradition and convention in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. Ph.D. University of Kent. 2004.

The research question

After choosing a topic you must identify a research question to begin your investigations. And a good way to think about the research question is that it in fact is answered by your thesis statement, and consequently by your dissertation. Therefore, the research question should embody many of the same qualities as a well-crafted thesis statement; that is, it should be something that is (a) arguable, subjective and seeks to prove a point (rather than something that merely makes an observation or states a fact) (b) concise enough to be fully answered in the confines of your paper (c) and only cover one main point or idea.
The next step after identifying a reliable research question is to start thinking about the layout of your information. A suggested outline is detailed below.

Quick reference outline

  1. Introduction - Define your topic, thesis statement, main idea. Provide enough background information to make the reader comfortable.
  2. Literature Review - Demonstrate your competency on the topic by analyzing primary and secondary texts.
  3. Theory - Explain the theories that apply to your topic, how and why they are relevant and exactly how they fit into the scheme of things (theory is very important with Shakespearean analysis).
  4. Methodology-How did you go about gathering your research? What methods did you employ?
  5. Analysis & Evaluation - Interpret and evaluate the information that you've gathered. Discuss any new findings. Be sure to detail original contributions and the significance of your findings to the field.
  6. Conclusion - Provide a sound summary of results and interpretations. Leave readers feeling satisfied and complete. Revisit your thesis statement and the relevance of your work.
*Also be sure to cite all references and works cited.

The Literature Review

Thankfully as an English student, it's likely that you're already ahead of the reading game! Not a game at all, the literature review portion of your dissertation is actually one of the most troubling sections to complete. A thorough literature review consists of a vast amount of exposure to the many texts available on your particular topic. And due to the position of Shakespeare in English literature the number of criticisms and examinations of his plays and poetry are great in number- providing you with a wide range of material to review (which is good and bad!).
One of the greatest shortcomings in dissertation writing is a poor and lacking literature review. This is unfortunate because literature reviews are often a main contributor in grading for examiners. This may be due to the many things that the literature review accomplishes;
  1. Demonstrates that you are an 'expert' in your field, fully aware of the text surrounding the issue whether it be Shakespeare and gender roles, psychoanalytic debates, parent-child relationships etc.-you're on top of the game.
  2. Ensures that you do not attempt to cite your research as original when its actually not.
*Reading and studying other people's works will help you better identify when new or 'untapped' areas are available for consideration. Also it will let you know if your research provides any sort of challenge to current texts.
In addition to the literature review another key component often overlooked by many students is the originality and significance of their research. As stated earlier, this is one of the main areas tackled with a thorough literature review. Though it may take a bit of leg work, hopefully after reviewing previous titles and considering a few different avenues you should undoubtedly stumble across something that you can happily say needs more analysis or development and subsequently provide your field with significant research on that topic.
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