too much detail isn’t good for your examiner

It’s 7.00 am. Pat is in the lounge room reading a thesis. She is finding it hard going and wants to go back to bed. Big Brother notices her yawning and summons her to the Diary Room.

” Well, Big Brother it’s like this. There’s just too much evidence. Too much detail. Too many cases. Too many quotations. A laundry list of individual books and papers. It’s like being in a narrow boat going up a hill canal – lock after lock. Stop, start, stop, start. I never seem to get anywhere. I keep getting lost, never mind tired.

Big Brother, you know Walter Benjamin explains this much better than I can. You just have to substitute the word thesis when he says book and you have it. He said:

Principles of the weighty tome, or how to write fat books.

1. The whole composition must be permeated with a protracted and wordy exposition of the initial plan.

2. Terms are to be included for conception that, except in this definition, appear nowhere in the whole book.

3. Conceptual distinctions laboriously arrived at in the text are to be obliterated again in the relevant notes.

4. For concepts treated only in their general significance, examples should be given; if, for example machines are mentioned, all the different kinds of machines should be enumerated.

5. Everything that is known a priori about an object is to be consolidated by an abundance of examples.

6. Relationships that could be represented graphically must be expounded in words. Instead of being represented in a genealogical tree, for example, all family relationships are to be enumerated and described.

7. A number of opponents all sharing the same argument should each be refuted individually.

So that’s it really. This thesis is a big fat book just like Benjamin describes. What am I to do?

Big Brother, I need some help here.

What’s that? I have to read another 100 pages before breakfast? Gah. Next thing you’ll say I have to fill out a target for the next day too. I read your mind? Nooooo……

Some days I really can’t be doing with you Big Brother.”

Benjamin, W (1970) One way street in Benjamin, W (1978) Reflections. Essays, aphorisms, autobiographical writings. pp 61-94.New York: Schocken Books

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in reading, thesis and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to too much detail isn’t good for your examiner

  1. Ivy says:

    Thank you for this post! It is very liberating 🙂 Reminds me that clarifying an argument means quality rather than quantity of evidence.


  2. pat thomson says:

    Yes, those little letter e.g. , or tables, footnotes.. Lots of ways to demonstrate you know what what without too much detail.


  3. Haitham Al-Sheeshany says:

    It is harder -for me at least- to be simple & concise rather than lumbersome & wordy.
    Somehow verbosity feels safe! I am not saying it is better, for a PhD or some other fatty projects, but a bit safe.


  4. Pingback: Easy as pie? How a PhD, & other complex work, is like a cake | the édu flâneuse

  5. Pingback: Revising writing: Lessons from the PhD thesis | the édu flâneuse

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