Italian novelist, children’s book author, and semiotician Umberto Eco is well known in the U.S. for his best-selling novel The Name of the Rose. What’s not so well known here (yet) is a little book he wrote for his students in 1977, called How To Write a Thesis. Now in its 23rd edition and translated into 17 languages, this handbook has finally been translated into English this year (2015). in it, he offers “Four Obvious Rules for Choosing a Thesis Topic,” rules that apply not only to master’s thesis in Italy, but to any academic essay you might be assigned at Davidson:
1. The topic should reflect your previous studies and experience. It should be related to your completed courses; your other research; and your political, cultural, or religious experience.
2. The necessary sources should be materially accessible. You should be near enough to the sources for convenient access, and you should have the permission you need to access them.
3. The necessary sources should be manageable. In other words, you should have the ability, experience, and background knowledge needed to understand the sources.
4. You should have some experience with the methodological framework that you will use in the thesis. For example, if your thesis topic requires you to analyze a Bach violin sonata, you should be versed in music theory and analysis.
You can find more of Eco’s advice to writers in Maria Popova’s review on BrainPickings.org.
Umberto Eco. How to Write a Thesis. Trans. by Caterina Mongiat Farina and Geoff Farina. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015.