By Susan Carter

Thesis authors often stamp their own identity on their theses. I believe that such personal marking–think dog and territory–helps with the more stodgy writing of the thesis body by generating a cheerful sense of ownership. When we find a way to mark our academic work with our own style, it is more fun to produce.

Such imprinture happens in all disciplines, I suspect perhaps even more commonly in theses that are not from Arts and Humanities. (A biophysicist friend spelt her name out in the first letter of every chapter, which necessitated a rather strange sentence when she needed a q.)

One example of personal marking is the epigram that might open each chapter, a strong quotation that inflects the author’s attitude to the topic.  J.C Lockhart’s (1997) PhD in International Business covers export systems in the context of ‘land-based values.’ His opening chapter, ‘Motivation, Research Approach, and Problem Statement,’ comes under the auspices of Oscar Wilde’s, ‘It is a pure unadulterated country life. They get up early because they have so much to do and they go to bed early because they have so little to think about’ (Lockhart, 1997). This quotation obliquely ties economics to the rural versus urban, local versus international aspects of New Zealand history that underpin his topic. Another of Lockhart’s chapters uses the well-known Pink Floyd extortion to eat your greens if you want your pudding; again, the quotation is apt to the chapter’s topic.

Lockhart’s epigrams establish his own wit and his awareness that business is is a social and culturally embedded practice His thesis was pointed out to me as a strong one, suitable for use as a model of a well-written thesis.  My hunch is that those epigrams gave the author as much pleasure as its subsequent readers, including its examiners.

Sometimes epigrams are taken from classical times, for example, a thesis on health in an aging population might use Cicero’s ‘Active exercise, therefore, and temperance can preserve some part of one’s former strength even in old age’ as a prefix to its introduction. The effect of going classical is to place the research study in a lineage that goes back over centuries, showing a uniquitous preoccupation with the same problems and solutions, and an authorial connection with those landmark figures who have shaped Western thought (for better or worse).

The aesthetic dimension added to the thesis should be taken seriously, I’m suggesting here. It gives pleasure to writers and readers when thesis writing is personalised. It isn’t new to note that the personal is the political; the pleasure of thesis style also implies a politics through what is personal and personality-imbued.

At a time when education discourse laments how commercial, neoliberal and audit-cultured the university is becoming, it’s unsurprising that we enjoy opportunities for generating new knowledge that reflect the identity of the human creator. My experience tells me that when writers find their own distinctive style, voice and character, it ‘enhances productivity.’ For me, though, this isn’t so much about faster product. It is more about writing’s construction of academic identities that are pleasurable to inhabit.

Any other methods of marking—imprinting—thesis writing you can add in a comment?

Lockhart, J. C. (1997). Towards a theory of the configuration and management of export-dependent land-based value systems: The case of New Zealand. University of Auckland, Auckland.