One of the most memorable things I learned in journalism school is that when an editor asks about a story you’re working on, you should be able to sum it up in a single sentence. This isn’t always easy because the longer you’ve researched a topic, the more complicated it seems—but, well, too bad because your editor and reader are busy and they need to quickly decide whether to give you any more of their time.
It’s a lesson I think should apply to all writing but it’s one academics rarely heed. So often they seem incapable of summing up their work. That’s why I love this new Tumblr blog, LOL My Thesis, where graduate students submit plain English translations of their thesis topics. Obviously many of the entries are self-deprecating but they also show how graduate students really are capable of communicating their ideas in simple sentences the average person can read. If they did this more often, I bet we’d learn more from their research.
I mean, just try and figure out what any of these master’s theses topics funded by by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council is about and you’ll probably give up pretty quickly:
Semantic and concreteness model of metaphor comprehension (University of Windsor)
Reconnecting with historical reality: a revival of neglected theories of history and historical process in the criticism of Canadian historical fiction through a re-examination of researcher/historian characters (University of Ottawa)
Early Sufi Qur’anic exegesis: Dhu’l Nun al-Misri and his mystical interpretation of the Qur’an (University of Toronto)
If you’re a taxpaper, you might also ask yourself why these people each got $17,500 grants…
But check out a few entries from LOL My Thesis and, beneath the snark, you’ll likely find something you actually want to read.
Emily Dickinson wrote about the clitoris a lot, and maybe S&M; people fail to pick up on this because she mostly narrates it through birds. (Fordham)
People reach faster and straighter to pictures of cake than pictures of vegetables. (Brown University)
Consumers don’t care what websites do with their personal information. But some consumers do. But not enough. (Harvard)
Democracy would work a whole lot better if we weren’t so, you know, human. (Rutgers)
Putting grass on the roof makes a business straight cash, homie. (Pomona College)