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Currently I’m hard at work on my dissertation. Dissertations are weird entities that force their writers into very clear decisions. The single point you intend to discuss, research, analyze and explore can be approached from a variety of different angles. The difficulty, of course, is that you must pick one angle (or, absent just one, a couple very specific angles). Don’t bite off more than you can chew comes to mind as an apt corollary. This type of work is massive in depth but not massive in breadth. You explore a limited thing in a specific way. While working on the particular approach I intend to take on my topic of inquiry I realized how helpful this idea would have been years ago when writing papers and doing presentations in classes.

Oftentimes in my career as a student (a career I still lovingly hold) I was told to refine my thesis statement or pick something specific to talk about for presentations I would give. No, you can’t talk about World War II — pick a single battle. No, you can’t talk about the history of the United States — why not do the history of this town. It always seemed like the important part of getting a good thesis was to make it about less. Take your thesis and make it about something smaller and more specific. This is certainly true, but there is another part entirely. The final part (and perhaps a guiding part) is to determine what angle you wish to approach the topic from. If you want to talk about World War II will you do it as a president, a general, a soldier or a citizen? Each of these frames the discussion in a different way and (as a bonus) will likely help you clarify that topic that is too broad and too big. I’m going to get back to work on my dissertation — but I thought I’d share.

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