Dissertations

The department gives specific instructions about writing a dissertation (Dutch: scriptie). This page is not intended to replace these and any advice given here that conflicts with these instructions should be ignored. This page contains the following sections:

  1. Choosing primary texts;
  2. Research: what should I do?
  3. Translations;
  4. Bible translations and quotations;
  5. Bibliographical software.

BA and MA dissertations from the Faculty of Arts can be found at Groningen dissertations.

It is important to be familiar with the material in the page on Finding Sources.


1. CHOOSING PRIMARY TEXTS

It is important that you use suitable primary texts. You cannot always simply use what you have to hand. For example, some editions of works are abridged, bowdlerised, misprinted or censored. If a book costs a few Euros when it is new it is most likely that it is from an old, out of copyright edition. This might be okay, but it’s often difficult to tell. How can you choose which edition to use then? Here are some rough rules of thumb:

  • Books printed in well-known series (e.g. Penguin Classics) or by scholarly presses (e.g. Oxford University Press) tend to be more reliable;
  • Just because a book is an expensive one or a hardback does not mean it is reliable;
  • Read the editor’s introduction where she explains how she established the text. Does this seem reasonable? Check several editions;
  • Check if there is a bibliography of the text you are writing on;
  • Look at recent critical works or biographies of the author;
  • Check literary dictionaries or encyclopedias (see section 1 of Core English Resources);
  • Sometimes there is only one edition (especially of recent works) so there is no problem;
  • Sometimes the question is so complicated (e.g. the arguments about the text of Joyce’s Ulysses) that you can’t deal with it fully or there would be no time to write the dissertation;
  • You cannot simply ask your supervisor, just as you can’t ask him to write your dissertation.

Does the question of editions really matter? Think about these examples:

  1. What are known as the ‘A’ and ‘B’ texts of Dr Faustus differ by more than 600 lines;
  2. The 1623 edition of King Lear deletes 300 lines from the 1608 edition and adds 100 lines to it;
  3. The Oxford Collected Works of Thomas Middleton includes the text of Macbeth. It does not deny that Shakespeare wrote most of the play, but it is easy to see that if you are writing about Middleton it is important to know exactly what he wrote;
  4. Modern editions of early modern texts often adjust the punctuation and spelling of the originals;
  5. W. H. Auden’s Collected Poems does not contain all his poems;
  6. The first UK edition (80,000 copies) of Jonathan Franzen’s novel Freedom (2010) turned out to be an unfinished one, full of errors, despite the fact that a correct US one was published just before it. The publisher recalled all the deficient copies and pulped them;
  7. Jack Kerouac‘s cult book On the Road (1957) is available in paperback both in the edited form that made it famous and in its original uncut form (released fifty years later). Choosing which edition to use may not be easy;
  8. The Oxford World’s Classics edition of Samuel Richardson‘s Pamela (1740) is based on the first edition. The Penguin Classics edition includes all the changes its author made to the novel during his lifetime;
  9. Wordsworth’s poem The Prelude exists in two extended forms, the thirteen book version of 1805 and the 14 book version of 1850 that tones down a lot of its author’s earlier political radicalism.

2. RESEARCH: WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Writing a dissertation implies that you want to become expert in your chosen area. If you are writing about kingship in Shakespeare or women in Dickens you cannot read everything that has been written on the subject, but this does not mean that you can simply read what turns up on an initial search of the library catalogue or Google Scholar: you need to check that you know what the main scholarly works on the topic are. If you are writing about a recent author or a less common area of research, then you are forced to do more thorough searches for secondary material as there may be little of it. In either case, bear in mind the following:

  • You should go through all of the relevant resources listed under the Research Aids tab above;
  • You should always check to see if there is a bibliography of the period/work/theory you are writing on (e.g. the various volumes of John Donne: An Annotated Bibliography of Modern Criticism);
  • You may have to inter-library loan books or articles (allow the time for this). You cannot let your research be determined by what is in the library.

3. TRANSLATIONS

If you are using a translated text to make an important point, bear the following in mind:

  • If an author you are writing about used a particular translation try to use that one;
  • Use scholarly translations;
  • Try and use literal (word for word) rather than free translations;
  • If you are fluent in the relevant language and an accurate English translation is not available, you can translate quotations yourself or adapt an existing translation (acknowledging this);
  • Consult: Peter France, The Oxford Guide to Literature in Translation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. This is a good place to begin if you want to find good editions of works translated into English.

4. BIBLE TRANSLATIONS AND QUOTATIONS

Use the standard reference format that gives the name of the biblical book, chapter, and verse number (see the MLA Handbook). For searchable texts see The Bible Gateway. Do not forget to include the Bible/s you use in your bibliography/works cited list.

  • If an author you are writing about used a particular translation try to use that one.

    Douay-Rheims Bible (1582–1609)
    Douay-Rheims Bible
  • For medieval authors use the Douay-Rheims Bible as it is a close translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible.
  • For Protestant English authors writing after 1611 use The King James Version (also called The Authorised Version).
  • For Protestant English authors writing before 1611 use The Bishops Bible or The Geneva Bible. These are available on Early English Books Online (EEBO).
  • For Roman Catholic authors until the late 20th century use the Douay-Rheims Bible. For modern Catholic authors use The Jerusalem Bible or The New Jerusalem Bible.

Note that there are different editions of all of these Bibles but unless you are making a crucial point with the quotation, this is not important.


5. BIBLIOGRAPHICAL SOFTWARE

Bibliographical software helps you manage and format your references. Functionality varies from product to product but you can usually rely on this software to create consistent bibliographies/works cited lists.

RefWorks. This is the software the university library has chosen. Courses on using RefWorks are regularly run by the library.

*Zotero. A free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share your research sources. It lives right where you do your work—in the web browser itself.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (Lincoln)
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (Lincoln)
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