Writing a Thesis: Thoughts on the Spontaneity Method

Drew Kaplan ‘20, Opinion Columnist

Probably starting sometime this past summer, I began kicking around ideas for an honors thesis. Though I haven’t put any words on a page yet, let alone settled on a topic, I have begun to consider my options.

The thing is though, not only am I over a full year from when most theses are started, but I am also studying abroad. It seems like now isn’t the time to be working on a project that, if I do go through with it, wouldn’t be due until nearly eighteen months from now. 

The advantage I find in starting so early, is that it allows me ample time to consider my options, revise any theories as I go forward and hopefully prevent any catastrophic failure when I realize my position has some unforeseen issue. It allows for more careful work and the opportunity for several drafts and revisions to be completed and looked over, if only because of so much more time being dedicated to the project.

The counter position, which I admit is a bit more my norm, is to get an idea and immediately start working furiously on it, without thinking to check the theory underpinning the work. The result is usually either the project as a whole falls apart and never gets finished or, when it is something that needs to be turned in, I can clearly see the lack of polish.

Now, there are some advantages to the spontaneous approach as well. Little to no planning can, and has, led to some of the most entertaining outings I’ve had, not because, say, hiking around a lake in long pants, without water, in August, is a great deal of fun, but more from the absurdness of the situation itself. I doubt any rational person, myself included, would have agreed to hike around a lake in August without any water while wearing long pants had the situation been presented with each characteristic clearly laid out ahead of time. However, not worrying about the details and going for the sake of going was fantastic. We found the humor in the absurdity of it.

Now, I’ll admit, a thesis and a hiking trip hardly are comparable projects; it is far easier to be spontaneous with going hiking than when writing a thesis. There is far more that needs to be thought of, more hoops to jump through, more signatures to get, the list goes on. 

It is difficult to be spontaneous when there are several levels of bureaucracy to jump through. However, the well thought out approach can sap the momentum of a spontaneous project until it stalls. 

Each approach is well suited to its own situations. Trying to write a paper in one night on an un-researched topic might well be spontaneous, but I would argue that a paper with some preparation is more likely to receive a better grade. However, there is a point in every well thought out project when spontaneity becomes preferable; when all necessary work is complete. Barring deadlines, making small tweaks to a project indefinitely could produce a superior work, but at the eleventh hour even the perfectionists need become satisfied, and have faith in their work. 

I am by no means condemning those who write papers best the night before they’re due. There are situations which are better suited or even require spontaneity, just as there are those which require careful planning and forethought. However, which approach is more appropriate is situation dependent. 

Careful planning can mitigate or prevent problems from occurring, and allow projects to go more smoothly, but even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and what results from an improvised bandage applied at the last minute, while it may differ from what was originally intended, may result in a better outcome than was originally intended.