in Daily updates, M.Phil thesis, Oxford

Thesis books

Somehow, no language can express the concept of ‘thesis struggle’ quite so well as German can: a fact that is evident even to those who don’t speak a word of it. If I could use twenty character compound words at will, the word limit would be less of a concern. As it stands, I am trying to figure out ways to reduce the number of words used up in footnotes. The incentives created by including them in the count are quite perverse: I am removing useful little bits of additional information, as well as reformatting citations into forms that will be more difficult for the examiners to deal with.

I look forward to being interesting again. That is to say, having the time and brainpower to write about anything other than the thesis.

PS. Looking for something new to read about? Try the island of Gukanjima, near Japan. Once a coal mining centre and the most densely populated urban space on earth in 1959, it is now totally abandoned. Have a look at this short documentary or this history, more detailed than the one in the Wikipedia entry.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom April 16, 2007 at 8:30 pm

The Gukanjima photos are spooky. Have you seen any recent ones from Chernobyl?

Milan April 16, 2007 at 8:47 pm

You mean these, I take it? I think the series was linked on Slashdot or BoingBoing many months ago.

They are definitely on the chilling side.

Ben April 16, 2007 at 10:30 pm

I agree, especially about the footnotes. When I’m quoting a classic like Aristotle or Rousseau, I often like to give book/chapter/line numbers as well as pages for ease of reference, but all these things add up.

I spent ages re-wording things for brevity – even resorting to hyphens and apostrophes, though it meant quite an informal tone. I also put all acknowledgements in the bibliography as ‘other sources’…

Milan April 16, 2007 at 10:46 pm


A new piece of intel from today: apparently, nobody has failed the M.Phil in IR thesis for 16 years. That would make it awfully embarrassing, now, wouldn’t it?

Anonymous April 16, 2007 at 11:15 pm

It cannot be denied that ‘Magisterarbeitskampf’ is one hell of a word.

Milan April 17, 2007 at 1:01 am

Re: 16 years

I am told that someone actually failed the year before last.

Aquinas April 17, 2007 at 9:32 am

Um, how accurately do you think the examiners are going to count your words?

Milan April 17, 2007 at 10:27 am


I am required to put a word count on the first page. If they think something is fishy, they can request a digital version of the thesis.

In my case, the master digital version will be a set of Word files printed to PDF and then assembled:

Opening pages
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Appendix I

Everything but the bibliography counts towards the word count.

Anonymous April 17, 2007 at 12:31 pm

My guess is that almost everyone cheats on the word count. The examiners probably haven’t seen a thesis that is actually under 30,000 words in some time.

Aquinas April 17, 2007 at 5:35 pm

I bet they have never requested an electronic version. The usual way of checking if one suspects a thesis is over is to count words per typical full line, full lines per typical page, full pages, and multiply appropriately. It’s not what you could call an exact science.

Milan April 17, 2007 at 6:13 pm


That approach wouldn’t include footnotes at all…

Ben April 17, 2007 at 11:55 pm

I know a considerable number of people lie, and I’ve never known anyone be asked for a digital copy. In fact, I heard that one person who honestly declared about 101,000 for their DPhil was told to make the cuts, while someone who lied got away with about 120,000! My guess is that 31,000 will be fine (though in response to anon 12:31, above, mine was under). The worry is, of course, that if somehow they were to find you over, the penalty would not just be for a few extra words but lying on your declaration…

Milan April 18, 2007 at 12:04 am


Latest figures, including footnotes:

Introduction: 5763
Problem investigation: 7468
Consensus formation: 6490
Remedy Design: 6622
Conclusions (unfinished): 2233

Total: 28,576

I think I will end up hitting the target more-or-less spot on.

Those are versions (1-2), (2-5), (0-9), (1-5), and (0-4) respectively. Once Ch.3 and the conclusion are at (1-0), I will have my dress rehearsal version. (Which I am calling the Marley build).

Milan April 18, 2007 at 12:06 am

These can be compared with the figures from six days ago.

Milan June 12, 2022 at 5:51 pm

ThinkGeek caffeine mug visible in background

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