Sunday, April 10, 2011

A thesis in almost plain language

Attempting a plain language summary of my study as suggested in phdchat# and role modelled by @lizith, @OrgMotivation, @martin_eve and @jennacondie,and @claretCarly

Its an interesting assignment, one i have turned to my own ends. Since I am studying the use of change with emergent technologies in a youth counselling centre, and since young people appear to be changing this service from the outside in by using text (SMS) messaging as their preferred means of making contact with the organization, I provide a summary of my thesis in txt spk.

when kidz txt a helpline
wats goin on?
who & wats involvd?
wuld u? culd u? shuld u?
This thesis looks @ changes @
Youthline NZ: a crisis helpline
4 young peeps

Now for the less succinct version, where i try to be clear, but its not quite plain, I'm still attached to certain turns of phrase.
Change and the use of emergent technologies in a NZ youth counselling centre

This research focuses on the relationship between how people think about change and what they do to enact it. This is explored with reference to changing health professional practices where interpersonal interactions are increasingly mediated through computer and communication technologies. In investigating the use of new and emergent technologies for counselling the study traces how the work of counselling is reconfigured, and how relationships of those involved are negotiated.

The site of study is a not-for-profit organisation, Youthline (Auckland, NZ). When this study begins the organization is providing telephone counselling predominantly through its crisis helpline. At the start of this study there is a constant buzz of phones ringing and of counselling conversations occurring. Over the course of this study the phone rooms become almost silent. Youth still have problems, and still seek help, but increasingly this occurs silently. This study investigates what occurs as counselling moves into the silent and small space of short message service (SMS) or text-based mobile phones.

In providing a text-based helpline since December 2004, this organisation becomes a world leader in the practice. There is presently no evidence base for this practice and while this study does not address the effectiveness of such interventions, it does consider factors making the practice more, and less, viable.

The analysis is undertaken within an actor-network sensibility. Actor-network theory (ANT) emphasizes relationships held, dissolving and evolving between actors whether human or otherwise. This study investigates how the actors involved, human and otherwise, are performed in, by, and through their relationships.

Performances of change and the use of text-based counselling are presented as short narratives, slices of practice, telling of contingent relationships. Eliciting these narratives included interviews, artefact analysis and observations of practice, over the course of two years.

The performance of such stories provides partial and decentred ways of knowing. The use of the word partial is deliberate and relates to more than one meaning. The stories do not, and cannot, encompass the whole. In addition, such stories reflect the author’s own partiality. “I” write a text composed of slices, where such slices of stories sometimes sit alongside one another, but which more often intersect and which sometimes clash, reflecting the precarious reality this thesis depicts.

A tangle of constitutive relationships are shown to embed mobile phone use and texting in particular, in young people's daily lives. In analysing the tangle of contingent relations making text counselling more and less viable, the intent was never to prove text counselling as good or bad, but to know the uncertain and revisable nature of text counselling as practiced. Opening up text counselling allows us to see how this practice is shaped and might be shaped otherwise. Specific strategies for strengthening the work of this not-for-profit organisation are then able to be made explicit.

I really would appreciate some feedback on this:
1. Should the txt spk version be the first page of my thesis?
2. Is the longer version clear?
3. Any other feedback also welcomed :)


  1. Ailsa, I think this is quite clear and to the point. I especially like how you described ANT without getting bogged down in its own language barriers!

    Two related questions for you, and I am very interested in your plain-text explanation:
    1. What is the problem (problem in practice that calls for research). I sense it above, though I am wondering if you can state it a bit more clearly.
    2. What are your research questions (same thoughts as my Q#1 above).

    I think these two are quite difficult to clearly articulate, so hoping you can teach me via example here!


  2. Really interesting, Ailsa.

    I think the use of txt speak as an intro really innovative - I confess that I can't fully understand it but I'm not a great one for txt speak so not the best judge!

    A couple of more specific comments:

    > I think the first couple of paragraphs of intro are very clear.

    > The paragraph on decentered and partial ways of knowing I struggled wih slightly. I could guess at what you mean but I'm not sure it's clear to a non-expert

    >I think the language in the intro sections is much more non-academic but the latter paragraphs are slightly more academic speak so I wonder if you could perhaps simplifiy.


  3. I completely think that the txtspeak version should come first in your thesis. An excellent starting point. Interesting research!

  4. Hi Bex and Naomi, Thanks for dropping by and for the feedback. I totally agree Bex, wasnt till i saw your comment I realized that i had not explained the decentred ideas...but then i tried to add a little to make it clearer and found myself talking ontological choreography, so i backed out again thinking i should try to keep my foot out of my mouth. Must remember "less is more"

  5. It might also help if you explain WHY (back to the problem statement and research questions Jeff mentioned) you are studying this. Is this a way to situate teen use of texting? A new form of counseling you have noted? Interested in the use of new forms of communication and the effect it has on teens? A more effective way of reaching at risk teens? It is hard for me to "place" your research.

    I actually liked your explanations of the partial and decentralized ideas. However, without a "placement" of your research, I'm not sure why it is important that you are looking at these slices of life/communication and stringing them together into a story. (I hope this helps...I don't think I'm really explaining what I mean well!)

  6. The question is 'just what is going on here'. More explicitly what makes texting by mobile phone the first thing kids reach for when needing a crisis helpline, and whats the crisis helpline doing in response? How does counselling get reconfigured in this small screen space, how are those involved being contained, constrained or constructed when they engage in amedium that limits each interaction to 160 characters or less.

    I will think about how i weave this into the summary. Thanks for the feedback.

  7. Not sure how I missed this before. I love the txt spk version - and I'm also interested in what you find out - how does counselling, which relies so much on speech and body language, translate to txt. Being the mother of a teenager, it somehow feels so right as a medium for kids - and I know it's the way mine communicates in preference to speech.
    I do get the sense you struggled getting away from academese :-) I wonder why we find it so difficult and revert to the obscure too readily. That is not to say that what you've written is inaccessible, but bits are difficult as others have said.
    Interested to see your comments on your attempt to improve on the first version - maybe we should all try again in a few months.