Friday, January 25, 2013

Writing a phd in plain english.

At up-goer-five there is a challenging little piece of software that challenges a writer to explain things using only the commonest english words.
Actor-network theory has been described as having a propensity for obscure terms if not deliberate obfuscation. So I thought I would try and see if I could explain my actor-network theory study simply. While I think there are some oddities in the language of this methodology, I thought I had a pretty good handle on it and that the language I had used in my thesis was simple enough. So I attempted it.

I tried it for explaining my thesis in simple, commonly used words. The site limits you to writing in the 10,000 words most commonly used in english,
I failed on the first two words I attempted to use!

I can now breathe a sigh of relief that thesis writing for supervisors is easier than writing only in the commonest 10,000 words of english language! Thank goodness i didnt have to write in the format of both common words and rhyme that Dr Seuss accomplished for discerning 4 and 5 year olds. Thank goodness PhD examiners are easier to please!!!

Here's what I managed for my actor-network informed study into telephone counselling when it gets shifted from an oral medium to a text messaging based one.

What happens when we start to use different things in what we do? As much as we think we are in control of what we do and what we use, how much do those things in turn also change us?

I studied how our changing use of phones changed the work of a young people's help-line. The phones at this help-line now ring less and less often; young people still have problems, and still need help, but this happens in silence. This study looks into what happens when talking through problems is done in silence; what happens when young people write about their problems instead of talking; and what happens when that writing is made to fit the very small space of a cell phone window.

Finding out what happens is told as a story of many parts. I tell a story of the people, and things, that grow this new type of work.

What is also shown is a story of power and control; a story of what is weak or strong and it talks of who gets to decide what is good, bad, right or wrong. The story I tell does does not suggest what people should do, it is a story that makes for a way of seeing things which makes it possible to see that things could also be done in other ways.

Meantime for those in the know of actor-network theory and its convolutions, Dr Seuss already has it covered with it being turtles all the way down. Scale of big and little not being as relevant as place and space and connections. Apparently though turtles also falls out of the commonest 10,000 words in the english language, along with 'ant'.

I have written at least the abstract of the thesis in multiple versions on this blog:, a 3MT or three minute thesis, and a thesis by Haiku, a description of the processes of thesis writing in lolcat memes, a youtube clip that enigmatically folds the world... as a form of origami thesis and a Flikr gallery of the phd writing process in pictures.
My procrastination knows few boundaries. I draw the line at a thesis by dance.


  1. Myrtle Houston3:09 PM

    Well, I wonder how your thesis would look if you combine common words and rhyme that Dr. Seuss. Anyway, I do hope you posted a thesis abstract example for us to see. I think it would defend on the supervisor on what kind of format to use. And sometimes, people don’t get lucky enough to use what they are format used to writing.

    1. Hi Myrtle, doing it in Dr Seaus rhyme i fear may be a major procrastination that i would possibly enjoy but which would not advance my thesis to its end point! In the yellow writing above is the palinest of abstracts i could manage given the brief of plain language. This was put through the up-goer-five software so it only used common words. Thanks for dropping by :)

    2. Myrtle Houston9:08 PM

      Hi Ailsa! I think doing it in rhyme can give the committee a headaches! Anyway, seen the link you've said. And no problem, i always like blog walking, and fortunately, you blog was one of the good ones i enjoy.