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Thesis as blog

What:

I will present my thoughts on how to write a masters thesis as a blog.

Why:

I want to take advantage of the blog format.

How:

I will put the traditional masters thesis up against the concept of writing one as a blog.

——–

Traditional masters thesis:

The traditional masters thesis is a static text, revised multiple times before it’s presented in it’s final form.

Advantages:

  • You control exactly what the reader is supposed to read and in what order he or she should read it.
  • You can clean the text for bad and stupid statements made in earlier revisions when you didn’t know better.
  • You present a clean, clear and professional text.

Disadvantages:

  • Impersonal.
  • Complex language.
  • Not interactive.
  • Does not support multimedia.
  • Is stored in libraries and/or unavailable databases.

I went to borrow a masters thesis at the library at my school, I was told this was an extremely popular thesis, it had been lent out 19 times over a period of three years. Since September (a three months period), my starting master thesis blog has been visited 708 times. So, if you want those hard hours of work to be available to an as large as possible part of the public, a blog would be the way to do it.

Masters thesis as blog:

A masters thesis presented as a blog is a dynamic text, updated frequently and presented as a database of the candidates obtained knowledge.

Advantages:

  • You open up for detailed insight into the processes involved in the project.
  • People are allowed to interact directly with your work trough comments.
  • It’s accessible from the whole world, not just in the schools libraries.
  • You can embed multimedia, software and links in a satisfying and accessible way.
  • It’s facilitates for writing on a daily basis and you start to see results right away.
  • All the sub-themes are accessible trough global search engines.

Disadvantages:

  • You expose your self totally by publishing rehearsals and statements you later want to change. As a musician and artist, I mean It can be healthy to keep a certain distance to your audience to keep the “magic factor” intact.
  • It will be hard to decide what should be evaluated, since an average of 1-2 posts a week would result in around 150 posts at the end of the degree.
  • How will it be maintained/stored after the two years?
  • How academic should the posts be formulated?
  • What can be posted?

Essential elements:

  • Page with a presentation of the candidate.
  • Page with the project description presenting “what”, “why” and “how”, with all it’s revisions and an explanation for each change.
  • Page with references, including analyzed inspiration. This could be music, video or text.

I made “inspiration” it’s own category, see explanation further down.

  • The actual work categorized in relevant categories.

It’s important to understand that a post can be a part of multiple categories.

  • Other categories that must be present are:
  1. Reflections
  2. Inspiration

These should be presented as posts, not static pages. This because they will be presented with multimedia and (hopefully) extensive reflections. This wold, in the form of a static page, result in a long and messy text that would be hard to navigate. Doing it in the form of “posts”, one can also see the impact that these categories have on the actual work, since it’s posted chronologically on a time line together with the work. This method can be compared to the concept of footnotes in a traditional thesis.

  • It should be made obvious for any visitor that the blog is a master thesis.
  • An academic and reflective behavior.

Forbidden elements:

  • Irrelevant information about the candidates personal life.
  • Advertisement. This includes announcements of the candidates performances or concerts.
  • Presentation of the candidates projects that are not relevant to the master thesis.
  • Irrelevant information in general.
  • “microblogging” – short posts saying for example: “Reading the book Free Play, let’s see if I can learn anything from it”.
  • “look what I found”-things with out any further reflection over the relevance to the master thesis.
  • Photos like this, just because they are funny:

Comments:

I think the “comments” section should be excluded from these rules because of the nature of the concept “comments”: that it’s meant to be free and open to everyone to state their thoughts without any filter. Let’s call it free speech.

Layout:

How the reader should navigate in the master blog is an essential aspect.

With help from my advisers, we have decided that we should present a “meta text” which guides the reader trough the project. I have an idea on how that can be accomplished:

Some keynotes to its functionality are:

  • When a link in the meta text is hovered over, the corresponding post gets highlighted.
  • The circle gets populated chronologically.
  • The used space in each semester corresponds to how much actual time of that semester has passed (realtime).
  • When opening things from the meta text, they appear over the meta text, as a slideshow.
  • For the rest of the structure (categories, posts, pages etc., something like this).
  • Rather than scrolling the meta text, I would like it to be divided in pages so it feels more like a paper.

I will also need an introduction site where I briefly state that this is a master thesis as a blog.

Writing for internet:

  • The heading of each post should be a sentence that I would “google” to find that post.

This way I can draw a larger audience to my blog.

I would like to quote one of my commenters “burgerberg” on this:

Example: A text about using a toilet brush to control a sound effect, could be named “Interaction between a domestic implement designed for cleaning the lavatory pan, and a digital sound controller environment”.

Of course, this one is better: “Using a toilet brush to control sound effects”.

Or even worse, as I have already done, I could name posts something as diffuse as “Dancer”.

Yet doing it the “google”-friendly way could result in a quite messy database of posts with no obvious relevance to each other unless I categorize them well (see upcoming section on categories).

  • Each post should start with a “What”, “Why”, “How” and a “conclusion”.

This way the reader can know if he or she wants to read the rest of the text and it is made very obvious what can be expected from the text.

Another thing that might should be added to the top of each text is an extremely short conclusion of the text so that the reader might get curios of how I came to that conclusion or just get the essential information he or she wants right away.

I will keep updating this page as new thoughts are made.

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6 Comments
  1. Anders T permalink

    NIce, Jonas. A traditional thesis is also available globally, since most thesis these days is uploaded to a database as a PDF (for example to DUO or similar) so the search hit might be a lot higher than the physical one you get at the library. That being said, a very exciting and quite a nice challenge you have taken on here!
    Btw. any use of twitter 🙂

    • Dear Anders T, thanks a lot for your feedback.

      It is good to know that many thesis are uploaded to a database, but it took me some time to find “DUO”, it was quite hidden and as far as I understood, it is just for the “University of Oslo”. Do you know if there are any national or international databases for these thesis?

      Regarding your question on the use of twitter, I have created an account @DrumElectronics, but I just use it for publishing the posts I make. Do you have any other ideas on how to use it? Just tweeting on minor things I do seem too trivial. Maybe I could try to summarize each month in one tweet?

      Once again, thanks for your reply!

  2. Hello there good friend, fellow musician and landlord, Jonas.

    Some hints and tips on how to write well for the internet:

    My first advice is to think 100% internet writing, and to stop thinking so much that you’re writing a masters thesis. Academic language represents about everything a well written internet-text is not.

    ACADEMIC WRITING:
    – Unpersonal
    – Complex language
    – Many words

    INTERNET WRITING:
    – Personal (active language)
    – Simple language
    – Few words (same content)

    HOW TO WRITE HEADINGS:
    Think: “If I were to google for what this post is about, what would I write?”.
    Example: A text about using a toilet brush to control a sound effect, could be named “Interaction between a domestic implement designed for cleaning the lavatory pan, and a digital sound controller environment”.

    Of course, this one is better: “Using a toilet brush to control sound effects”.

    Read more here: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/headlines-bbc.html

    HOW TO WRITE YOUR TEXT:
    – The most important first, the least important last
    – Write scannable texts (the headings, lists, images etc. should give the reader a nice summary of the content of that text)
    – Keep the language as simple as possible
    – Use as few words as possible

    I would recommend you to start every text in your thesis-blog with a “What”, “Why” and “How” section. This way, combined with a nice internet-style heading, I will very soon have an overview of what that particular text is about – and whether or not I’m interested in reading the whole text.

    Ok, this was a very very short introduction to how to write well for the internet.

    I’ve already written a very short guide on this, you can read it here: http://burgerberg.wordpress.com/2010/02/22/a-skrive-godt-for-nett/

    Unfortunately it’s in norwegian, so for you non-norwegians out there; sorry.

    Anyways, my text is largely based on the web usability guru Jacob Nielsen’s http://www.useit.com/.

    Good luck, Jonas!

    • burgerberg!

      As you can see on my latest posts and this text, I have taken many of your comments into consideration and as you hopefully know, I am utterly grateful for your effort and inspiration.

      Questions:

      – Why do you think an academic text is impersonal (what do you mean by “active language”)?
      – Why do you think an academic text has many words, isn’t that just a matter of writing well?
      … My blog already has at least as many words as a traditional masters thesis …

      Excellent example regarding headings btw 🙂

  3. Sorry it took so long for me to write you back, but here it is anyway!

    First of all: I have loads of compliments and great things to say about your project, but I don’t think a long praise would help you very much. I have therefore tried to adress some of the challenges you mention on your page. I am looking forward to follow this blog in the future, and I think you are definately on the right track here!

    My background is Political science, which is of course a very different subject both in nature and in practice. This background should be kept in mind, as it might make some of my remarks unvalid. However, I think it also might be a good thing to cast a different light over the thesis.

    From reading your project description, I fell I miss one or more problems, which in my lines of studies are mandatory. For example; If I were to write that my goal for my master thesis was to “be a better political scientist,” I don’t think it would pass as a valid goal. I think that to be better at what you do is the point for almost everyone who takes a master degree. I totally agree on the reflections you did upon changing the goal in the first place, but I would maybe consider to revive the goal to something more specific.

    This would also be easier if you had one or a few problems you wanted to discuss throughout the process – it doesn’t have to be specific problems of a technical sort, it can also be of more of a philosophical caracter – just something of a red line to relate the posts to as they appear. It might be that you have this already – but you should in that case show it more clearly in the project description.

    What is special in your case is that loyal readers will see any last-minute changes you do – that is not the case in traditional masters, I know of more than one who has changed their problem the day before hand-in, to make it fit their findings better. However, the way I see it, everyone who evaluates these things knows this, and the only difference in that matter is that you’re way of doing it is more honest. Extra points for you!

    I am really excited about your whole project, and I am sure that you’ll be seen as an entrepeneur in 10 years when all self-respecting people do it their master thesis in this way ;). And since so few, if anyone (at least at NMH?) has done it before you, you might have the advantage that the ones who give the grades will show goodwill and excitement about the project.

    I would consider, however, an electronic summary document in the last post – purely for navigational reasons, if not for anything else. If I understand you correctly, the blog is not just the means to an end, but in many ways the end itself. But it might prove difficult for a first-time-reader to start reading a master thesis from the back, and of course there are other challenges. So a final electronic document with one-liners about each post, a summary and some concluding remarks will be good, I think.

    Are the ones who will examine you following the blog already? That is also an interesting issue with blog as a thesis; how can you evaluate it without following the process?

    The real challenge is to make the blog “scientific” enough and not just a diary of an enthusiast. That being said, I think it looks like you are on the very right track on getting there!

    Like I said in the beginning, some of my points might prove highly irrelevant as I have neither knowledge about what a masters degree in your line of studies actually is, nor have I any idea how the text is supposed to be related to the final concert etc. So please excuse me if what I write has nothing to do at all whith your thesis, but at least I tried 🙂

    Good luck, Jonas!

    The other Jonas!

    As for reaching out to readers: Traditional masters degrees are also out there for everyone through google scholar, questia, etc, but your point of interacting with readers remains valid 😉

  4. Forgot a PS there in the end 😉

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