Open Thinkering


How not to write a thesis.

I was chatting to a fellow doctoral candidate this week about various things. We agreed that writing a thesis on something which you’re not actually very interested in is probably easiest way to get a PhD. I’ve been writing in the area of digital/new literac(ies) for around four years now now and, to be honest, sometimes it feels like spitting in the wind.

Still, the great thing about it is that I’m studying for this doctorate and wrestling with this thesis because I’m actually interested in the subject and want to contribute towards the debate. I’m learning lots about all manner of things as I go. This is about personal development more than anything else.

I have to be careful what I say here as I haven’t handed in my thesis, passed my viva and graduated. Those who follow the traditional PhD methods tend to virtually ‘tut’ and shake their head in disbelief when I say I’m writing without a firm structure in mind of how the whole thing is going to come together. But that’s how I’ve worked on (admittedly, smaller) projects and it’s turned out just fine. It might mean more work in the long run, but at least I’m getting my money’s worth… :-p

As of about 30 minutes ago, my thesis will have the following structure:

  1. Introduction (why study ‘digital literacy’?)
  2. What is ‘literacy’? (including: literacy & knowledge, literacy as a social process, unitary & pluralist views of literacy)
  3. Minimal criteria for digital literacy to constitute a ‘literacy’.
  4. Discussion of digital literacy
  5. Introduction of Pragmatism (methodology section)
  6. Literature review (is digital literacy ‘good in the way of belief’?)
  7. New Literacies – introduction & history
  8. Is this literacy? (consideration of ‘Flow’, fluency, etc.)
  9. Future of literac(ies)
  10. Analysis of relevant policy documents (UK, Norway, USA, Singapore)
  11. Conclusion

I’ve written about 30,000 words so far – half the 60,000 words required for an Ed.D. thesis (I’ve previously had to submit lengthy essays in support of modules studied at this level). At this rate, it’s not looking like I’m going to hit my target of the 1st January 2011, which is the earliest I’m allowed to submit. I’d wanted to have it finished before I turn 30 in December – and before my wife gives birth to our second child.

Oh well. Taking more time will enable me to give those policy documents more than just a cursory glance! 😀

3 thoughts on “How not to write a thesis.

  1. Hi Doug,
    Just a thought which may not even be relevant! I notice that you make mention of 'relevant policy documents (UK, etc). I'm just curious if you have pulled in different documents from England/Scotland/Wales/Ireland and if so if there is any noteworthy differences in the approaches?

    As you know, the Scottish system is markedly different from England (and I have to profess ignorance of Ireland and Wales… soz, my bad!), but I wondered if there is a similarity in approach to Digital Literacy?


    1. Not really even started that section, Neil – but I shall share everything I do find out! From a very cursory glance a couple of years ago I found that New Labour policy conceived of almost everything 'digital' as relating to the economy. Digital literacy was no different!

  2. Some sage advice here. You are not alone with this structure problem. I think the more we struggle with this the more we would be inclined to stick to a format that reveal much more about how you are thinking through this.

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