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If most of the things I want to say in my PhD are already in my weblog, what’s the added value of the dissertation?

While working on the study of my personal blogging practices I went through my weblog archives. 1460 posts, more than half a million words (it was hard to believe when I saw the stats).

Reading old posts in an interesting experience, especially at a “convergence moment” when lots of old ideas find their place in the dissertation. At some moment I was pretty frustrated wondering on Twitter “if most of the things I want to say in my PhD are already in my weblog, what’s the added value of the dissertation?”

Well, writing a dissertation has an added value. This post is about it.

While weblog provides a space to grow ideas, it’s also a mess of fragments. They are connected through links and tags, but in many cases the higher level reasons of why certain bits appear and how are the relevant to a bigger whole remain unarticulated. Mainly because at the moment of writing it’s not clear how the fragments connect. Also, in many cases, the whole story is too long for a weblog post.

Connecting those fragments takes time, which is difficult to find between work and writing about new and fresh ideas. Usually I know vaguely about the connections; regular readers of the weblog probably have an idea too. For others, it’s just a bunch of interesting bits buried in the pile of half a million words.

It also takes extra work (e.g. a systematic data collection and analysis) to connect fragments in a story that provides stronger evidence than a collection of anecdotes.

Working on a dissertation provides a structure to address those issues: the need to connect fragments, push and discipline to collect evidence, time to work on converting all that into a bigger whole and a space to do it.

At this moment I smile reading my old post about not wanting to write a book – I’m pretty happy to have my dissertation as a legitimate excuse to turn “small pieces loosely joined” into a whole that does not easily fall apart. While reading weblog posts is still easier, I hope that reading the dissertation is more efficient for those interested in a bigger picture behind the fragments.

I still have my concerns about the long time it takes to write a book and lack of interactivity in the traditional process of doing so, but this is another story.

[Some related thoughts were also in a post by Jill about an added value of writing a book on things well covered in the weblog, but I couldn’t find it back.]

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • ismael July 3, 2008, 12:23

    I look at it just the other way round: I think of the PhD as a process, not as a result or an output. Hence, the dissertation is just a part of the process, as the blog is (and collecting the bibliography and doing the readings, etc.). So, it’s not dissertation _or_ blog, but just parts of the same thing.

  • Lilia Efimova July 3, 2008, 12:55

    For me too PhD is about a process. The only thing that for someone “spoiled” by the opportunities for interactivity that social media provides it is not that obvious that the dissertation in a traditional format is a necessary element of the process.

    And, the fact that doing a PhD pushes me into following the process as “it should be” does not mean that it’s an objectively good one 🙂

  • ismael July 3, 2008, 14:44

    a-ha, I guess I hadn’t caught what you really meant.

    Now, yes, I couldn’t agree more 🙂

  • John Tropea January 25, 2009, 02:23

    I like this classic example of blogging – where Chuck Hollis has blogged about his experience introducing social media into his organisation. Then he connected all his blog posts and wrote a white paper.

    He’s taken his raw fragments and incorporated them into a higher purpose (codification)

    Blog posts can be raw, sometimes having no agenda (aim to achieve) accept sharing an experience. You just can’t do this in a white paper, there needs to be an outcome you are driving at, therefore what you are saying may become sanitised, or driven by an outcome/focus.

    The white paper is great, but if you want to really learn the blog posts are for deeper reading (more personal, explanatory, experiential (anecdotes), triggers things in you…get to know an author…comments/feedback. More chance of knowledge sharing/transfer as you know them more.

    For me this is the real difference between KM1 and KM2, in that now we can do proper knowledge sharing like we do in real life by probing, clarifying, assimilating…and our blog posts are more like informal rich conversations (as it happens) where you can absorb more holistically, rather than seeking a formal document in a database and calling that “knowledge sharing/transfer”

    http://chucksblog.emc.com/a_journey_in_social_media/2008/12/giving-back-and-a-request-for-help.html

  • John Tropea January 25, 2009, 02:30

    Sorry I forgot to add some links

    I forget to you have chapter about context in blogs
    http://libraryclips.blogsome.com/2008/08/02/the-context-of-blogs/

    Here’s an excerpt from the black swan
    http://johntropea.tumblr.com/post/47312505/the-black-swan-nassim-taleb-p13

    “The journal was purportedly written without…knowing what was going to happen next, when the information available…was not corrupted by the subsequent outcomes.” “While we have a highly unstable memory, a diary provides indelible facts recorded more or less immediately; it thus allows the fixation of an unrevised perception and enables us to later study events in their own context. Again, it is the purported method of description of the event, not its execution, that was important.”

    And something from Matt Hodgson
    http://www.theappgap.com/where-have-all-the-intranets-gone-long-time-passing.html

    “If we look back to the rich oral history of many of our cultures, blogging is a reflection of the need to story-tell, carrying with it important information not only on the what – the facts like the reports we typically store in our recordkeeping systems – but also the meaning behind the why and how.”

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