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.]