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Research results as yesterday’s news, audiences and expectations

[When I talked about it with Bev in Copenhagen I realised it might be worth writing down]

I started my PhD research with an idealistic target to create something that people would read and find useful. As I worked on it the “people” turned into bloggers, my peers on the quest of figuring out where weblogs fit in knowledge-intensive environments. They were the audience that I wanted to reach with my work.

I didn’t realise that doing PhD research is extremely slow comparing to the fun of playing with new ideas in my professional community. As I moved beyond the early studies into doing research and writing about it, I felt more and more being behind. There were a few “objective” reasons to stop reading other blogs, but also  an emotional one next to them: reading about new ideas people in my network were playing with made me feel working on “yesterday’s news”. It also made clear that my work wasn’t that interesting for my imagined audience, so I was losing my main motivation to do it.

I struggled with it for a while. As I eventually figured out the problem was in my own expectations and I had the answers in the first paper I wrote on weblogs that I mechanically copy-pasted into the introduction chapter of my dissertation. I wanted to study blogging to get an understanding of where it fits for the “pragmatists” who come after “enthusiastic early adopters”, yet it’s early adopters I imagined as my audience.

That changed everything. As I realised that I’m not writing for my “early adopter” peers, but for people who were only getting into blogging, it suddently made more sense.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Norman Dragt October 31, 2008, 18:08

    I agree, writing about anything is always writing for people coming up behind. The early adopters and the innovators, do not read to start doing anything. They read to find new ideas and develop new ideas of their own.

    In that sense you might even have found the achilles heel of science, it always is researching and writing about yesterdays news. But luckily for science it is not being paid to change the world, but to improve it. And to improve the world all you have to do is innovate. To change the world you need to come up with new ideas, that did not exist before.

    In that way science has a lot in common with journalism. What they write about has happened and will not come back, how often you write about it. But for those who were not present when it happened it is a method of taking part in that what happened without them.

    Hope your idea will give you the motivation to bring your PhD to a good end.

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