My thesis: The discussion

The last of my “big” thesis chapters has finally been added to my master thesis document and that means that thesis season is really nearing the end now! This latest chapter is probably one of the most important ones, too. As the discussion chapter, it is the one that pulls the entire thesis together. This chapter answers the big, important question: What does it all mean?

The discussion chapter took me far too long to write. And, if I am honest, it is not very good. But that’s not because I don’t know what my research means. And it’s not because I don’t know what contributions this work makes to knowledge. I know these things. I know them quite well. What I don’t know, however, is how to articulate all of these things into an academic thesis chapter.

Ultimately, my struggles with writing this chapter stem from my fear of being wrong; from my lack of academic confidence. Ultimately, my fears and lack of confidence are down to imposter syndrome.

That said, I do feel a bit more confident now that the discussion chapter is in the main thesis document. This means that I have come to a point where the draft is fairly complete and that, if I had to, I could submit it as is.

Next up, I will be pulling the rest of the document together into a complete, full draft of my entire thesis. Then I will have a few days to edit and finalise the full document for submission. It’s not long now until I can start planning for my viva!

My thesis: The findings

I am well and truly into the thick of thesis season now! In fact, I have now added an additional three chapters to my master thesis document. The new chapters are my findings chapters, one for each of my three research questions.

Chapter 4 presents the findings of the analysis and interpretation of data for the first research question, “How do individuals use information to build identities for themselves online?” The findings in this chapter show that people use online information to present aspects of identity, rather than to build or create identity in its own right. It also highlights the fact that identity is comprised of multiple personas which are showcased in a way that highlights different aspects of an individual’s identity for different audiences. These practices are generally undertaken to manage the blurring between both individuals’ professional and private lives and their online and offline environments.

Chapter 5 presents the findings of the analysis and interpretation of data for the second research question, “How do individuals use online information to build and manage their reputations?” The findings show that participants deploy different information sharing practices based on the platform they are using and the perceived audience for that platform. This is generally viewed as a way of managing the blur between participants’ professional and private lives, with an emphasis on managing their professional reputation.

Chapter 6 presents the findings of the analysis and interpretation of data for the final research question, “How do individuals evaluate the reputations of others based on the information available to them online?” This set of findings shows that the evaluation of others on the basis of online information is not an intentional practice. Further, when evaluations are made, the findings show that the participants use their own information practices as a benchmark for the evaluation of others. Interesting, it has also been shown that reputational evaluations are not static. Instead, they are often impacted by additional information that the participants have in relation to of the individual being evaluated.

There is, of course, a lot more to it than that. But you will have to wait until the whole PhD is done and dusted before you can read all about it!

The next big step is to complete the discussion chapter. After that, I will finalise the introduction and conclusion and review the entire thesis in preparation for my submission. Things are starting to come together now, and I am very excited about my progress.

My thesis: The methods chapter

Figure 1 from my methods chapter: An overview of the design and implementation of my doctoral investigation

As thesis season continues, I am pleased to see some real progress on my thesis. Today’s bit of progress was adding my methods chapter (Chapter 3) to my master thesis document.

This chapter covers the determination of my methods (including a pilot study), a description of my participant sample, and details of my data collection tools. It also discusses how I coded and analysed my data and how I decided to present my findings.

I feel somewhat confident about this chapter, but I admit I am a little concerned that my examiners might want a little more detail about some of the more philosophical aspects of the methodological approaches I used. However, I think that there is a bit of overlap between the start of this chapter and the end of my literature review that might need some re-jigging once the whole document is together. And maybe once I am reading the full thesis as one document, I will feel more confident. Or, maybe, I’ll realised that the last bits of Chapter 2 (literature review) really do belong at the start of my methods chapter.

As for the actual writing of this chapter, it was relatively enjoyable and relaxing to write. (Unlike my literature review chapter!) I think that’s because the methods chapter is about me. Or, rather, it’s about the work that I did and the decisions that I made. Sure, some bits were a bit more challenging. But most of the chapter is a narrative that outlines what I did – or did not do – and my reasoning for those things. Because I was writing about things I knew quite well (my own actions) I wasn’t faced with the fear of getting it wrong or misinterpreting someone else’s work.

In the next couple of weeks, I will be getting my three findings chapters ready to drop into the main thesis document. I will also be writing up my discussion chapter which is feeling a bit overwhelming at the moment. But it does feel good to see more progress being made – especially as I have to send a full draft of the entire thesis to my supervisors in 11 days’ time! (Yikes!)

My thesis: The literature review

As of today, I have 19 days remaining to complete a full draft of my PhD thesis for my supervisors’ final review and comments (and 41 days to submit for examination). And that means that it is time I start populating my PhD “master document” with content.

And so, today was spent copying my literature review document across to the first draft of my full thesis document. This is the first chunk of main-body content to be added to the main document and I am quite excited about this tiny milestone. (Starting with Chapter 2 seems a bit odd, but I will be writing the introduction, which is Chapter 1, at the end.)

The process of copying the literature review was fairly straightforward, especially as each chapter draft has been created using the same document styles as the master document. This means that I was able to copy things over without worrying about formatting. (But I still went through the process of checking the formatting. Just in case.)

The literature review is divided into four sections. The first three sections review literature related to (1) citation analysis and academic reputation; (2) online information and reputation from across a range of academic and non-academic sources; and (3) alternative means of building academic reputations (such as social media). The final section is a theoretical framework that has been developed for my doctoral study, based on the similarities and differences between citation practices and similar practices deployed in social media.

At 10,925 words, it is on the shorter side of PhD thesis literature reviews. I feel that this is in part due to the interdisciplinary nature of the review. The way everything came together meant that the literature review would have needed to be really, really long (too long) or rather brief. Because of the stress this chapter has caused me over the years, I decided that I would stick with brief and hope for the best.

My sincere hope is that I have done a decent job on my literature review and that there are only minor corrections to be made to it. Of course, when I think forward to post-viva corrections, this is the chapter that keeps coming to mind. Some of that is historical (and slightly hysterical) self-doubt that lingers from a negative experience with another academic. But some of that is due to a more rational fear that I’ve just missed something – either because I was unaware of a whole body of literature or because I missed a few newly published items that should be included.

Looking back over the process, I think I have learned more about how not to do a literature review, rather than how to actually complete one! But knowing what not to do will certainly make things easier for my next (much smaller!) literature review.

To be fair, I have learned several “best practices” to carry forward into my post-PhD research career. I have learned better ways to search for literature, but also better ways of keeping track of what I’ve read, along with improved note-taking techniques. (This theory will be tested in the New Year when I begin working on a small research project about social media proxies for adults with dementia.) I hope that as my experience and confidence increases, I will be able to help others in their quest to conduct a thorough literature review. But I really do need to learn more myself before I try to teach the art of it all to others!

It feels quite good to have a solid chunk of content in my main thesis draft, and I can’t wait to add more content. But for now, I must concentrate on creating a first full draft of my discussion chapter. And that, I am fearful to say, is looking to be almost as frustrating as the literature review chapter. (Although there haven’t been any tears yet, which is a happy thing!)

Stay tuned for the next exciting installment of my thesis progress!

My thesis: The master document

As thesis season continues, my thesis is finally starting to fall into place. Yes, everything is starting to come together and I am quite excited about that. This post is about how I plan to pull the full document together with the use of a master document, or a thesis template.

As a planner, I began thinking about the end of my PhD from the very beginning. That is also when I started thinking about the master document for my thesis. I knew that I would spend an inordinate amount of time faffing about with the aesthetic layout of my final document, so I decided it would be best to get most of my formatting determined long before I started working on my final document.

It was that decision that led me to use my university’s thesis guidelines for all of my PhD-based work (see pages 41-42), allowing me to “test” my chosen formats. That means that all of my drafts and reports were written using the approved font sizes, spacing, and margins. At the same time, I experimented with different section heading and table styles, as well as document header and footer text. (Thankfully, the guidelines ditched the rule for Arial fonts, so I was able to pick a selection of serif and sans serif fonts that fit with my views of aesthetics.)

Once I had a style that I liked (and that rendered nicely when printed in grayscale) I developed my master document. This document has all of the top-level chapter headings (along with appropriate section breaks) and document headers that match. Within each chapter, I have placeholders for the sections that belong there. The master document includes all of the “fluff” pages, too: The title page, abstract, acknowledgements, various tables of content, and appendices.

Early versions of this document included several “notes to self” with reminders and explanations about the purpose of each section. For example, under the “methods” heading was a reminder that the section needed to justify everything I did (or didn’t do) in the process of determining my methods and collecting my data. These early versions also included content and links related to the process of writing up a thesis so that I could reflect on the best practices developed by others.

In the most recent versions (before the final) the document was stripped of these “helpful” reminders and links. In their place, I began entering notes about the estimated word count for each chapter as well as details related to the timeline for completion. The final (?) version of the document received the rank of master a few weeks ago.

One of the useful things about this process is that the master document has become an outline for the final thesis. I can look at that document to see how the whole thesis flows, including the structure for each individual chapter.

Of course, the most useful things about this document is the time it will save when I pull the entire thesis together over the next few weeks. Because I know how fiddly document numbering can get when you muck about with the styles, I thought it was best to get everything into a shell this way (including section headings) so that I can do a simple copy-and-paste from my draft chapters into (a copy of) the master document. The document has placeholders for my “perfect” table layouts and notes about some of the little glitches that sometimes happen when text is copied over.

The plan now is to start populating a document based on this template. To do that, I will save a copy of the master file that I can title “full-thesis-draft.v1”. Then, once each chapter is fully drafted with no (obvious) major edits required, I will copy it into this document. At that time, I will ensure that all of the in-document cross-references are where they’re meant to be.

Once the full “v1” document is populated, I will be able to give it a full review before sending a full, complete draft of my thesis to my supervisors. (My versioning system means that it might be v2 or v3 before they see it though.)

If all goes well, there will be very little (or, hopefully, no) additional formatting required. However, I am sure that I will find something to change once I see the full document. But that’s where styles come in. A wee tweak to a style will cascade across the document.

I am really excited to start filling in this document. And that excitement is growing as my deadline looms nearer. The best thing about that excitement is that it is making me feel very motivated to write, write, write! And so, I had best get back to writing, writing, writing!

And for those who are counting, I have 54 days until my submission deadline – and 32 days until I need to have a full draft to my supervisors for their feedbacks. It’s not long now!! (I am so excited!!!)