Session 7: Re-writing the thesis: Capturing its totality?

Today’s session involved a series of writing and speaking tasks aimed at capturing the thesis and repurposing it for different purposes and audiences. While the previous few weeks drew out the inter-connected relationship between thesis text and the thesis writer (and an almost endless list of other contexts and connections within which writing is entangled) – this week aimed to keep these tensions visible yet try to move towards more tangible tasks of producing writing for and about the thesis. This was principally about abstracting, repurposing and using the thesis text in multiple ways for multiple audiences.

We began with free-writing a thesis summary then challenged ourselves to condense this meaning into 3 sentences, and then just 1. For some, capturing the essence of the thesis in just a few words was a relatively straightforward process of whittling down text, for which they could ‘call in’ the familiar words and phrases they use about their thesis in other contexts. We talked about these ‘thesis words’ as a structure on which to build meaning upon. Gill gave us the wonderful metaphor of a plant growing out of a trellis to capture the balance between needed structure and the possibilities for creativity. ‘We need a structure to be free’. That explains the picture (honestly these aren’t random!)

What was really interesting was what was included/excluded from these 1-sentence summaries. Most of us talked about what it was we were doing or would be doing, not what we had done or found. For many this simply reflected the early/mid stage they were at in their thesis writing. Emma framed hers as a question, not a statement – feeling that perhaps things could stay open, for a little bit longer. For others, the pinning down of ‘findings’ was a threshold which, once crossed, could be potentially exposing – WHAT, YOU REALLY MEAN THAT? No one mentioned theory or methods. These ‘big’ things became positioned as difficult, wordy processes that couldn’t quite fit without further explanation (and a lot more jargon). Interestingly, writing in this way, for some, led to new words and phrases that they hadn’t yet associated with their thesis emerging through the writing process. Perhaps those creative processes exploring our selves and writing in previous weeks could offer ‘openings/re-imaginings’ for the even those most mundane of thesis writing tasks?

The next challenge was to speak our thesis meaningfully! We all stood up and found a partner, explaining our thesis to them in 30 seconds and then swapping over. After a few more turns with different people, we then re-imagined our partner as a 10 year old child, and then a policy maker, and then a viva examiner. Playing around with our ‘audience’ in this way forced us all to re-think how we speak our thesis and how the tone and the words we use evokes slightly different meanings. For some, this drew out really powerful questions about context, power, voice and positionally. This was particularly the case when there was an audience in mind – be it an idea of place and who you are in it, a tricky participant or a disinterested policy context. We will return to these ideas about voice and audience in the independent session for next week.


Members of the group offered to share some of these vignettes produced in the session below – to give external blog readers a sense of what can/has been possible in the space of the writing data into meaning group and through employing these writing exercises.

Independent Session – 23rd November

The two suggested readings are:

Elbow, P. (1987). Closing My Eyes as I Speak: An Argument for Ignoring Audience. College English, 49 (1), pp. 50-69

Ong, W.J. (1975). The Writer’s Audience is Always A Fiction, PMLA 90, (1), pp.9-21.

Some suggested questions for reflection are:

  • What does engagement/suspension of audience mean?
  • Who is my audience? What audience might I be suspending?
  • What are the implications of this for my writing into meaning






2 thoughts on “Session 7: Re-writing the thesis: Capturing its totality?

  1. Fawzia says:

    Thanks for this! 🙂

    I found that, in the process of attempting to answer that monstrosity of a question, ‘what is my research about’ I immediately started writing as though from a script – repeating the same lines that have featured in numerous abstracts that I have written before. The process felt oh so very mechanical that I had to hold myself back, impose some distance between myself and the page and re-frame the question for myself: what is my research about NOW? I’ve been struggling to accept that my research has grown up. I am the clammy handed auntie who still pulls it’s cheeks as though it was the child I’d once known instead of the willful teenager that fieldwork had morphed it into, an evolving project full of spots and trying to escape my clutches at every possible interval. That said, the first line of my research has stayed the same, it’s just the subsequent sentences that have changed. The opening premise: ‘An ethnographic study of the development of aspirations of young people living in a rural area in post-apartheid South Africa.’

    I’d love to know what everyone else feels is the nutshell of their work.

    During the session it was interesting to see how, within the group, we all felt comfortable expressing our ideas to different audiences. I loathe the prospect of explaining anything to a 10 year old child beyond how to flip pancakes, whereas I rather like the idea of talking to a policy maker given my immense pretentious prat potential. My disdain at the prospect of talking to a 10 year old about the politically contentious themes that pervade my work made me realise how important it is that I don’t get lost in the pomp and grandeur of big words and that I seek a more accessible language for speaking about real lives in real times.


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