How have you been? It’s been a few months since you heard from me here, and I’m glad you’re still around!
Over the last number of months, and since my last blog post, I’ve been finishing a Master’s degree with a focus on learning technology. Some of you have been cheering me on for the last two years as I worked on this endeavour. I am pleased to report that it is finished! My final research was on the use of social media as an educational tool, and a couple of weeks ago I found out that my paper was accepted by the university. It is a relief to have it finished, freeing up a lot of time. Time that was too precious and therefore unavailable for blog writing, for example.
One of the things I had put on hold for the last two years has been my writing of narrative prose. It is something that I am keen to return to. Someday I might share some here on the Codswallop blog, if the mood strikes. But there is a big difference between narrative fiction and academic writing. In writing narrative fiction, you are free to allow the reader to draw connections, and interpret the story through inference and subtlety. Not so in academia. In fact, my first few academic papers were terrible, because I just wasn’t being precise enough. You have to make a point, back it up with references, wrap up your point, then conclude by repeating yourself yet again. I remember complaining to one of my professors in one of my first classes:
“But I already made my point!”
“No you haven’t.” She said bluntly. This was followed by some grumbling on my part, and me going back to the laptop for more revisions. I learned a lot, and consider myself lucky that she was also my research advisor at the end of the program.
It gives an interesting perspective on different types of communication. For some endeavours, we must write to maximize comprehension. Misunderstandings or confusion have no place in the world of research. Therefore, a very strict writing style and format are expected. I’ve been following the APA 6th edition guide for two years, and although I’m tired of it, I understand why it’s needed. At times, I was tempted to burn it. (Yes, I contemplated a book burning, do you have a problem with that?) But when I was sifting through literally hundreds (the real ‘literally’, not the figurative one) of research papers, it made it much easier for me to extract the information I needed. These papers were written by researchers from all over the world, published by many different Universities, but I had no problem understanding the content.
In a similar way, I teach graphic design classes, where a visual hierarchy is required to help the reader make sense of the information they are receiving. We rely on this all the time. If you’ve ever seen something poorly designed, you might become aware that you aren’t sure what text to read first, or how to find the specific information you are looking for. If you were interested in buying strawberry jam at the store, it wouldn’t help to have a picture of a strawberry on the back of the label. However, you would be comfortable looking at the back to find the nutritional information.
Communication isn’t just about spitting out information. It’s about how it’s presented, through the written word, the visual realm, and even affected by the reader’s existing knowledge. This is why a news article is written differently from an academic paper, or a fiction novel. It all has its place. With this, I am eager to leave behind the academic structure (for now) in order to get back to what, for me, is a more enjoyable form. I plan to keep blogging, and am thankful for the many friends, family, and wider Internet community for reading it.
All the best,