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Progress – but not thanks to technology!


A fortnight ago I wrote of a new sense of direction with my thesis writing. That has continued.

On a practical level, the buckets have been moved around, some have had their contents split into smaller buckets and some buckets have had their contents mixed in the same container. That represents more than just moving jigsaw pieces. It has led me into thinking more deeply about what it is I am saying and, perhaps more importantly, how I am saying it. I am also a lot happier about my theoretical positioning. For months now I have been trying to get my head around the various theoretical standpoints open to me, half the time not understanding them and the the rest of the time not seeing how they applied to me either. Through thinking about how to organise the various material in my thesis, I have recognised that I am not coming from a single theoretical standpoint – or if I am, I don’t know what it is and at the moment it is fairly irrelevant. What I am doing is embracing a systems approach. It always was there in the small print of one of the chapters, but I’ve now realised it is what is holding the whole together.

A systems approach does not only permit, but insists on looking at things from many different viewpoints or perspectives. It may involve soaring high over the system and taking an overview – looking at the pieces and how they connect – or it may involve getting into the nitty gritty of bits of the system and how they work in the day-to-day. It may involve looking at the roles of the different stakeholders in the system and how they function together and separately. It may involve acknowledging the differences between formal and informal power structures – the importance of the person with the key to the stationery cupboard…

Bit by bit I am making sense of the story I am telling and seeing more and more connections. I am having to be far more organised than I have ever been about noting the insights as they occur – some will find their way into my thesis and others will no doubt be useful in other contexts. I am beginning to write and edit and review and understand and write some more. There is a subtle shift which means I’m engaging with my work in a new way.

So far so good! But why oh why is the technology, which should operating transparently in the background, so difficult to tame? Three times in the last fortnight, I have spent time sorting out broken references. The first time happened when splitting the whole into its constituent parts. Everything seemed to be OK, and then I noticed some of my references were simply not right – they had somehow moved down the document, all still in the correct order but in the wrong places. Then, last weekend, editing a shorter document and noticing again references were not where they belonged. An hour spent cutting and pasting unformatted references sorted that! Then yesterday, a carefully crafted paragraph half-way through the document, and moved on to make further edits, forgetting to hit the save button first. As I made the next edits, a sudden awareness that the reference I was editing had disappeared to be replaced by the page number I was inserting – and then adding insult to injury, it replaced the following reference and all the subsequent references shifted too. This is specialist software provided by large companies and supposedly designed for the kind of task I am engaged in. Why on earth doesn’t it do what it says on the tin? There is more than enough to think about without having to worry about whether my document has edited itself!

So we win some, we lose some. If only the technology worked as it should, I would be a very happy bunny at the moment!



  1. ailsa says:

    You have my heartfelt sympathy. I hae been here too.
    Never really got to the bottom of it.
    I blamed a long document (the entire thesis) so i split it into chapters.
    I also heard that having comments turned on caused this, so i no longer use comments on docs, my supervisor now writes in the document in a coloured font.
    I wondered if i had hit the wrong button in EN when inserting refs…
    there’s a pattern here. I blame myself for techy failure.
    I posted on the software website.
    None of this left me more knowledgeable about the cause.

    I blogged on this http://amusingspace.blogspot.com/2010/08/lived-exerience-of-actor-network-in-phd.html

    I am wiser now. Keep backups of the thesis.
    The EN library requires meticulous attention to the propriety software instructions regarding zipping before duplicating.

    And when i finish I will start checking out alternatives.

  2. lizit says:

    Strangely there is something perversely reassuring about knowing I am not the only person experiencing these issues. Like you, I have broken the document up into sections for safety! And I’ve switched off all automatic features in the EN application. It’s such a pain having to spend time making software work when surely we are doing exactly the kind of work it is meant to be designed to do! I suspect that the fault actually lies in the cite as you write plug in and I’m not sure if that is actually an EN product.

    Got lots of backups and copies of everything – just have to keep sane!

    And yes, I’ll be checking out the options post thesis too.

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