This is a guest post from Rod Pitcher, a PhD student in Education at The Centre for Higher Education, Learning and Teaching at the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia. The focus of his study is the metaphors that doctoral students use when describing their research and other matters related to their studies. In this post he shares a particularly useful metaphor…
Writing a thesis is like weaving on a loom. The balls of wool and other material available are the data gathered from the literature, the research and thinking about the topic. The finished material is the thesis. The mechanics of weaving the material are like the processes of putting the thesis together.
The raw materials
The weaver gathers together the raw materials very carefully so that they will fit in with the required overall appearance of the finished cloth. The materials must blend together to produce the final effect required. Putting in a wrong piece of material, just because it is available, may ruin the whole effect. Every piece must be carefully considered to make sure that it fits.
So too the material that goes into the thesis must be considered properly for its proper fit and meaning. Putting in extraneous material where it doesn’t fit will ruin the functioning of the whole thesis. Care must be taken that the parts will fit together properly and complement each other.
Putting it together
Each piece of raw material must be fed into the loom at the right time and place. Each piece will have a place where it fits and many, many places where it doesn’t. Deciding which is the right place is one of the demands of constructing the finished material. If the material is to be properly woven and become aesthetically pleasing this must be done for every bit of material and at every step of the weaving. Anything else will produce a mish-mash of conflicting colours and textures that will bewilder and confuse the eye and mind of the beholder.
So too care must be taken that the right data is entered into the thesis at the right place and time. Putting the discussion of the theory where the conclusions should go will ruin it completely. The data must fit and flow with the progression of the thesis as a story.
Completing the finished cloth
Even when all the raw materials have been fed into the finished cloth the job is not finished. The ends of the warp threads must be tied off, so that the cloth does not fall to pieces when it is taken off the loom. Any loose ends of threads have to be tidied up so that the finished cloth has a smooth appearance. Any loose ends must be either removed or sewn into the rest of the material. The final tidying up is as important as any other stage in weaving the finished cloth because it will affect its appearance and durability.
So too, the thesis must be tidied up to produce the final draft. A loose end, if allowed to flutter uncontrolled might break the whole of the thesis. The beginning and end must be tied together properly to produce the proper appearance and continuity in its story.
The final cutting
Even when the finished material is taken off the loom the work is not finished. The cloth needs to be cut for its final purpose. Without the cutting the cloth will be but an unfinished product. When the cloth is cut to make whatever is required it will then fulfil its true and final purpose.
So too the initial drafts of the thesis will require cutting and pasting and tidying up to produce the final draft that goes to the examiners. They will want to see a thesis that is properly completed.
The work only finishes when the final, examiners’ revisions are done and the thesis is properly bound and placed on the library shelf for all to admire and read. Only then can the thesis writer relax and claim that the work is finished. As a reward s/he will then have the hard-earned title of Doctor.
So what do you think of this metaphor? Does it help you think about the materials that will go into your thesis and how to weave it? If the metaphor doesn’t work for you, what might be a better one?