Why people won’t read your thesis

I am in the final stages of finishing my masters thesis under the supervision of Ron Baecker. Together, over the course of nearly two years, Ron and I, with the help of many others have created Friend Forecaster, a context-aware system designed to help you remember people’s names. I am very proud, relieved and excited to be finished my masters, however, as I sit here and finish the last two or three pages I can’t help but wonder who will ever read it.

I have come to the conclusion that people will read it, in fact, I have received feedback from a few people about the Work in Progress that we submitted the CHI 09 which is awesome, but I know that a lot of people won’t read it and I think I know why.

Research doesn’t make itself accessible to a broader audience nor does it care to.

I don’t understand why this is. The whole idea is to spread around knowledge, get people thinking and hopefully motivate them to help you, confirm your finding, prove you wrong or just use it as a starting point for a great discussion. Either way, primary literature doesn’t do this very well. Especially not a Masters thesis. I don’t know how mine stacks up to other’s but it’s weighing in at around 95 pages without appendices… not what I would call afternoon reading. Also, it’s written in a style that I do not enjoying writing in… it’s technical not personal, however my research is both technical and personal. I feel as though we are doing a disservice to the world by making research so dry and robotic. I feel that research should be written conversationally as well as well as technically, by the author, from the source.

Ron laughed when I handed in my first draft several months ago as it was very casual and not very scientific to be nice. In fact, Ron had some choice words about my writing style, which I actually took as a compliment since my intention is not to continue to write papers that only 1% of the population can learn from. Beleive me, I don’t want you to read my work, or even care about it because it might be for you, however, I am sure that there does exist research out there that would inspire you. That would stir up feelings of passion, motivation and desire to learn more. This is what research should be.

Many well established writers and scientific authors totally disagree and for good reason. Primary literature needs to be scientific and unambiguous so that results and claims can be judges objectively and repeated to be confirmed or refuted. This is the scientific machine at its results speak for themselves! Academic purists will argue that its the job of journalists, secondary literature authors, the media even bloggers to be the social filter that good research passes through. This will leave the academics more time to write papers and less time worrying about telling a good story.

Here’s what I propose.

Each academic paper, thesis, dissertation etc. should be written in two parts: One formal and one informal. The formal part will be exactly what it is today: a carefully crafted, concise collection of words. The informal piece should be any form of creative writing. Something inspirational, funny, down to earth or whatever suits your needs. I have been trying to sum up my thesis into a Limerick or Haiku poem… so far I haven’t done it, but I will and those words might be more lasting than my 95 page thesis.

There is a time and place for scientific writing, however, the more casual the words are, the more human the intention. Humanity and humility are powerful literary devices and could do a world of good for the colder academic community.

Thank you,