Lots of people have asked me recently ‘How’s the PhD going?’ so I thought it was probably about time I wrote up its current status, and on a good day, when I am feeling positive about it.

I am more or less on track to submit by the end of the year, barring disaster. The difficulty is in judging how long it will take me to get from where I am now, to a document that is as good as it will get and submittable. I have 75,000 words, albeit in Morecombe & Wise format (all the right words, not necessarily in the right order). I’m not – at least I don’t think I am – precious about any particular sentence or paragraph, so chopping and changing and deleting isn’t going to cause me great angst, and I’m pretty good at ruthless criticism of my own style, grammar and sentence construction. I’ve got most of every chapter written, although I’m not quite sure about my introduction. I just don’t have a sense of how hard it will be to get from ‘nearly everything’ to ‘good enough,’ and at what point the perfectionism will kick in. My analogy to explain this is like wanting to fell several trees: a chainsaw would be good, but all I have is a blunt pen-knife and all I can do is chip away at the trunk and hope I’m attacking the right tree…

The things I know I have left to do include finishing the introduction, slicing my Findings into several readable chapters instead of its current death-by-sub-sub-sub-heading format, finishing the bits I have flagged up with Notes to Self, converting the references from placeholders to actual references, compiling the ever-growing appendices, adding in all the cross-references, re-reading it again to make sure the arguments and structure flow properly.

One advantage of doing a PhD part-time is that there is always a gap between writing sessions. This has two advantages. First, I’m a bit more distant from the text than if I spent weeks on end writing, re-reading and editing, so my ability to spot errors and act like I have ‘fresh eyes’ is heightened. Second, as a corollary to that, if I have a ‘bright idea,’ leave a note for myself about it – chances are I don’t think it’s necessary after all when I come back to it! So I probably save myself unnecessary re-writing for forgetting why I wanted to change things…

I’m going to be presenting some of the ideas and conclusions at the Christian New Media conference in October. Whilst I’ve enjoyed the process of researching and writing the thesis for its intellectual challenge, I think it would be a shame not to share some of the content in a way that would assist people to think about their websites and online use differently. So I am hoping to find some practical hints and topics to share.

On a bad day, of course, I feel like embarking on the project was the most ridiculous idea I have ever had. I feel unable to sentence together string properly, that no-one will be interested, that what I have found out is obvious, that the methodology was flawed, I’ve wasted five years of life and it’ll never be good enough to submit let alone for me to stand up to the rigours of a viva next year. And asking me ‘how is the PhD going?’ will result in tears or tantrums. However, I am led to believe that these bad days are entirely normal, and it will soon pass…

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