You Can Summarize Your Thesis in a Tweet, but Should You?

Thesis ResearchCall it the ultimate exercise in brevity. Or the digital equivalent of an academic elevator pitch.

Just don’t call it simple.

Students across the world are using the Twitter hashtag #tweetyourthesis to shrink their academic thesis work down to single 140-character posts. The concept isn’t new: Boston University held a #BUthesis contest in April 2010, and #TweCon, a Twitter conference, has happened twice. But this week, the thesis-shrinking idea went viral and #tweetyourthesis sparked a debate among academics on Twitter about the social network’s potential for sharpening an idea.

Susan Greenberg, a senior lecturer in English and creative writing at the University of Roehampton, in London, first used the #tweetyourthesis hashtag on Wednesday. She said the idea was hatched over dinner with some research students from University College London, where she is a part-time doctoral student in the department of information studies. She boiled down her own work, tentatively titled “Editing and Meaning,” into the following tongue-in-cheek tweet: “Editors are god, except when they are all sacked.” She wrote that her thesis explored the question, “How do we assess invisible work like editing?”

Before anyone else could chime in with their own miniaturized thesis topics, users began asking the question that helped propel #tweetyourthesis worldwide: What does it mean if a student can condense an idea for such a long project into 140 characters?

“If u can’t summarise ur research in a tweet u need to do a lot more work on ur question,” wrote Claire Warwick, a professor of digital humanities and head of the department of information studies at University College London.

@david_colqhoun cautioned that such a rule might not apply to long-winded science topics, and @shanemuk was even more critical: “If you CAN summarise your research in a tweet, you’re not working hard enough or on important qs!” he wrote.

@ernestopriego suggested the thesis-shrinking exercise could be useful in the real world: “Think of #tweetyourthesis thus: funder/head of school/publisher in the elevator with you. You have one minute. How do you pitch your work?” he asked.

For her part, Ms. Greenberg said she appreciates the emerging debate, and thinks there are skills to be gained from the discipline of having to communicate quickly. She added that Twitter’s social nature injects a little humor into the grueling slog that some thesis writers experience.

“Writing a thesis can be a very lonely activity, so it can be nice to have an area of sharing,” she said.

And though #tweetyourthesis has grown quickly since users around the world began sharing it, Ms. Greenberg noted with a laugh that something familiar has kept her from tracking its every move.

“I wasn’t monitoring this minute-by-minute, because I was busy working on my thesis,” she said.

Herewith, a sample of #tweetyourthesis topics:

What do you think of #tweetyourthesis? Let us know in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by bjornmensbear]

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