Wordcount, structures and helping hands.

Yesterday I engaged in a very helpful discussion with Jason, a friend of mine from the Media Objects Lab. While our research areas are rather different, we have realized throughout the semester that there is still a great deal of constructive advice that can be shared between us – and this goes for any two researchers. You don’t necessarily need to be engaging in in-depth reading of each others work, but just talking about your research with one another helps. What areas are you succeeding in? What requires further attention?

I explained to Jason that I had a solid writing session yesterday morning in terms of word count – exceeding the usual amount of words I would commit to the page in the few hours that I studied for. However, I faced an issue.

Reading over my technological analysis of Queensryche’s 1988 concept album Operation: Mindcrime, I felt that I had covered all of the necessary points of my discussion, and the flow of my writing was pleasing – conforming to a good structure. This was not the problem though. The problem was that in my plan, the section I had dedicated to “Operation: Mindcrime as a reflection of technological context within the music industry of the late 1980s” was supposed to go for 500 words. It had taken me over 2000 to cover the territory.

I mentioned this to our program director, Adrian, in the lab class. Reassuringly, it is the kind of ‘problem’ that he doesn’t really see as a problem.. Obviously, it is better to have many words to choose from and be able to cut them down, rather than be struggling to find them as the submission date draws near.

However, I think the reason that I view this as a problem is that there is such a VAST difference between the desired word count and the actual word count – yet I cannot look at the current work that lies before me at this stage, and see how the same message can be accurately conveyed in one quarter of the word length. It led me to consider whether the topics I have been looking to cover in my thesis are too broad to explore, given that I have a limit of 12,000 words (or thereabouts) with which to contain my whole thesis.

Wayne Booth’s book The Craft of Research drives the point that meeting such guidelines requires a very good grasp of the key concepts to be addressed (and also what will not be addressed), and the ability to express the findings of your research on these concepts succinctly. While I have made a structural plan detailing how many words can realistically be allocated to each chapter (featuring target word lengths for each section to keep me on track) I have found that so far, the key threads of my arguments and my most insightful observations only start to arise after researching and writing out my chapters in extended form, so the plan has often been ignored…

Maybe the best short works start out as extended pieces? Maybe I can apply two different streams of thought (technological and socio-cultural contexts) across four concept album case studies in 12000 words? I am hoping that even if my draft is well over the word limit – the most convincing and integral parts of my work will stand out as i read it back, and allow me to look at the work objectively and weed out the bad from the good. I guess this can be re-explored in a juicy blog post once everything has been properly written out. (I still have a lot of drafting to do)

Jason has faced similar problems with word counts and whether or not his ideas are too extensive to cover within his thesis. His work is grounded in the relationship between cinema and philosophy. His main concern has been an imbalance of how much background to provide about Heidegger in comparison to Deleuze, as he intends to use both figures as reference points throughout his piece. Whereas an average plan would naturally coerce one to allocate the same wordcount about each figure, offering background information and their theories and ideas, sometimes one theory supports the points you are trying to make more than the other: this has been the case with Jason, and is also the case with me (I seem to have an abundance to say about Jethro Tull and Queensryche at the moment, and it is raising concerns over how much I can afford to say about Radiohead and also Coheed and Cambria).

Perhaps the option of returning to a modified version of my original proposal: which involved blending the technological and socio-cultural discussions of each of my four case studies together, is one to consider? However, since so much of my writing thus far has been concerned with the technological contexts of these four great concept albums I am studying, and so little has actually articulated their socio-cultural importance: it is hard to judge whether one stream of thought is worth emphasising more than the other.

Jason mentioned that having a separate chapter for Technological contexts and another for Socio-cultural contexts will naturally require more words. This is certainly true, as the two chapters will need to be treated somewhat like separate essays, with their own introductions and contextualising information, and then linking paragraphs and re-introductory sentences to integrate each of the case studies. This approach, on the other hand, is likely to make sense to the reader and allows for ideas to develop gradually in the lead up to the big conclusion. Blending them together is also a good idea, as it may make the links between technology and social context more clear having them ‘in the same world’. I need to be thinking about which approach seems to be the most suitable, both for my own writing experience and for the potential audience that will read my work.

I feel that the only way to find out is to keep doing what i am doing – writing it out and leaving nothing out of the picture. Jason seems to be adopting the same approach, so we are in it together! The following line has been thrown around a lot this year, and while it frightens me, i do hope it is true.. “It all comes out in the editing”.

Maybe i need some music therapy.. wait on, songs typically do not go for long enough to ease the frustration! A HA! I have a solution……

Ha det bra!



About simonwoodhonours

Simon Wood (Honours in Media and Communication) is an RMIT student whose specialist discipline is in the 'contemporary music industry'. For his honours study in 2013, Simon will be researching the ‘concept album’, and its significance within the contemporary music industry.
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