This week’s post comes from third-year PhD student Lina Iordanaki. Her research areas include picturebooks, graphic novels, literacy and poetry for children. For her PhD thesis, she is investigating children’s responses to wordless picturebooks.
In the world of humanities research, (almost) everything is about words. Words you write, you delete, you change, you repeat, you quote, you correct, you count, you present. (Words that rhyme, too, but that may be is too entertaining for your thesis).
In this parallel world, you forget about pounds, metres, seconds and kilos. The important unit of measurement of your work is words and their multiples, i.e. sentences, paragraphs, sections and chapters. This type of measurement haunts you in your everyday life, in much simpler transactions. You need at least 5 words to greet someone and comment on the nice weather. You definitely use a few more if you want to complain about a rainy/cloudy/foggy/stormy ̶ aka a typically British ̶ day.
If you are an academic writer, you surely know that a conference abstract is about 200-300 words, a short biography takes around 100, while two typed pages are approximately 1000 words (times new roman, size 12, single line spacing). You also know that “although” can be expanded to “even though”, “despite” can be tripled to “in spite of” and “it seems” can be multiplied to “it can be argued”. This can be helpful for all those days of lost inspiration when your words occupy less than one page. For all those moments when you don’t need to bother Microsoft Word, because you yourself can count all your words one by one, like the sheep you were counting when you were young before you went to sleep. To be honest, sometimes it is easier to fall asleep with words, especially when it feels like they jump around on the page, as opposed to the sheep, which usually chew their grass happily, without moving a lot.Also, words can be very powerful. What a true cliché this is! For instance, this seemingly insignificant “might” can make such a difference. It changes you from the most powerful researcher who knows everything about a field to someone who still knows a lot, but okay, things change, and who wants to be exposed. This “might” can be both a pain and a saviour. What about “must”? Oh no, you must avoid it!! “Must” is too strong for our research community, and only a very few privileged and famous researchers are granted the ability to use it.
And suddenly, after much work and effort, you realise that you did it. You wrote all your great, thought-provoking words! Good job! You feel like the king of the world.
But wait a minute…They exceed the word limit. What will you do now? How will you delete some of your brilliant words when you already spent so much time writing them? This is so heart-breaking indeed. But you know that “even though” can be halved to “although” and “in spite of” can be decreased to “despite”…
In any case, things are not that bad. In our world of academia, word counting is important. However, content counts more, and you as a skillful researcher can count on both! It is amazing what you can do with just 26 letters!