Dissertations and the Quest for Boredom


I don’t really know why dissertations are so soo sooo boring. It seems to me that most dissertations (I have read enough to have an opinion… but not enough to be an expert) fit into one of two categories:

A.  Take an interesting topic and make it boring.

B.  Take a boring topic and make it intolerable.

I am not convinced that it has to be that way. “Boring” is created… it doesn’t just happen. The common format of dissertations as well as the style does often promote this quality known as boring. After all, books that have to survive and thrive based on their ability to attract interest NEVER utilize the styles and structures of classic dissertations.

It is argued that the structure demonstrates academic competence and rigor. It is a hurdle that must be overcome. It is not about the researcher… it is about the academic institution. Unique creativity is not the point.

But, maybe it should be the point. A couple of decades ago I took a class in college called “Modernist Literature.” I liked writings of Vladimir Nabokov. The rest was pretty unreadable. But I remember reading an article from a Modernist author who noted her difficulty (with some level of humor) in writing narrative. The work in becoming a modernist writer appeared to negate the ability to write narratively. But which is the true causation? Did some people write modernist literature and so forgot how to write narratively? Or did som lack the ability to tell a story, so they become modernist writers? Maybe boring writers write dissertations and then require dissertations to be structured in the same boring way. It’s a bit of a chicken and the egg quest.

But there are exceptions. Some schools expect the output of their doctoral research to be publishable. To me this is a welcome change. I am not seeking research to be become simple and sloppy. Rather, it would be nice to see good research with good creativity. After all, good research would be good to be known.

My Master’s Thesis, The Effect of Temperature and Physical Aging on Glass-Reinforced Polymer Matrix Pultruded Composites, was BORING. Yet it had some findings that could be quite interesting… even useful, to those who work with GRPs. But we will never know… because it is too boring to read. I can’t even talk myself into reading it.

My Doctoral Dissertation, Strategic Use of Medical Mission Events in Long-term Local Church Outreach: A Consultant-style Framework for Medical Mission Practitioners in the Ilocos Region, Philippines, is also boring. But its findings are even more potentially beneficiai (for those in church or missions work). But, again, I couldn’t talk myself into reading it, and could hardly ask anyone else to. For this one, I did rewrite it into a form that could be potentially read by others. I was too lazy to go through the entire process to the point where it is truly publishable. However, I gutted it and rewrote it to the point that it could be put up on http://www.scribd.com for those who might want to peruse it. I also made various blogposts and journal-style articles from it. But it is kind of a shame that one has to.

Every now and then an interesting dissertation comes along where the boredom was not injected into it. I am teaching a class on Church Growth and Church Multiplication at seminary here in the Philippines. One of my main resources is a dissertation.  It is “Post-McGavran Church Growth: Divergent Streams of Development” by James D. Tucker, Jr. Actually, I don’t the writer. But I was given a copy of the dissertation by my Missions Professor a few years ago. Despite the less than inspiring title, I find it both interesting and readable. It takes the highly complicated field of church growth and develops a model to describe its growth and changes in an understandable way. I found it quite useful to both understand the church growth movement, and to teach others.

It looks at the history of the church growth movement, and then into various “schools.” In this case the writer describes five major currents at the time of writing as:

  • Third Wave Church Growth Movement
  • McGavran Church Growth with American Focus
  • American Popular Church Growth
  • McGavran Church Growth with a Global Focus
  • American Neoorthodox Church Growth

Obviously, to make it more publishable, it would be nice to have more interesting titles for the groups, and to have images. I also liked how my former professor, Dr. Dan Russell (now a professor with Liberty University online), took that information and put it  into a form that is more “organic” for students to understand and remember. Still, it took a complicated topic and made it more clear.

That is something that any dissertation SHOULD do. I find it a shame that so much sloppy stuff is well-developed for regular readers, while good quality work has not been made accessible. There is something seriously wrong with this.

 

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