This post is in the Rationale category

The submitted presentation is in a form that reflects my own inner experience as directly as possible, within the constraints of the University’s submission guidelines.

The document was developed via a number of processes, some traditional, others less so. Much of the content started life in one of two ways; blogs and narratives, or presentation and lecture notes. The process of blogging, or journaling directly in a web based format began early in the research process. It became clear that the ability to include images and music alongside the text added significantly to the generation and expression of meaning directly from the writer’s perspective. These blogs were variously open to public view, available to a select few, or completely private. Many of these blog entries have evolved to become the evocative data of this document, as they provided raw and timely insight into events, interactions and the formulation of ideas and occasionally conclusions. They are a window into mental process, and provide both precursor to and comment upon more considered analytical writing, which itself frequently began as notes for presentations, lectures or short articles. It is my habit to work in a presentation package such as MS Powerpoint or Apple Keynote, creating point form or graphical slides with minimal notes, and then writing up the notes at a later date, often shuffling slides and ideas to generate a stronger “flow”. I rarely write directly into a word processor.

The document was compiled and developed using a variety of tools, Scrivener, and WordPress among them. Both these tools have allowed the document to be assembled in a structure that is much more like the way I think than a linear word-processor would allow, by facilitating the creation of smaller documents with virtual connections between them, often in one-to-many and many-to-many relationships.  I have always been something of a fan of the footnote, but the hyperlink, with its ability to open a new window or define a new path, takes this concept much further. With multiple links in any given page, its traversal function becomes indeterminate (Aarseth, 1994) – the reader can go where they will – there is no single path. In this paradigm, the entire dissertation is composed as a set of posts in WordPress, an application that was originally conceived as a blogging platform. Posts are defined by Categories, which equate to chapters or sections, and given a suggested order of appearance in the Table of Contents via an artificial date mechanism. These can be read in that sequence via a next button at the end of each. However the primary strength of the medium is the use of cross-referenced in-text links and Related Posts.

Below the Table of Contents on each Post is a panel where I have defined Posts that shed particular light on the subject matter. For example, an analytical commentary on an evocative element, or a piece of music that illustrates the point, or an evocative reaction to or description of a research finding. This is an opportunity to provide a pervasive, almost Brechtian dialectic of commentary and “interruption” (Brecht & Willett, 1964, p. 55) that is entirely made available through my own mental linking. YARPP (Yet Another Related Posts Plugin).

This plugin acts by comparing the text of all the posts in the document and calculating a statistical value of relatedness. It then provides the top five posts for the reader to explore. Indeed new links and insights have been consistently drawn through the very process of assembly. An example of this is in the discussions on oxytocin, which I would not have considered important had the link not been drawn to my attention through the relationship building process in my writing method. This is perhaps an extension of the concepts of “writing as knowledge-constitution” (Galbraith, 1999) but is also reflective of autistic difficulties in the areas of executive function that concern prioritising and organising – my mind tends to jump around, gathering data and linking it in a structure that is web-like, with many-to-many relationships abounding.

One of the principle requirements of the University’s Doctoral process is that the dissertation be frozen at the time-point of submission and assessment and submitted on a hard format such as CD-Rom or memory stick. This has necessitated conversion of a dynamic, tag driven, content management system developed as a live web application to a static html document that is navigated by pre-defined relationships. The conversion has the effect of limiting the system’s ability to draw new relationships and removes the search and comment functions, but preserves the relationships that I believe to be of most significance and those that the YARPP plugin has defined at the point of the freeze. The immediacy that the hyperlink offers is retained and the reader is free to stray “off the path” and explore multiple lines of thought. For the functionality of the site in both its live and frozen version and the translation of my sometimes fanciful ideas into meaningful code that looks great on the screen, I am greatly indebted to Phil Tyrer, whose eye for workable design has made an enormous contribution.

The University also stipulates that the dissertation meet the requirements of the Australian Digital Thesis project, which only publishes PDF format documents, effectively excluding any work that includes time based media such as audio and video, and any kind of interactive format. In order to abide with this requirement, a document has been prepared introducing the dissertation, including a rationale for the use of a Web based format, and a link to the website.

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