Monday, 4 June 2012

How many Tweets does it take to make a thesis?

Most of my life at the moment consists of writing my thesis, which is fine. I am quite envious of people who can focus on one task for hours on end, but that is rarely me so my writing tends to be quite sporadic. I frequently jump between chapters and keep telling myself that this allows me to get a better feeling for the thesis as a whole.

All other written output has suffered, but it won't be forever. I am still semi-engaged with that thing that has become an escape route for batches of 140 characters that are unlikely to ever become something more meaningful. Twitter.

But how far would all my Tweets get me in terms of a thesis?  

I have produced 1,350 Tweets over the last 2 years. Assuming they were all 140 characters long, this would equate to 1350*140 = 189,000 characters. Lets say the average word length is around 5 characters so 189000/5 = 37,800 words. Not bad. To find out a bit more about your own tweets, try tweetstats.com.

Unfortunately, there are several problems with this estimate. For a start, a Tweet doesn't always contain 140 characters. The 140 character limit includes spaces and 20% of my Tweets are  either re-Tweets or links to other pages. The vast majority also have little to do with my area of research. 

In other words, the total (useful) word count is likely to be considerably less than 37,800.

Taking a more conservative estimate of around 15,000 words, this would still make a nice dent in my thesis, but assuming a doctoral thesis is somewhere between 70 and 90 thousand words, I would need to have at least 4000 original Tweets to get anywhere near that target. 

Maybe chronic Twitter users should think about that. You might be able to get a book (or at least a good idea) out of your Twitter time line!

What I need to do now is write a program that will take a Twitter timeline, automatically conduct a thematic analysis and then produce an outline of a thesis based on those findings. Anyone interested in helping out?




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