The other day we research newbies heard the plaint of an almost-finished PhD candidate who had been instructed by his external examiner to reformat his entire thesis using Times New Roman font “because that’s what a thesis should be set in.”

Although I can see the point in discouraging difficult-to-read fonts from hefty documents, and I am as snooty about Comic Sans as the next person, the incident made me think about the relevance of a chunk of reconstituted cellulose splattered with carbon in this digital age.  Today, need a thesis even be necessarily communicated via such an old-fashioned medium such as ink on paper?

When I submitted my MA dissertation I had to courier three bound copies from Canada to England, which involved several days and not insignificant cost, while at the same time I emailed, in a few seconds, the same pdf file from which the copies had been printed to the department just in case the hard copy got lost. The cost of this latter process was, of course, negligible. But the same information could have been presented in other easily accessible and shareable ways, for example as a html file, easily searchable, with dynamic links to images and other resources that could have included video, and audio. I could have included 360 degree images of the objects about which I was writing.

But even this might not be ambitious enough. What about something that records the process of research from day one, and includes all the discussions, head scratchings, failures, successes, frustrations, triumphs, discoveries, mysteries, losses and findings that a research project involves? I get some of my best ideas/brainwaves,lightbulb moments whilst sitting in a noisy pub or during a hike. Those eureka moments are rarely recorded in published research. OK, an e-thesis might be difficult to “mark” in the traditional manner of course, but why should assessing something that has absorbed three years or so of someone’s life and which we hope will contribute to and enhance human knowledge, be easy?

In addition, something as potentially dynamic as a digital thesis might also be accessed, read and used by many more people than the handful (if you are lucky) who will glance at the bound copy mouldering in the university archive.

Hmmm, Plantagenet Cherokee sounds like a fun typeface!