I have been reflecting on some of the issues raised in my A road not taken post.

In particular, I have been thinking about a comment left by Kate Bowles. She brought desire paths to my attention. Kate observes that the essence of a successful desire path

is that it represents shared decision-making between separate users who don’t formally cooperate. So a desire path is both a coherent expression of collective effort, and completely unplanned — in fact, it’s the opposite of planning. Simply, each one puts her or his foot where it feels most sensible, and the result is a useful informal path that’s sensitive to gradient, destination, weather, terrain, and built through unspoken collaboration among strangers.

I noticed that Scott Berkun had written about desire paths too. I liked his apocryphal story about a campus that did not put any paths in until after the first year. ‘They looked to see the paths the students had made, and put paths in the second year.’

I wondered if Kate would concur with Scott that ‘The natural behavior among people shows you where the optimal path should be.’ I am hopeful that this is relevant t narrative too. Paths and lines change.

Today’s content creation links brought me further food for thought.

Julia Molinari has written a guest post about academic writing on Pat Thomson’s Patter blog. I noticed that Julia observed that we need ‘an Academic Writing pedagogy that critically examines established conventions by looking at the extent to which these may be preventing new knowledge and voices from emerging’. I liked her discussion of holism and her conclusion that the holistic nature of academic writing ‘involves our (multiple) identities and our physical and psychological beings (from finding a voice and having something to say to looking after our writing body)’.

After concluding reading Julia’s post, I was delighted to find Pat’s account of the writing process for her Studies in Higher Education paper with Inger Mewburn. I think this is an excellent example of the transparency of academic writing in a changing digital domain. Pat is able to link to an an Open Access Copy of her paper.

Daniel Miller provides an interesting insight into when some writing goes viral. In his introduction to his post, he observes

For a professional academic the foundation of reputation must be scholarship and integrity. Academic studies are interpretations, and even what our informants tell us are their interpretations, and may not equate with the underlying reasons for their actions. Nevertheless, we can and should strive for our writing to be well informed, and authoritative as the basis for original insights.

Daniel’s post follows up on the response to his ‘The Fall of Facebook‘ (24 November, 2013). He writes of that post

I don’t think anyone reading my original blog post would be misinformed. I don’t ever suggest that Facebook is doomed. I state clearly that Facebook is expanding in other field-sites and age groups and that these same teens retain Facebook for family purposes. My data overwhelmingly made the case for this loss of cool. The phrase ‘dead and buried’ unambiguously only refers to the way Facebook is never going to be cool again for this age group.

My reading of Daniel’s reflection underscores for me the importance of primary source data. I am convinced that it is possible to do this in a blog format … particularly if the source data are qualitative. I liked the opportunity Daniel has identified for his work

our field method is participant observation. So being a participant in ‘going viral’ is quite a useful experience. This response has of necessity been immediate, but I will reflect on it over the longer term and hopefully will learn some useful lessons about the nature of viral spread. Going viral just became part of what we study.

I think that the use of social media transforms the tempo of discussion and gives formative structure to the research.


Which brings me to a delightful way to share the ‘bottom line’ of research activity. I am grateful to Laura Pasquini for a link to a Slate post about students’ thesis topics. Will Oremus suggests

Even the most ardent academic must concede that there’s something darkly funny about devoting years of one’s life to a thesis question so abstruse that no one else had ever cared enough to ask it—and then answering it at such great length that few will ever care to read it.

Will introduced me to Lol My Thesis … summing up years of work in one sentence. A recent addition to the site gave an insight into the formative nature of research.

Sometimes the center of the Galaxy creates a burst of radiation that looks like positron-annihilation gamma-rays bounced backwards off something (addendum from my postdoc years: it doesn’t).

This from a Chemical Engineering student at the University of Minnesota gave me great hope

Einstein left lots of low-hanging fruit. I picked some.

Lol My Thesis is a Tumblr site founded in early December by Angie F., a senior at Harvard College. She indicates that the blog was

Initially intended as a means of procrastination from my own thesis, this blog has documented some of the stress, hilarity, and chaos associated with undergraduate (and some post-graduate) theses.

It will be fascinating to see how Angie shares her research in Human Development and Regeneration Biology.

I hope she continues to explore the desire paths that were the prompt for this post.

Photo Credits

The parsnip field home (Steve, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Discovering desire lines: How to break down barriers and let paths emerge (opensource.com, CC BY-SA 2.0)

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