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Notes: Week 3: Structure

Reading discussion

Corn Maze, Pam Houston

  • Like two stories woven together
  • Brings personal baggage

Guidelines for an Adaptive Technology Working Group, Sara Hendren

  • Good reminder and manifesto for people that want to design things, especially for underserved populations, to be mindful about the way you go about it
  • Good thing to bookmark and reference every now and then

Exercise from Pam Houston: Glimmers

“Write down all of the things that have arrested your attention lately… Set them next to each other. See what happens.”

You are the connection point for all of your experiences.

In 7 minutes, write three glimmers:

  • Last 24 hours
  • Last 10 years
  • Anytime

Pam’s method makes you pay attention—a big part of being a designer. A lot of people call it mindfulness. Useful when blogging or talking about yourself.

Pam talks about just putting them in a file. You can use any of them later when you’re having trouble coming up with a scenario or finding the words to describe a situation or person. The vividness of your memory can be more powerful than making things up.

On structure

  • VIDEO: Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories
  • Stories don’t have to be super complicated to get people wrapped up in them and get your point across. What’s important is that things happen on a plot, at a time and place.

Other structures:

Three-act structure

Act I: Character, Conflict, Settings (context)
What is your thesis about, and why?
Act II: Rising of tension, Rising of conflict
How did you research, what worked, what didn’t?
Act III: Resolution, Climax
Your conclusion (and happy ending!)

  • Sequential order
  • Compare and contrast
  • Problem and solution
  • Cause and effect
  • Description or list
  • Manipulating time
  • Circular narrative (coming back to where you started)
  • Parallel or braided narratives
  • Collage
  • Observations and predictions
  • Scientific method: your hypothesis, how you’re going to test it, etc

Just like with story, your thesis can create suspense and show respect to the reader by not giving everything away.

“Clear writing is clear thinking.” - Michael Earl Craig

What is a thesis? (or WTF is a thesis?)

  • What can we as a group decide what a thesis could be?

Amsha: Something that you’re ready to commit to for a long period of time. (Like a relationship?)
Amsha: A project that you’re willing to dig into
Tyler: A culmination of your whole grad school experience. Wrap it all up with a perfect bow.
Ning: Like a research report that is directly useful to a group of users
Nour: A burning question that you’re trying to answer as best as you can

In class exercise

  • Look at past projects.
  • List out the elements. Find common threads.
  • Put an outline or a checklist together.

Your research data can be the bones of the skeleton for your thesis. You don’t have to explain a lot if you show the actual data (probably works best with quotes).

  • You just have to have one idea.
  • It doesn’t need to be the best idea.
  • It should be something you feel strongly about on a personal level.


What are some of the challenges that you face as a writer?

People assuming that my work is less important than any other work.
Writing is super subjective so you can (and will) tackle a topic that has been written about before and have a completely different perspective.
Sometimes the challenge of writing is just the fun of language and navigating people’s mindsets and interpretations.
Words don’t solve bigger problems. (organizational problems)

What is the purpose of thesis? I want to get a high level why when Liz designed this program, what was her goal for the thesis project?

I would encourage you to ask that question of yourself and to Liz directly.
My perspective on the thesis is it’s to get you a masters degree. It’s a hard question that you can’t stop thinking about and work hard to dig into, and that’s how you get a masters degree. Not just at SVA but everywhere. I personally hope that you find something that you could continue working on for longer than just next year.