Better Words

Being clear matters. Words help shape how we see and feel about things. Better words can help someone else understand what we mean, and can help us see things differently.

For example, in the last year I changed how I described one of the points in my viva prep session. I would talk about some of the help candidates could get from their supervisors after submission.

Previously I had said something about “…getting feedback after submission, not to resolve problems, but more feedback so that you can see what your supervisors think about the whole thesis and PhD journey, what their take is…” and so on.

I would see candidates understand eventually, but also see it took a while for people to get it. The notion of “feedback” was complicated; when someone hears feedback they expect that they would then have to make changes, but that’s not possible after submission.

The message was getting through, but it wasn’t as good as it could be – it wasn’t as clear as it needed to be.

After a few months’ reflection I changed my message. I now tell candidates they can help themselves by getting their supervisor to “…share their perspective on your work; what strengths do they see? How might someone do things differently?” And I use these words deliberately to emphasise that it is just seeking opinions rather than judgements, perspectives rather than feedback.

Over to you! What words could you use to better explain your research? How could you better describe how you feel about your viva? How could you help others understand your thesis contribution?

Reflect and think about the words you choose to use. How could you make them better?