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Category: PhD

Les Session, 5th of February 2018

I went to see Les with two questions based on my previous blog post: Can this be a PhD and if so, can we make a plan? The answers were yes provided I do a lot of work. Excellent.

The recording with Les was started mid-sentence since he is telling me what his interpretation of my project and I didn’t want to interrupt him since I think it’s spot on:


Also met with Chris while down there and had some interesting conversation.

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The Value of Different Views of Text (PhD outline for Les)

THIS IS NOT MY 9 MONTH REPORT, it is just a brief outline of my plan, in order to get feedback from my advisors as to whether this is what my 9 month and PhD can be about, and if so, to get help to organise a plan. 

The Value of Different Views of Text 

My PhD research concerns the value of different views of text and the cost/benefit of switching between the views, with the premise that effective switching allows the user to practically access multiple views with unique characteristics will can contribute to a more thorough understanding of the ‘symbol space’ that the views present, whereas slow or cognitively heavy switching negates the benefits of alternative views: 

Authoring a Document 

Authoring is the act of structuring knowledge into a document.  

The knowledge itself is not what the author interacts with – the author interacts with symbols – in the form of conceptual units present in spoken, and ultimately (where the textual document is concerned); written words. These symbols are not transcribed from the author’s mind into the document in a single act when constructing anything but the most basic of notes, they are written and moved about. The conceptual space they are moved around in is then a symbol space, the central concept for which my thesis that different visual presentations of can benefit or be hindered by different visual interactions.  

1) Research  

Authoring an academic document starts with literature review research which produces knowledge artefact entities, most of  which are stored in the form of symbols (text, images) such as notes, annotations, data, and listings of useful sources to cite, media which can be converted into symbols (speech to text), or media which can be referred to from symbols (map coordinates). 

The author will also likely do first hadn’t research which results in first-hand research which is also stored primarily as symbols. 

2) Making Notes 

Alongside the research the author is also jotting down thoughts – also as symbols. 

3) Organising And Structuring The Symbol Space 

The next step is organising the explicit symbols (jotted down thoughts, notes, annotations, sources, data key terms or glossary terms as well as other media). 

This can be done in many ways, including the word processing document directly, with pen on a large piece of paper, on small Post-Its® on a board or with a digital concept map. Currently a digital concept map is not part of the same piece of software which performs the word processing function and as such the switch is on the order of an import-export mechanic.  

Concept Mapping 

The process of tying together concepts for the author to understand the material and communicate it for the benefit of the reader can include clustering/grouping, labelling and connecting the symbols.  

The visual representation means something to the author, both the proximity of the symbols; their groupings, linear connections, associations, framings and the appearance of the individual symbols; texture (font, size, colour etc.). 

The resulting document receives structure linearly, indicated through the spine of the headings/outline as well as with multiple internal and external, explicit and implicit connections/links. 

4) Copy Editing  

The document is then edited into a coherent form which is published to become literature for review for others. 

Value of A Concept Map Symbol View… 

Our language is rife with references to references to the value having a different representation of something, with phrases such as getting a better perspective, seeing another angle, see what’s going on, having an overview, oversight, being someone with a vision, and the importance of interaction, of getting to grips with the problem and having a grasp of the situation.  

… V.S. The Need for a Linear Argument Symbol View 

While there is clear value in rich views of our information while working with it, conversely we talk about the need to spell our an argument and present logically – in many ways the production of an academic argument is linearisation.  

Concept Map x Linear 

The two modes give us an impression of how deep it goes in our evolution to be able to examine something we don’t understand in different ways, with freedom to change our view at will, but to present our argument cleanly in a linear manner. 

This basic switch between non-linearity and linearity represents a profound change in mental stance and as such deserves deeper examination.  

I therefore argue that the development of a richly dynamic concept map space in a word processor can employ more of the human brain (by using our powerful visual processing abilities to complement our prefrontal cortex where we do higher level thinking),  

I therefore propose that my research topic question should be to look into how each view; linear and non-linear, can provide more intellectual value to the user when used in combination, in order to increase the users value of both. 

The Research Question  

What views are optimal for organising and structuring the symbol space, which for interaction with the linear argument and how can switching between the views be done at the smallest cognitive cost? 


My plan is to compare views of the same document, as frames, providing me with the opportunity to perform practical investigation into how editing behaviours might evolve, or be hindered by the various views. 

I will then compare various methods of switching between the views in a macOS environment to measure which method causes the smallest possible cognitive load. 

First though, I will improve my 9 month report and integrate this perspective and plan.  


To better understand the aspects of this symbol space I have started a glossary for symbol space terms here: 

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Frode Hegland – 9 month report notes David Millard

Frode Hegland – 9 month report notes 

12/1/18 – David Millard 



The research is in an interesting and important area, but the objective is not well defined in the document, and the plan is therefore a bit vague. There are also problems around the analysis of the literature. 

These will all need to be thoroughly addressed in the next transfer document. For now I would like a new version of the document with a rewritten Future work section (Plan and timeline that does the following): 

– clearly articulates the research objective (as distinct from the development or long term objectives) 

– describes a plan of future work (to the transfer viva stage) and describes how this will be accomplished. This should be fairly detailed, with specific methods identified and timelines presented. 

– describes the longer term goals (to the final thesis) and how it is imagined that these will be met. This need not be as detailed. 

– list the specific contributions that you intend to make in the final thesis (assuming that this plan works out). 

We did not have time to address this in the viva, but I would also like you to reformat your references, so that at minimum they contain: author, date, title, publisher; as at present many are missing some of this information. 

My expectation is that this should take no more than 6 weeks.  


Below are the notes for the Viva: 

Big Issues 

* Writing style (too personal) 

* Vagueness about the advantages that you wish to foreground 

* Lack of definition of key terms (e.g. spatial hypertext) 

* Analysis of existing systems is not systematic 

* Confusion of literature review and design/analysis for your own project 

* Mixed messages around the focus of your PhD, and to broad research questions 

* Lack of a research plan to answer those questions 

Comments on Document (for information only): 

– non standard format (worth getting right for mini-thesis). Especially difficult to read without numbered sections 

– the abstract reads to much like an account of work done, rather than a properly constructed abstract.  If it helps follow the structure: 

1) What is the problem? 

2) Why does it matter? 

3) What have you done about it? 

4) What did you find out? 

5) What does this tell you about the problem? 

for a report like this you should also add ‘and what do you propose to do next’ to 5 

– page 4, what is the relationship between the Liquid View project and your PhD project? Are they the same, or is one a subset of the other? 

– page 4, your definition of Human-extended machine cognition reads more like a Social Machine than the traditional view of augmentation (i.e. Engelbart) 

– page 4, “I believe that the history of text has not been written and the future of text has only just started, and the potential of interactive text lies largely untapped.” Why do you believe this, what evidence do you have for such a big statement? 

– page 4, its not clear what the link is between the Pare quote and the rest of the section 

– page 5, is Buzan actually a reference for Mind Maps? If not, do you have one? 

– page 5, you describe what concept maps are, but not what they are for. 

– page 5, “Liquid View Design Notes” Im not clear what this is? You should probably put design decisions later in the design chapter. Having them scattered through the background is distracting. 

– page 5, typo “T his method” 

– page 5, “through alternating divergent and convergent thinking steps” what does this mean? 

– page 6, “The last great analog system before the world was digitised” really? What evidence do you have of this?  

– page 9, “Their paper points out how spatial hypertext is a graphical overview of a hypertext network, showing nodes with lines representing links though the nodes…” and the next few paragraphs. What is your definition of spatial hypertext? Why is it different from a visual representation of a caligraphic hypertext? My own understanding is that in spatial hypertext the implicit spatial relationships are understood by the machine (the spatial parser). By this definition Twine is not a spatial hypertext.  

– page 11, “I have strong memories of the first time I saw a Macintosh, late in the evening at a friend of my parent’s home in London and which simply awed me in that dark office with that bright and crips and clear screen…” Im letting you off a lot of quite personal and flowery language that normally would be unacceptable in a thesis like this – I think you are just about staying on the right side of the line, but this section probably oversteps. 

– page 12, “For deep future perspectives, I had a private conversation with Jun Murai in Tokyo he asked how manga might help with the richness and immediacy of the text space and after considerable back and forth we moved into the area of computer games and AI deep learning to consider how groups of nodes could be analysed for body content, screen context and more, to produce various visual and interactive behaviours, such as jitteriness should the information they contain be incongruous, relaxed if richly linked and so on. Far-out perspectives, but provocative enough to maybe be useful at some point.” a very nice anecdote, but it has no place here. Or should at least be written up into more concrete ideas. 

– page 14, “Interaction Space” this section needs an introduction, as Im not sure what I am reading 

– page 14, where is this list of specific actions from? Is it your list drawn from the literature? 

– page 15, “This was an insight brought about by my advisor Les Carr in an email regarding an earlier version of this document when he wrote in an email to the author: “Your mind maps are tools to help you. But they won’t help me recreate your thoughts”.” You should not share your supervisors advice directly. When it comes to your thesis work his thoughts are your thoughts! 

– page 15, “Diagrams” where is this definition from? 

– page 15, “ Once the author has chosen a research topic, the scholarly publishing is a process of in the rough sequence of:” what is this list? Is it a high level description of the scholarly publishing process? (in which case based on what, which domains, when? – as publishing has changed over the years). Or is it the process that you envisage for Liquid Views, in which case you need to be clearer that this is a design artefact, and explain where it comes from.  

– page 16, “Whereas PDFs serve the documentation process of companies well, they are particularly unsuitable as a scholarly medium is because the scholarly process relies heavily on literature reviews yet the documents published for literature reviews are digital only in the very basic sense of being in a document the computer can read” This is circular – why are they unsuitable? 

– page 16, “I have therefore looked into into creating a PDF Reader…” The first part of this paragraph is mangled. The second is interesting in that it ignores the whole economic and social process around academic publication – you use Shanahan’s quote rather uncritically. 

– page 17 – Leslie Lamport’s Tex – what is this section doing here? How does it contribute to the section on Constraints on Academic Discourse? 

– page 17 – “All the PDF Readers I have used” was this your criteria for the sample? 

– page 18 – again you are badly mixing up a review of what is out there with your design rationale for Author.  

– page 18 – when doing these comparions of existing tools how did you construct the sample, and did you consider comparing them more systematically? 

– page 19 – “Issues arising from using Scapple to Simulate Liquid View” what am I reading here, what is this section trying to do? 

– page 20, be careful, your references to personal relationships and the FoT symposium are crossing the line again here. 

– page 21, “These tools all constrain our intellect primarily by neglecting to exploit the new opportunities afforded by the digital media.” Im not actually sure you have explained clearly what these opportunities are yet? 

– page 23, “From Jacob Hazelgrove, coder of Author, via Skype text…” This is not a good way to present the software itself. If it deserves explanation here you should explain it properly. 

– page 23, “Specific Innovations Related to My PhD” I am lost here. How do these relate to your PhD? 

– page 24, “The issues with PDF…” what issues with PDF? 

– page 24, “The design outline completed so far” is this relevant to your work? If so it should be summarised or included in some way. 

– page 24, by the end of this page I see at least three things that could be the focus of your PhD: Author, Rich PDF, and high resolution addressing. Which is it? 

– page 25, “How can a highly visual and interactive view of an author’s word processing document, of nodes (from headings) lines and other visual elements augment the author and readers interaction with the knowledge in the document?” how do you think it can? Why not ask more focused and specific questions around that answer? 

– page 25, “Q2 : Visual Elements & Interactions” nodes are structural, lines are visual – why are you assuming the existence of either? 

– page 26, “C) What Interactions should be possible?” interactions to achieve what? 

– page 27, this is an admirable vision for an entrepreneur – but what is your research plan? How does it match to you questions? What contributions do you expect? 

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