Thinking out loud: helping students with dissertation research

If a student asks for help with dissertation research, consider recording audio responses rather than writing responses. It’s quick and less formal.

If you’re working on your dissertation over the Easter break I’d urge you to read this blog about dissertation topics; and then this one about finding experts.

I try and help students working on marketing, media and public relations dissertations whenever I can, especially if they’re investigating a topic related to my day job at Ketchum.

For the last three years I’ve been a Visiting Professor at Newcastle University, supporting the university and students through teaching and mentoring.

It’s flattering to know people have read my blog or books, and that it’s had an influence on their investigation of our profession.

I also think that it’s the duty of senior practitioners in any profession, to help students starting out.

But responding to questions is time consuming. Producing written responses to questions takes time and by its nature is formal.

Two years ago I came up with a new workflow. I started recording answers using a voice recording app on my phone (Voice Memo for iOS) and then uploading the file to a service such as DropBox or a hidden page on my blog.

Recording responses is typically quick and more natural than writing answers. It takes 15 to 20 minutes per interview, occasionally longer, and then five minutes to upload the file.

It’s more work for the student of course. Transcribing answers takes longer than cutting and pasting from an email but I’d argue that transcription should be part of the research process.

In the past I’ve published responses openly and created a small community around different topics but I stopped this after being cautioned that it might compromise a student’s work.

We’re all learning.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.


  1. … and please (even if you have no interest) respond to the inquirer.

    I have this frustration (as an old man, who has gone “back to school” (after a long time in the media industry) for a MA and maybe – if all goes according to plan – a doctorate ) where you send a clear, motivated request for interview with full details and just get silence.

    Quite ironic when you are researching how companies communicate (or don’t)…

    • And here’s a good example of a former journalist needing a sub-editor, or the “edit function” to clear up bracket conflict ;(

      I blame Tuesday morning, poor sight and a coffee shortage.

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