PhD in analyzing text messages. Seriously.

My previous post here about Rev. Neil Elliot‘s PhD in snowboarding confirmed what I’ve long suspected about graduate degrees: all the good thesis topics have been taken.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Dude picked up his snowboarding doctorate from a  U.K. university: Kingston University in London. This is a fairly new school (granted its Higher Education Corporation status in 1993) but I did learn from its website that the campus is a handy 25-minute train ride from central London, which says something, I guess.

The U.K., alas, has a disturbingly murky reputation as a mecca for weird and wacky higher education goals. 

For example, you might want to major there in:

  • Fashion-and-lifestyle products — Southampton Solent University
  • Water sports science and development — University of Portsmouth
  • Contemporary circus and physical performance — Bath Spa University
  • Equestrian psychology — Glyndwr University
  • Surf science and technology — University of Plymouth
  • Pop-music performance — University of East London

As The Telegraph reported:

“In one study of British PhD graduates, about a third admitted that they were doing their doctorate partly to go on being a student, or put off job hunting.”

Cool . . .

And not to disappoint, yet another British university has churned out yet another PhD with yet another silly thesis topic: this time on the analysis of ‘pointless’ text messages.  Yes. Really.

Caroline Tagg (oops, sorry, make that DOCTOR Caroline Tagg) undertook her thesis research at Birmingham University (whose website boasts “unafraid to do things a little differently!” in case you yourself fancy getting a PhD in an equally esoteric subject someday).

The Guardian She claims to have spent three and a half years researching the subject of SMS (Short Message Service) text messaging and the language used in texts.  After completing her doctorate, she reported to the world that many people do not abbreviate when sending texts, but do use unnecessary words.

Seriously?  I could have told her that in three and a half minutes and saved her a lot of headaches . . .

She found that people text in the same way they talk, using unnecessary words such as ‘oh’, ‘um’ and often use grammatical abbreviations like ‘dunno’. She explained this important finding:

“I saw these in a lot of messages. People deliberately use words like this when they don’t need to.”

The 33-year-old recruited a team of friends and family to help undertake her doctorate. They sent her all the texts they sent and received, which she stored in a database and analyzed.In total, she read a mind-numbing 11,000 text messages, containing 190,000 words, sent by 235 people.  She said:

“It was a long haul but that is normal. I believe it is the first PhD in the UK to look at the language of text messaging. It is perceived to have a negative impact on language but a lot of people don’t really look at the text.”

Doctor Tagg did look at those texts. She analyzed spelling, grammar and abbreviations used in social and business texts. She said, for example, that the average text contains 17.5 words in case you want to use that for your next trivia night challenge.

And she reported in her 80,000 word thesis that there is more to texting that just abbreviations – something most people associate with texting.

“Actually, not many people use abbreviations. People use playful manipulation and metaphors. It is a playful language. Not only are they quite creative, it is also quite expressive.”

One example of an almost ‘pointless and waffly’ text she analyzed read:

“Hi. I know you are at work but I just wanted you to know I found my pen lid.”

Doctor Tagg is currently undergoing teacher training at Birmingham University (where they are “unafraid to do things a little differently!”) and will be starting an academic post with the Open University in September.

She hopes to continue studying the subject.

Photo of Caroline Tagg via The Telegraph


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6 thoughts on “PhD in analyzing text messages. Seriously.

  1. I can think of several legitimate and potentially revealing issues to study about wireless, social media, and online communications, but private texting is not one of them.

  2. This “doctor” spent 80,000 words to tell the world that “the average text contains 17.5 words”. Are you kidding me? This is what academia has devolved into?

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