Publishing my thesis with WordPress and Digress.it – Part 1

This is part 1 of a many part process & is just the beginning of this little project. There will be more posts in the coming days as I get my thesis site launched. If you go there, you will see a work in progress at the moment.

A sick day at home with a kid gave me the opportunity to start tackling a project I’ve had on my plate for a few months now: publishing my completed thesis using WordPress and Digress.it.

One of the things I promised myself when I decided to do a thesis was that I would post a copy of it in this space in a format that would allow people to comment on it.

I think posting it in an open public space is important for a couple of reasons. For one, I think that, even though it is only a Masters thesis, it still represents academic research, and I strongly believe that any academic research should be as open and accessible as possible. And not just to other academics.

The second reason is that I want it critiqued by a wider audience of my peers. I want it to be a starting point for conversation. What worked in the thesis, what didn’t, what rings true to others using Twitter in a PLN, which parts are valuable & what parts are fuzzy or just wonky?

Finally, I haven’t had a good hands on WordPress project for awhile now so it feels good to dig into WP again after being in the Drupal/Moodle world for the past year.

The tools I’ll be using

I’m taking my inspiration here from the NMC and the Horizon Report and how they have published that report for the past few years. I’m also inspired by Joss Winn, who published his dissertation this way a few years ago.

You’re no doubt familiar with WordPress, the blog-cum-CMS platform that this site runs on. But you may not be as familiar with Digress.it. a WordPress plugin created by the Institute for the Future of the Book.

What draws me to Digress.it are two features; the ability to link directly to specific portions of a large document, and the ability to allow paragraph by paragraph commenting. Both of these are important when posting something as large as a 40,000 word thesis.

I don’t expect many will read the entire paper, but sections may be of more interest to some than others so I want to section the thesis as much as possible. And, if someone does read it, I want them to be able to comment on something when the comment pops into their head and not have to slog thru an entire section of 2, 3 or 4 thousand words before getting a comment box.

So, technically, here is what I am doing.

Create a multi-site WordPress instance

I want my thesis to live on my domain, clintlalonde.net. Since I already have a WordPress blog running here, I needed to figure out a way to add a second instance of WordPress that I could use Digress.it with.

If this was a few years ago, I probably would have installed a whole separate instance of WordPress. However, since WordPress 3, you now have the ability to run multiple WordPress sites on a single WordPress install. Each site is independent of the other, with it’s own set of plug-ins and themes. So, after doing a bit of reading on how to set up multisites on an established blog, I fired up a multi-site instance of WordPress on my domain clintlalonde.net.

Two Small Issues

The multi-site setup was fairly straightforward. I only had two small issues.

Permalink structure changed

The first was that the permalink structure on my original clintlalonde.net blog got changed when I flipped the switch to make my WordPress site a multi-site instance. The switch added the word /blog/ to the URI’s on my site. This means that links on my site that used to look like this:

Frog in a pot

were changed to this


Which broke all the internal links on my blog. So, when you clicked on the title of a blog post from my home page, you ended up with a 404 page not found error. Not good.

After a bit of digging on the WP forums, I found an easy fix to the problem, and was able to safely change the permalink structure to remove the word /blog/ from the link structure and set up the permalink structure to match what it was before. Once I did that, the /blog/ was gone from the URI and my internal links were repaired and working again.

Configuring cPanel

The second issue was that I couldn’t actually create a new sites. Whenever I tried to create a site in the WordPress admin panel, it looked like the site was created. But when I clicked the link to go to the admin panel or to the new site I got a “server not found” error. Technically, this told me that the sub-domain wasn’t being set up properly.

Off to trusty Google to try to find a solution, and it didn’t fail me.  Once I had cPanel configured correctly and my directory structure set up (although I am not really sure why I need to have a folder called blogs.dir in my wp-content folder but, whatever, it worked) I was on my way.

I created a new site and sub-domain at thesis.clintlalonde.net.

Install Digress.it

After getting the site and sub-domain set up, I then downloaded and installed Digress.it. Before I could add Digress.it to the new thesis.clintlalonde.net site, I had to add the plug-in at the admin level of my newly created WordPress network. Once that was done, I went into the admin panel of the thesis site and activated the plug-in.

When I took a look at Digress.it out of the box, I saw that it needed some tweaking. There were unnecessary WordPress widgets in the lower part of the home page, and I wanted to get rid of the default text, posts and comments and get some more useful data posted to begin to see what the site would look like when I began posting my thesis content to it.

First, to replace the text on the homepage. Digress.it uses the contents from a WordPress page titled “About” to populate the homepage of the site. So, I created an “About” page and added some info about what the site was about along with the abstract of my thesis.

After that, I got rid of the default widgets that appeared in the area below the textbox.

I’ve noticed that the admin toolbar that runs across the top of the page is badly formatted and might need some tweaking. But since I am the only person who will see that, it’s not critical right now since I am the only person who will see it. So, this will do for now.

Before I wrap up my first days work, I install the Akismet comment filter to begin filtering out comment spam. I’ve found with WordPress sites, it pays to fire up Akismet sooner rather than later as the spam starts rolling in pretty quickly.

With WordPress multi-site up and running and Digress.it installed, the challenge now becomes one of getting the content from Word into WordPress in a more elegant way than cutting and pasting. That’s the next challenge, and the next blog post.

CC BY 4.0 Publishing my thesis with WordPress and Digress.it – Part 1 by Clint Lalonde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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Wrangler of learning technologies by day, Dad, cyclist, soccer fan and, lately, home roaster of coffee by night. INFJ. I am the Manager of Educational Technologies at BCcampus, working primarily on open education projects. This blog is a personal blog and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of BCcampus.