Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Creative Reading

John Rossiter has some good advice on how to deal with international publication (there's a PDF of his workshop notes here.) One of the problems he identifies is that academics are too often unable (I would propose unwilling) to "fully understand and analyze typical papers in the top journals" (2). According to Rossiter the vast majority of business school academics cite papers in order to establish very superficial credentials and rarely in order to engage with the theories and methods that ostensibly define their field. If you want to improve your writing skills, he suggests, you may have to improve your reading skills.

One way to do this, I often say, is to identify a few pieces of exemplary writing, i.e., major journal papers that you respect and would be willing either to imitate or engage with critically. These are papers that define your field in a very important sense; they articulate your methodological standards and are important indicators of the active state of your theory (see my last post). They also give your editor a sense of how to help you by indicating what you are aiming for.

At the level of the department or research team, Rossiter makes a useful suggestion (4). Try to hold a regular seminar that takes a major article in your field as a point of departure. On this background, someone from your own department should then present some of their recent results. The presenter is thereby forced to make a particular set of empirical results or theoretical considerations relevant within the perspective of an internationally acknowledged peer (one that should of course also be acknowledged by you). Can your own knowledge be articulated in terms provided by another researcher? To what extent? What modifications in the theory or method presented in the major article would be necessary to suit it to your results? How do your results look from the point of view presented in the article? The answers to these sorts of questions are the stuff of a "major article" of your own.

Journals generally publish "new" work, but this does not normally mean especially "original" work. The standard of useful innovation is defined by the existing literature in the field. Creativity in the academic realm lies not just in how we write about what we know, but how we read about what others know.