Thursday, September 13, 2012

Intended to Accomplish Goals

(I'll follow up on my post about academic cheating later today. I want to stay on schedule with my series on article design.)

The object that is specified by a designer must serve some specific set of ends. To understand a design is, in part, to understand its purpose; if we cannot see the purpose of an object, if we do not know what it's for, then we do not understand its design. This is captured by the third part of Ralph and Wand's definition: a design is "intended to accomplish goals".

When designing your article, therefore, it is useful, and quite necessary, to have some clear goals in mind. You are obviously designing it to be published somewhere. This goal can be defined by making a list of potential journals that indicate the public space in which the conversation you want to participate in goes on.

But you also have decide what effect you want to have on the conversation. Do you want simply to inform others about your results? Do you want to change their minds? Do you want to correct a misconception? Do you want to re-orient the field and take it in another direction? (I'm going to leave aside secondary goals like impressing future employers or earning tenure. As goals, these don't have a very specific effect on the design on the article.)

You can take this goal-orientation down to the level of the paragraph (and even the sentence). Ask yourself what you want your reader to do with it: believe it, or agree with it, or understand it, for example. These all set up slightly different tasks, slightly different rhetorical problems. You may be saying something that you know the reader will find difficult to believe; your job here will be to overcome their doubts. Or you may be engaging in an argument that has clearly defined sides where you want them to come over to yours. Or you may be saying something that is difficult to understand and your job is explain it clearly and effectively.

In any case, thinking about your article as an object to be designed demands that you make yourself aware of your goals. It will be useful to have one overarching goal and a 40 smaller ones. One for each paragraph.

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