Monday, January 07, 2013

Emerging Topics for 2013

Here's a list of topics that people (and I myself) have come up with so far to write about in 2013. Thanks to Ryan and Thomas and the participants in my writing seminars for the suggestions!

Article Design

In 2013 I'm going to jump onto the "design thinking" bandwagon, I think. I know I'm behind the trend, but there is an untapped potential here to rethink what we are doing when we are writing papers. Thinking about an article as a design object will bring "what it is for" more clearly into focus. It will also, hopefully, help you to see that the paper's purpose is not exhausted by being published. The key to designing a paper is to imagine what effects you want it to have on the conversation that defines your field. This is no different from the way a designer thinks about how an object might change the practices it will be used in.

Taking Notes

Once you know how what you are "building" when you are writing a paper, you are in a good position to organize your materials, i.e., your reading, to that end. I'll try to think explicitly about what you should have in mind, and what you should have on hand, when you sit down to read. Your notes mediate between your reading sessions and your writing sessions (which, of course, I recommend you keep strictly separated), so they are an important tool in ensuring the quality of the writing you produce. While I believe that you should write down things that you know at the time of writing (not just things your notes say the books say), good note-taking techniques help you to concentrate on the particular ideas you've decided to write down today.

Revision Strategies

My approach to writing sets up your manuscript in an almost ideal way for editing. After all, if you've done it my way, you've got a text that is divided into roughly forty easily identifiable claims, and you can now ask about each of them how well they are made, and any series of them how well they cohere. But you can also use my approach to open a text that was produced in a less disciplined manner. Here my method will help you to make the shift from "writer based" posture to a "reader based" one.

Writing a PhD dissertation

Many of my readers are probably (and hopefully!) PhD students. While a PhD dissertation is a problematic object because it often doesn't look like anything else you'll write later in your career, it does offer an opportunity to develop the discipline that will make your life in scholarship enjoyable. Most importantly: if you think of your dissertation as making a series of claims (200-300 of them in most cases), you can use it to develop the all-important craft of paragraphing. This is the unit of composition that is at the core of my approach to scholarly writing. So this year I'll try to capture the attention of dissertation writers by regularly suggesting that the answer to their difficulties lies in the sometimes unimagined pleasures of crafting a prose paragraph.

The Concept of the University

There is increasing concern out there about what is happening to the university as an institution. I recently started reading Peter Drucker's Concept of the Corporation, which was published in 1946 and, according to Drucker himsself, quickly used as a key text in the redesign of the post-WWII public university. Again, seeing things from my narrow perspective, I conceive of the university as the site of the composition of paragraphs, i.e., a place where knowledge is shaped into claims that can be discussed, evaluated and, importantly, corrected if wrong. There is reason to worry that this function of the university is being lost in its eagerness to make a direct contribution to "economic growth", indeed, in its own eagerness to grow. I'll spend a few posts on the question of how to keep the university close to its core mission of conserving what we know for future generations.

That's what I've got so far. Please keep the suggestions coming.

1 comment:

Presskorn said...

Good topics... On "Revision Strategies", I hope to see some videos of editing of the sort that you put up a few years ago...