Lessons from Research/Publishing, 1


The real attraction of publishing, at least for me, is the opportunity for contributing to discussions on topics I care about. So in the past 12 months I’ve been heartened to see four of my papers accepted by academic journals and another four accepted by conferences. The four journal articles are:

Ward, M., Sr. (2008). The banality of culture? Reassessing the social science of the Goldhagen Thesis on its own terms. Holocaust Studies: A Journal of Culture and History, 14(1), 1-34.

Ward, M., Sr. (in press). The banality of rhetoric? Assessing Steven Katz’s “The ethic of expediency” against current research on the Holocaust. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (scheduled for release November 2008).

Ward, M., Sr. (in press). Squaring the learning circle: Cross-classroom collaborations and the impact of audience on student outcomes in professional writing. Journal of Business and Technical Communication (scheduled for release January 2009).

Ward, M., Sr. (in press). Independents’ day: Rhetoric, culture, and the history of gasoline marketing in the United States, 1958-2008. Oil-Industry History (scheduled for release December 2008).

In addition to what our RCID Student Faculty Handbook tells us (all class projects should aim to be publishable, learn about the conversations around you, target specific journals, get your professors’ input), here are some things I’m learning through the publishing process:

1. Put stasis theory to work. How? Learn the conversation around you and its points of consensus, and then search for that one point, that one small opening, which offers a springboard to launch a new twist.

My “Banality of Culture” deconstructed a controversial book about the Holocaust whose historical chapters had been savaged by the academic historians who dominate the field, but whose social science arguments had never been addressed. “Banality of Rhetoric” examines Steve Katz’s canonical essay about technical communication and the Holocaust, an article which is frequently cited in tech comm but had never been critiqued against Holocaust scholarship. “Squaring the Learning Circle” takes a landmark study about the impact of audience effects on writing by middle schoolers and conducts a similar experiment to see if the same effects would be found among college-level writing students.

2. Always be on the lookout for topics. When I read or see things around me, I think to myself, “How might that make a paper topic?” Often I jot down these ideas, write an opening paragraph, and let each idea germinate over time.

The idea for “Banality of Rhetoric” started the first week of class last year when I saw Steve’s “Ethic of Expediency” in the references for another article we had been assigned to read in RCID 810. The subtitle, “Classical Rhetoric, Technology, and the Holocaust,” caught my eye. Similarly, the idea for “Squaring the Learning Circle” also occurred to me the first week of class in RCID 810 as I was doing another assigned reading. And a paper of mine that was accepted for NCA 2008 began four years ago when I took a salaried position with a semiprofessional gospel quartet. Since the group owned a bus and traveled 30 weekends a year to sing at fundamentalist Baptist churches in 20 states, it dawned on me that I was actually doing ethnographic fieldwork. When I retired from the road last summer I had visited some 200 churches and been a participant-observer in more than 250 fundamentalist worship services.

3. Have a hobby. Scholars can benefit, I believe, by having hobbies outside their main discipline. This is the same principle that animates our dissertations, where new insights into our primary research areas are generated by mixing them with secondary areas.

Though my background is in comm studies, Holocaust Studies has long been an interest of mine. Thus “Banality of Culture,” which is drawn from my masters thesis, applies comm theory to the problem of understanding Holocaust perpetrator behavior. “Banality of Rhetoric” is a crosspollination of tech comm, rhetoric, and Holocaust Studies. My opportunity to conduct an experiment for “Squaring the Learning Circle” came about because I’ve been a freelance business journalist for 20 years and was invited to address a writing seminar at another institution. Similarly, I wrote “Independents’ Day” because I have covered the petroleum industry for two decades. And with my fundamentalist ethnography, as a good ol’ Southern boy I’ve been around religious rhetorics since childhood and am now using that life experience to conduct a research agenda.

4. Build a balanced agenda. Through my different activities I’m building a varied research agenda that includes the intersections of (a) comm theory, tech comm, and the Holocaust; (b) religious rhetorics, speech ethnography, and intercultural communication; (c) religion and media; (d) occupational rhetorics and speech ethnography; and (e) composition studies and cognition.

When the day comes to find a job, my traditional M.A. in Communication Studies and my transdisciplinary Ph.D. in RCID will allow me to apply for teaching positions in either comm studies departments or English departments. My goal is to have comm studies articles I can show to comm studies search committees, rhet/comp articles I can show to English search committees, and transdisciplinary research agendas that can appeal to both and demonstrate innovative scholarship.

5. Always be on the lookout for spinoffs. The secret to writing a high volume of papers is, rather than writing each paper from scratch as a one-time venture, to build your research agenda and be constantly thinking of ways to extend your past work into new questions. In my case:

— “Banality of Culture” addressed arguments made by another scholar, as I concluded his social science approach was potentially fruitful but his method flawed. So I wrote two more papers to show how the flaws could be overcome and then conducted my own analysis. The second paper in this series was also accepted for NCA 2008, while an amalgamation of the second and third papers has gotten a revise-and-resubmit invitation from a Holocaust Studies journal. (As an aside, readings I did on cognitive dissonance for one of these papers led to another paper I wrote last semester related to consumer research.)

— “Banality of Rhetoric” challenged Steve Katz’s “Ethic of Expediency” on grounds of Holocaust scholarship rather than tech comm scholarship. But my first paper implied two items of unfinished business: What alternate explanations are possible of the Nazi technical memo Steve analyzed? And if Steve analyzed only a single document, would analyses of other Nazi documents lend support to his thesis or to alternate explanations? These questions have led to more papers I will be submitting soon to different journals, as well as to a presentation which has been accepted for CCCC next March, and now to my dissertation topic.

— My fundamentalist ethnography paper, which is under review and also been accepted for NCA 2008, focused on the rhetorics of preaching by professional clergy. Then I wrote a second paper on the speech codes and social dramas of fundamentalist laity (this paper has been submitted to a journal and accepted for presentation in November at the annual International Association for Intercultural Communication Studies conference). A third paper is in prospect on the rhetoric of fundamentalist music and worship performance. And I plan later to treat in detail a phenomenon I have called “reactionary postmodernism” to describe shouted sermons that construct identities through narratival montages rather than sustained argumentation.

— “Squaring the Learning Circle” does some theory development to explain the impact of audience effects on student writing. In the paper I propose a Dynamic Motivational Model for student writers and a second model called the Audience Relevance Continuum. Now I’m looking for opportunities to apply these two models to additional problems in composition. Last spring a publisher called for chapters in a new book on service learning. Chapters are due in October and I’ve begun work on a submission.

— When I was assigned to do an empirical research paper for RCID 803, I drew on my longtime interest in religion and media to conduct a study of how media consolidation has impacted religious radio. This led to not just one paper, but two papers which are now both being reviewed by different journals. The first focuses on the consolidation of radio stations and the second on how consolidation has impacted the radio preachers and independent syndicators who purchase airtime for programs on those stations. My research is addressed not only to religion scholars, but is written as case studies that can be of interest to all those concerned about the effects of media conglomeration.

— “Independents’ Day” is my first attempt to tap into the material I’ve gathered on business-related rhetorics over my nearly 30 years in business journalism. My specialties have been the petroleum, construction, retailing, and foodservice industries. Since I save everything I write, then I have more than 20 years’ worth of trade magazines in these fields. Someday I’d like to mine these resources further and use a recently proposed approach called “ethnographies of rhetoric,” a method suggested especially for “occupational rhetorics.”

6. Be prepared for the review process to take time. The time spent in writing a paper is only the beginning. Though “Banality of Rhetoric” was accepted for publication without revision, my other three publications required revision and resubmittal. And with “Squaring the Learning Circle” I went through two rounds of substantial revisions. Then, even after the article is accepted for publication, comes two rounds of editing. First the editor marks up the manuscript to conform with the journal’s style, sending it back to the author to make the changes and produce a clean electronic file. Then a page proof is produced and sent to the author for final corrections. Both stages can be tedious and time-consuming, although I’ve learned much about style guidelines and editors’ preferences.

Engaging reviewers’ comments has likewise been a highly valuable learning opportunity, offering new insights not only about my topics but also the politics of respective audiences and journals. Comments I received have always been most helpful, prompting me to hone my arguments and resulting in better papers. Reviewers called attention to a tendency I sometimes have of seeing my papers as continuations of larger projects, so that I have learned instead to ensure that my papers are each capable of standing alone, are tightly focused on a problem, and deliver what they promise. Yet since I do multiple articles on related themes, I have also learned lessons about the timing of my submissions. My RCID education would be incomplete without these inputs from scholars outside our institution.

At this point I have four papers now under review at different journals, and perhaps another four which are done and I plan to submit soon when the timing is right. And of course, this semester I will be writing new papers for my RCID classes. So I’m hopeful that in the near future I will be using this space again to report on more acceptances.

~ Mark Ward Sr ~

Note: This is the first of what we hope will be a series of reports and discussions by students in the RCID program on their research and publishing endeavors.


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