Thesis Whisperer, Inger Mewburn, and Patter, that’s me Pat, are writing a paper for a conference to be held in December. We’ve decided to blog our process as part of our #acwrimo commitment.
We put an abstract together as a kind of ambit claim. We didn’t have a completed piece of research we were reporting on. We had an idea for a paper that we thought it would be fun to do together. What’s more, we had an idea that we would like to do the paper in a symposium with some of the friends we’d made on twitter, and so that’s what we’ve organised. Together with PhD2Published‘s Anna Tarrant, #acwri’s Jeremy Segrott, and PhDBlog(dot)net‘s Andy Coverdale, we’re appearing in person at SRHE in early December.
We knew that having a deadline, like a conference, would mean that we would have to do the work required, and we wouldn’t be tempted to put it off. We also knew that we would all want to publish the papers somewhere, so what TW and I are writing is not so much a conference paper but a draft for a journal article. And as a conference symposium, our collected papers may well be the start of a special issue… It’s important to put on record that we aren’t just writing a conference paper for the sake of it. We’re consolidating networks and working up to a publication.
So we had good reason, we think, for putting in an abstract for some work we hadn’t actually done. Now, most conference abstract formats require you to talk as if the work is completed, and so we found ourselves saying we had found things/knew things that we felt OK about, but we weren’t altogether sure of. Of course, we weren’t starting from nothing. We’d done some categorization of blogs, but it was nothing like the systematic analysis we thought we ought to do. And we had read ‘stuff’ about blogging and social media too, but we hadn’t done a really thorough literature review. So was this really dreadful of us to write an abstract about something we hadn’t really done yet? Did we commit some kind of inherently dishonest act? Well maybe – but probably not.
A lot of conference papers DO report on completed work, sometimes using papers that are published and already in the public domain. Some conference papers, however, are work-in-progress and the presenter hopes to use the feedback to develop the work further. Other papers, like this one, are not yet really started at the time the abstract is submitted, but they nevertheless do emerge from ongoing informed conversations and reading. They are a paper to be written, more extensive work that might be undertaken. We made an educated best outline of what we thought we might find. We are not the only ones to do this – and understanding this to be the case is just part of the secret business of academic conferences.
So here we now are, abstract accepted and currently doing the systematic work that we hadn’t done first off. Getting down and dirty with the paper does mean that we might change the categories that we offered in the initial abstract. We’ll certainly have more references! We might do more theoretical work than we initially signalled. And we may end up saying to those people who come to hear the paper that our findings have changed from the submitted abstract. We’ve moved on since then. Well, we’ve all heard that at conferences haven’t we – and it generally doesn’t matter as long as the paper is still on the topic.
We’ve divided the first stage of the paper up. Inger is analyzing blogs. Pat is searching for and reading papers. We will each blog about these two tasks. We are then going to skype in order to sort out our argument and the actual writing, and we’ll blog about that too. We have a google doc, a mendeley file and a drop box on the go, so we can see what each other is up to.
We’ve not written anything other than blogs together before, and not many of those, and we‘ve not separately blogged a paper. So this really is an experiment for both of us.
Of course, we’re really happy to have any questions or comments from you along the way too!
This highlights the legitimacy of the conference paper as an academic genre. For new researchers in particular, it’s one of the most mystifying. The conference at least makes some sense, for whatever reason; dissemination, networking, travel perk – or just one of those things where participation is seen as necessary. The paper (if one is necessary) presents an early opportunity to ‘get published’ (sort of), and engage in writing a formal text, but its exact relationship with the conference event and the presentation is often confusing. Having additional goals to which a paper might contribute (as indicated here) is an interesting approach. So is the ambiguity and general woolliness of the conference paper as an academic genre useful, or should its role be better defined and formalised?
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