Practical Papers

Another bit of good news: I submitted a paper I wrote for my Digital Humanities class to the Library Communications Journal and they published it in the fall issue!

This provoked me into thinking and writing about ideas I’ve been toying with since undergrad, namely the value of audience-driven, or practical papers. As an undergraduate, I often lamented having to write papers for certain professors – the kind who have very specific expectations that go beyond disciplinary principles and into personal quirks. I resented it, wondering “What am I getting out of this? I’m just learning how to write for this specific person. How is that going to help me in the long term?” But eventually I reconciled this resentment with the knowledge that learning how to write for academics would surely help me if I decided to pursue a career in the academy.

However, I now find myself in library science, and I’ve decided to forgo pursuing a PhD in favor of completing my MLS and joining the workforce. Therefore, while theory is all well and good and interesting, the classes and assignments I usually find most valuable are those that have real practical meaning and applications. Hence my excitement when John Unsworth, the professor of my Digital Humanities class last spring, announced that our final papers – critical reviews of digital humanities projects – were to be written with an eye towards publication. He wanted each of us to have a specific angle and audience that we were writing the review for.

loved this assignment for a number of reasons. First: it challenged us to not only write well, but to write with a specific audience of professionals as our audience. This inevitably made us hold ourselves to a higher standard. Second: it made the assignment much more meaningful. Instead of simply trying to please John, we were faced with a set of guidelines and expectations provided by the publication venue itself. This is much more representative of what we will face in our future careers, as we continue to write for publications, as we justify our institutions to stakeholders, and as we promote our institutions within our communities. Third: it was a wonderfully structured and supported way for many of us to seek publication in the LIS field (many of us for the first time)! John was very supportive and really challenged us to break the habit of writing just for the class. He edited my paper over the summer as I continued to revise it before submitting.

Thus, while I think that there is some value to writing solely for a class/professor (after all, we will all have supervisors who we’ll need to write directly for and impress), I really enjoy the chances I get to use a classroom assignment to break out of the classroom.


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