Research and Response Posts

From Gerald R. Lucas
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A major component of your study this semester is a Research / Response Journal that asks you to show what and how you have been learning during the course of the class. These posts will be published here on Medium, and all will be submitted to the The Humanities Index for evaluation and potential publication.

Publishing online is not the same as printing a Word document. In other words: digital documents differ in significant ways from print documents. Your academic writing up to this point has likely been for the latter, so you must learn how they differ and begin writing for the screen.

First, consider the advice in “Writing Top Ten.” This document outlines some of the rules you should consider when composing online posts. Keep in mind that what we refer to as “readers” or “audience” for print documents are called “users” for digital ones. The former implies a passive activity (think of this as leaning back), while the latter suggests one that’s active (think: leaning forward). Therefore, people rarely read in a traditional way online. Instead, in a hurry, they skim, looking for the key points or for ways to use the content quickly.

Whereas print documents are traditionally just text, digital documents use multimodal content, like images, video, audio, and especially links. In fact, people expect more than just text and will often leave in disappointment if that expectation is not met. For more about writing on Medium, see “Medium Best Practices” and Connor O’Shea’s “So You’re New to Medium.” Follow the advice in these posts to make your digital writing more usable.

Even though there is a different way to approach digital documents, some conventions from the paper paradigm are still useful and should be followed, especially when writing about culture. For these, see: “Writing in the Liberal Arts.” Speaking of standards and conventions, all posts should also follow a similar style sheet. For that, see: “A Digital Style Sheet.” Finally, forget using MLA or APA to cite sources. Giving credit to others’ ideas while supporting your own is actually easier online. Just link. For more detailed guidance, see: “Digital Citation.” All posts should use this method of citation; there should not be any list of “works cited”; that’s a remnant of paper that does not translate well to the digital.

The Matter

That takes care of the of the technical aspects of your posts, but what should you be writing about? Hopefully, this part does not differ too much — or at all — from the writing you’ve been doing so far in college. Think of it as digital textual criticism. Essentially, posts should be critical reader responses that use secondary sources to develop and support a focused assertion about the assigned text.

First, read or view the assigned text. This is called the primary source. Take thorough notes as you go. Look up unfamiliar words. Write down the names of characters, major themes, motifs, symbols, and metaphors that you notice; note when they repeat, or when they change. Once you’re finished, choose one of those to focus on. How does it function in the text? Answering this question gives you an assertion (also called a thesis) about the text that your post can develop. Be sure to use evidence from the primary source as you develop your idea.

It’s OK to stop here, but a superior post will incorporate secondary sources: i.e., criticism about the text, like essays, reviews, or other critical sources that analyze and interpret the primary text. Use secondary sources to support your argument. This is the essence of research.

You can also use secondary sources to help you develop your own ideas about the primary source. Some texts are difficult, and an idea about it may not be apparent at first. If this is the case, do some research and reading to help.

Don’t forget to incorporate the conventions of Medium that are discussed above. Use at least one large image that relates to the text and your analysis of it. Use links correctly. Pick a strong title, and format it correctly. You’ll get the idea after you begin using Medium. In fact, I bet you’ll never want to use Microsoft Word again.

Once you’re ready to submit your post for evaluation—don’t. Instead, carefully proofread and revise. Even better, get a partner in class, and exchange drafts with her or him. Help each other to do as well as possible. When you help (i.e., when you read and make notes on someone’s draft), you will be thanked at the bottom of their published post; this will earn you extra points, if you need them.

Once you have revised again, submit your post to HumX. Note: you must be added as a writer for the publication, so if you’ve not done so, send me your Medium login name on Slack and request I add you. Do this ASAP, if you have not already.

Once you add your post, I will evaluate it. If it’s good enough (see below), it will be published to The Humanities Index and receive a perfect score. Usually, I’ll ask for some revisions and give you a grade; however, if you do these well, and your post is published, your grade will be replaced by a perfect score. Often, I’ll invite you to revise for publication if I see that your post has potential. If your post is rejected, you may still revise, but chances are it will not be accepted to the publication. That’s OK; try again with your next post.

Only posts that are well written, are relatively free of grammatical errors, use specific textual evidence, employ at least one secondary source, format using the best practices for Medium, and cite sources according to the Digital Citation method will be published.

I know this seems like a lot and that it can be overwhelming. However, in a digital age, writing and publishing online is now a crucial skill all educated people must know—especially those coming out of a liberal arts tradition. With a little practice, patience, and perseverance, you will be writing focused, thoughtful, and critical analyses of cultural texts in a native digital format.

For examples, be sure you look through the published posts already on HumX, like Teresa English’s “Rosie the Riveter’s Journey from Propaganda to Feminist Icon” or Jules Carry’s “How the Hell Should I Know?” in Big Jelly, a sister publication to HumX.

If you have questions, leave notes on this post, or ask them on Slack.