Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Writing :: All Edge

Spinuzzi, C. (2015) All Edge: Inside the New Workplace Networks. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

This is another entry in my series on writing, and the second book I've discussed in the series. As I complained in my first post in this series, "traditional academic publishing conceals the real work of writing," and I wanted a space to discuss what is usually concealed. In this case, let's talk about what went into writing this book.

Why did I write it? After all, I didn't have to—my previous books have allowed me to be promoted as far as I can within the university system. The bottom line is that I like writing books. They allow me to construct longer and more intricate arguments than articles do. Your mileage may vary.

How was it constructed? My previous research books (Tracing Genres through Organizations and Network) were one-case books: for both, I entered a specific activity and used the chapters to discuss different aspects of it. Reading one of these books involved reading an extended portrait of a bounded case. This is the norm for academic case studies, and it yields a fairly simple structure, which roughly looks like this:
  • Introduction
  • Literature review
  • Methods
  • 2-3 chapters discussing aspects of the case
  • Conclusion and implications
Not only is this the standard outline for this kind of book, it's also the standard outline for a dissertation and a research article. (In fact, I slightly changed the order of this standard outline in Network—using a case chapter before the literature review in order to introduce the stakes and putting the methods in an appendix—and one reviewer faulted me for it!)

For All Edge, I was exploring a phenomenon (all-edge adhocracies) across cases rather than within a single case. So I decided to try a different structure, one that consciously latched cases and explanations together. The challenge was to make sure that I could systematically build on knowledge about a phenomenon, even when switching cases and focuses within the cases. So I essentially made sure that each case could both illustrate previous concepts and forecast upcoming concepts. Making this work was tricky, but once I had the outline of the idea, I was able to make it work without doing violence to the cases.

Here's the TOC for All Edge, with brief explanations for each chapter. (Forgive my old-school HTML table.)

ChapterWhat it does
1    Becoming All Edge
  • Introduction
2    What Are All-Edge Adhocracies?
  • Lit review/concept
  • Introduction to 4 characteristics of AEAs (latch to Ch.3)
3    Stage Management: The Case of Nonemployer Firms
  • Case: illustrates 4 characteristics of AEAs (latch to Ch.2)
  • Forecasts 4 characteristics of organizational networks (latch to Ch.4)
4    The Foundation of All-Edge Adhocracies: Organizational Networks
  • Lit review/concept
  • Introduction to 4 characteristics of organizational networks (latch to Ch.5)
  • Analyzes Ch.3 case in terms of organizational networks (latch to Ch.3)
5    Working Alone, Together: The Case of Coworking
  • Case: illustrates 4 characteristics of organizational networks (latch to Ch.4)
  • Forecasts 3 characteristics of activity systems (latch to Ch.6)
6    The Dynamic Structure of All-Edge Adhocracies: Activities
  • Lit review/concept
  • Introduction to 3 characteristics of activity systems (latch to Ch.7)
  • Analyzes Ch.5 case in terms of activity systems (latch to Ch.5)
7    Lone Wolves: The Case of Search Engine Optimization
  • Case: illustrates 3 characteristics of activity systems (latch to Ch.6) 
  • Forecasts 4 configurations of activity (latch to Ch.8)
  • Forecasts 3 integrations (latch to Ch.9)
8    The Configurations of All-Edge Adhocracies: Hierarchies, Markets, Clans, and Networks
  • Lit review/concept
  • Introduction to 4 configurations of activity 
  • Analyzes Ch.7 case in terms of 4 configurations (latch to Ch.7)
9    The Work of All-Edge Adhocracies: The Three Integrations
  • Lit review/concept
  • Introduction to 3 integrations
  • Analyzes all cases in terms of 3 integrations (latch to Ch.7)
10  The Future of All-Edge Adhocracies
  • Implications

The beauty of this arrangement was that it yielded some really nice integration in which the cases clearly related to each other. And the real payoff was in Ch.9, in which I was able to draw on all three of the previous cases and demonstrate that they all showcased the same basic phenomenon. Doing this was really important for ensuring that the book hung together as a whole—I didn't just want a collection of chapters based on previously published case studies, I wanted to develop a new understanding of project-oriented work.

But that doesn't mean that this outline simply occurred to me. I spent a lot of time with different configurations and rearranged the cases several times in order for everything to latch together properly!

How did I develop the style? As I've discussed in some of my other Writing :: posts (ex: Topsight), style has been a consistent concern for me. How can I write these books in a way that engages the reader appropriately? For Tracing Genres, I tried to write in a clear case study style similar to the research I had been reading in HCI; for Network, I consciously used a writing style similar to Latour's, heavy with allusion and drama; in Topsight, I adopted a conversational style that I thought would be accessible to undergraduates.

For All Edge, I wanted to write a popular text that business readers would be comfortable picking up. This choice was influenced by David Russell, who told me I should write an "airport book," one that people would feel comfortable reading on a plane. Although I am pretty sure that this book won't be another Tipping Point (my editor and I had discussions about what that sort of book would entail), I think it should be accessible for business readers, undergraduates, and people from a wide range of fields. That focus led me to develop some angles to the argument that I wouldn't have otherwise used; one example is in Ch.3, where I use the extended illustration of simulated wood on cars to describe why nonemployer firms try to look like bigger firms.

One thing I worried about when writing in this style was oversimplification. I didn't want to appropriate the common business angle of boiling everything down to a simple, easily articulable principle that could be applied everywhere. (I think it was at that moment that I realized this book would not truly be an airport book.)

How did I get a publisher interested? This was perhaps the easiest part of the process. An editor at the University of Chicago Press was interested in manuscripts from technical communication folks, so Bill Hart-Davidson put him in contact with me. We had lunch at CCCC 2013 and hit it off.

How did I do? You tell me. I've had an advance copy of the book for a week, and I'm still excited to see it on the table. I have also been picking it up now and again and reading pieces of it. I think it stands up pretty well.

But then again, I've been living this book for the past few years. (I remember sitting with Bill Hart-Davidson and Mark Zachry in Mark's living room during SIGDOC 2012, describing the complicated chapter scheme in the above table.)

But see what you think. In fact, some of you may be at CCCC2015 today, wondering what book you'll read on the plane ride back home. Maybe All Edge could be your airport book after all.

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