Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Writing :: IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication special issue on entrepreneurship communication

Spinuzzi, C. (2016). Special issue on entrepreneurship communication. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication 59(4). 

Funny story. A couple of years ago, I had a great idea. The professional communication journals had not really concentrated on the question of how entrepreneurs communicate, but based on my literature review for a related project, I thought that enough work was being done to sustain at least a couple of special issues.

So I thought: How about this?

(1) Put together a special issue on entrepreneurship communication for journal A.

(2) Use it to drum up interest for entrepreneurship projects in conference B.

(3) From there, cultivate entries for a special issue on the rhetoric of entrepreneurship for journal C.

What I liked about this scheme was that it would quickly generate a relatively coherent body of scholarship rapidly. I knew that people were already interested in entrepreneurship, but the three events would provide exigence, i.e., get people to prioritize their entrepreneurship projects and get them to begin citing each other.

The plan didn't quite work. I thought I could build in 18-24 months between (1) and (3). But that long timeframe was not optimal for the journals. Instead, things unfolded in this order:

October 2016: (2)— IEEE Procomm 2016
December 2016: (1)—this special issue
July 2017: (3)—an upcoming special issue in JBTC

Nevertheless, I'm really pleased by how things turned out. The IEEE special issue has been out since December, and it constitutes a strong set of articles. I wrote the introduction, of course, which draws on my previous literature reviews from articles I've published. It also characterizes the articles in the special issue. Given the focus of the special issue, I specifically framed this work in terms of communication (not rhetoric) and grouped the articles in terms of the genres they addressed.

Since I was editing both issues at the same time, I wrote the special issue introductions at the same time. This allowed me to make sure they had different focuses, drew on significantly different sources, and drew a clean separation between entrepreneurship communication and the rhetoric of entrepreneurship.

Finally, I was able to back-cite from the JBTC introduction to the contents of the IEEE special issue, which turned out to be a really useful move, since up to now, the topic of entrepreneurship has not been discussed in a coherent body of literature in writing studies. (It has of course been covered ably in individual books and articles.)

Overall, this was a good experience. I'll pull out just one thing for consideration in writing projects: maintaining coherence.

Newer scholars begin at the level of the paper or article. The challenge is to sustain a coherent argument across 10-50 pages. For this work, they draw on the genre of the research article, which provides cues and set moves for maintaining coherence across that argument.

Those scholars eventually have to write a dissertation, in which they must sustain a coherent argument across several chapters. This challenge is at a higher level of difficulty, but the genre of the dissertation provides considerable structure for addressing it, as does the mentorship of the dissertation committee.

Once a scholar gets her first job as assistant professor, she must sustain a coherent set of arguments across a set of publications (this is called a "career trajectory"). This set of publications may need to include a book. Here, the new scholar receives much less support, since she is working across a set of genres rather than in a specific one, and since mentorship of assistant professors is spotty. The endpoint is usually tenure. (One way of maintaining coherence is through self-citations.)

At least by the time of tenure, and likely sooner, the scholar has to begin a new major project. That project has to be distinct from the previous one, but still must maintain some coherence (that is, the scholar still needs to articulate a trajectory). This means more publications on a different case, method, or concern, but still drawing from previous work. At places like UT, it means a second book.

By the time the professor gets promoted to full—which is where I am—she needs to think in terms of larger groups of publications. That means developing lines of coherence that could be followed by others in the field, across larger fields of coherence (e.g., special issues, conferences, one's own articles and books).

That's where things get really interesting. And potentially useful.

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