IST 700: Next steps and Research Muddles

Project update: I’ve heard back from all of my core research participants and have been able to ask a few follow-up questions over the course of the past weeks. While some aspects of e-mail interviews have been tedious, as noted, I feel largely happy. I have a decent amount of stuff to work with and think through future problems.

I haven’t had much time to “do” next step stuff, as I’ve been trying to get a paper in this Monday, but that may be good, as I have time to think through the next steps.  I’m not sure whether I’ll do coding or not. I think I may go through and read the data a bit, trying to get a general sense of things, before making more specific moves. I also want to print out copies. Something about looking at a paper copy, instead of a screen, feels more appealing, like I may catch more or be less inclined to skim. On screen, I tend to have such an F-style reading pattern, which would not be good for research.

At this point, too, I’m trying to remain somewhat inductive in my approach, as noted in my last post for this class. I have my focus: intertextualtiy and the tensions created by openly intertextual work. I want to see what people are saying about this.

Shifting gears a bit, I’ve been thinking a lot this semester about presenting research in different ways. I think I often tend to “think” better in a PowerPoint setting sometimes. The way it breaks down units of thoughts into discrete slides helps me think more clearly about what those units are. In my head, they often get muddled. And though more long-term, free-writing thinking (much like this blog) helps me think through ideas, I have had trouble transitioning from that thinking into the presentation of thought in a paper. I can’t quite straighten out, simplify, and de-muddle.

Also, when presenting in a PowerPoint–or a poster composed of PowerPoint slides–I tend to think more visually, with images and lists needing to simplify woolly, big ideas. Connected with this is the need to “explain.” Being forced into a public performance of explanation, much like teaching, helps me distill ideas. What do I need to say? What can I leave out? Is this clear? What’s an easier, more direct way to explain this? My old news writing professor often quoted Strunk and White: “omit needless words.” Yes, and it’s a matter of omitting needless thoughts as well.  I find that’s easier to do when I have a clear audience and not a mental construct.

But I think the writing and thinking should come first. Writing the paper is often vomiting out the ideas; making the presentation is finding a way to organize and refine. I think the key is stepping away, and the changing medium, audience, genre–rhetorical situation, really–of the presentation makes the ideas more alien, something that is more present-at-hand.

And so I guess I’m ending these posts with Heidegger, just as I started with Heidegger. Lately I’ve been thinking through Heidegger’s layering of lethe (concealing or forgetting) and alethia (unconcealing or revealing) and the way truth is always awash with the two, never fully revealed. Sometimes, Heidegger argues, we even forget to ask the question or lose sight of the thing that the question is about. In a similar way, we often encounter objects of our daily experience in a ready-for-hand manner, picking them up and using them without reflecting on their deeper properties as present-at-hand objects. We hammers, and that’s enough–until  the hammer breaks.

But I don’t think one needs to have things break to ask the questions. The key is to step back and let what’s ready-for-hand  feel a little weird again, assert its properties and potentials. That’s why benign neglect is so important for writing–and I would add, research. And why research is so hard to do in a short time.

I often find my students start out seeing a “paper” as a weekend affair, but transition to seeing the “research project” as a long-term scarily open ended and unpredictable experience. This is my primary goal as a writing teacher: writing is always happening, it just might show up as discrete projects. A good writer is attuned to this always ongoing project.

Sometimes I need to follow my own advice.

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