A Long Reflection on Writing a Digital Text (Part I: Why I’m Reflecting on This)

Whew. CCCC is over. And I just spent a major part of the last week finishing a journal article manuscript for Kairos. As with almost everything I do, there are some things I really like about it, and there are some that I don’t. Mostly, though, I’m proud of it. (Huge shout out to Hugh Burns, Cheryl Ball, Mike Edwards, and Alexis Hart, each for your help and support!)

Now that I’ve finished the project, I want to spend some time thinking about the process that I went through to produce the text. Clearly, it will be more than one entry here on the blog, but I don’t want to over-plan this reflection, so I’ll just try to make it into some smaller, manageable pieces of reflection. I have two goals for this set of entries. The first, and most important, is to try to honestly articulate for myself where my strengths and weaknesses lie in terms of digital textual production, as well as thinking through how to improve my own practices. The second, and still really important to me, is to create a public window into my own practices of working with digital materials so other scholars might learn from my experience or help me improve my approaches.

An Interview with Hugh Burns

About a year ago, Cheryl Ball mentioned to me that she’d set up an interview with Hugh Burns (of The Hugh Burns Dissertation Award fame) to be conducted at DMAC at Ohio State the following summer. She had her hands full with some other projects and asked me to help her out. I ended up asking about half of the questions during the interview and taking care of the video taping. The interview went well. She and I and Hugh had some good chemistry going, and Hugh demonstrated why he’s been so important to Computers and Writing scholarship.

I left Ohio last summer with sixty minutes worth of raw digital assets from the Q&A. But I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with them. I really didn’t want to just put together a string of talking-head footage from the interviews. I wanted to do something more interesting. What follows is sort of description of how I tend to get started on digital projects…

When I’m starting a project, I’m also thinking about the argument or question organizing the text. This text in particular didn’t start off with an argument because if anyone was going to be making an argument, I hoped it would be Hugh. (Yeah, okay all you post-structuralists out there, I hear ya. Enough already.) I went into the interview having done at least some research on Hugh’s career. Though he now teaches as Texas Women’s University, he began his career in the military back in the ‘70s as an officer and continued by teaching at the US Air Force Academy (I think in Colorado Springs. From what I understand, the military has been a force in his life and career ever since. I knew that his dissertation and the first article he wrote for Computers and Composition were both about the relationship between artificial intelligence and composition studies. And since I knew I would be submitting the article for the “.mil” special issue (read: Military issue) of Kairos, I sort of had a working knowledge of where the interview might go. I used this info as a way of formulating questions and shaping the interaction between us. It turns out I could have been 1/10th as prepared as I was because Hugh was such an easy and generous interviewee. The bottom line is, I knew that the heart of the text would be the ideas Hugh wanted to think through in the interview. And he delivered.

(That’s enough for today. I’ve already written the next four posts for this thread, but out of respect for the fact that you’ve probably got other things to do today, I’ll break it here. Tomorrow, I’ll cover some of the thinking-though, mistakes, and reflections of some of production aspects of this text and other texts in general. See you then!)

This article has 4 Comments

  1. awesome. I’m going to suggest my digital publishing students (who are helping to edit the interviews for the .mil issue) read your posts. No pressure, tho! They’re still learning what Kairos is and why anyone would actually want to publish that way. So your reflections will actually be of great help to them.

  2. awesome. I’m going to suggest my digital publishing students (who are helping to edit the interviews for the .mil issue) read your posts. No pressure, tho! They’re still learning what Kairos is and why anyone would actually want to publish that way. So your reflections will actually be of great help to them.

  3. To Cheryl’s students… I hope you all feel welcome to comment and/or ask questions, or ask each other questions here. You’ve probably got a class discussion board (or something) for that, but feel free.

    And Cheryl, thanks for the point-out!

  4. To Cheryl’s students… I hope you all feel welcome to comment and/or ask questions, or ask each other questions here. You’ve probably got a class discussion board (or something) for that, but feel free.

    And Cheryl, thanks for the point-out!

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