Saturday, November 03, 2007

Research progress report

I am really enjoying the aspect of research that I seem to have entered about a week ago. (That's me, enjoying research...) My little project "jelled," so to speak, in that I have defined it in such a way that it satisfies three requirements: 1) the analytic literature review I am doing for Phil's Doctoral Research and Theory class covers precisely the background reading I've been doing for 2) Sharon's Web 2.0 research project, and 3) it's actually fun at this stage.

This week I finished work on a survey I will administer later on to law bloggers (blawggers) and began field testing it. I got many good suggestions from friends like Kevin Smith, Alex Bienkowski and Peg O'Donnell about things to clarify and to change. I made changes, and am retesting. Carlos Ovalle, I think, is lined up but hasn't commented yet. I should check on that. Maybe he has already sent me his comments.

I began working through the voluminous online IRB process, but I don't plan to submit my application until it is closer to the time when I want to administer the survey. I expect my own experience of drafting and soliciting comments about Mass Digitization in CommentPress to produce insights that I'll want to reflect in the survey questions.

Nevertheless, I started work on the introductory letter to email recipients, and the invitation letters, modeling them on those my colleagues in this class have used. I will post these for comment from my class colleagues and Sharon when I get them to next draft stage. I also began assessing where I would get my potential survey participants from. There are several academic blogging portals, one specifically for law, so I don't think I'll have a problem finding participants. Gathering valid emails will be difficult though, I suspect.

I also continued to write about my experience with the CommentPress blog, to track data in Google Analytics and to read. I am about to post the 4th segment and am really getting into the argument, finding great source material to support it, etc. This is turning out to be a lot more interesting than writing legal papers the old-fashioned way. Before it would not have even occurred to me to support legal argumentation with references to popular literature, blogs, news stories, etc. Cases, statutes and law reviews were pretty much it, maybe some legislative history. All that still must be in the mix, but I find that I can tell a much richer story with reference to what's taking place in the world outside academe. And richer story telling is a lot more fun than poor story telling. Ok, not a fair choice of words, but it reflects how I feel about it.

In particular, this week I focused on blogs themselves, rather than writing that I find in the journal literature about blogs as scholarship. The actual scholarly blogs themselves contain both primary source materials (writing as scholarship or at least as academic discussion) and discussions about blogs as scholarship. These sources will provide great quotations to illustrate points I might want to make based on my own experience, or even points that might emerge from survey data. (Query: if you quote people who have publicly written, and cite them, assuming quotes are short, ie fair use, there's nothing here of interest to IRB types is there? And is it normal to make such uses of publicly written material without asking for permission to quote? If it is normal to ask, why is that?)

The other thing I learned this week is that in many respects, the same kinds of comments, concerns and predictions that are being discussed around the idea of blogs as scholarship are being discussed by writers generally, about writing today (as compared to pre-Internet). RU Serius (Ten Zen Monkeys) posted an interview with ten authors in which they responded to the question of whether the Internet has been good for writers. The parallels seems striking. I expect to include this observation in my writing, with relevant references (quotes) to illustrate it.

Overall, I have found exploring the primary source material a lot more interesting than exploring the discussion of the subject in journals, but I suppose that's to be expected. The life gets squeezed out of it when it's "scholar-ized." In a way, this is becoming a theme for me, how to keep the life *in* research. I wonder if this might be one of the things that blogs can do for scholarship -- reveal a bit more clearly the liveliness of scholarly pursuits. The final paper form strips so much out, including the life.

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