Thursday, June 24, 2010

Academic Research

A recent Chronicle article questions the flood of research now being published. The authors focus primarily on scientific research in arguing that there is an excess of mediocre research being published, which makes it hard for scholars to keep up in their fields, places a burden on established scholars to referee papers submitted, and reflects a "quantity over quality" basis for judging professional advancement. They makes several recommendations to stem the tide of marginal research.

My field of written composition has seen a huge growth in the extent of publication over the past 20 years or so. But much of this reflects the growth of the discipline itself. When I entered the profession around 1980, there was only a handful of journals: College English, College Composition and Communication, Research in the Teaching of English, maybe several more. It was possible to read nearly every significant piece of research in the field. Similarly, the number of books on composition was manageable. Now that's not the case. The current situation forces us all to sort of cruise through the available research or to specialize, focusing on only what pertains to our narrow interests. I've chosen the former tack, picking and choosing what interests me or what is authored by writers I know of and admire. This is not necessarily bad. It just means that I no longer feel as though I have a handle on the profession in the way that I did in the early days. Also, nowadays I seldom come across gripping, ground-breaking articles, whereas I remember years ago reading offerings by Robert Connors, Don Murray, Nancy Sommers, Steve Witte, Stephen North, Patricia Bizzell, or Janet Emig that excited me. Part of this feeling may be that I'm more jaded now. Or that retirement is just ahead.

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