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Daily Book Bite: Wendy Belcher on Entering the Conversation

March 18th, 2013

Now and then (pretty much daily) I will post bites from various scholarly writing books that I admire. This one is from my favorite guide to writing journal articles. I used this workbook to publish two major articles in my field as a literary historian.

Two scholars usefully call your argument’s relationship to previous arguments your “entry point,” your way into the ongoing scholarly conversation on a topic (Parker and Riley 1995). If you imagine your article as entering into a conversation, it makes perfect sense that you wouldn’t just walk into a room and start talking about your own ideas. If there were people already in the room, you would listen to them for a while first. If you decided to speak, you would do so because you agreed or disagreed with something someone else said. If the conversation went on for a long time without addressing some topic dear to you, you might say, “I notice that we haven’t talked about such and such yet.” In all cases, you would acknowledge the conversation and then make your point.

A useful aspect of this conversation analogy is that it focuses your mind on argument. You wouldn’t walk into a room and portentously announce descriptive information (e.g., Midnight’s Children was published in 1981 or South African elections were held in 1994). Everyone in the room already knows this basic information. Such statements aren’t argumentative. Remember, an argument is something you can coherently respond to by saying, “I agree” or “I disagree.” You enter into the conversation by supporting an argument, debating an argument, or announcing that an argument needs to be made. Therefore, your entry point is where your argument enters the debate occurring in the previous research on the topic.

Belcher, Wendy Laura (2009-02-13). Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success (Kindle Locations 3256-3261). Sage Publications.

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