Practice of scholarship (Spring 2019)

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The Practice of Scholarship
Media, Technology, and Society (MTS) 503
Mondays 9am-11:45am
Frances Searle Building, Room 1-483
Spring, 2019
Northwestern University
Instructor: Aaron Shaw (
Office Hours: M/Th 1-3pm and by appointment.
Frances Searle 2-142
Course Websites:
We will use Canvas for announcements, submitting assignments, and maybe discussions.
Everything else will be linked to from this page.

Overview & objectives

The goal for this course is simple: submit a piece of academic research for publication by the end of the quarter. The piece should (obviously) be original. You should be the primary person responsible for the research and should be the lead or sole author of the submission.

The course and assignments are structured to help you cultivate (more of) the skills, wisdom, and experience necessary to publish independent, original, and high-quality scholarship in relevant venues for your work. There are several milestones to help you measure your progress towards manuscript submission at the end of the quarter. The seminar will be run as a workshop in which you will produce written work and provide feedback on each other's work every week. Most weeks, we will also read and discuss materials related to the crafts of designing, conducting, writing, submitting, reviewing, revising, and publishing scholarly research. The experience will probably feel like a combination of a writing bootcamp and an extended group therapy session.

A note about this syllabus

You should expect this syllabus to be a dynamic document and you will notice that there are a few places left blank or marked "To Be Determined." Although the core expectations for this class are fixed, the details of readings and assignments will shift. As a result, there are three important things to keep in mind:

  1. Details on this syllabus will change, but I will not change readings or assignments less than one week before they are due. If I don't fill in a "To Be Determined" one week before it's due, it is dropped. If you plan to read more than one week ahead, contact me first.
  2. Keep an eye out for emails and announcements I send through Canvas re: updates to the syllabus. You can also review the edit history of this page to track what has changed recently and compare it against earlier versions.
  3. You can always give me feedback and suggestions related to what works and what doesn't about the course. I will explicitly solicit your input a few times during the quarter, but be bold and feel free to submit your feedback to me at any time in any format. In the past, I have made substantive changes to courses on-the-fly in response to student feedback.


The assignments are designed to facilitate your progress toward the course objectives. Due dates for assignments are included in the course schedule below.


Almost every week will have some required readings. In general, I will provide links to readings or distribute them via Canvas. You are expected to have read these before you come to class and to have prepared for discussion. There are also some suggested readings and other resources you might find useful.

There is one book that we will read multiple selections from. I recommend you acquire it. There are multiple editions/versions, but I don't think it matters which edition you use (I think the chapter numbers and titles are consistent):

Becker, Howard S. Writing for Social Scientists. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

I have also included recommended readings from a second book:

Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

I have used this in the past to mixed reviews. As a result, I strongly recommend you at least take a look at some of the selections. If you like the tone and find the content useful, you may want to read more and acquire a copy.

Writing assignments

Every week, I ask you to produce and submit some written work. Unless otherwise noted, you should plan to upload this work to Canvas by 5pm on Friday each week. This will make it possible for me and your colleagues to read and comment on your work before class.

Feedback assignments

Almost every week, I ask you to review and comment on colleagues' work prior to class. In general, you should provide your comments as a response to their post on Canvas and come to class prepared to discuss the work and your feedback.

Optional research writing journal

Throughout the quarter, you may find it valuable to keep a research writing journal documenting your effort, progress, and reflections on your project in this course. I encourage you to write brief daily entries (or as close to daily as you can) and, at minimum, a few entries per week. Entries can be brief and might simply record what you worked on that day, how long you worked on it, and a sentence or two reflection on your work experience. You may also find yourself inspired to write more. This is an optional assignment and you do not need to submit it.

Final Project: Manuscript submission

Due: Monday, June 10

Your final project for the course is a submission-ready manuscript for a peer reviewed conference or journal of your choosing. It should follow the style, length, and formatting guidelines of the venue in which you seek to publish it.

Evaluation and grades

In addition to the assignments and frequent feedback you will provide and receive on your work, you will also perform self, peer, and course evaluations at several points throughout the quarter. Your final grades for the course will be constructed based on an aggregation of all these materials with the following weights:

  • Participation 20%
  • Written assignments 20%
  • Feedback assignments 20%
  • Peer and self evaluations 15%
  • Final manuscript 25%

Course schedule

Week 1: April 1 — Introductions

Note that this week we will complete the reading and assignment in class.



  • Draft a brief synopsis of the research project you plan to pursue in this course. Be sure to include as many of the following as you can:
    • A statement of the research topic.
    • A question, puzzle, or problem you aim to answer or resolve in this project.
    • The evidence you will use, how you collected it, how you will analyze it, and how/why this evidence/analysis will allow you to solve your puzzle.
    • What you anticipate you will find through your analysis.
    • What central takeaway your anticipated findings would support (assuming you find the findings you anticipate).
    • Why you believe this work and the anticipated findings are important.
    • A target venue (peer reviewed journal or archival conference) to which you plan to submit your work.
    • The status of the work you have pursued on this project to-date, including any prior papers you may have written, data you may have collected, and resources you may have or need to complete the work.
    • A timeline (with whatever milestones you deem relevant) for completing the project and submitting it for review by the end of the Spring Quarter.

Week 2: April 8 — Planning your work & work your plan

Reading Part I:

  • Becker, Howard. Writing for Social Scientists. Chapters 1 ("Freshman English for Graduate Students") & 7 ("Getting It out the Door").
  • Booth et al. Prologue to Section IV ("Planning Again") and Quick Tip on Outlining (pp. 185-188).

Reading Part II (pick any two):


  • Identify, summarize, and outline an exemplary paper:
    • Provide bibliographic information (the citation) for an exemplary paper (probably authored by someone else) after which you plan to model critical aspects of your own work (e.g., the topic of study, the theoretical framing/contribution, the research design, the empirical analysis, the writing style and/or structure).
    • Write a brief summary of the aspects of your exemplary paper that make it a useful model for the work you are pursuing.
    • Create an outline of your exemplary paper. Be sure to include section word counts.
    • Bring these materials with you to class and be prepared to discuss them.
  • Expand and revise the synopsis of your project:
    • Start with whatever you created in class
    • Be sure to include all of the elements I listed above.
    • The new and improved synopsis should be 750-1000 words long (just the text) and may include references if you want.
    • Submit the synopsis to the corresponding "Discussion" in Canvas.
  • Review a peer's synopsis. Write your comments as a response to the peer's "Discussion" posting.

Week 3: April 15 — Research question: Where's the puzzle?



  • Write a very brief motivation of your research project (Richard Landers calls this "the intro to the intro") that includes the following elements (submitted, once again, via the corresponding "Discussion" in Canvas):
    • A description of the topic and clear statement of the claim.
    • Question(s) derived from the topic and claim. Underscore the most interesting one(s) that you will address.
    • A brief statement posing your research around a puzzle or some other genre/framing device (see the Zuckerman reading for ideas).
    • A brief statement of the significance or application of your project.
  • Review a peer's "intro to the intro." Evaluate whether it effectively articulates a research topic, question, puzzle, and significance. Post your review as a response to your peer's post in the appropriate "Discussion" on Canvas.

Week 4: April 22 — Prior Work: Interrupting a conversation


  • Becker, Chapter 8 ("Terrorized by the Literature").
  • Booth et al., Chapter 6 ("Engaging Sources").
  • Becker, Howard. 1953. "Becoming a Marihuana User."(pdf) American Journal of Sociology, (59)3: 235-242.
  • Optional: Healy, Kieran. 2017. Fuck Nuance(pdf). Sociological Theory, (35)2: 118-127.


  • Identify the two or three most important existing theories/findings/systems that your work will test/synthesize/extend/enhance. Briefly (in about 250 words per theory/finding/system!) explain the relevant claims of the prior work, how it connects to your project, and what differentiates your project from it. As usual, post this to the appropriate "Discussion" page on Canvas.
  • Review a peer's posting. For each existing theory/finding/system they discuss, do they provide an effective, compelling rationale that justifies their project in relation to prior work? Are you convinced that they are addressing an important question in their domain of study?
  • Complete mid-quarter course evaluation.

Week 5: April 29 — Method: Research design & justification



  • Complete mid-course self-assessment and reflection (tbd).
  • Write up the methodological approach you (plan to) pursue in your project and your justification for the approach. Make sure to restate your research question and explain why the data/evidence you (will) collect and the method(s) of analysis you (will) use provide insight into the problem you are addressing. Make sure that your argument will convince a skeptical reader that your approach is sensible, well-thought through, and compelling (500-800 words) Post to the discussion page.
  • Review a peer's write-up of their methodological approach & justification. Does it make sense? Has the author provided a clear and compelling rationale for the analytical approach they take to their research problem and the data they use? Is there a mismatch between the research questions and the data? Between the methods of analysis and the focus of the inquiry? Be a skeptical (but nonetheless generous) reviewer.

Week 6: May 6 — Results & Discussion

Reading assignment goals: This week you will use one of the instructional readings and your model paper to extract general guidelines for presenting results and analysis. If you would like suggestions for additional model papers, please ask Aaron.

Reading: choose your own adventure. Because the presentations and discussions of results vary so widely across methods and research communities, you should chose one of the instructional readings below. Each one is aimed at writing up and discussing results gathered through a specific method (participant observation, interviews, and field experiments respectively. Copies of the text(s) can be made available if we need them.

  • Emerson, Fretz & Shaw. 1995. Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes, Chapter 7.
  • Weiss. 1994. Learning from Strangers, Chapter 7.
  • Gerber & Green. 2012. Field Experiments, Chapter 13.

Please note: Aaron will add other potential instructional readings to this list as he becomes aware of them. If you know of another instructional reading that you would like to use because it fits your purposes better, please ask Aaron so he can review it and confirm that it's suitable for the assignment.

Optional reading:

  • Booth et al., Chapter 10 ("Acknowledgments and Responses") and Chapter 15 ("Communicating Evidence Visually").


  • Based on your instructional reading and your model paper, prepare a check-list (or some similarly concise, usable representation) of attributes of excellently presented research evidence/findings. Your list (or whatever) should be the kind of thing you will use to guide your own work. Upload this to the corresponding Canvas "Discussion." We will use these to compile lists and common themes in class (using this google drive file.
  • Write up about 1000 words synthesizing the (anticipated) findings and discussing the significance of your research and upload that to the corresponding Canvas "Discussion." I recommend doing this in two parts:
    • Write ~500 words explaining the (anticipated) findings from your study. Quite literally, explain what you (expect to) find. What patterns of evidence (would) support these findings? If appropriate, include any data visualizations or tables you (plan to) present.
    • Write ~500 words discussing the findings in the context of the research questions and prior literature that frames your project. What is the (expected) contribution of your research? What do you (expect to) know at the conclusion of your study that was unknown or misunderstood before your study?
  • Provide feedback to your peer on their findings and discussion write up (and only their findings and discussion write up).

Week 7: May 13 — Introduction & Conclusion: End up at the beginning



  • Pick two articles from the February, 2016 issue of Journal of Communication (Volume 66, Issue 1) or two papers from CHI 2016 (or one from each).
    • If you choose JoC pieces, do not pick the Vorderer article. Do not pick a book review.
    • If you choose CHI pieces, do not choose a Note or a Panel or something else that is not a full, peer reviewed paper.
  • Read the Introduction and Conclusion for both articles (ideally, don't read anything else — not even the abstract!) and respond to the following questions (in writing, submitted via Canvas):
  1. Provide a link/citation to the paper.
  2. Briefly summarize the papers' respective central claims, evidence, and contributions in your own words.
  3. According to Little's templates (See above), what type of introduction does each paper have?
  4. For your favorite of the two, identify something you think it does well in the introduction and something you think it does well in the conclusion. Justify these choices/preferences.
  5. For the same article (your favorite), what suggestions would you make to the author(s) for improving the introduction? the conclusion?
  6. What can you take away from this favorite article for introducing/concluding your own work?
  • Write an introduction for your project and submit it to the corresponding "Discussion" on Canvas. Keep the Introduction under 600 words. Have it reflect your anticipated findings and contribution (from last week's assignment).
  • Provide feedback on your partner's Introduction.

Week 8: May 20 — Revise, revise, revise


  • Becker, Chapter 3 ("One Right Way") and Chapter 4 ("Editing by Ear").
  • Strunk & White. Chapter 2 ("Elementary Principles of Composition") and Chapter 5 ("An Approach to Style").


  • Revision assignment: Using Becker and Strunk & White as inspirations, please prepare to line-edit the rough draft texts that Aaron circulates via email/canvas (one by Silvia and one by Aaron). Read them, maybe bring a hard copy with you if you like to edit that way. In class, we will focus on improving the tone, style, and organization of the texts.
  • Work on accomplishing your goals for your final project for this week (no written assignment to submit or provide feedback on). Note that you will be asked to provide an update on your progress to your discussant from the May 17 class.

Week 9: May 27 — No class meeting (Memorial Day)

Week 10: June 3 — Submission, reviews, and revision in publication



  • Make progress on your final projects!

Week 11: June 10 — Final projects due

No class meeting today. Submit your final projects via Canvas.


This section can accumulate helpful resources on topics generally related to the content of the course.

  • A Dozen Slides Philip N. Howard gives advice on preparing a social science job talk that might also help you organize your thinking and writing for any project.



Attendance in class is expected of all participants. If you need to miss class for any reason, please contact me ahead of time (email is best). Multiple unexplained absences will likely result in a lower grade or (in extreme circumstances) a failing grade. In the event of an absence, you are responsible for obtaining class notes, handouts, assignments, etc. You are also still responsible for turning in any assignments on time unless you make prior arrangements with me.

In-class device usage

Please refrain from any uses of digitally networked devices or other distraction machines that do not directly contribute to your engagement with the course material. If you struggle to comply with this policy, I may recommend you temporarily put away your device(s) or leave the classroom.

Peers’ Work and In-Class Discussions

Throughout the course, you will receive, read, collaborate, and/or comment on classmates’ work. These assignments are for class use only. You may not share them with anybody outside of class without explicit written permission from the document’s author and pertaining to the specific piece.

It is essential to the success of this class that all participants feel comfortable discussing questions, thoughts, ideas, fears, reservations, apprehensions and confusion about works-in-progress, statistical concepts, independent research, and more. Therefore, you may not create any audio or video recordings during class time nor share verbatim comments with those not in class nor are you allowed to share using other methods -- e.g., social media -- any comments linked to people’s identities unless you get clear and explicit permission. If you want to share general impressions or specifics of in-class discussions with those not in class, please do so without disclosing personal identities or details.

Academic Integrity

You are responsible for reading and abiding by the Northwestern University Principles Regarding Academic Integrity. Personally, I expect you to exceed the minimal standards elaborated in those principles and to strive for admirable, extraordinary conduct in every aspect of your academic career. Feel free to ask me (the instructor) for clarification about this or related matters.


Emergencies happen. Unanticipated obstacles arise. If you cannot make a deadline, please contact me to figure out a schedule that will work. The more proactive and responsible you are, the more receptive I am likely be.

A word about extensions and incompletes: I strongly discourage them. In principle, I have no problem with extensions or incompletes. In practice, they tend to be a pain for everybody involved. If you absolutely must submit an assignment late, assume that I may require up to 1 month (4 weeks) to grade it. Please take this into account if you will need me to to submit a grade in order to receive your fellowship/diploma/visa/etc. by a particular date.


I am totally happy to provide accommodations for religious observance, physical needs, or other circumstances as needed. Any student requesting accommodations related to a disability or other condition is required to register with AccessibleNU (847-467-5530) and provide professors with an accommodation notification from AccessibleNU, preferably within the first two weeks of class. All information will remain confidential. For more information, visit AccessibleNU.

Sexual Misconduct

All participants in this class are bound by the Northwestern University sexual misconduct policy Please note, that the core of the policy states, "Northwestern is committed to fostering an environment in which all members of our community are safe, secure, and free from sexual misconduct of any form, including, but not limited to, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, stalking, and dating and domestic violence." I take this very seriously. Please review the policy and speak to me if you have any questions or concerns.

Email protocol

I receive too much email and I sometimes fail to keep up. If, for some reason, I do not respond to a message related to this course within 48 hours, please do not take it personally and feel free to re-send the message with a polite reminder. This will help me and I will not resent you for it.