Sunday, August 26, 2012

Writing Charlie's Words: a Research Article

Writing research articles can be a hoot. Really. No--really

There are several routes to publication for researchers. Sometimes I have an idea and wade through the basic research protocols and write... then, I submit the article to one publication and wait several months for a response. If it's a "no" (a.k.a., a rejection), I send the piece on to another publication. If it's a "yes," I wait to hear about revisions. 

For Charlie's Words, the editor Dr. Tom Hebert invited me to write. He wanted an article for a special edition of Gifted Child Today that focused on my research with athletes and their writing. For several years I'd been working with Burke Mountain Academy's ski coaches and racers helping them institute various writing protocols. I had the idea of doing a case study of one of the athletes and his use of journals. I wrote a proposal and pitched it to Tom. His "I love it" had me off to UMaine's IRB (Internal Review Board). 

For this board of colleagues, I wrote a research proposal that addressed the project's rationale. The proposal also included a Study Plan; a summary of the project's Personnel; statements about Subject Recruitment, Confidentiality, and potential Risks and Benefits; and Informed Consent forms for all subjects who will participate in the study. Pretty much all IRB proposals come back needing to be revised (well, at least the ones I've written). Charlie's was no different. The 15-page document landed in my inbox with suggestions and demands, so... 

I revised.  

Once the proposal was accepted, I began collecting data (e.g., interviewing, reading articles, mining our own understandings of a topic). Usually, researchers have favorite methodological approaches to analyzing data. So, we  identify a methodology and get on with it. (I'm a qualitative researcher and often use a grounded theory approach. I'm quite partial to narrative analysis. I like stories.) 

Once the data collection nears completion, I start analyzing. For this article, I interviewed Charlie, his coaches, his teachers; I also analyzed his writing from a trip to Chile and asked him do some writing. From my time with Charlie and his Burke mentors as well as my time analyzing the data, a story began emerging... from that story an article takes shape.

Obviously, most writers revise their writing during the composition process--these days I figure that revision process means 10-50 drafts of words, sentences, paragraphs, sections.... Really, who knows, but revising in the composing stage is a fascinating dance. Once a full draft is completed, I send it on to my personal editor and a trusted reader/editor. Then, these two good souls suggest revisions and make corrections (I'm notoriously dumb at using "like" and "as" for example and often tend to overwrite in first draft). Usually, I take their advice and...

I revise. 

Once that draft is complete, I return it to my editor and reader for another opinion. They always have second thoughts and those help me work toward fine-tuning the piece. 

Now the draft moves on to the journal editor and blind peer reviewers. At about 3 months--right at the Christmas holidays--I received my draft article back with a list of suggestions that needed to be addressed before mid-January. This feedback feels like a slap upside the head. Now, I have six different people making suggestions and corrections... and in the case of this article I had one reviewer saying that the article is bullshit and who do I think I am? After that... 

I revise. 

Charlie's Words got accepted in March and then moved on to the copy editor and production person. These folks often help you see how stupid you are when it comes to the proper use of citations from the 700th edition of APA. After that...

I revise. 

About 16 months after the process began, Charlie's Words was an article. (Click on the page below and you'll be taken to my website... scroll to the bottom of that page to find Charlie's Words. Click on "fullscreen" next to Scribd to read the entire article.)

Click on this page to be taken to complete article. 

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