Sunday, April 8, 2007

How I work

I've been frustrated with myself in recent weeks because I haven't been getting as much work done as I'd like. In talking through this with a few friends, I've been able to see my own writing process with a clarity that I haven't had before.

Present business
There are two major writing projects right now. One is revising my dissertation proposal and the other is revising my IRB proposal. The projects are obviously interrelated-- what gets changed in one must be reflected in the other, thought the IRB proposal is much less detailed.

In the IRB proposal, I have one question left to address: how to ethically and responsibly recruit participants. My study is on whiteness and the Discourse (Gee!) that white students use when race is a topic in the writing classroom. I am setting up two focus groups of 4-6 white students. Given my research interest for this project, and the population of students with which I am working (predominantly white), I need to restrict the participants in that way. But I recognize that this move is discriminatory. I've talked with two of my mentors, and I'm meeting with one of the IRB members next week to get another perspective on how to work this situation. I have ideas, but it's not settled yet.

The recruiting question also factors into the revised proposal. The other significant concern with the proposal has been creating a straighter and stronger line from the conversation in composition to my research questions to my method. I have already established my project more firmly in existing scholarship, and I've refined my explanation of my method so that I show how the method will provide information that is new and needed. Revising the research questions has been far more trouble than I anticipated, however. It's been hard for me to conceive of how precise the questions need to be.

Getting back to work
I've been dancing with, around, and through these problems for a few weeks now.

When I've got a chunk of free time to devote to work, I start by addressing one of my known concerns head-on. After rereading what I've already said, sometimes I know exactly where I need jump in and add, delete, or revise.

Sometimes, I don't. In those moments, I shift to indirect work. I'll pull out an article or book that is related to the direct concern. I'll read and take notes, but it's not with the aggressive purpose of answering the immediate question. It's more like letting the roast simmer in the crock pot while folding the laundry. It's useful, it helps in the long run, but neatly folded t-shirts don't make the roast taste any different.

Sometimes that tangent will lead me back to the more immediate concern. If it doesn't I will continue to work around what needs to be done-- more reading, freewriting, rereading. I may also switch gears and grade or plan for class-- because there's always work there to be done. Again, I'm being productive, but it's not directly helping me answer the biggest questions.

My process is unreliable, though, in that I don't know how much working around it will take before I'm ready to address the direct issue. I'm still in the middle of working around these questions I described above, and I've had to do more working around than I usually do. I'm anxious to answer my questions.

- - -
(Today's indirect work is this blog post-- it's not helping me rewrite my research questions or describe my participant selection, but it does help me recognize my own tendencies.)

Cross-posted at Intent/Effect.

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