Com theory book chapters

Someone asked for some “nuts and bolts” on how to get me the theory chapter, and what it should look like. Again, on word count: I don’t care. If it is much over 6,000 words, it’s probably too much. If it’s much under 3,000 you probably haven’t dug deep enough, but these are really just broad guidelines. Use as much or as little space as you think you need to describe the theoretical school you have taken on. In practice, it should be as short as possible while remaining clear. You should be going over your chapter carefully to look for places where you can remove a sentence or rephrase something in fewer words. That effort always improves the clarity of your work.

As I mentioned in the class, at this stage, I don’t have a fixed format in mind. I hope folks will start with a biographical sketch of their “tour guide,” the person that is their entree into a particular stream of theoretical thinking. For example, I know one of you is looking at phenomenological approaches to communication theory. You would therefore start with a single person (Merleau-Ponty, for example), and then expand to how this person’s views were unique, and how they shared ideas with a school or stream of thought. Who were their mentors, and how (if at all) did they diverge from them? Who did they, in turn, mentor (either directly or through their writing), and how did this lead to changes. Were there major schools or approaches that were contained by the tradition? What terms or ideas are central, and how were they interpreted.

We are already getting to the broader ideas of the theories presented, but you should definitely talk about the milestone research and publications that contributed to the theoretical development. What are the major claims of the theory? What does it explain? How can it be tested? Does it begin with particular epistemological or ontological assumptions? How does it relate to other contemporaneous explanations? How has it been criticized?

This year, I have a theme to my own thinking, which is that form and substance are not really as divisible as we might think. Of course, this is nothing new, but it keeps showing up in the work I am doing. The hyperlink (a formal construct) is really just more web content, and web content is really just more formal structure. I don’t want to go so far as to collapse the medium and the message, but I think we have overvalued the distinction between form and content. That is apparent especially in social computing, where the content can significantly change the form of the technology.

So, I cannot really say how you should form your chapter, as that is, in large part, up to you. Superficially, it would be nice if the structure from chapter to chapter was relatively congruent, but I suspect we can “fix” this in the editing stage. You should absolutely have subheadings. Normally, in a chapter this short, you probably do not need sub-sub-headings, but given that we are present material didactically, and that the book will be used as a text, the more apparent structure, the better. It should go without saying that beyond the headings, the structure should be made very clear, with abundantly clear topic sentences for your paragraphs, and a progression of ideas between paragraphs.

There are a few options for delivery. Here they are, in order of preference:

1. Go to the Wikibook for Communication Theory and create a link to your chapter. Then paste your chapter into that new page. Eventually, this is where all the chapters will be going, but if, at this stage, the whole wiki thing still freaks you out, do not worry about it at this stage. Your focus right now should be on producing the best chapter you are capable of.

2. Email me the chapter, in plain text, with double-spaces between paragraphs.

3. Email me the chapter as MS Word attachment. This is my least favorite, only because it means the most work to get it from here up to #1, but if you need to do it this way, that’s OK. As a note, for those of you running Asian-language Microsoft, the coding of your Word documents will likely be incompatible with English MS Word. It is not a huge deal, but it means, for example, that the quotation marks and other punctuation gets a bit messed up.

As far as citations go, I think we have agreed to use APA-style citations and works cited. Obviously, given the above, we are not following the broader APA guidelines for manuscripts. If there is something here I can clarify, leave a comment and I will if I can.

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3 Comments

  1. Carolyn
    Posted 10/24/2005 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    If we are pasting our chapter as a wikibook – does that mean that outside people can view and edit it?

    Also will any stylistic stuff (bold, fonts, dividers) transfer from word into the wiki?

  2. alex
    Posted 10/24/2005 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Yep, it’s going to be open to the world to view and to edit. You should be used to that with the blog, yes :). (At least the reading part.)

    Style won’t transfer. That’s going to take a bit of work. It will need to be done sooner or later, in any case, but at this stage, I am mostly just concerned with the quality of the prose.

    It’s not that hard to figure out how to “tag” things in the wiki structure to make them pretty, but if you don’t want to handle that right now, you can just get it to me in word and either I’ll do it, or I’ll talk to you guys about doing it.

    The one thing, style-wise, that will save a ton of time is the double-spacing between the paragraphs. Thes needs to be in the text itself, not just in Word. (That is, in Word you can set it up with space before or after each paragraph, but what we need is an extra hard return between each paragraph.)

  3. alex
    Posted 10/28/2005 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    Doh: I just found that someone else has already started a com theory textbook on wikibooks. Ah well, I still think we’ll move foreward with a parallel effort, since we share a common perspective. We can always integrate at a later date.

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