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Contributing to the Academic Conversation: Key Questions to Ask of Your Humanities Research

English language publications will expect your article to participate in a particular academic discussion. What should you address in your manuscript in order to do this?

Brandon Jernigan, Peter Marbais, and Deric Corlew also contributed to this article.

Preparing a research article in the humanities is not just about conveying your arguments and insights in writing. Your research also has to form part of a conversation.

English language publications will expect your article to participate in a particular academic discussion. In other words, your interpretation, reading or argument should respond to a particular issue or question in your discipline. Even if your article presents a new idea, interpretation, or discovery, it also continues a thread of research that may span several years or several centuries.

When you first begin your research, it’s not always clear where your ideas or readings fit within the established literature. A useful way to think about how your paper participates in a conversation is to go through a few simple steps:

  • What would you like to prove/establish/describe or interpret? How is your reading of the text or understanding of the problem different or unique?
  • What underlying issues does your paper address? That is, how is your interpretation/reading/position controversial or uncertain? Are there other positions or others who think differently? Have authors neglected something altogether?
  • What are the prevailing positions/interpretations? These are the scholars you need to convince about your position. Decisions about what terms to use, what to explain and what not to explain, and how much background to supply will depend on this particular conversation. (Bear in mind that the counterarguments your paper will consider should also come from this conversation or body of literature.)
  • How does your paper build on the work of others? Here, you might simply extend the implications of other arguments, or you might take issue with one part of an argument, modify it, and elaborate on your perspective. You might also identify a contradiction or complication in a source or the established literature and explore its implications. If the literature represents a narrative, how does your argument represent the next logical step of this narrative?
  • If your work is interdisciplinary, how does it bring together the different fields?
  • Finally, always remember to reference key articles in the field or your line of discourse. Reviewers will expect your article to acknowledge these seminal articles and research trends.

A research article can be understood as a dialogue between you and others who have engaged in a particular body of literature. By publishing your article, you are entering into the ever-evolving scholarly conversation.

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