For the Sake of Scholarly Argument? | Get Your Research Published
Every author knows that there is a great deal of material out there these days competing for readers’ attention, and this is the case even for scholarly text. Creating content that is engaging enough to attract and hold readers in such a context is challenging to say the least, yet essential. Citations of published articles are vital to employment, promotion and funding for researchers at many institutions, while followers, connections and readers on personal blogs and professional media platforms matter. One approach that tends to attract attention is to be contentious. This can be an excellent strategy for an academic or scientist because advanced research is often born of debate, controversy, innovation and differences of perspective and opinion, so contention can be vital.
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There is, however, a possibility of becoming carried away with a contentious voice. It can be fun to find a point of disagreement on key issues, and an opinionated voice can certainly attract immediate attention. Yet it can also become irritating rather quickly, especially if the contentious stance is constant or there is little substance in the points of contention. Scholars sharing scholarship online are usually acting in a professional capacity, so it is best to maintain a professional approach. Keeping the focus of your more contentious writing firmly fixed on your research and the arguments you develop from that research may prove effective. Certainly this approach will mean that you are able to comment from a stance of expert knowledge and will therefore ensure substance and interest in the content you produce.
Playing the devil’s advocate or arguing against some principle, process or theory simply for the sake of questioning and testing is a traditional aspect of some scholarship, and it can certainly draw an audience. It can also come across as insincere and even offensive to certain readers, some of whom may not fully understand what you are doing. If you are writing in a context where a varied and unpredictable readership may access your writing, with the internet being a good example, you may want to keep contention of this kind to a minimum. Aiming your devil’s advocacy at your own hypotheses and methods means that no one can misinterpret your comments about another scholar’s or author’s work. In addition, explaining exactly what you are doing and why will make your intentions clear to your readers, while also dramatising the processes of scholarship. The focus on your own work will again keep your writing under the cap of the professional scholar, a cap that can all too often tip askew when criticism is aimed at colleagues and predecessors.
Ensuring that your arguments online are firmly tied to your research arguments in purpose as well as content will also prevent playing the devil’s advocate for no other reason than to increase readers and views. I suspect we have all seen the blogger desperate for online traffic who proclaims some contentious opinion or untruth simply to earn visits and comments. Comment after comment may hurl abuse at the opportunistic author, but he or she cares little, so great is the joy of seeing how each nasty comment increases the number of visitors to the site. This may work in the short term, but it is thoroughly unprofessional and will ultimately turn readers off, especially those who are seeking serious scholarship.
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