Assignment #1: The Ideas Journal

Start an ideas journal of some kind. This can be a physical paper or digital notepad for those of you who like sketches, a lined journal, a computer file, or whatever is convenient and comfortable for you when you are imagining new projects. The authors of this book have a folder on their computers with literally dozens of half-page ideas sloppily drafted up. 99% of them will never amount to anything, but the remainder may eventually evolve into the kind of highly organic and personally invested project that one can really get into, possibly go on to define one’s career, and which one may even accidentally enjoy writing about–there is genuinely no better kind of idea for a project than these. Even if you do not literally pick up the same old note again when you start writing, merely having written it before will help you keep an idea in mind until it develops into something workable as a writing project. You may be surprised to know that echoes even of this textbook are found in that folder on the authors’ computers, drafted in bits and fragments before there was ever even an idea that there should be a book for you now, or that those notes would influence it.

As you write your ideas, or as you reassess them later on when you are feeling more practical, ask yourself the following questions. Not all relevant questions are listed here, and not all questions listed here are relevant, but these questions can help guide how you prepare to turn those ideas, or similar ones, into successful future projects:

  1. Is this the kind of project I can write by myself, or one that requires the support or involvement of others? (For example, this textbook is the work of two people and could conceivably have been the work of one if there was more time, but other people had to support the effort at various points in its development in order for you to have it now as a student.)
  2. Would this project require any special equipment or financial support, like a research grant or a laboratory? (For example, this textbook did not require any special equipment per se to write, but it did require access to a university library. To have it produced en masse as a textbook in this case required a grant and technical support.)
  3. Would this project require permission from the university’s research ethics Institutional Review Board (IRB) to involve human subjects for research, something which has to be granted before that research can begin? (For the example of this textbook, thankfully no.)
  4. What is the best form for this project to ultimately take, e.g. a conference presentation, an article, a book chapter, a monograph, patent, etc.? (This question can be tricky, since the end of a project is not always visible from the beginning–for the example of this textbook, it definitely was not a textbook when it was first imagined, but now in retrospect, a textbook seems like the best way to share these ideas. When starting out, a conference presentation can be the best way to assess if a project is viable, since if your ideas can physically draw an interested crowd that is rather promising. Notice that “classroom assignment” is not on the list, because as a graduate student, none of your ideas should be conceived and planned to end up only as an assignment.)
  5. Who is the target audience for this project? How can their needs and interests be better accommodated as it is presented? (For example, this textbook is clearly intended for students, specifically graduate students. Because of that, the authors chose to take a more personal tone, since the authors are professionals seeking to welcome more professionals to the field. Also, adult students perform better when they are told why a task is important, so explaining that is a part of this book. If it were written for teachers, the tone would be different–if for novice teachers, there would still be a lot of explaining, but not for experienced teachers. For experienced teachers and scholars, this would need to have many more sources to justify exactly why this approach is better than the other approaches those experienced teachers or scholars may already be familiar with. It would also not be a textbook in that case, but probably an article or conference presentation of some kind. This may all seem like details in retrospect, but these were important strategic decisions made along the way as the project which is now this textbook developed.)
  6. Most relevant to the upcoming assignments in this course, what kind of literature needs to be reviewed in order to support this project? Does it need to be an exhaustive review or a brief look? (This will vary greatly from one discipline to another: in some disciplines, “literature review” seldom means more than a paragraph while in others it can form most of the finished paper. It also varies from one project to another: if your project is controversial, you will likely either need compelling empirical evidence, substantial support from a more thorough review of the literature, or both–otherwise, current scholars may dismiss your work. For the example of this textbook, the authors are writing primarily for students who probably are not familiar with linguistics, education, or the debates surrounding them, and so a few references to an educational theory about classroom management and functional linguistics, as opposed to traditional Chomskian linguistics, are adequate. Examples of those used in this chapter appear in the references section below.)

Your instructor may want to see some of your ideas or the questions you answered about them, and may request a particular medium for submitting them–some of your ideas might be better than you think, and any feedback they give may surprise you.

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