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Monday, February 28, 2011


The audience for a scholarly article consists of:

(1) Readers academic but not specialized. The graduate student in the field who hasn't yet specialized in any subfield. The interested colleague.

(2) Specialized readers; scholars in this particular subfield.

The article should be understandable for (1) but also tell (2) something new. Of course, there are gradations between (1) and (2). I might be specialized in Spanish poetry but not a specialist on Machado. In that case, I would still want to understand the article and learn something new, so intermediate categories don't really change the situation.

My graduate students should be writing for the rest of the class, but they should also tell me, the specialist reader, something new. An undergraduate paper I graded today told me something new about a novel that I had read a dozen times. Originality is really not that difficult in literary criticism. You just has to look at the text anew, just really look and see what is there.

Imagine if your criterion were only (1): Provide basic information to interested students or non-specialists. The you would no longer be presenting original research.

If your criterion were only to teach a specialist something new, then you wouldn't have to worry about being understandable by a graduate student. Since potential readers occupy various rungs of the ladder, though, it doesn't seem like a good idea to address only those on the top rung. Also, if you aren't communicating your message well to the graduate students, it is very possible that you are failing to communicate even with the specialists, who also vary somewhat in the exact amount of expertise they might have on every point of interest.

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