Another Look at Seminar Papers

I was looking at the infographics on “moving from seminar paper to publication“ and was reminded of another visualization technique that helped me during my time in NCSU’s CRDM program.

In Chris Anson’s infographic he mentions creating a flowchart as a way to visually map your ideas. When I was in my second year in the CRDM program I found it really useful to create Wordles of my seminar papers. While they don’t show the progression of the paper from seminar to article, the visual representation of my ideas helped me to discover my own interests as a scholar and see larger connections that I wasn’t initially aware of within my own work. It’s a great way to use existing word cloud software to gain new insights about your own scholarly interests and ideas (which, as it turns out, is one of my broad interests – how people use technologies in new and different ways).

Carolyn Miller offers excellent advice on positioning your papers within the “national disciplinary context” in order to join (and expand) the conversation. I challenge you to ask yourself, how might your all of your seminar papers broadly position you as a scholar in the academic market? Are there additional conversations you might want to join? Maybe you have underlying connections within your seminar papers that can help answer that vexing question. To get at those underlying pieces however, we might need another way to process the information. For me, the answer is visualization of the text-based information.

Creating word clouds of your seminar (and final) papers is a great way to visualize possible answers to my questions. Even classes that you feel on the surface have no connection to one another might provide you with some surprising insight when you look at your ideas and words through a visual lens. Before we look at a few word clouds of my seminar papers, I need to mention that my prior background is in broadcast journalism, documentary work, and multimedia advertising. For me, all of these are different forms of visual storytelling, my primary interest. In the wordles however, we see different themes, interests, and connections that I hadn’t noticed prior to my time at NCSU.

Below you’ll find four wordless I created from seminar papers written for the CRDM capstone courses that we all take during the first two years of the program:

Rhetoric and Digital Media capstone course. “The blueprint posting: form and style in an online discourse community.”
Technology and Pedagogy. “Teachers’ critical evaluations of dynamic geometry software implementation in 1:1 classrooms”
History of Communication and Technologies capstone. “Video Games in Hospitals: A Historical Overview and future research agenda”
Interdisciplinary Issues in Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media seminar paper entitled “Tracing Similarities in form and process: Repko, Ceccarelli, and Dobzhansky”

To create a word cloud, I simply paste the text of my paper (not including the works cited) into a field at and the software processes the information. While I can pick the color scheme and shape, the word sizes are determined by their frequency within my papers.

Within each word cloud right away we see the biggest is word “technology” or forms of technology (book, video, game). This makes sense. As a CRDM student my work most likely would have some broad focus on technology. But what I didn’t realize until stepping back and looking at the visual representations of my papers was that I have a broad interest in how people integrate new technologies into existing networks or how existing technologies are used in new or novel ways (like video games used as a distraction during chemotherapy treatments instead of simply for pleasure, or teachers using visualization software to teach math students how geometric shapes move). I also discovered that I like to trace conversations between users of technologies, to explore types of discourse and how communities talk to one another (my paper on online discourse communities and language use in cancer communities, another paper on revisions in book editions based upon community responses in articles and journals). Finally, while we see broadly the focus on users of technologies, I also have several connections to health related issues and community discussions of illness.

At the time, while trying to figure out how to expand my papers into potential articles, I was too close to my papers and focused on the individual classes as separate and distinct from one another to see the larger thread of connections between my writing for classes that had different foci on rhetoric, communication, pedagogy, grant writing and interdisciplinary issues. Making the wordles during my second year helped me explore my own writing in greater depth. Now I recognize these commonalities immediately as I use technologies in new ways for workshop events (see my recent Enculturation article on using light painting to explore our own text-based writing and revision processes) and, very broadly, the focus of my dissertation on how broadcast journalists use online platforms to repurpose existing television based materials.

As you move from seminar paper to article submission stage, consider making word clouds of your papers. It can help you see new connections between your larger body of work, and might also broaden your publishing opportunities. Once I noticed some of the larger themes in my writing, I made it a point to search for CFPs and journals that published works on those topics. I also frequently use those themes in keyword searches within journals in order to discover ongoing scholarly conversations. It’s almost like data mining and a reflective essay coexisting within a visual. As a visual storyteller, I find that very intriguing.

– Dr. Jennifer Ware is a CRDM graduate and Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

One thought on “Another Look at Seminar Papers

  1. Pingback: Come take a look, it’s on the blog (for 36 months and counting) | CRDM @ NC State

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