The New Work of Composing

Scholarship on the Move:
A Rhetorical Analysis of Scholarly Activity in Digital Spaces
Twitter: Overview

In his blog “TechNotes: Teaching Writing in an Online World,” Nick Carbone (2009, July 6) noted that, “All writing is part of a social network, of course. But Facebook and other online social networks accelerate the social." “Microblogging,” as the process of exchanging posts in social networking spaces like Twitter has been dubbed, is a form of textual production that, for many scholars, exists at the opposite end of the textual communication spectrum from the scholarly, print-based, book-length production. These texts are extremely limited in length (140 characters), highly social, personal, and informal in their tone (and often in their content), and they can move from scholarly to personal topics and back again with a rapidity that is certainly unmatched in more time-bound productions.

In this study, microblogging represents the farthest range of our efforts to identify composing activities that produce scholarship in settings and genres beyond the confines of print-only productions. Certainly, the activities of making arguments, speculating, associating, and dialoging occur in settings like Twitter, but even the fundamental representation of Twitter as a social networking space mediates against the acknowledgement of Twitter-based composing as a scholarly activity. Thus, while we do want to assess how particular Twitter posts or exchanges exemplify the features of our framework, such analysis alone may not be sufficient to justify Twitter's inclusion as a tool of scholarly composing.

One of the additional features that we feel needs to be addressed in developing a better understanding of both social networking and discussion group interactions as examples of scholarly activity is how these interactions tend to produce a type of collective meaning over time (through the development of a thread or several threads in a discussion group or through the development of a hashtag in Twitter). Therefore, instead of analyzing the posts of particular scholars, or Twitter posts in general, we have decided to analyze the posts associated specifically with the hashtag #cw09, which was affiliated with the 2009 Computers and Writing Conference. Among these many posts, we chose to concentrate on those in response to Barbara Ganley's keynote address. We made this decision because we believe that to understand Twitter as a space for scholarly composing, we must consider how networks within Twitter operate to create cumulative textual effects. In other words, the value of Twitter lies in the ways it can create an ongoing sense of participation—of being inside of a text under construction—not only as a sole author striving for coherence and impact on his or her audience, but as a member of a collective authorship, creating knowledge through ongoing exchange.

In this sense, Twitter is perhaps less like an individual entering the Burkean Parlor than it is an embodiment of a “Happening” or other experimental performance. It is the collective performance that makes knowledge and shapes thinking. Individuals act within this performance, sometimes even without being fully aware of the significance of their actions as part of the performance's ability to create meaning. And yet, participation in such a space can have a profound, ongoing effect on an individual's thinking, scholarship, and scholarly identity.

See the Prezi below for our analysis of Twitter posts in response to Barbara Ganley's keynote address at Computers and Writing 2009.