The New Work of Composing

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

Webtexts are the textual form we studied that is closest to the familiar, comfortable, scholarly print essay. Indeed, all the webtexts we studied adhere to at least some familiar rhetorical moves and generic conventions for argumentative scholarly articles, which supports the findings of Allison Warner (2007). This conclusion is hardly surprising as genre studies scholars (e.g., Bawarshi, 2000; Devitt, 1997; Freedman, Adam, & Smart, 1994) have long been telling us the importance and influence of genre in shaping textual production. It reminds us, however, that texts do not automatically lose their scholarliness because they change medium. Digital scholarship does not inherently eliminate what we expect of other forms of scholarship. Yet while webtexts exhibit many of the same rhetorical moves as print scholarship, they add to and transform these conventional practices.

In addition to exhibiting recognizable argumentative moves, all of the webtexts we studied share another characteristic, though this one departs from traditional scholarly articles: length. The webtexts are rather long—much longer, in fact, than a standard journal article. Quantifying length of a digital text is difficult because the construct of pages does not exactly translate (though we still use that metaphor in referring to elements of web sites as “pages”) and measuring file size can be misleading (larger does not necessary mean longer as video and sound files can take up more space and are difficult to count as pages). But even quick scans show that these webtexts exceed the length of a standard journal article or book chapter. This webtext is no exception.

This absence of spatial limitation in digital venues affords extensive elaboration of ideas. Thomas Rickert and Michael Salvo (2006), in fact, framed “. . . And They Had Pro Tools” as extending and elaborating an article they had published in the print journal Computers and Composition. On the home page, they wrote that the webtext allows for “more complete endnotes” and “more detailed examinations of key themes and concepts." It allows them to do more of what is expected in traditional scholarly texts, which are limited by publishing constraints. The authors explicitly invoked this idea by explaining that the “Continue” section of their webtext “provides the kind of added value that illuminates differences between what one can accomplish in print and online. That is, as we will suggest, it speaks to the idea of abundance. In keeping with this idea, we reintroduce a major section of the print essay that was removed to meet the demands of print publication.” They continued in a section worth quoting at length:

The economy of print is built on scarcity. That is, it requires procurement. It costs money and takes resources to produce text, print copies, and ship and distribute artifacts. The economy of electracy is built on abundance. The web works on a proliferation model where it costs nothing to produce more, access more, and find additional resources. . . In creating this companion website, then, we have done our best to make available all the resources that are stripped away during the process of creating an authoritative print-based text. . . . We not only create added value for our original print-based piece, we want to make it more attention grabbing. (“Continue”)

Our analysis reinforces what Rickert and Salvo found; if anything, scholarly webtexts include an abundance of scholarly activity, doing more rather than less, even when measured by the standard conventions of explicit argumentation.

The Prezi below shows how this scholarly activity manifests itself along the five categories of rhetorical moves we studied.