By Gerry Lanosga, AJHA Research Committee Chair
The June 15 deadline for AJHA's fall conference is fast upon us, and I was asked as chair of the Research Committee to put together some tips for submitters of papers, research in progress, and panels. Since this is my first year as chair, I decided to consult some voices of experience. I’m grateful that former research chairs Erin Coyle and Michael Fuhlhage answered the call, as well as former research in progress coordinator Keith Greenwood and current panel coordinator Rob Wells.
First, make sure to carefully read and follow all of the published rules. Having been stung by my own failure to do so once or twice, I cannot emphasize that enough. As Keith puts it: “Follow the call directions! Pay attention to length and formatting for the proposal and the references. As the call says, submissions that do not follow the guidelines get rejected.”
Once you get the technicalities right, what makes for a successful submission? Erin reminds us that AJHA interprets journalism history broadly and values research that explores diverse topics and time periods using diverse methods. Good papers make clear the contribution they are making to journalism history. “Strong research papers clearly indicate the manuscript's purpose, state what primary sources are analyzed, explain literature that provides a foundation for the analysis, and explain what method each author applied,” Erin says. “Briefly stating whether a paper uses document analysis, oral history, or other methods can help readers understand more about authors' interpretations.” Further, Erin notes that a good historical paper will include sufficient details “that contribute to the paper's main observations and clearly relate to the purpose of the paper.”
Something reviewers appreciate is good writing and organization. Michael, in fact, believes the writing is as equally important as the primary sources and interpretation in a research submission. I love this advice he gives: “The best papers minimize the effort the reader must put into them through clear expression and signposting in the writing. One of the most important signposts is one I remember Mike Sweeney discussing: an explicit statement of what the paper is about. I've taken to requiring my students to begin that sentence no later than the bottom of the first page.”
Leave yourself enough time to step away from the paper for a day and then make a final edit with fresh ideas. That can help you spot not just grammar and style issues but also unclear or missing ideas. “I say this because after you've been deeply immersed in a project, you might not recognize that the things you assume everyone would know aren't actually such common knowledge after all,” Michael says. “These things need to be explained to readers who are generally well versed in history but not necessarily in your topic, place, or era.” Make certain you deliver on the promises you made to the readers.
Erin adds: Make sure you check your citations carefully, since AJHA reviewers are footnote readers. (Also, she says, our reviewers tend to appreciate footnotes that contain additional context or stories.)
Research in Progress
Many of Erin’s and Michael’s suggestions for papers also apply to research in progress submissions. For instance, Keith looks for a thorough discussion of primary sources: “Don’t just list but give some indication of scope and relevance. It’s hard to evaluate them without a description.”
Similarly, the focus and contribution of the research, as well as how it differs from previous work, are critical. “Some proposals score lower because the history connection or the connection to journalism isn’t clear,” Keith says. “Write so that someone who doesn’t study your specific area can understand the topic and significance.”
Rob says he looks for panel proposals that have a clear mission to discuss a specific episode or topic in history from a variety of perspectives.
“Each of the panelists should be making a separate contribution to advance the overall narrative. The problematic panels have a general thematic idea and sort of a grab bag of papers under that heading. The good ones drill down into a topic.” Rob also likes to see diversity on proposed panels. That can include a mix of advanced students and seasoned faculty, for instance.
Major problems Rob has seen with panel proposals include the omission of a moderator, which is required, and the inclusion of panelists who are also on other panel proposals, which is not permitted.
I greatly appreciate these wise words from Rob, Michael, and Erin, and I hope you also find them useful as you finalize your submissions. This year’s research committee, including Rob and new research in progress coordinator Jane Marcellus, look forward to seeing your proposals. Good luck!