I presented some new research three times in the last six weeks. There’s nothing new about that save the fact that we haven’t finished writing the paper. I can’t overstate how much I’ve learned about what our paper is and, more importantly, what it isn’t.
I can’t speak for you, fellow writer/scholar/waffle enthusiast, but I have a tendency to lose track of what we’ve actually, specifically, learned from the research in question when it comes time to present the research to the world. Instead, I get wrapped up in why we started the project in question. A haze of almost scholarly nostalgia can obscure the communicating of the contribution being made.
Often, for me, research is motivated by a discomfort I feel with how a question is being asked or answered in the literature, or often, not being asked at all. That sort of righteous indignation is great for fueling the sense of self-importance necessary for starting a 3-5 year research project, but it can be inhibitive to communicating the actual contribution produced by those years of work.
Sure there were the standard identification quibbles from audiences. And yes, I felt the groping reach of arms trying to pull me into their more narrowly siloed research areas. This isn’t labor, it’s IO. It’s not monopsony, it’s imperfect competition. Why don’t you talk more about policy? The history? That’s useful, it will help you refine your analysis and keep it up to date, but it’s not the kind of commentary that can fundamentally change how you write a paper.
What I’ve been able to observe, through these early presentations absent a draft, is the conversation the audience wants to have. Where there minds naturally take them without the structured guidance of a written draft. What our findings can and cannot convince them of.
What I’m learning isn’t how to convince them of the grand thesis that initially motivated the work. What I’m learning is the conversation our work can generate and, within that conversation how I can persuade them to take just a few steps down a path I want to see explored in the field going forward.
Present your work early. You’ll be amazed how much the audience can teach you about a paper you haven’t written yet.