Study Overview: The Context for This Webtext

This webtext presents a tool for assessing the scholarly value of online journal publications; it is a part of a larger forthcoming study that investigates the scholarly nature of online texts toward facilitating their acceptance within English Studies as evidence of scholarship for professional advancement purposes.  Within the academy, there exists a widespread perception that online journal publications lack scholarly value—particularly in comparison to traditional print publications—and therefore they may not be recognized by tenure, promotion and review (TPR) committees as equal evidence of scholarly achievement (Burbules, 1997; Katz, 1997; Taylor, 1997; Walker, 1997; Gruber, 2000; Palmquist, 2001; Krause, 2002). Invested groups include: (1) scholars who produce these publications and (2) those who judge them (TPR committee members and external reviewers; journal editors and editorial board members as decision makers). These groups could benefit from a better understanding of the characteristics that comprise scholarly online journal publications.

This perception is largely due to a lack of shared knowledge regarding what constitutes “scholarship” in the online medium. While a majority of texts published in online journals over the past decade actually are print-replicated articles that follow traditional conventions of scholarly arguments (see Krause, 2002; Ball, 2004), a growing trend within online journals is the publication of web-based texts that are increasingly more reliant on hypertextual and hypermedia strategies to tell their stories and make their arguments. 

A review of the relevant literature on hypertext composing reveals a consensus among scholars that web-based texts are new forms of rhetorical presentation that require revised assessment criteria to account for the ways in which they extend the boundaries of traditional scholarship.  Assessing this relatively new and unique form of online text is challenging due to a general lack of established criteria for determining their scholarly value. While scholarly assessment criteria for print-based texts is widely (if somewhat intuitively) known, criteria for assessing web-based texts has not yet been explicitly articulated. Rather, these texts exemplify new standards of scholarship that are, as yet, merely implied in the publishing decisions of specialists in the field, namely online journal editors and editorial board members. 

A genre analysis of a representative group of online journal publications can help to determine more explicit criteria for defining the scholarly value of online journal publications.  Kairos, a reputable and longstanding—more than ten years and 22 issues—online journal in the subfield of Computers and Writing, was selected as the object of study. As a self-labeled transitional journal (the Kairos cover page reveals that the journal seeks to “push boundaries in academic publishing” while simultaneously “bridg[ing] the gap between print and digital publishing cultures”), Kairos is the most relevant choice for determining the extent to which the definition of scholarship is stretched, but not “snapped” beyond the academic community’s historically acceptable parameters. A journal that maintains a scholarly presence while pushing traditional boundaries of print scholarship is also an ideal choice because it provides a starting place for sketching a portrait of transitional, mid-range, currently common types of online journal publications.