Anatomy of an Article
Joseph Janangelo

The Ongoing Project of Re-Seeing One’s Work

Toward the end of our interviews, I asked the participants what else they would like to say about the experience of working together and of mentoring student writing toward publication. Here are their comments.

Patti remains very appreciative of the opportunity to work with Jonathan. She recalled that “it was a great experience” and added that “I feel like I learned a lot about how I work with my own students and how I want to work with my students.” She also recalled that “The two papers I responded to were very different, and the writers responded differently.” For her, “the process illuminated what I already knew—that I had to find ways to ask questions appropriately, that I had to listen when they didn’t understand or when they clearly rejected my suggestions.” She revealed that, ultimately, “I was reminded how important it is to listen to the student’s confusion or frustration carefully and to respond in ways that help them learn to re-see their writing.”

I then asked Patti if she could generalize from this situation and give advice to undergraduate writers publishing and to those who seek to mentor them. After graciously responding, “Hmm, good question,” she offered this detailed and intriguing response:

I think to the students—embrace an openness—that in this sort of student/faculty relationship, the goal is two-fold: 1) to improve the particular piece of writing, and 2) to help the writer learn to ask questions about the rhetorical situation, their own goals, etc. And, to the mentor, I think I’d emphasize that it is a rewarding experience. To work with students who are not our own lets us learn to guide differently and allows us to think about how we guide more carefully. I think I’d also tell mentors that the process requires patience and reflection—that we’d ask questions or make suggestions our own students would understand given what we discuss in class. In this case, the student may have discussed the same exact issues in class but in different ways, thus their interpretation of our intentions may seem off. Repetition helps.

I also asked Jane what she learned from working with this author. Her response was both precise and positive: “Jonathan’s persistence and grace were inspiring to me.” She added that “I was so impressed by how he took advantage of all the opportunities available to him to continue improving his work.” Furthermore, she noted that “He accomplished much of this work in his final semester at University of Missouri–Kansas City and after graduation while working outside the academy.” Modestly ignoring her many important contributions to the author’s success, Jane defined Jonathan’s diligence as “a pretty impressive commitment to a project!”

Because she now serves as the editor of Young Scholars in Writing, (and to throw an even brighter spotlight on the journal’s very important work) I asked Jane to say a bit about the journal's mission. Jane’s response clarified the journal’s mentoring roles and goals:

Young Scholars in Writing’s mission is to help make research a central part of undergraduates’ work in rhetoric and writing studies and to create opportunities for students to share their research with national/international audiences. I believe that the research published in YSW stands along side much of what is published in other peer-reviewed scholarly journals and that the work of undergraduates can and should help shape our disciplinary conversations. I’m thrilled that YSW is now going to be indexed in the MLA International Bibliography, and I’m eager to create more avenues that will help researchers find their way to the work of YSW authors. As guest editor for volume 7 (and now the journal’s editor), it’s tremendously rewarding to work with YSW authors and to hear from them how the publication process transforms their sense of themselves as writers and scholars.

Jane then elaborated on what she learns from the process of mentoring undergraduate researchers through a given publication process, saying that “For me as a teacher, it’s been such a learning experience to see my students go through the submission/publication process with YSW.” That is because “The feedback (both positive and negative) that my students have gotten from peer reviewers and editorial board members have held up a mirror to my own practices in giving feedback to students.”

Jane then articulated the reciprocal learning that can occur when mentoring student writing with another colleague. As Jane put it, “Patti gave Jonathan suggestions that hadn’t occurred to me but that I now recognize as just what he needed to hear in order to move his project forward.” She remembered that “I also had a student whose work was rejected for YSW.” She then added, “and even though the editorial board member felt the piece needed more work than could be accomplished within YSW’s tight publication schedule the feedback that he offered the student helped her completely re-see her project.” This re-seeing had several benefits. According to Jane, “I think I was steering her in a direction that just didn’t click for her, but the editorial board member’s feedback helped her reconceive her project and she’s now submitting to other venues.”

I asked Jane to describe what she perceived to be the biggest developments in Jonathan’s essay. Once again, Jane generously put the focus on the author and reviewer, saying, “I feel like Jonathan developed a more polished and academic voice.” She stated that “He narrowed his focus (thanks to Patti’s smart, diplomatic feedback) and pulled back on the cheerleading about Hillary Rodham.” There were other benefits as well: “He also, I think, did a much better job of integrating some academic sources that helped to situate his analysis of Rodham’s rhetorical development in terms of student activism and feminism in the 1960s.” Beyond that, there was yet another win: “And he began to do more close textual work with Hillary Rodham’s writing, which he really needed to do. And he relied less on lots of quotes from other scholars/historians, especially Bernstein.”

In extolling the merits of undergraduate research, Laurie Grobman and Joyce Kinkead (2010) argued that “the power of inquiry” has an “effect not only upon the students, but upon their mentors” (p. xxviii). That appears to be especially true in this case. Jane praised Patti Hanlon-Baker’s vital contributions to Jonathan’s article, “I also really appreciate the ways in which having Patti respond to Jonathan’s work helped me re-see and re-think the feedback I had given Jonathan.” Offering Patti more praise, Jane added, “More particularly, she encouraged him to limit his focus to just written rhetoric and to eliminate a portion of his essay focused on Hillary Rodham’s commencement speech at Wellesley.” As Jane recalled, “That had never occurred to me (duh!)...and it really seemed to free up Jonathan to do a little more close textual analysis of her senior thesis and her work in the law review.”

Hoping that Jane would be willing to generalize a bit from the particular situation of mentoring Jonathan, I asked her to give some advice to undergraduate authors hoping to publish their work and to those who seek to mentor them. Suggesting that she “may have embedded responses to this question in my answers above,” Jane offered some explicit advice: “To undergraduate authors, I’d encourage them to submit their work to YSW (and to other venues) and to view the process as a learning experience, regardless of whether their work is ultimately published.” Noting the many potential complications and vicissitudes of the publication process, Jane added that “I tell my own students that it’s so important to develop a tough skin and to figure out how to learn from disappointments.3 YSW tries particularly hard to offer students who submit useful feedback on their work.”

Jane also had some astute advice for those who wish to help undergraduate writers move their work forward:

To mentors, I think it’s just all about good teaching (being authentically present for students, creating a space for them to take charge of their learning, serving as a mirror for them and helping them see their work through the eyes of others), and there are so many folks in rhetoric/composition who are far better teachers than I am.

Jane’s remarkable generosity and modesty are reflected in another insight she shared: “I do think it helps when faculty members share their own experiences of both publishing successes and failures with students.” According to her, sharing one’s experiences “de-mystifies the process and helps students realize that even folks they perceive as ‘successful’ have had their share of disappointments.” 4

Discussing the dynamic of demystification and disappointment as it can play itself out in publication processes led Jane to reflect on the unfinished nature of most scholarly projects, even those that do manage to “culminate in publication” (Figlerowicz, p. 119). As Jane put it, “I guess I’d like readers, mentors, and undergraduate researchers to keep in mind that even a published piece isn’t necessarily finished.” She pointed out, “I think Jonathan’s final essay is wonderful, smart, and well written, and I’m delighted that it’s going to be published in YSW.” When asked, she expanded on this idea: “I can also imagine ways that Jonathan might continue working to improve the piece . . . and it’s certainly been my own experience that I’d like to go back and revise essays that I’ve had published.” As she explained, “I think the published essay is still a step in a more extensive and ongoing process of intellectual development. And I wouldn’t want folks to fetish-ize the published essay as THE hallmark of success for the undergraduate researcher.”  She concluded: “What’s important, for me, is that undergraduate researchers have lots of opportunities to take their work beyond the classroom.”5