Karen Hellekson wrote an intriguing post recently, suggesting that humanities scholarship take some cues from the sciences when it comes to purposefully surrounding articles with descriptive titles and perhaps even abstracts and keywords. She reminds us that, you know, that would make the stuff easier to find. And when we’re drowning in scholarship, ease-of-use and ease-of-getting matters, especially if it’s true that only 10% of humanities articles are ever actually cited.
Hellekson’s point is especially worth thinking about in the rhetoric and composition community, for two big reasons:
- We straddle so oddly between humanities and social sciences, preparing MLA-style manuscripts for CCC and then preparing APA-style manuscripts and walking through the abstract-necessary, keyword-crucial Elsevier site for Computers and Composition.
- We really, really love the cutesey titles.
And I use “cutesy” not disparagingly, but as someone who gets a kick out of the relentless wordplay summoned when a host of rhetoricians and writing teachers decides to do its very, very best to get a smile out of everyone who reads the title.
But at the same time, it’s true that I’ve seen myself fight against the tide in favor of clarity in title-writing. When submitting my first-est lengthy article of real scholarship to peer reviewed journals, I tried really hard to make the title work without a colon–not because I don’t appreciate colons in other titles, but because something inside of me didn’t like the idea of every title ever having a colon. (I landed on “Remix Literacy and Fan Compositions.”)
So I’m not sure. I want fellow rhet/compers to hear a complex message that goes something like, “Hey! Can you maybe continue to make me smile with your cleverness in titling scholarship, but can you try really hard to be straight-up clear, too? And, you know, that clarity is kind of more important.”
Side thought 1: does the presence of a discipline-specific, volunteer-driven citation organization like CompPile lessen the importance of metadata for us? A skillful citation-recorder should be able to skim an article, even with cutesy title and no keywords, and still associate the citation with a few helpful keywords for that database, right?
Side thought 2: I’m even writing this meandering post at all because I still remember a brief conversation I had about tagging with my expository writing students a few weeks ago. I was emphasizing (and this is going to be a remarkably unspecific, lousy summary) how Clay Shirky sees metadata as saving digital writing from the shackles of print-based models of organization. It’s tags, all the way down. (My class was a bit unimpressed by the concept.) And the more we find ways to use metadata systems that are tag-based but seamless for users–like mining clearly written titles for tagging info–the better our structures of organization will be. I think.