On the utility of academic writing

I recently completed an independent study, reviewing The MacCrate Report and 24 pieces of academic writing on the subject of teaching legal research afterwards.  I will soon be launching another project using that work as its base, but one thing struck me again and again as I read these articles.  I noted it in my conclusion to the literature journal which was the output for the class and I reproduce it here:

It seems to me that the increased focus on practicality is key – and not just practicality in the realm of how research is taught, but also practicality in terms of the costs and benefits of various tools, and practicality in the way these problems are written about in articles such as the ones I have reviewed.  To identify a problem and discuss it in the abstract only continues the problem – offering real-world ideas, even if they are flawed ones, can help debate and dialogue flourish in the search for actual solutions to bring to the library and the classroom.

Perhaps it is my business background talking, but I found myself getting very frustrated at times reading pieces that either a.) only pointed out problems without offering solutions, or b.) talked about teaching in terms of abstract theory that would be hard to put to use in a classroom or library setting.  Reading these, my brain responded with a dull thud that sounded surprisingly like, “So what?”

In contrast, when I read accounts of clinical programs utilizing the nascent skills of students in research classes or exercises designed to get students to stop thinking about research as a discrete project and put them on the path of thinking about research as part of the overall process of representation, then my brain began to spark off further ideas and refinements.  I could imagine scenarios where something worked and led to something else — or didn’t work and led to something else.  How would I handle that?

Papers that offered practical solutions or outlined actual innovative curricula made me want to teach.  They implicitly handed me tools to try — or at least to consider.  So, I am putting myself on notice: write what you would want to read.