Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks–Week 2

Back to school–my favorite time of year! George’s return to in-person school means that I now have a little writing time every day! It feels so luxurious to have this extra time, especially after 6 months of being together 24/7. Even though I still have one kid at home to take care of, it’s so much easier–he naps better when there’s no big brother to wake him up, too. As I write this, he’s sleeping on me in the Ergo, just like I used to do with George. With all of this newfound time, I’ve been able to get my coding & SPSS done for 3 datasets and actually get my quantitative data for the paper I’m working on about Congressional Twitter post-Parkland.

This week of the workbook focused on the argument–probably the most important aspect, and often the most difficult. When I’m marking or proofreading someone else’s work, it’s easy to spot a missing or weak argument. When it comes to crafting one of my own, from scratch…I struggle to come up with a clear, central argument that covers all of the ideas/angles I want to include.

I thought I had a fairly good idea of my argument for this paper-in-progress. One way of thinking about the argument was to see it as an answered research question, so with that starting point:

RQ: How did members of Congress use Twitter in the aftermath of Parkland?

Argument: In the aftermath of Parkland, members of Congress used Twitter as a political communication tool to express empathy and to display partisan positions on the national gun debate.

As soon as I wrote mine out, I realised it was a description, not an argument. It was also very dry and put me to sleep. The topic is inherently interesting–a school shooting, hashtag activism, partisan points-scoring in the wake of a tragedy–but how do I do it justice?

The workbook has a series of tests you can use to determine whether you have an argument. Mine failed the “observation test”–it doesn’t explain anything. It needs to be interpreted, in light of the literature and my specific findings. It also sort of failed the “obvious test”–my claim is too general and a bit obvious. It needs to be something specific and clear, and something that you could only find out through deeper research.

Part of the delay so far has been that I didn’t actually have my findings yet. You can’t form an argument if you don’t have the evidence you’re going to use to support your argument yet.

I’m still in the process of figuring out what the evidence is, but my initial findings suggest that there’s the kind of political polarization going on that you’d expect.

  • Democrat Congress members with NRA grades of “F” wrote 76% of all Parkland/gun-related tweets during the month that followed the shooting.
  • Fully 100% of the tweets that advocated arming teachers, supported the NRA, and supported the 2nd amendment were tweeted by Republican NRA “A” grade Congress members.
  • Similarly, 100% of the tweets that discussed gun-control responses from corporations (i.e. DICKS sporting goods and Wal-Mart raising the age to buy guns/ammo to 21) came from Democrat “F” grade Congress members.

The one topic category that wasn’t definitely favored by one party over the other was “thoughts and prayers”. It’s the only truly bipartisan response to the shooting. It’s become a cliched and mandatory demonstration of caring–politicians must tweet their thoughts & prayers as a minimum (and many did just that one tweet and then never mentioned gun violence/policies again that month).

I’ll see how the rest of the analysis goes, but this is one angle I’m suspecting might turn into an argument. In a crisis situation, like a school shooting, members of Congress must be seen to care (whether they actually do or not). Expressing “thoughts & prayers” on Twitter is a low-cost (in terms of effort, time, and money), way to perform that necessary display of caring. After Parkland, however, such performative caring was deemed by many to be insufficient. “Thoughts and prayers” were met with resistance, accusations of failure on the part of politicians to keep children safe, and calls to action. Policy changes were demanded, rather than/beyond the performative act of caring with “thoughts and prayers.”

**But, my data is about what Congress said/did, not what voters demanded of them, so my evidence won’t necessarily support that argument directly.

This is why it’s complicated!

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