using metacommentary to specify your contribution: christmas present three

A metacommentary is the term used to describe a narrative which directs the reader’s attention to the text’s purpose and positioning. According to Graf and Birkenstein (2010), the function of a metacommentary is akin to that of a Greek Chorus – it stands to one side of the action and explains what is going on to the audience so that they don’t lose track of where they’ve been and where they are headed.

The introduction to a chapter or journal article often requires an extended metacommentary. The metacommentary allows the writer tells the reader what they are doing, why and how. It positions the work in the scholarly field, but also often in the wider policy and practice fields. The writer uses metacommentary to carefully delineate what they will and wont do, define key terms, and thus indicate very clearly the contribution that they intend to make.

It is helpful to read introductions simply for their metacommentaries, to see the way the language works and to see the moves that are made. Here is one example taken from an edited collection I recently read. It is the introduction to a chapter called “Exploring the use of social network sites in the workplace” (Watson-Manheim, 2011)

I have put in bold the most important sections of metacommentary.

There is considerable interest in the use of social media in organisations today. In this chapter I explore the potential for use of social network sites (SNNs) for performing organizational work activities. I focus on the use of SNNs in the workplace for communication and collaboration between employees (either in the same or different organisations), which is directed toward the range of firm activities supporting the production and distribution of products and services. In other words, this chapter is not focused on customer interactions primarily directed toward the marketing of produces and services, or the management of the firm’s brand.

The question I explore is what value a new set of communication media tools can bring to an organisation where employees already have a plethora of media to choose from to perform work activities, and under what conditions it is likely that these tools will be adopted. In particular, I discuss the use of SNNs to perform collaborative work activities. There are a wide variety of SNNs available to users which have had varying degrees of success (boyd and Ellison, 2008). However I do not focus on a particular site, eg LinkedIn or MySpace, but in software applications that enable similar functionalities. In this chapter, I base my discussion of SNNs on the general definition offered by boyd and Ellison (2008):

web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public within a bounded systems, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system… ( P 121)

In line with Grudin (2006) I argue that a significant benefit of social media in organisations will likely be for knowledge management…

The introduction then goes on to explore this latter point, using literatures.

I now want to go through this introduction again, sentence by sentence, providing an explanation of what the writer is actually doing in the metacommentary.

(1) There is considerable interest in the use of social media in organisations today. This opening sentence locates the work in a wide area of concern, both scholarly and practical. Given the nature of the book in which the chapter appeared it was not necessary to expand this point, as it might be in other contexts.

(2) In this chapter I explore the potential for use of social network sites (SNNs) for performing organizational work activities. This is the general purpose of the paper.

(3) I focus on the use of SNNs in the workplace for communication and collaboration between employees (either in the same or different organisations), which is directed toward the range of firm activities supporting the production and distribution of products and services. Here the writer delinates the aspect of the broader topic with which she is concerned.

(4) In other words, this chapter is not focused on customer interactions primarily directed toward the marketing of produces and services, or the management of the firm’s brand. Now she clarifies even further what she’s not going to do, just in case any readers thought that they might see this.

(5) The question I explore is what value a new set of communication media tools can bring to an organisation where employees already have a plethora of media to choose from to perform work activities, and under what conditions it is likely that these tools will be adopted. A further clarification is given for what will be addressed.These various clarifications are drawing a boundary around what will and won’t be covered.

(6) In particular, I discuss the use of SNNs to perform collaborative work activities. The writer is circling ever closer to the very particular focus of the paper.

(7) There are a wide variety of SNNs available to users which have had varying degrees of success (boyd and Ellison, 2008). But again this is still too open to a reader’s misconception – she needs to stop and clarify what she want to do, so again the writer says what she isn’t going to do… However I do not focus on a particular site, eg LinkedIn or MySpace, but in software applications that enable similar functionalities.

(8) In this chapter, I base my discussion of SNNs on the general definition offered by boyd and Ellison (2008): web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public within a bounded systems, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system… ( P 121) The writer now offers a definition of what she will focus on, at the same time anchoring her approach in the literature.

(9) In line with Grudin (2006) I argue that a significant benefit of social media in organisations will likely be for knowledge management… She concludes the metacommentary by stating what the article will show, and that this is in line with other work in the area.

So that’s a metacommentary. It’s a very careful set of manoeuvres which stop the reader having false expectations, jumping to the wrong conclusions and/or critiquing the writer for not doing something she never intended to do. It’s a kind of steering the reader onto the track that you have taken.

References
Graf, G and Birkenstein, C (2010) They say, I say: The moves that matter in academic writing. (2nd ed) New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
Watson-Manheim, M M (2011) “Exploring the use of social network sites in the workplace.” In Z Papacharissi ( Ed) A networked self. Identity, community and culture on social network sites. new York: Routledge. pp 169-182

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About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic writing, introduction, meta-commentary and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to using metacommentary to specify your contribution: christmas present three

  1. maelorin says:

    thankyou! this has helped me get past a long drawn out rewrite – and led me to think more clearly about what i have been trying to say, and how i’ve been saying it.

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