What to Write About?

What to Write About?

As Provenance Editor, I occasionally receive questions about whether or not a certain topic would be of interest to the journal. I always say yes. Personally, I vacillate between having no topics or too many ideas of what I want to write about.

We are in a profession that enjoys engaging in discussion about procedures, theories, activities, and anything else related to archives. At times, it’s harder to have these discussions in written form, especially when (in the journal world) it can take up to a year to be published and not all articles are accepted for publication. And even though we’re a relatively small profession, it is challenging to keep up with all the literature.

So how to decide what to write? Besides being asked about specific topics, potential authors ask me that as well. My responses include:

  • what did you not learn in library/archives school that you wish you had?
  • what do you want to know more about?
  • what have you read that you disagreed with?
  • what are you interested in?
  • what gaps in the literature have you noticed?
  • what are projects or processes that you believe others can benefit from?

Though topics largely come from authors’ ideas, readers are also important. I frequently hear archivists mention they would like more articles about practical applications. Then again, I have conversations about the theories as well. There is no one answer, but many questions to consider.

When I read an article or book, hear about a project, questions often come to mind, and these questions can lead to writing ideas. For example, SAA President Kathleen Roe created A Year of Living Dangerously for Archives to encourage archivists to step up advocacy. In 1977, Georgia Archive dedicated an issue to the “activist archivist.” What has changed in nearly 40 years? Is there a difference between “activist” and “advocate”? How did we get to where we are? It’s not all about the past, but also of the present and future. I found Timothy Arnold and Walker Sampson’s “Preserving the Voices of Revolution: Examining the Creation and Preservation of a Subject-Centered Collection of Tweets from the Eighteen Days in Egypt” (American Archivist, Fall/Winter 2014) both interesting and practical. Questions that occurred to me are: Would their process work for me? Have other institutions tried their approach? Have patrons yet used these for research?

It is those questions that can lead to future article topics. As mentioned, it’s hard to keep up and that can make it even harder to write. But the ideas are out there. To decide what to write, just sit down and make notes or write about a topic. Do some research to see how much is already out there. Write about what hasn’t been addressed much, or add to ongoing conversations. There is no end to potential topics.

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