The ‘so what?’ question

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I came across an article by Selwyn (2014) who raises the question of relevance when writing a peer-review journal article.  The ‘so-what?’ question is a hypothetical question that a reader will ask if they can’t see why your research and this paper is important.  The reader is really asking: Why should I read on? Why should I care ?

Often when working on a project and writing it into being, we become myopic about the details.  Because we think the topic is important, we assume that others will automatically understand and agree. Selwyn (2014) writes from his capacity on the editorial board of Learning, Media and Technology and he states how important the so-what? question is to journal editors.  He writes: “Just because we have published three papers on the topic of Twitter is not an indication in itself that we are happy to publish more.  What we are keen to publish are articles that add to understandings of the social complexities of digital technology and media use in education.  This is what the ‘So What? question means to us” (p. 3).  He goes on to unpack  the so-what? :

  1. What is the relevance of the article to practice in the field or any other aspect of the ‘real world’?
  2. What is the relevance of the article to policy?
  3. What is the relevance of the article to other academic research?
  4. What is the relevance of the article to theory?

You won’t need to address all these so-what? questions in one paper – you’ll probably  focus on one or two but the questions will help you to orient your paper towards your readers.

I hope this will help you think about the relevance of your research to your audience the next time you write a paper.

(Obviously, these questions can be applied to a thesis as well.)

Here’s the reference:

Selwyn, N. (2014). ‘So What?’…a question that every journal article needs to answer.  Learning, Media and Technology, 39 (1), 1-5.

 

 

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