The ScholarShape Story
What makes a piece of scholarly communication effective? And how is the shape of such a communication discovered or designed? These are the questions that drive ScholarShape, both in the day-to-day work of helping scholars develop their manuscripts and in the larger project of creating accessible resources that all scholars can use in crafting compelling ways to share their work. ScholarShape exists to promote the production and dissemination of scholarly communication so un-ignorable that academic research can fulfill its crucial social, cultural, and political functions in the world.
ScholarShape is built on the belief that the key to powerful scholarly communication is the Story-Argument model. The origins and inspirations for this model are diverse, including genre theory, narrative theory, self-help books on academic writing (see favorite titles here), the fields of marketing and investigative journalism, visual art, the patterns in nature, conversations with fascinating strangers, tarot (don’t judge; I’ll explain later), and novels in general but especially those of Herman Melville. The model also draws on years of teaching research and rhetoric to first-year undergrads, where it turns out the same principles apply as when working with senior scholars.
Most of all, the Story-Argument model comes from thousands of hours spent analyzing clients' drafts, hearing them talk through their writing processes, and holding the space for them as they work to realize their visions for their manuscripts. The ScholarShape project is about elucidating the methods and processes by which the best scholarly communications come into being--information that has to date only existed as tacit knowledge embedded within the muscle memories of successful scholars--so that we can all make use of this knowledge. With this knowledge in every scholar's hands, whole new possibilities emerge for academic writing.
The Story-Argument model is a work in progress. You can receive regular dispatches from my quest to develop it by subscribing to the Working Thesis newsletter.
About Margy: Five Fancy Facts
Since founding ScholarShape in 2013, I have worked with hundreds of scholars around the world and rejoiced to see their many beautifully crafted books and articles go to print. I’m talking fancy university presses and top journals with the kinds of acceptance rates and impact factors that we all have mixed feelings about because how can we quantitatively measure the significance of a work of scholarship anyway. TBH, the only quantitative metric I care about is how many client thank-you emails I receive.
Since 2014, I have served as North Carolina State University Graduate School's Dissertation Institute Writing Consultant, and as of 2018, I also co-teach a doctoral writing course in the NC State College of Engineering. Why? Because spending time with hard science-y grad students is the perfect complement to my work with humanities and social science researchers--keeping me rooted in what all researchers have in common in this shared scholarly enterprise.
My Ph.D. (Baylor, 2012) is in English Language and Literature, and I wrote my dissertation on Herman Melville's use of genre. My dissertation topic explains both my obsessive interest in how academic writing is constrained and generated by genre, and the sperm whale tattoo on my left inner bicep.
While at Baylor, I taught academic writing and research for four years, and then served as the university's first Graduate Writing Consultant. In that role, I developed training materials for future consultants, an experience that planted early seeds of ScholarShape. Also at Baylor, I was a Presidential Doctoral Scholar, was named one of the university’s 2011 Outstanding Professors of the Year, and published peer-reviewed articles on American literature.
In my local community of Durham, North Carolina, I serve on the Leadership Board of WE Collective, where I get to collaborate with women entrepreneurs whose businesses range from coffee shops to law firms to design studios. One of my most cherished long-term visions is to build bridges between the academic and entrepreneurial worlds so that everyone can learn from each other and be best friends forever. I host so many women entrepreneur events at ScholarShape HQ that it has been nicknamed “The Businesswomen’s Headquarters (for Businesswomen).”
A Tattoo Vignette
Just to prove my devotion to the subject of academic writing, here is a picture of the sperm whale silhouette that I had tattooed on my left inner bicep in 2016. Having spent 32 years vowing I would never commit to permanent body art, I was seized by the sudden need to imprint the image of the white whale on my body because it became to me a perfect representation of what scholarly writing, as conflated with life itself, is all about. The outline of the whale represents the elusive, evolving working thesis that guides any large writing project. In Moby-Dick, the shape of the white whale focalizes the Pequod crew’s efforts as they zigzag wildly around the globe, and it also focalizes Ishmael’s narrative as he retrospectively works to construct the meaning of that doomed voyage. So too, the scholar at work is guided by a fixed yet emergent point of reference, one that reminds you always of the possibility of making meaning in an unfathomable universe. So that’s just a little more evidence for you of the depth of my devotion to the scholarly enterprise.
- Margy Thomas, founder of ScholarShape