A Guide to Becoming a Scholarly Practitioner in Student Affairs by Lisa J. Hatfield and Vicki L. Wise
In A Guide to Becoming a Scholarly Practitioner in Student Affairs, authors Lisa J. Hatfield and Vicki L. Wise, offer a brief resource to expose student affairs professionals to scholarly presentation and publication activities. Both authors, who are scholarly practitioners in the area of assessment, assert that everyone has something to say and acknowledge that writing and presenting can be difficult. Contextualized in the current climate in which higher education professionals have increasing obligations for accountability and assessment, the authors stress the necessity to cultivate strong writing and research skills in student affairs practitioners. The intended audience spans new professionals to senior administrators. Students in graduate preparation programs can also benefit because the book may plant the seeds for scholarly activity. As neither position title nor degree determine experience or comfort with writing or presenting, this book is a good resource as a primer or refresher.
The book contains eight chapters on a variety of topics related to scholarly writing and publication. In chapter 1, the authors articulate various reasons practitioners—often closest to students—will generally not consider engaging in scholarship to inform the field. Some reasons include lack of motivation, few expectations to engage in scholarship, and inadequate academic or professional preparation to engage in scholarly writing. Chapter 2 includes a discussion about the role of feedback in the development of writers, which might come from coauthors, writing groups, or reviewers. The purpose of feedback is not simply to change the writing at hand, but to change us as writers. In chapter 3, the authors outline important features of strong presentation proposals, such as theoretical ground ing and incorporating dynamic presentational elements, to keep audiences engaged. The authors provide an example of a presentation proposal for readers to illustrate the various sections to be considered during the planning stage, but annotations highlighting these sections would have helped. The authors also presented some information about webinars, which are increasingly popular in the field. Included in this discussion are the many benefits of webinars, the innovative potential of multimedia, possibilities for data collection through survey and polling features, and a list of helpful resources.
Chapter 4 includes practical steps for writing for publication: identifying a target journal, understanding submission guidelines and audience, and structuring common manuscript components. In Chapter 5, the authors further explore some of the hurdles to writing, detailing personal commonsense strategies to keep on track with writing. Chapter 6 includes a guide to help writers tighten up work through iterations of writing and editing drafts. Chapter 7 contains a discussion about how writers can use support groups to structure time and develop writing skills. Although groups are helpful, we believe professionals must have intrinsic motivation to write, particularly because most writing takes place outside of work hours.
Chapter 8 is perhaps the most important [End Page 898] because the authors address the future of research in the field, highlighting how senior officers can support or promote writing. The authors explore both the structural and personal problems that contribute to the shortage of active scholar practitioners in the field. Expectations for writing and presenting are generally not embedded into student affairs job roles, and even in those instances where they may be, support or resources are often lacking. The authors posit that if the profession does not create a culture for research and scholarship, “student affairs professionals will continue to be viewed as service providers rather than educators, and their work considered superfluous to the academic experience” (p. 73).
The primary limitations of the book stem from not adequately addressing the depth and nuances of the writing process. Although the guidance provided may appear straightforward, the writing process seldom is linear. This process—described in just 12 pages—could have been given more substantial treatment by dividing this significant process into two separate chapters or sections. One could have focused on the different types of manuscripts and the other on the process of developing the manuscript. The authors mention how theoretical underpinnings shape and strengthen presentation proposals, but there is not much mentioned in terms of method and research design that may be critical for the success of any scholarly manuscript. Additionally, the discussion of new forms of writing for digital media (e.g., blogs and wikis) may be a bit misleading for the novice writer, who may well think these writing activities are considered scholarly because they were included in the book. Although blogs and other forms of digital media publications may be based on research and contribute to advancement of the field of student affairs, they are not considered scholarly publications in the traditional sense because review and evaluation by experts in the field is not required prior to publication. Finally, although the authors note that presenting at a professional conference is certainly a good way to start as a scholar practitioner, they do not describe the process by which an author can develop a good presentation into the beginning of a manuscript and how the discussion during a presentation can inform the writing process.
Other limitations of the book stem from a focus on the professional field and not enough on faculty and graduate preparation programs to cultivate scholar practitioners early in their career development. Writing for publication is certainly not the same as writing for a class assignment, but graduate students can be encouraged to write for publication if they have the interest and can address a gap in existing research.
The book also has some shortcomings with respect to style and aesthetics. For example, some chapters overly rely on a single reference rather than incorporating multiple resources and perspectives from student affairs or related literature. The book also contains numerous distracting pop-up notations that take up space and have no purpose other than repeating text for emphasis. Readers may have been better served by a summary at the end of each chapter.
Scholarly activities such as writing for publication and presenting at professional conferences support many of the professional competency areas for student affairs educators, particularly assessment, evaluation, and research (ACPA & NASPA, 2015). Student affairs practitioners interested in writing for publication might consider a number of books in related fields that include more details about the academic writing and publication process (see Hartley, 2008; Murray, 2009; Rocco & Hatcher, 2011). However, this book appears to be the first written specifically geared toward [End Page 899] student affairs practitioners. Despite some of the shortcomings identified in this review, this book is a practical resource and a good reference for practitioners seeking to engage and develop the scholarly aspect of their student affairs professional identity.