The “art of the reveal” refers to why the introduction of ideas and products can be persuasive and exciting. This idea has been applied to software, but it increasingly also describes the development of ideas in intellectual, academic (and semi-public) contexts. The art of the reveal in academia is a less flashy, more subtle ongoing teasers rather than a sudden impactful statement. If you tactfully provide trans-media teasers and involve peers in co-creation, your work has a greater likelihood of rising in popularity. There is an increasing pressure on young scholars to market one’s self online, and part of that is engaging in desirable ways with communities of like-minded people. This doesn’t particularly bother me, but as I type this I can hear my friend Ray Vichot critiquing such self-branding as neo-liberalist (and it of course is, because his instincts are always correct). I draw a distinction between intellectual and academic not to denigrate academia, but because the “life of the mind” of young scholars rarely exists solely within the walls of academe. We’re out in the communities, going overseas, and considering jobs in industry.

Earlier this week, my colleagues criticized the term “followers” for being the wrong terminology, for similar reasons as a backlash against the term “viral” – it’s dehumanizing and negates individual agency. I think this is spot-on. By default, academics should consider people encountering your work as potential collaborators, and approach the spreadability of work under that assumption. To make a rather obvious statement, your work should engage in an ongoing discussion, whether it be of a specific problem, or less pragmatically, around an idea. Your work must be interesting to other people, and you want these other people know about what you’re up to and view you as a peer. Thus, the art of the reveal for academics is a long game that bears much resemblance to traditional interpersonal networking, but also entails making your scholarship spreadable – findable, sharable, and remixable. Smart as you may be, if nobody knows it, that’s not going to get you too far.

Stages of a Successful Reveal (one possible sequence of many)

  1. Persistent observation – use Twitter, personal conversations, and presentations to get a sense for the field of play. Start posing questions and argument fragments to a group of peers. One way the game has been raised is that by the time ideas get published in journals, most researchers are aware of what they have to say. This makes the barriers to entry for young scholars that much greater. I don’t particularly believe this is specific to communication, and is equally true of a hard science or humanities discipline.
  2. Adding your take– with feedback and a better sense of the field at play, put your thoughts in a semi-formal but persistent format, like a blog post or paper draft. Be sure to acknowledge the feedback you’ve received and the influence of others. My mentor Sandra Ball-Rokeach is a believer that you only know how you feel about a topic when you put pen to paper. I completely believe this. We literally write ourselves into existence, and it is through communication (even with ourself) that we come to understand the strength of ideas. Everyone has probably had the experience of looking back at an old paper and realizing certain parts of an argument were engaging, while others fell flat.Whether you make this version public is up to your own proclivities. I do feel that there’s legitimate reason for sensitivity over ideas that are truly original formulations. However, you may also miss out on feedback or suggestions from peers that will vitally inform your work.
  3. Remix your work– this is not as strange a statement as it may seem. Add ideas that promote your argument, delete the chaff, don’t be precious. Version over and over. Present your ideas to groups, particularly at your own institution. Be bold (to snag a Wikipedia-ism). My worst times of stagnation are when I’ve gotten locked into an eyeball death spiral – reading my own work over and over again without improving it.If you’re making progress, keep writing, but if not, don’t be afraid to let bad ideas die. If you’re like anybody with a load of ideas, most will be not be winners. Fail often.
  4. More formal presentation– once you have collected and cleaned your data, completed a bullet-proof lit review, and pleased your advisors, you can submit it to conferences and journals. The great part about being at this stage, having gone through the first three, is you have a perfect idea of how to position yourself. Where you send your work for consideration should be pretty much where your peers are congregating. The ideas and methodologies you’re engaging with will be associated with certain venues, but these may be invisible boundaries that you don’t see if you just pop open the latest issue of [insert favorite journal here] and see what they publish.This last part borders on the excessively obvious: once the work has been accepted, put up a pre-press version for free, as long as it’s cleared with the publisher. If your work is easily findable and downloadable, it will be more referenced.