The past few days have been divided between finishing up a distressingly-overdue article ("er, hi," I say to my editor, waving weakly) and reading student drafts, but I've also started the process of upgrading an older conference paper to article status. This can be an odd process, given that the conference paper is its own genre. As I said here several years ago, one of the best pieces of practical advice I got as a graduate student was that for every three conference papers, there should be one article or similarly-finished work. That is: conference papers are exploratory projects; at some point, one needs to stop exploring and begin writing the final product. I like to use conference papers to jumpstart my writing process, as with the paper I gave this past summer on representations of interfaith marriage (something that has interested me for a while). Some of my conference papers turned out to be dead ends, which is a useful discovery ("hey, there's no there there"), while others have spawned chunks of Book One and Two, and still others have become, indeed, articles.
In this case, I'm returning to a conference paper on the first decade or so of a super-popular Victorian anti-Catholic periodical (still around, incidentally). It was written for a themed conference, so the topic is fairly narrow but has demonstrably wider significance for our understanding of mid-Victorian anti-Catholicism. Like virtually every conference paper since the dawn of human history (ahem), the paper as it stands is a) ten pages long; b) phrased for oral delivery; and c) somewhat skimpy on the footnotes. What do I do?
1) I've actually got a target journal in mind, so I check their requirements. They don't have a maximum length, but most of their articles are not that long. Ergo, maybe eight or nine more pages. If they're not interested, that still leaves the article at a manageable length for other venues.
2) In a conference paper, one has to dispatch context quickly and brutally. That's no good for an article, so I need to beef up the historical and religious background: for example, I need to say a bit more about the editors, especially the guy in charge, and spend more time explaining the journal's very topical genesis and eventual cultural status. (In other words: why on earth would a random innocent Victorianist want to know about this ultra-anti-Catholic periodical?)
3) Then I have to historicize the core issue, which is why, exactly, is this periodical pretending to do an increasingly-popular social-sciencey Thing at mid-century? Really, they aren't doing Thing at all--I mean, they are so not doing Thing that it's kind of hilarious--although they have all the appurtenances of Thing going on. What, then, are they getting out of it from a purely rhetorical POV? The difficulty here is how much detail to provide about Thing (well, more than I'm providing here!), as Thing is extremely technical, and, as I've already said, the journal is engaging in Fake Thing and not the Real Thing (which has nothing, incidentally, to do with Coca-Cola). In the original conference paper, the context consists of one or two secondary sources, discussed very briefly; now I need to locate the periodical's rhetorical strategy with much greater precision and detail.
4) Right now, the paper's organization looks OK to me, but once I've beefed up the context, I may find myself yearning to rearrange it. I won't know until I get there.
5) More analysis of extant examples, and probably more examples, period, especially in the shorter paragraphs. There's also room now to point out that the journal's approach was not idiosyncratic.
6) And then I have to rework the language from beginning to end. There's still space for humor, but the quirky colloquialisms and sentence fragments, both of which help when speaking aloud, need to be dequirked and defragmented.