Final Project: Digital Research Methods

Whitepaper on DRM

(NB: In addition to this document, see material defining and exemplifying a whitepaper elsewhere on this site)
Graduating this semester? This document is due to me (via email) by 13 May.
Not graduating this semester? This document is due to me (via email) by 20 May.
NB: I am happy to discuss your plans, drafts, outcomes with you as frequently as you like. Please be in contact with me to set up times, etc.
In order to acknowledge the often abject status of these “new ways of thinking” in academe — methods and anti-methods that are contingent and suspect — our final project takes a surprising form: That of a “white paper.” A fairly conventional document in the business world of the 20th and 21st Centuries, the whitepaper is a quasi-academic means by which governing bodies could disseminate policy proposals, and corporations could publicize their latest research in an effort to promote new technologies. The whitepaper is the form non pareil of the political think tank: It is “research with an agenda.” A whitepaper typically presents “state of the art” research, suggests one or more courses of action, and characterizes the challenges and rewards of each.


Whitepapers break with conventional academic research in that they all but abandon the pretense of objectivity. Yes, they still (typically) care about presenting research results; yes, they still care about “getting the science right.” But whitepapers also care about sales, votes, and corporate profits; they care about how community sentiment might affect the upcoming election. In this sense, if a conventional academic paper and a sales brochure had a child, it would be a whitepaper.
They are persuasive documents. But that doesn’t make them bad. Arguably, the whitepaper is more honest than some forms of academic neutrality.
Your white paper will be 10-20 pages, double-spaced, rigorously sourced, illustrated where useful. Whitepapers are never boring (unlike academic papers, that are born in boredom, and die there, too). Whitepapers sometimes resemble brochures, or even annual reports. The document should include 1 or 2 pages dedicated a bibliography, and perhaps “Suggested Further Reading.”


The white paper is an opportunity for you to think through the impact a Digital Research Method may have on your research, its validity, and its reception. It is an opportunity to argue for the need to adopt an unconventional method in order to get at unprecedented data. You might think of it as a document to help your adviser or faculty mentor better understand how a particular DRM can be situated meaningfully (and productively) within your research area of interest.
This whitepaper is the sort of document you might deliver to your thesis or dissertation adviser, along with the traditional proposal; alternatively, as a consultant, you might share a whitepaper like this with your P.I. (principal investigator) as she drafts a research grant proposal.
In the end, this document makes an informed, evidence-based argument for the adoption of a novel digital research method.
Why end the semester on the printed page? In years past, I have encouraged students to build working models of applied DRMs; while these have been successful, in a modest fashion, I have come to believe that this approach fails to do what all successful researchers must do, at last: Connect meaningfully to scholars’ ongoing conversations. The DRM whitepaper is an opportunity to link research traditions in your field(s) to the opportunities (and challenges) offered by new forms of inquiry.