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Blind Spots: Using Collaborative Open Peer Review to Support PGR Publishing. Part 1 by Sarah Pett
The editors, taken by Imke van Heerden on 3 February 2012, University of York. From left: James Fraser, Ben Madden (postcolonial hanger-on), Isabelle Hesse, Anna Bocking-Welch, and me (Sarah Pett).The editors, taken by Imke van Heerden on 3 February 2012, University of York. From left: James Fraser, Ben Madden (postcolonial hanger-on), Isabelle Hesse, Anna Bocking-Welch, and me (Sarah Pett).

The editors, taken by Imke van Heerden on 3 February 2012, University of York. From left: James Fraser, Ben Madden (postcolonial hanger-on), Isabelle Hesse, Anna Bocking-Welch, and me (Sarah Pett).

Four PhD students at the University of York are currently piloting an innovative peer review process for developing postgraduate conference papers into an edited collection. In the first of a series of posts, Sarah Pett (whose has her own blog and Tweets as @essiepett) discusses the project’s ethos, as well as the practicalities of turning an ambitious idea into a successful reality.

Prompted by a shared experience of the difficulties inherent in positioning our individual research projects in relation to postcolonial studies, in 2010 Anna Bocking-Welch, Isabelle Hesse, James Fraser and myself established Postcolonial Perspectives, an interdisciplinary reading group for postgraduates at the University of York. From the beginning, the group focused on unconventional approaches to the postcolonial, with an emphasis on contexts that troubled its paradigms. It soon became apparent that we were not alone in our frustrations – discussions with postgraduates from across the UK revealed that we were grappling with an issue of increasing relevance and concern to PGRs working in a range of disciplines, periods, and contexts. Thus the Living Beyond Theory: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Postcolonial postgraduate conference was born. The event was a resounding success, and highlighted an emerging body of research into contexts that trouble the established paradigm of postcolonial studies. But how, we wondered, to sustain the dialogue that shaped the event, and disseminate the wealth of ideas it generated? Given the different stages of our projects, it will be several years until our individual monographs appear, while their disciplinary and contextual diversity means that our shared concerns would inevitably be diluted. With the help of Dr Jason Edwards at the University of York, as well as funding from the Postcolonial Studies Association and York’s Centre for Modern Studies, we decided to keep the momentum generated during the conference going by developing a selection of the papers into an edited collection.

Why open peer review?

“Blind peer review is dead. It just doesn’t know it yet.”

Inside Higher Ed’s Scott Jaschik begins his report on the Future of Peer Review session at the 2012 MLA convention with this provocative statement from CUNY’s Dr Aaron J Barlow. As Barlow points out in his paper, “The Bearable Light of Openness: Renovating Obsolete Peer-Review Bottlenecks”, the rise of digital publishing has brought traditional peer review procedures into question. For Barlow, its impression of “quality control” is no longer a fair exchange for the publication delays and complex, occasionally unethical, personal and institutional agendas blind peer review entails – a foible I know all too well. Full of the bravado of youth, I thought I’d try my hand at academic publishing soon after completing my BA. Without any knowledge of established protocol, I made the mistake of submitting my paper to two journals simultaneously. Not a wise move, but it did open my eyes at an early stage to the inconsistencies of the field. One journal returned my article within the fortnight, accompanied by a largely positive review that recommended only a handful of minor revisions. Several months later, I received a two page review from the other journal, which included an ultimatum: significantly shift the focus of the paper, or it won’t be published. The recommended shift seemed to reflect the reviewer’s research interests, rather than my own, which was an unpleasant and demoralizing experience for a young researcher. More importantly, however, it was disabling, leaving me with no platform from which to respond to the reviewer’s diktat.

Clearly, this is not something we wished to replicate in the preparation of the edited collection. What’s more, as postgraduate researchers, we have been aware from the outset that the collection has to be tip-top to stand a chance with a “proper” academic press. And finally, with an editorial committee made up of four researchers in the final stages of their PhDs, we simply couldn’t afford to commit to providing each participant with the level of feedback and writing support we hoped to offer. To optimize what we could do in the time available, we opted to select and improve articles via an intensive, collaborative process based around realtime participation. To do so, we designed a series of open peer review workshops that allowed our authors to participate in providing and responding to feedback over the course of several months: a model that closely resembles that employed by Kairos, whose editor Cheryl Ball appeared alongside Barlow at the MLA. Kairos—a journal of rhetoric, technology, and pedagogy—employs a three tier review process. In tiers one and two, submissions are evaluated by individual editors before being forwarded for discussion to the editorial board as a whole. In tier three, a staff member is assigned to mentor the author in implementing revisions for up to three months. The Postcolonial Perspectives publication workshop series sought to emulate and even build on this process. In stage one, the editorial committee selected papers from the conference to invite as contributors; stage two involved refining the ethos of the project and requesting that contributors develop their papers with this in mind. Stage three is when the realtime workshops came into play, allowing contributors and reviewers to meet and discuss feedback over the course of a day.

The first workshop, which took place at York on 16 January 2012, was extremely successful—one academic staff member said he was keen to adopt our model in his own work—and demonstrates how a collaborative open peer review model can be implemented at a grassroots level to support the career development of PGRs and ECRs. The second workshop is scheduled to take place in early May, during which participants will go over the final revisions and collaborate in refining the book proposal and editorial introduction as a group. We are also looking into using an open source manuscript management and publishing system such as the Public Knowledge Project’s Open Journal Systems as a means of continuing the workshops’ collaborative format remotely. While the project’s aim—publication with an academic press—is ambitious, the workshop format means that, at worst, our contributors can walk away with a carefully revised paper for submission to an international peer reviewed journal, a committed mentor, and a handful of supportive peers with shared research interests and career goals.

Workshop One: From left: Dr Jason Edwards (York), Professor David Attwell (York), James Fraser (York), Anna Bocking-Welch (York), Rebecca Jones (Birmingham), and Katherine Ebury (York).

The radical in me would love the project to culminate in a high profile open access publication, accompanied by a creative and thought-provoking social media campaign to raise awareness about postcolonial studies, its contributions and its limitations. For the time being, we’ll continue to play it safe, but it won’t stop me thinking about the possibilities for reform in academic publishing, and the instrumental role PGRs have to play in changing the game. Hopefully before too long there will be a copy of Beyond the Postcolonial Paradigm: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Parapostcolonial on a library shelf—or Kindle—near you…

Weekly Wisdom #80 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew
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LEARN HOW TO WRITE CLEARLY. Some graduate programs do their best to stamp out this skill, persuading doctoral candidates that a ten-syllable word is better than a two-syllable word. Reviewers are more likely to persevere to the end of your journal submission or your grant proposal if they can easily follow what you say. They are also more likely to give you a favorable review.

Why so Shameless? On Self-Promotion and Networking by Amber K.Regis

Todays post is about the value of blogging and promoting research through social media. It is written by Amber K. Regis who completed her PhD in Victorian life-writing at Keele University. She is an Associate Lecturer for the Open University and teaches English literature at the Universities of Chester and Liverpool John Moores. She blogs at Looking Glasses on Odd Corners on life-writing and life-narratives across different media. She has published work on John Addington Symonds, Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. You can follow her on Twitter: @AmberRegis

I started a research blog in the final months of 2011 in a wave of enthusiasm. I was going to become an overnight internet sensation; I was going to get my research ‘out there’, reach new audiences and make a name for myself! And do you know what? I thoroughly enjoyed the act of blogging, and while I’m still waiting go viral, I have managed to share ideas and start conversations with a multitude of readers (including many beyond the ivory tower of academe). But blogging is also a commitment that takes up time, and in recent weeks time has been desperately lacking.  Like so many other post-PhD researchers, I’m juggling multiple jobs while I seek the ‘holy grail’ of a permanent academic appointment. Prepping, marking and commuting has taken its toll and I’ve been neglecting my blog.

But, rather surprisingly, the blog has remained active during my absence. Others have started to take notice.

Shameless self-promotion?

I’ve already admitted that increasing my online presence was a key motive in setting up my blog, and it has received several special mentions in recent weeks:

  • A post on material objects and life-writing was quoted by Charlotte Mathieson, an Associate Fellow in English at the University of Warwick, in a recent piece on literary tourism for the Journal of Victorian Culture Online.
  • A keynote speaker at a recent Victorian Studies conference referred to a post on souvenirs and collecting. I was sitting in the audience. It was all terribly flattering, but I blushed and looked at my feet.

As a means of self-promotion, blogging appears to be paying off. Each special mention resulted in increased traffic and a number of Google search hits. Internet sensationdom is just around the corner…

But why is this kind of ‘self-promotion’ so consistently paired with the pejorative ‘shameless’? And why did I blush when my blog was mentioned at a conference? After all, wasn’t this what I wanted? But alas, was my face now registering the inevitable ‘shamelessness’ of attention seeking in the blogosphere?

Not-so-shameless self-promotion?

I do not believe that self-promotion is a shameless or even a necessarily selfish activity. Indeed, the three instances above demonstrate a range of benefits to increasing online visibility and engaging with social media. Attention has been drawn to my work, yes, but I have also engaged directly with other researchers, forging connections with peers and more senior academics. Social media have thus transformed self-promotion into a mode of continual networking—formerly an oft-dreaded activity that required awkward conversations over coffee cups during breaks in conference schedules. But networking can now extend beyond the temporal and physical space of a conference; conversations can start before an event and continue long after, mediated online.

So yes, all this blogging and tweeting is a form of self-promotion, but it is certainly not shameless. The clue is in the title: social media and the social web. Making connections, forming communities, offering support; in getting your name ‘out there’, you are not a voice crying out in the wilderness. Self-promotion in the age of the social web is very much a team sport; plugged-in academics are networked and networking all the time.

Writing Accountability Part 1 by Jennifer Lim: How It Works

Today’s post complements our new #AcWri project and is written by Jennifer S. H. Lim, a Computer Science graduate, currently working on her final submission of her dissertation as part of the fulfillment for her Master in Computer Science at University of Malaya, Malaysia. In the first of a two part series, Jenn introduces her now established academic writing initiative. She also blogs about her studious life and tweets as Studious Jenn @mystudiouslife.

I love writing. I use it to share ideas and information with the hope that it engages people in conversations that generate more ideas. That’s why I also love blogging, where I can write freely about topics that interest me whenever I like. However, academic writing is a different story. I still write topics that interest me but the need to actually write is more intense than merely writing a blog post. Academic writing projects are usually longer and more time consuming and no matter how much I love writing, when it comes to writing academically, the process can become overwhelming. Most of the time, writing just doesn’t happen at all. Procrastination ensues and then I just panic and write  last minute, which doesn’t meet any quality control.

This approach just doesn’t work well for me, especially at the point when I needed to write at least 10,000 – 30,000 words of a dissertation over a period of time. Although there was no set due date in that situation, I knew that the longer I delayed writing, the longer I would take to finish it. My biggest problem is that when there is no one to ‘force’ me to write I eventually procrastinate more. Hence, in order to succeed, I have to take actions. I need to be the one who ‘forces’ myself to write and I must be accountable for my own progress and success. This is the reason I started the Academic Writing Accountability initiative, where writing goals are shared in a spreadsheet and progress are updated daily. This initiative revolves around a Twitter community made up of anyone who is interested in academic writing and is willing to share their writing progress. Hopefully, this initiative helps as many people as possible to become more productive in writing to achieve their goals.

It all started when I was feeling ‘blocked’ while I was writing my last few dissertation chapters. I thought I couldn’t write because I didn’t have enough time to write for long hours due to my full-time job. When PhD2Published started the Academic Book Writing Month (#AcBoWriMo) project last November however, I was glad to join so many in the initiative to achieve my goal. My writing goal at that moment was to complete two chapter and by the time November ended I had completed Chapter 4 and started Chapter 5. I realized that such an initiative had actually helped me progress better even though I didn’t achieve my goal completely. I still continue to be in touch with the writing community.

Eventually, #AcWri was formed because there were still people (including me) who were keen to continue the writing initiative. One day, I was tweeting about how to improve academic writing productivity. After some tweets, I suggested using Google spreadsheet to share productivity progress so we can keep track of our own goal and progress online and at the same time let others  hold us accountable. Once the spreadsheet was created, a few of the #AcWri regulars joined the initiative by sharing their ultimate/daily goals and their updated daily progress.

Why writing accountability? I have a few beliefs that motivated me to start this initiative:

  1. Daily writing habit is essential for academic success and this habit can be cultivated through practice. This is the practice where you become the one to ‘force’ yourself to write daily.
  2. Be accountable for your own writing by publicly sharing your writing goal: ultimate goal (i.e. complete a dissertation) and daily goal (i.e. write 500 words). By sharing your goal, all will know what you are trying to achieve and you are being hold accountable for achieving your goals.
  3. Productivity will increase when it is being measured or monitored. By keeping a record of what you have done, it’s good for reflecting and planning to improve your productivity.
  4. Peer support is the best motivation in academic writing. Knowing you do not struggle alone in the writing process is helpful.

Does accountability in writing work for everyone? The answer will vary among individuals but most importantly, you can just give it a try and see for yourself. It works wonderfully for me. My ultimate goal of completing dissertation chapters and a journal article was achieved using this initiative. Regardless of what you choose to do, be sure it works for you in achieving your goals. If you have any other ideas about increasing writing productivity, I would love to hear from you.

Weekly Wisdom #79 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew
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COLLABORATE AND COOPERATE. You are not alone either as a graduate student or as a young faculty member. You cooperate and collaborate with many others. Even the dissertation is not a one-person effort inasmuch as you work with an advisor and a committee, with people you study if your work involves human subjects as well as interacting on your topic with fellow graduate students.  When you begin your academic career, you need not sit off in a corner and try to do it all by yourself. You can collaborate and cooperate with peers, senior faculty, and even students. In a research institution, you will find you collaborate on projects with coauthors.  Most will be close by, but others are from your doctoral program or people whom you know through conferences and other professional interactions.  Your teaching assistants and your students will help you with specific tasks, including routine ones. You become part of an ongoing group that cooperates on projects, reads and critiques each other’s papers before submission, gives you ideas, and receives ideas from you.  It is a two-way relationship that you need to cultivate.  Although telecommuting is needed to obtain integrated blocks of time, you should allocate some time on campus for collaboration and cooperation.  It will make you more productive and enrich your life as an academic.

Writing Across Boundaries – introduced by Bob Simpson and Robin Humphrey
Writing Morning

Today’s post, which includes some useful links to blogs about academic writing in the social sciences, introduces an exciting writing initiative currently being run by Project Leaders Bob Simpson [Durham University] and Robin Humphrey [Newcastle University]. The Writing on Writing link in particular provides great advice for doctoral students and academic writers alike. Bob tells us more about the project;

Doing a doctorate in the social sciences involves reading a lot of words, thinking up a good question and, in methodological terms, figuring out how to answer it, and then doing fieldwork or some other form of data collection and analysing it all and then comes the ‘writing up’.  In our experience, a lot of energy goes into preparing students for all these challenges, except, that is, the last one.  ‘Write me a draft of chapter three’ can be a very troubling request for a student perched at that tricky point between analysis and writing.

In recognition of the difficulties that might arise in negotiating this gap in the training of doctoral students we initiated  a series of workshops [with the help of an ESRC Researcher Development Initiative grant]. These were aimed at exploring some of the challenges faced by researchers writing a thesis which would draw on qualitative data of some kind.  The Writing Across Boundaries project held its first workshop in 2007 and for four years thereafter.  The workshops were extremely successful in bringing together researchers from a range of social science disciplines, who are all post-fieldwork, who could set about the specific task of reflecting on their own and others’ writing strategies.  From the feedback we have had, the opportunity to focus over two days on the business of writing and analysis has proved very useful for PhD students in their quest to produce texts that are engaging, accurate and analytically insightful.   Crucially, the workshops have dealt with some of the more personal challenges faced in producing text for others to evaluate as well as covering the practicalities of writing.  The workshops will now place annually, open to all, but organised within the ESRC North East Doctoral Training Centre.

Accompanying the workshops is a Writing Across Boundaries website which provides open access support for those writing up qualitative data.  The main sections are as follows:

  • Writing on Writing is an initiative in which scholars who have made a significant contribution to the social science literature offer personal reflections on the process of writing.
  • In Postgraduates on Writing, we publish short pieces from research postgraduates on any aspect of the process of writing in doctoral study.
  • In the Resources section are sections dealing with Drafting and Plotting, the Data-Theory Relationship, Narrative, Rhetoric, and Representation. We have also included a general section containing Hints and Tips on Writing.

Check it out!

Introducing #AcWri live!

Source: http://seo-contentwriter.com/

PhD2Published has made some exciting changes in the past couple of weeks. We have officially joined forces with Dr Jeremy Segrott to run fortnightly live chats on Twitter focused on academic writing (or AcWri, which is our associated hashtag). To celebrate this we now have a new live chat tab on the home page of the site!

In the about section you can find out more about the live chats and a little bit about us but essentially we saw this as a fabulous opportunity to build upon the previous success of the AcBoWriMo project and to develop the community of academic writers that this helped to establish. We will also be posting summaries of each discussion on a fortnightly basis in the archive section so if you miss the chat itself you can still see what was discussed and benefit from the communities wisdom by picking up some useful hints and tips.

If you’re interested in participating (the more the merrier!) you can either join the fortnightly live chats on Thursdays at 6pm GMT or contribute to the more regular community conversation using the #AcWri hashtag on Twitter. We also welcome AcWri themed blog posts so if you have something to say and want to join us get in touch!

Weekly Wisdom #78 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew
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LEARN GRANTSMANSHIP. It is a skill like any other. If necessary, attend special workshops. Educate yourself about who funds your type of research. Don’t be snobbish! You may feel deep down that you did not train yourself for a life of the mind in order to become a peddler of slick prose to federal and foundation bureaucrats. But an ability to raise money can have a seismic effect on your career. Simply imagine yourself as one of two finalists for the plum aca­demic position you always dreamed about. Your competitor has a six-hundred-thousand-dollar grant and you don’t. What are the odds in your favor?

Should You Make Your Thesis Available Online? Part 6: On the outside of Academic Publishing by Kathryn Allan

The final post in this series about posting a thesis online is by Kathryn Allan. Kathryn completed her PhD (English) at McMaster University in 2010. Her doctoral thesis, Bleeding Chrome: Technology and the Vulnerable Body in Feminist Post-Cyberpunk Science Fiction, is awesome and available online for free here. She operates an (academic) copy editing and dissertation coaching business, Academic Editing Canada, as she pursues independent scholarly research into (feminist/cyberpunk) science fiction. Dr. Allan is currently putting together a collection of essays that deal with the representation of disability in science fiction. She tweets under @BleedingChrome.

When I finished my PhD in English Literature in 2010, I also said good-bye to the ivory tower. Frustrated with the current funding and work environment of academia (in North America), I set out on my own – and I took my dissertation with me. While my committee members encouraged me to consider publishing my thesis the old-fashioned way, I felt like it wasn’t the right option for me. Instead, I decided to publish my dissertation in pdf format and make it freely available on my professional blog to anyone interested in reading it.

At first, I was slightly worried that someone might plagiarize my work, but after a minute of thought, I remembered that nothing stops students who want to plagiarize from doing so, regardless of the medium of the text. With confidence, I made my thesis available on my blog. It shows up in relevant Google searches and I have repeatedly shared the link over email and Twitter with people who share my research and reading interests.

I share my thesis online because: (1) I believe that publicly funded work (like my Canadian graduate education) should be publicly accessible; and, (2) as an independent scholar who studies feminist and cyberpunk science fiction, I want to easily share my work with the science fiction fan community.


When I state that I believe academic work should be accessible, I mean it in all aspects of the word. I put in a good deal of effort into writing my thesis in language that can be followed by non-academic readers, so putting my thesis online is a natural extension of my dedication to open research and communication.

My PhD thesis is available on ProQuest through the university where I studied, but access to that database is still limited to people with university library access or who are willing and able to pay. Since I don’t believe that anyone should have to pay to read my thesis, simply having it available on academic marketed sites like ProQuest is not a good enough solution to accessibility.

Independent Scholarship

My thesis was a labour of love and passion for the subject matter. I want to share the knowledge I gained with as many interested individuals as I can. Admittedly, I also enjoy operating outside of the formal academic system. Science fiction, particularly the feminist science fiction of my interest, has generally been a marginalized field of study, so it felt right to pursue a more marginal and independent approach to publishing my dissertation.

One of my goals as an independent scholar is to connect with fans in the vibrant and diverse science fiction community. If my thesis was only available through one university and a pay-to-read internet platform, then most fans are not going to read it (or even know that it exists). While I could have arguably sought out a publisher to reach this fan audience, I am also aware that “free” and “online” appeal to far more readers. And it has.

It’s All Good

It has almost been a year since I made my thesis available online and the response I have received has been overwhelmingly positive. Many people – some are academics, some are science fiction fans – have emailed or tweeted me about my thesis. Most of the comments I get are “thanks for sharing” or specific nerdy questions about something I’ve written. To date, I can’t think of one drawback from having my thesis online. Not a single one. I don’t intend on applying for an academic position, nor am I pursuing independent scholarship for financial gain. For me, there is simply is no downside to having my thesis online.

Josie Dixon – From Planet PhD to Destination Publication: A Traveller’s Guide. Part 2. Micro vs Macro


This post is the second in a series by Josie Dixon, a consultant with 15 years’ experience in academic publishing, as Senior Commissioning Editor at Cambridge University Press and Publishing Director for the Academic Division at Palgrave Macmillan.  She now runs her own business, Lucian Consulting, and gives training workshops on publishing and other forms of research communication for postgraduates, postdocs and staff in over 50 universities internationally, alongside her training and consultancy work in the publishing industry. In this set of blog posts for PhD2Published, Josie examines some of the polarities between Planet PhD and the world of publishing, and offers strategies for how to bridge the gap. 

It’s well known that PhD stands for ‘piled high and deep’.  What’s sometimes harder to admit is that depth is usually achieved at the expense of breadth.  Burrowing down that scholarly rabbit hole inevitably limits the audience for a PhD, so when you’re thinking about publication, it’s vital to come up for air and look around at the larger field in which your burrow is located.  Managing the relationship between the ‘micro’ dimension (where the project is most specifically defined) and the ‘macro’ (where its broader applications may lie) will be key to maximising your chances of getting published.  Commissioning editors’ instinctive reaction to most thesis topics is that they’re too narrow to find a viable market in book form.  So unless you’re happy to publish in specialist journals, developing the macro dimension will be essential to making the transition from PhD to publication.

It’s worth recognising that the distance between the two has grown over the last couple of decades.  Universities have been under pressure to improve PhD completion rates, and one major instrument in a successful crackdown on this problem has been tighter control over the choice of thesis topics.  Today’s PhDs are better focused, but narrower than the more ambitious projects which waylaid academic career development in previous generations.  Meanwhile, in the publishing world, monograph sales have been falling year on year, and publishers’ efforts to shore up the viability of this form of publishing have focused on filtering out over-specialised titles and concentrating on broader topics.

The narrower focus of today’s PhDs is often exemplified in case studies.  Social scientists are generally taught to recognise, make explicit and theorise case-study research, to understand its value and also its limitations.  It’s not always readily acknowledged that this applies to the humanities too.  The study of a particular figure or theme or work (of art, literature, music, philosophy or theology) will be a limited exercise unless we explore its relationship with broader phenomena – the development of the genre, the culture of the period, wider intellectual movements or philosophical ideas.   To that extent, our chosen works or examples become case studies for these broader phenomena which are otherwise too large and diffuse to give meaningful boundaries to a project.  Without some version of the case-study principle, we’d all be embarking on that archetypally impossible search for the key to all mythologies.

When it comes to publishing, there’s a bigger imperative to develop and make explicit what your research yields beyond the terms of your case-study material.  If you are studying a topic which has received little attention to date, the very factor which helps to secure the originality of your research will also limit its audience (and the market for a publication), unless you can show what difference it makes to the mainstream of your discipline.  How will a new study of Charlotte Lennox change our view of eighteenth-century fiction or the development of women’s writing?  What impact will a study of Guicciardini have on our understanding of early modern political thought?  It’s easy to forget the need to elaborate on these larger implications when you have spent years burrowing down your own scholarly rabbit hole, but this factor will make a vital difference to the size of your audience and the level of interest you will be able to raise outside the circle of paid-up, card-carrying fellow-specialists in your sub-field.

The same is true when it comes to applications.  A typical linguistics PhD, offering a grammar and morphology of an endangered language with a tiny number of native speakers, would have an impossibly small market if pitched only to fellow specialists in that language.  But if the analytical framework developed can be applied to the study of other languages, then that macro dimension – in this case methodological – will open up a far wider potential readership with clear benefits for other scholars’ research.

Here are five key questions, to help you to take the macro perspective on your research:

i) Understand the limits of your PhD – first define your thesis topic at its most micro, according to all the relevant parameters such as region, time period, language, genre, approach, and the specific examples you have chosen to study in detail.  Then you will be better able to work outwards towards the macro.

ii) What is the larger significance of your research? Think about ways to locate your chosen topic in a broader context.   What is the contribution made by your research in relation to its own and related sub-fields, the larger discipline, methodological school, etc?

iii) How can you do justice to that breadth?  Think about ways to widen your coverage and bring those connections to the fore.

iv) What do you see as its larger implications? These can often be explored more freely in a publication than a PhD.

v) What will be its applications, in the hands of your readers?   Remember, the PhD was for you (and written for a couple of examiners), but publishers will want to know more about what value a publication offers to the reader, and what broader purposes your research will serve for them.

Weekly Wisdom #77 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew
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DEVELOP A POOL OF RESEARCH REFERENCES STORED IN YOUR COMPUTER. It is one of the most useful things you can do. You will use the same references over and over as you do research, as you write pa­pers, and as you teach. You will add to this list as you read new articles and books in the literature. We personally recommend the software called EndNote although other similar kinds of software are on the market. Software for references contains three useful features: It provides a standard form for entering references so that you remember to include all the necessary data. Separate forms are provided for each type of reference (books, articles, newspa­pers, Internet URLs, etc.). It automatically converts the format to the reference style of the journal to which you are submitting. Lots of different styles are available. Since you may be sending an article to several journals sequentially before it is accepted, this au­tomated feature saves you hours of drudge work in converting reference formats. It provides space for including abstracts and notes so that you can record what the reference was about for future retrieval.

Rochelle Melander, ‘Write-A-Thon: Write your book in 26 days (and live to tell about it)’ – A Review by James Smith

“You have to do the work. Tired, angry, worried or overwhelmed: You need to write. You have to work in the midst of your complicated life. There will never be a perfect time to write the book bubbling within you. Sometimes you just have to work at the big things while the little ones pile up around you.” (p. 6)

I would like to take the time to explore Rochelle Melander’s Write-A-Thon: Write your book in 26 days (and live to tell about it) from the perspective of a PhD student. At the start of a new year and at the beginning of many new ventures in writing, this book has provided many timely pieces of advice. The merits of the Melander’s book for the PhD student are two-fold: First, Melander sets out to disabuse any potential writer of every excuse that one could possibly think of for delaying, procrastinating or otherwise sabotaging the decision to write. As I’m sure we can all agree PhD students are serial offenders in this regard. Second, the book sets out a veritable arsenal of tools for shaping and creating a book-length piece of writing, many (although not all) of which are highly relevant for PhD writing. The book shames the tardy writer into action while simultaneously encouraging strategies to ease the strain of writing. It is a toolbox full of useful devices for writing, some highly relevant to the academic, others less so.

During the month of November of last year, the PhD2published community embraced AcBoWriMo (Academic Book Writing Month for the uninitiated) with great gusto, featuring a series of blog posts and a vigorous #AcBoWriMo tag on Twitter. As part of the experience, Charlotte presented us with a series of four posts based around Write-A-Thon (i ii iii iv), each of which I highly recommend that you read. As you will apprehend, the book is extremely good at seeking out excuses and stripping them away, anticipating your paranoia and soothing it, pre-empting your mistakes, correcting your mistakes, anticipating your confusion and providing answers. Writing is an inherently uncertain endeavour, and yet Melander’s confidence in the power of human motivation provides many useful strategies for boosting one’s writing. The blurb promises to teach the reader how to start out well prepared, maintain their pace and bask in their accomplishment.

Although aimed at anyone interested in writing any kind of book and inspired by the annual NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) initiative, Write-A-Thon has several virtues that recommend itself to the graduate student, early career academic or seasoned academic in need of motivation and inspiration in the face of a writing project. This recommendation turned out to be highly convenient, for it helped me write this review. I turned (not without a certain amount of irony) to the first section of the book I was to review, entitled ‘Attitude Training: Get Rid of the Excuses’ (pp. 9-25). It helped; a fact to which the existence of this review can attest. Melander always seems to have something to say to the PhD student, a category of writers constantly plagued with motivational problems and doubts. We all need a constant stream of encouragement and exhortations to write when struggling with a thesis deadline. The section ends with a section on the healing power of writing, reminding us that writing need not be a chore. As Melander puts it, “Write now, get healthy!” (p. 25). On the topic of health, the PhD student will also be drawn to a section entitled ‘Life Training: Schedule the Marathon’ (pp. 103-129) in which the reader can find useful advice on shaping one’s writing environment, measuring one’s progress and maintaining one’s schedule.

Melander offers a great deal to any PhD student faced with one of those inevitable ‘crunch time’ moments when there appears to be far too many words to write and not enough hours in the day in which to write them. Open Write-A-Thon on any given page and you will find a tool to write coupled with games, tricks and strategies to avoid commonly encountered pitfalls in writing. In the second part of the book, entitled ‘The Write-A-Thon’, the book schools the reader in the avoidance of writing phenomena such as ‘Monkey Mind’ (p. 138). Although a great deal of the material in this section is perhaps more suitable for fiction writing, it covers many problems shared by all writers regardless of background. This was a refreshing dose of perspective, for it reminded me that all writers, any writers, experience these problems regardless of what they are attempting to write. The final section of the book, entitled ‘Recovery’ (pp. 202-218), contains some general information about revising your writing and pitching it to a publisher. Whereas the PhD student would perhaps be better served by the more specific advice in ‘How to Publish your PhD’ by Sarah Caro, there is some good common sense information in this section that should be of interest to the PhD student.

In summary, Melander’s book contains much of interest to the doctoral student in need of strategies specifically tailored to the purpose of writing a great deal in a very short amount of time. Melander functions as a writing guru and a source of moral support in equal measure. Although the timeframe and the nature of the project proposed by the NaNoWriMo style project of the book differs from the PhD experience, the reader will find that Write-A-Thon has a great many features that will appeal. I will leave you, as the book does, with a piece of advice that we should all keep in mind.

“And so, dear writers, the journey is not over. You have finished one race. Be proud and happy for what you have accomplished. But know this: You have more races to run, more books to write. Take a break, celebrate, and begin again!” (p. 219).