Browsing the blog archives for April, 2012

Weekly Wisdom #85 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew
Posted by atarrant

DEADLINESMany graduate students and professors hate deadlines even though they pervade academic life.  If your dissertation isn’t completed and approved by a specific date, you do not march at graduation.  Requests for proposals require submission by a date certain.  Book publisher’s contracts and professional meetings set deadlines for submitting a polished draft. Grades are due shortly after the end of the semester or trimester. The list goes on. The truth is that deadlines are friends, not enemies.  They force you to finish and free your mind to move on to the next task. We know academics who lament that, were it not for a deadline, their article or proposal would bemuch, much better.  We doubt that.  We estimate that three additional months spent on an article or proposal improves a paper by, at most, 15%. Better an excellent paper completed than a perfect paper never finished.

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The finished article? by Claire Warden
Posted by atarrant

In her latest post for PhD2Published, Claire Warden raises those all important questions about what it is that makes a good journal article.

In the feedback for a recently submitted journal article, the reviewer said that, although s/he liked it (phew!) it was just a little bit ambitious. Alright, a lot too ambitious. So, a little adjustment here, a little tinker there, take out 1000 words and change the focus of the argument completely and I would have the makings of a successful journal article. Rewriting an article is about as pleasurable as toothache so, at first I let out an audible groan and, in typical English fashion, made a comforting pot of tea.

Recently, in the wake of my first book, I have been writing a few journal articles and this has forced me to move academic genres, one of a number of transitions that we often make from book to conference paper, dissertation to article, blog post to review. Getting back into article writing has been a sharp learning curve for me and has forced me to reassess the genre entirely. What is the primary thing to think about when writing a journal article? Are we focusing on the need to improve our publication record, the importance of publications as we apply for those allusive tenured jobs or the joy of writing about something we find fascinating for a few months? I think I probably consider all these things. But more and more I have been thinking about my readership. Who is reading the article? Why are they reading it? What are they hoping to find? Which leads me to a question (yes, another one!) I constantly grapple with: what is my audience? To make an article engaging, this is a really important issue. If the journal is about crochet then you can safely assume that your readership knows about needles and wool. If it is not then you probably need to explain chains and slip stitches at the start.  

My recent article writing extravaganza led me to read a load of papers from different journals in an attempt to discover what an engaging reader-focused article really looks like. I came up with the following checklist:

  • A balance of academic rigour and accessibility – if I am going to talk about either difficult or niche topics then there is all the more reason for syntactical clarity and straightforward structure.
  • Brevity and specificity – these two important aspects are an anathema to my rather distended writing style but are both vital for article writing.
  • Niche but relevant – under-researched topics are fascinating but they need to be framed by recognisable theoretical models.
  • Explanatory notes and expository analysis – there is always a need to decide how much your audience needs to know: a full biography, a complete synopsis, a footnote for further study suggestions?

These are the four elements that I’ve noticed in the best articles I’ve been reading recently and often they are missing in the less impressive ones. So, returning to my own article dilemma, fuelled by the obligatory teapot, I got rid of 1000 words, added 1700 and it was accepted.

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Weekly Wisdom #84 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew
Posted by atarrant

CITATIONS. When you write a paper, you cite other researchers who preceded you.  Once your paper is published, other scholars will cite you.  Forty years ago, the Institute for Scientific Information developed software to count how many times an article was cited.  Today that technology is incorporated in Google Scholar.  Your article citation counts are an important part of your academic record. You are more likely to be cited if you publish in a leading journal. Because the software can filter out self-citations, you can’t boost your numbers simply by repeatedly citing yourself! We knew a distinguished scholar who applied a new analytical technique but made a mistake.  After that, other researchers warned, “Be sure not to do what Jones (not his real name) did.”  Jones, however, wound up with an impressively high citation score. If you write the first paper in an area, you can reach the enviable place where others feel that citing your article is almost mandatory.

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Latest #acwri live chat summaries
Posted by atarrant

Since the AcWri live chat officially launched on Twitter recently, Jeremy and I (Anna, PhD2Published) have been summarizing the chats with the aim of generating a useful and lasting resource for all academic writers. From now on, the plan is that each summary will be posted to both the PhD2Published site and Jeremy’s own personal blog so that everyone can access them after each event. The first of the chats have already happened and provide some great information, hints and tips about academic writing. The summaries for these from previous weeks can each be individually accessed using the following links:

Thursday 16th February 2012: The very first chat initiated by Jeremy: Starting a chat

Thursday 23rd February 2012: With PhD2Published, the second chat involved further exploration of potential academic writing related topics to discuss during the chats, including some initial discussion about academic writing issues. See the summary here.

Thursday 5th March 2012: Writing Journal Articles

It is hoped that these provide a great online resource and introduction to the AcWri community. If you are an academic writer, or a writer more generally, please do get involved. The bigger the community, the more ideas and questions we can discuss and the more support we each gain. Acwri live chats are run on Twitter on Thursdays at 6pm GMT every fortnight.

The latest #acwri live chat held on Thursday 12th April 2012 is summarised below and is available here:

It was identified that there is very little information on the subject of actually writing conference papers (P2P found one useful one during the chat and I am sure there are many more – please do share!). Predominantly focus is on presenting them. This is a significant gap given that presentations are so important in trying out new ideas and networking, and are also another form of academic writing:

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Weekly Wisdom #83 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew
Posted by atarrant

EDITING YOUR OWN MATERIAL. As you write your dissertation or a paper it is natural to make changes and major revisions. You are, in effect, editing your own material. That’s good and bad. It is good because you add intellectual capital, you clarify, and you consider the knowledge (or lack thereof) of your readers.  It is bad if, like most of us, you become infatuated with the sound of your own words.  It is difficult, if not impossible; to change language or ideas you labored over long and hard. Just like job application letters, have at least one (preferably more) people read what you wrote and suggest improvements. If a word, a paragraph, or a section is unclear to them it is likely to be unclear to others. Better to receive critiques and suggested improvements from your peers than from referees or decision makers.

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Publishing as Pedagogy by Jesse Stommel
Posted by Charlotte Frost

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sindykids/3989867654/

Publishing and teaching can both terrify new academics, often to the point of paralysis. Their mutual support for one another is often frustrated by institutional demands. For example, the traditional workload split for full-time faculty at R1 institutions in the US is: 40% teaching, 40% research, 20% service. This division and its usual inflexibility highlights the ways that teaching and scholarly production are kept separate and distinct as forms. Yet, by looking at how publishing is teaching and teaching is publishing, we can lessen the anxiety around these activities and begin to notice how they are, in fact, co-constitutive practices. More than that, we can start to think about the open ends of these aspects of our work. The word “publishing” often implies some sort of finality, research that is finished or complete. This misses something vital about academic work.

This article on PhD2Published, “Publishing as Pedagogy” by Jesse Stommel, is both implicitly and explicitly linked to “Pedagogy as Publishing” by Charlotte Frost on Hybrid Pedagogy: A Digital Journal on Teaching & Technology. As publishing venues, both PhD2Published and Hybrid Pedagogy, work to build scholarly community by creating open and ongoing conversation.These twinned articles, which were written together in a Google Doc, combine to introduce communities, points of convergence, and to create a collaborative dialogue on publishing and pedagogy from two complementary perspectives.

Since I first started teaching in 2001, I’ve spoken the words almost like a mantra, “my scholarship and teaching are married.” And it isn’t just that the academic writing I do is influenced by the work I do in the classroom, even though I’ve put some version of this statement in nearly all of the 200ish academic job applications I’ve submitted. Here it is, right out of my mouth (er, fingers), in the job letter that led to my recently being hired as an Assistant Professor at Marylhurst University: “My research has considerable influence on my teaching.” To speak frankly, this line is bullshit, something I felt pressured to write by colleagues and in a half-dozen academic job search workshops.

And by “bullshit,” I don’t mean that what I said was false. I mean that the phrasing was disingenuous. Put simply, my research is my teaching. For me, the two practices are inextricable from one another. When I was finishing my PhD, I didn’t “teach to my dissertation” as so many academics recommend. My dissertation was born out of my teaching, out of interactions I had with students and out of my witnessing countless interactions between students.

It would be an oversimplification, though, to say just that my teaching is a source (or even the primary source) for my published writing. I would go even further than this to say that teaching itself has become, for me, my most important act of writing and publishing. There is a way in which I author myself and my work in the classroom, but I also produce countless tangible artifacts in the service of (or as part of) the act of teaching. The syllabi I publish to the web (like this or this) are an example, living documents that evolve over the term (and hopefully even after the term is over).

I will even go so far as to say that my syllabi are peer-reviewed, not only approved by the various department chairs I’ve worked for but also reviewed by the colleagues I share my work with and by the larger scholarly community that use (and sometimes cite) the work I’ve done. The syllabi I create also evolve through careful work with students (who I consider my closest learning community peers).

The scholarly work I produce in collaboration with students doesn’t stop there. I create class projects that have students working closely with each other and with me. In 2011, while teaching multimodal composition at GA Tech (a required course for Freshman), I had classes of 25 students working together to produce a short horror film. One student, Ben Lambeth, chose to continue working on his class’s film after the semester was over, and I worked with him as an assistant editor (not as his teacher but as an artistic collaborator). Here’s a preview for the finished film, Zombie Proof, and a short behind-the-scenes documentary about its creation. At the same time,  I also worked on GA Tech It Gets Better, a documentary film I co-produced with yet another former student, outside any assigned class project.

As I’ve continued to evolve as a scholar and teacher, I’ve become more and more concerned with thinking about ways to make what I do in the classroom and what I do in the safe confines of a word-processing window more public. The impetus for my scholarly work and publishing is to do my pedagogy in much larger and more open spaces. I teach, because I have to, because it’s in my bones. I write, because it allows me to teach more and to teach more people.

One way I’ve worked to bring my teaching and scholarly lives into closer public conversation is to have my CV and Teaching Portfolio exist alongside one another on my personal homepage. I’ve also begun publishing more about pedagogy and my teaching practices, something I’ve formalized through Hybrid Pedagogy. Finally, I force myself to build my scholarly writing out of the work I do in the classroom and to share my scholarly work in the classroom. This is particularly possible when I’ve taught writing, where I am able to work with my students as part of (not just facilitator of) a community of writers. It is students in writing classes I’ve taught, in fact, that I credit for the completion of my dissertation.

It’s important for me, as a teacher and scholar, to be open not just with my intellectual and pedagogical products but even more so with my academic process and pedagogical practices. This intention has been the driving force behind my most recent scholarly writing / pedagogical project, Hybrid Pedagogy: A Digital Journal on Teaching & Technology. An open-access networked journal, Hybrid Pedagogy creates meaningful connections between discussions of critical pedagogy, digital pedagogy, and online pedagogy. The journal also invites its audience to participate in (and be an integral part of) the peer review process, and thus makes transparent (and interrogates) academic publishing practices. In this way, Hybrid Pedagogy is a journal about pedagogy while also taking a pedagogical approach to publishing, by allowing its readers to peek behind the proverbial curtain of the publishing machine. In the wake of rapid changes in publishing, education, and technology, this kind of openness and transparency is becoming less and less an experimental indulgence and more and more a brunt necessity.

[Charlotte Frost’s companion-piece (“Pedagogy as Publishing”) offers a peek into the process of the creation and publishing of this article by Jesse and the one Charlotte wrote simultaneously for Hybrid Pedagogy.]

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Writing Accountability Part 2 by Jennifer Lim: How it measures
Posted by atarrant

In the second of two posts about Writing Accountability (the first of which introduces the initiative and you can read about here), Jennifer Lim explains how writing progress can be effectively measured and managed. Jennifer’s post is part of PhD2Published’s new Academic Writing feature.

For accountability to work, measuring and monitoring progress are essential too the writing process. Monitoring your own progress helps in recognizing current productivity status and finding ways to improve it. Setting an ultimate goal and daily writing plan to achieve it is important for improving writing productivity. Progress measurement is of great interest to me. As there is no strict rule about how writing progress should be measured, in the Writing Accountability initiative, I find it amazing that everyone has different ways of measuring their personal progress. Here are some examples of how to measure writing progress in order to develop accountability.

Word Counts/Targets

Although some measurements are similar, there are still many different ways of doing it. The most practical method is word count. Whether the final writing achievement is a few thousand words of an article or more than 10,000 words of a dissertation or thesis, word count is the best way to measure and monitor writing progress towards an ultimate writing goal. It is also best to break down the ultimate writing goal into smaller daily goals. Let’s say you need to write at least 12,000 words in 6 months and that most probably you do not plan to write over the weekend. This equates to at least 100 words per day in order to achieve 12,000 words in 6 months. By having this daily writing goal of 100 words, you have a clearer writing plan to help to achieve the ultimate goal and can diminish the overwhelming feeling that a larger word count often creates. If writing 100 words a day is too easy, set it higher or to a limit that you feel is challenging enough to motivate you to write daily.

Time Measurement

Writing is not the only thing one does as an academic however. A lot of time is also spent on reading, making notes, data collection and data analysis etc. Should we not measure those that actually contribute too the final product of our writing? What is the best way to measure these? I personally think the daily time spent on these activities should also be considered. This helps to minimize the feeling of unproductiveness if no significant words are written on those days when other academic activities take precedence. So, another good way to measure daily progress is the total time spent. Set a minimum time that you are willing to spend on a daily basis to work on your academic activities, including reading, literature review, etc. Your time target should be reasonable and something that you can achieve such as 1 or 2 hours a day. Setting a target too high will only decrease your motivation if you can’t achieve any at the end of each day.

Combining the two

It is viable to combine both word count and time spent measurements as the daily goal. In that way, you can measure word count when you are writing and time spent when you are working on other relevant academic activities. I also find it is beneficial to record daily progress together with some comments about what has been achieved or lack thereof so reflection is possible for self improvement. Another example of measurement is from Sarah Ford (who Tweets as @Sarah_M_Ford). She has a unique formula of calculating ‘score’ to measure her daily progress (learn more about it here).

Other than using the spreadsheet for progress update in writing accountability, there are also some #AcWri enthusiasts who like to blog or tweet about their writing goals and progress. The #AcWri community on Twitter provides great peer support where people are sharing writing advice and encouraging one another in the writing process. If you work better with pressure, the #AcWri community can also act as (positive) peer pressure. Seeing others progressing well when you are not provides encouragement to  improve your own productivity. Either way, participating in the #AcWri community will only benefit your progress and increase your motivation. Knowing you are not alone in whatever obstacles you are facing provides good solace. The key to accountability is: knowing what you need to achieve and making sure you put in the effort to achieve it. Regardless of how you measure your progress, all you need to do is to find the best way to achieve the ultimate goal by setting targets that are reasonable and achievable.

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Weekly Wisdom #82 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew
Posted by atarrant

BE SURE TO SPELL-CHECK AND GRAMMAR-CHECK AND FACT-CHECK your work. Your degrees certify you as a literate, educated person. Grammatical or spelling errors in a résumé or in an article submitted for publication turn off reviewers who are making judg­ments about you. For example, in a résumésent to one of us as an outside reviewer for tenure we found the following: “My research activities has centered on . . .” and a reference to the journal Group Decision and Negotiation wound up as Group Decision & Negation.

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Josie Dixon – From Planet PhD to Destination Publication: A Traveller’s Guide. Part 3. Passenger vs Driver
Posted by Charlotte Frost

http://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/2163470598/#/

This post is the third 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. 

A publishing proposal needs to make clear the project’s contribution to work in the field, and define its originality with reference to what has gone before.  You aren’t working in a scholarly vacuum, so you will need to contextualise your research in the discipline, but in a very different mode from that of a PhD literature review.  Coverage of secondary sources is no longer of interest for its own sake: your mastery of the field can now be assumed, rather than requiring demonstration at every turn for the benefit of your examiners.  As an editorial colleague once put it, ‘A publisher is interested in what you think, not what you think other people have thought’.   The journey from PhD to publication involves rethinking not just the quantity, but also the quality and manner of your citations.

In the first blogpost in this series, I referred to an article by Peter Barry which offers equally useful observations in this context.  Barry complains, rightly, that ‘much academic writing seems to hamper its own flow by footnoting, quoting or citing in almost every sentence. Its own argument never gathers any proper momentum or direction, like a car being driven with the brakes half on’. He pinpoints in particular the problem of ‘constant self-interruption (“as X has argued”, “as Y points out” and so on)’.  Barry’s stylistic point is a good one, but I would go further, since I have additional reservations about ‘as X has argued’ as a critical manoeuvre, in terms of what it suggests about the author’s confidence in their own independent contribution to the field.

A PhD has been traditionally viewed as an apprenticeship for an academic career, and that sense of being an academic underling working in the shadow of the established authorities often betrays itself in formulaic citations of this kind, in which you can risk overplaying the homage to senior figures in the field (X and Y are typically gurus like Foucault or Habermas).  The ‘as’ in ‘as X has argued’ suggests an alignment of your own point with one that has already been expressed by someone else, and this formula usually introduces a main clause which recycles their point (likewise ‘According to X’) in the attempt to bolster your own argument.  Too much of this kind of ‘straight’ citation in order to agree suggests a dependent or derivative relationship, and insufficiently novel or critical thinking on your part.  Turn that around with a different formulation – ‘whereas X has argued…’  – and you automatically make space for your own new and different contribution to take centre stage in the sentence – a much stronger form of argumentation.

A similar principle applies to framing material outlining the relationship of your work to predecessors, models, or sources of methodological and theoretical inspiration.  Too many would-be authors characterise their project as ‘drawing on’ or ‘following’ the work of existing authorities in the field, suggesting a position that is derivative or lags behind.  Editors want to publish the leaders in their field, not the followers!  So a stronger pitch would be to characterise your project as ‘building on’ its predecessors, making clear that their work is only the starting point for yours, which pushes further forward and achieves something more.

So have the courage of your own convictions here – Foucault, Habermas & co have enough disciples, and you won’t distinguish yourself by adding to their number.  Rather than joining the chorus, make sure you are singing solo.  Don’t be a passenger on other people’s bandwagons: be the driver of your own!

Here are five writing tips, to help you manage your relationship to secondary sources in ways that foreground your originality to best effect:

i) Avoid ‘as’ and ‘according to’ when introducing citations – concentrate on differentiating your viewpoint, rather than aligning it with others’

ii) Beware ‘c.f.’ and referencing sources without making explicit the relationship of your viewpoint to the ones being cited – the risk is that you will appear to be recycling others’ views uncritically

iii) Avoid too much summary of critical debate without your own intervention – this can make you look like a bystander or commentator rather than an active participant, and at worst turns into a bibliographical laundry list

iv) Use dynamic rather than passive verbs – you will make a more compelling case for your contribution if you make clear how your project challenges or overturns previous work, rather than simply complementing it (too neutral), filling the gaps (too humble) or drawing on your predecessors (derivative rather than critical)

v) From problem to solution: while you will of course need to give credit where it’s due, you will make a stronger and more positive case for what you bring to the scholarly party by explaining the deficiencies in existing scholarship which your research aims to remedy, and making clear the pay-off for your distinctive approach

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Weekly Wisdom #81 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew
Posted by atarrant

LEARN THE FINE POINTS OF ENGLISH. With multiple degrees in hand, you are assumed to be an educated person. Writing and speaking mistakes turn off your students, reviewers, and the editors of journals. If you need help, buy a copy of Fowler’s Modern English Usage and William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White’s The Elements of Style. Read them. When in doubt, consult them. A well-written paper is more likely to be accepted than a poorly written one. For example you should: Know the difference between assure, ensure, and insure, and between affect and effect. Recognize that criteria is plural and criterion is singular

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