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Weekly Wisdom #98 by Paul Gray and Simon E. Drew
WTDTYIGS Cover image

COMPLETION TIME. No matter how long you think it will take to write a paper based on your research, see the paper you just submitted in print, complete a research project, prepare a new course,or  prepare for a session of a course you gave previously it will take longer.  The wide-eyed optimists always think the task will be completed on time. The mildly realistic optimists think the task will take their esti­mated time plus 10%. The pessimists understand that the delay is at least 50% on average.

(Corollary: Even if you add the above delay times to your estimate, it will still take longer than that.)

Vote for the topic for the next #acwri live chat!
July 27, 2012

The next #acwri live chat will take place on Twitter next Thursday 2nd August at 7pm GMT and you can have an influence on what we discuss. All you have to do is register your vote here and we will announce the preferred topic at 6pm on the evening of the chat. We want to ensure that the #acwri community has the opportunity to influence the discussions as much as possible to make sure that it is as useful for everyone as possible. So please do make a choice and if you have any other ideas, leave them in the comments on the site and we will take them on board and include them in future polls.

Book Reviewing: The Basics by Katie Faulkner
Image c/o Eric LankeImage c/o Eric Lanke

Image c/o Eric Lanke

Todays post, written by Katie Faulkner is part of a short, multi-authored series of posts recently published on PhD2Published, all about book reviewing as academic publishing. Katie is a doctoral researcher and visiting lecturer at the Courtauld Institute of Art. She is also editor-in-chief of the Courtauld postgraduate journal immediations and Tweets as @katierosemary12

At the outset of our academic careers it can be so very gratifying when you realize you are now considered smart enough to review the work of your fellow researchers. Not to mention the joy of receiving a free book. Books for free are up there with complimentary conference lunches that involve chocolate brownies as far as I am concerned.

But reviewing books takes time, and tempting as it may be to imagine yourself as your favoured food critic writing a searing attack on your local branch of Nandos, a hostile or undiplomatic review could be potentially embarrassing. So before you eagerly sacrifice your precious Sunday to reading a book cover to cover, ask yourself the following questions:

What is in it for me?

  • Did I mention the free book? If there’s a book you want but can’t afford, it is worth seeing if you can review it for a journal. Look on the website of your chosen journal for contact details of their reviews editors.
  • A book review counts as a publication. It may not be peer reviewed, but a book review in a well-respected journal is a great advert for your knowledge of, and critical skills in your field.
  • How often do we study a book from start to finish? Writing a review gives you an opportunity to gain a really deep insight into the methodologies the author has used, how they have structured the narrative of their research and how they deal with the problems thrown up by their data and approach. Flexing your critical muscles is really helpful for thinking about your own writing, especially if you are working on a book or book proposal of your own.
  • Book reviews are meant to be succinct. They usually have a word count of anything between 300 to 2000 words, often without footnotes. If done well, writing a review is excellent practice in communicating complex ideas in relatively few words.

What is in it for the reader?

  • Why do people read book reviews? Usually, simply to work out if they need or want to read this book.
  • In mainstream publishing, the rise of social media, blogging and online magazines has diluted the power of the traditional literary critic writing for print journalism. Potentially, everyone is a critic. But as plenty of critics and authors point out, reviews from a trusted source are still valuable indicators of credibility and quality. In academic publishing, where success is reliant on the approval of your peers, the book review surely still has an important and useful place.
  • Bearing in mind that readers of your review will be looking for a fair and balanced assessment of the book in question, there are several necessary elements to every review piece:
    • A summary of the key argument of the book and the evidence used to support this.
    • A discussion of the author’s methodological framework and how this relates to the work of other scholars working in the same field.
    • The identification of any gaps, omissions or problematic areas in the gathering of data and subsequent analysis. How might it have been possible to interpret this information differently?
    • How does the book fit in with other research in the same field?
    • Who will find this book useful? Is it aimed at a specific audience or is it of more general interest.

What is in it for the author and/or the publisher?

  • There’s no such thing as a free book (I lied). In return for the shiny new tome on your bookshelf the publisher is hoping your review will drive sales of the book. By participating in the reviewing process, you are effectively implicated in the marketing of this book. This is probably fine if you think the book is great, but might niggle at your conscience if it is bad book.
  • If the author sees your review, they will know that at least one person has read their precious research with the attention it deserves. Choose your words carefully; remember how personally you can take criticism of your own work. Be rigorous, but don’t be personal or petty.

Want to know more? Check out the other two posts in the series by Laura Pasquini and Raphael Susewind.

#AcWri Twitter Chat, 19th July: Why Do We Write?

Today’s summary of our #acwri Twitter live chat is all about why academics write, and not just because we have too! The idea of the chat topic was to encourage the community to really think about the reasons for writing as a way of motivating us but also having an open and frank discussion about the things we write and the ways we disseminate our ideas. This resulted in a great discussion, of which the key points are listed below:

Weekly Wisdom #97 by Paul Gray and Simon E. Drew
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LEARN TIME MANAGEMENT. Determine your work priorities and try as best you can to match your time commitments to those priorities. The model of an academic having large blocks of time at work to think deeply about a problem is not valid, and may never have been. Your time on campus is fragmented. You are interrupted for teaching, office hours, supervising dissertations, phone calls, keeping up with e-mail, research, writing, publication, and more. Each activity is important and/or mandatory. You barely have time to be collegial. If you are overloaded, use time management tools. The simplest is the calendar that comes with e-mail software. Keep a record not only of your appointments and your teaching commitment but also your interruptions. Analysis will show times when you can combine repetitive interruptions and when you can undertake reading, research, and professional activities. Learn to say no! One of our colleagues, who published well over 30 books in his career, advised: “If you write only a page a day, that’s a book a year.

#AcWri – Making Plans by Jeremy Segrott and Anna Tarrant

It’s five months since we started #Acwri, and this week we took some time to think about what it’s achieved and how it could be developed in the future. 

For those of you who don’t know much about #Acwri you can read about us here.  But in a nutshell, the aim is that once a fortnight, we invite academic writers at any stage of their career to discuss a particular aspect of the writing process.  The aim is to share problems, ideas and solutions, and provide a supportive peer network. So far we have discussed a range of topics including writing journal articles, writing conference papers and writing research proposals. The summaries from these talks are posted on both PhD2Published and Jeremy’s website.

The group seems (from our perspective) to be meeting the aims we set out with, and we’re proposing to continue running the group every two weeks without any major changes.  But we have a few ideas about how to make it run slightly better, and would welcome your thoughts and ideas.

One change we’ve already made is to create a dedicated @acwri Twitter account that you can follow, which we’ll use to publicise our meetings, chair the discussion, and spread awareness of the group. This should hopefully help give #Acwri a clearer, more visible identity.

Our meetings will continue to be on alternate Thursday evenings, but we’re going to change the time from 6pm to 8pm, to make it easier for UK folks to join in, as the current 6pm start clashes with many people’s evening commute and family commitments.  Do let us know what you think!

Over the summer we’ll be meeting on 2nd August, 16th August, and then taking a break until Thursday 6th September.  The 16th August meeting will be an ‘open house’ – a chance for anyone to share what they’re writing about, problems/challenges they’re facing, and tips on how to keep the motivation and the writing going over the long hot summer.

For all our other meetings we’ll be taking on a particular theme.  We need people to suggest the kinds of things they’d like to discuss.  From these ideas we’ll create a poll with a choice of topics for each meeting, and the most popular one wins.  We’ve used this system for some of our previous chats, but it will now be something we try to do for every #Acwri session.

The two of us @DrAnnaTarrant and @DrJeremySegrott will continue to take turns at chairing the sessions and summarising the discussion on our websites (Dr Jeremy Segrott and PhD2Published), but we’ll also invite the winner of the topic poll to kick off each session by telling everyone why they chose the subject, and highlighting some of the key points they think are important.

Plans are also afoot to set up a parallel #Acwri group for Australia and Asia, as the current #Acwri group takes place in the early hours of the morning there.

Let us know what you’d like #Acwri to discuss, and any other ideas about how we should develop the group.

Weekly Wisdom #96 by Paul Gray and Simon E. Drew
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GET TO KNOW THE MAJOR EDITORS of the book publishers in your field. The best place to meet them is at the book exhibits asso­ciated with your annual professional conference. You will find that some of them know absolutely nothing about your field, not to mention your subject. Avoid working with such editors because they will treat your work as a commodity, like pork bellies.

Part 1: A Primer on Open Access Publishing by Jason Colditz

This post is the first in a series by Jason Colditz, who spends his days at the University of Pittsburgh. He is a full-time Research Coordinator (Department of Psychiatry), Teaching Assistant for the Dissertation Research Seminar (Department of Administrative and Policy Studies), and has consulted on several university-sponsored and individual research projects. In the Social and Comparative Analysis in Education graduate program, his comprehensive project focuses on policies and economics of Open Access publishing. In this set of blog posts, Jason extends a conversation started earlier on PhD2Published, introducing us to the world of Open Access publishing and exploring its implications for future academic publishing and careers.

Open Access (OA) publishing is a game-changer for researchers and academics who produce scholarly works.  While mathematics and physics have a rich history of making articles publicly available and medicine is moving in that direction thanks to funding mandates, OA is a relatively new development in social sciences and humanities fields. Over a series of posts, we will help you to understand the basics of OA, provide resources to help you make informed decisions about OA options, and consider the long term impact of OA publishing for emerging researchers and professionals in academia.

Background: Open Access as a Geopolitical Grassroots Movement

Recently, Open Access (OA) has received increased public attention on a global scale. The UK, Argentina, and others are moving towards federal mandates to make publicly funded research results available to the public, the US is under increased pressure to enact similar OA legislation, and advocacy groups are springing up around the globe. A driving force of this movement stems from universities and academic library associations that are unable to keep up with the hyperinflation of journal prices (i.e., “serials crisis”). The recent public mobilization arises from a growing awareness and discontent towards the unsustainability of journal publishers’ current business paradigms. In brief, for-profit journal publishers continually increase profit margins by charging the public to access the research that they have funded and by charging academic institutions to access the research results that they have produced. Researchers, librarians, and the public are uniting at a grassroots level, demanding a new model for sharing research results. Globally, researchers are boycotting publishing in Elsevier journals because of questionable business practices, and the public is petitioning the US government to mandate openness in publicly funded research results. As our global culture increasingly demands research findings to fuel innovation and social progress, and with technology making web-based electronic publications the norm, we are on the brink of shifting paradigms for sharing scientific knowledge…

Welcome to Open Access!

Simply put, OA is the free release of knowledge to the public who sponsor and benefit from it. This paradigm allows patients and providers to access medical research that informs treatment, allows educators to draw from relevant findings in teaching and learning theory, allows public policy makers and advocates to make scientifically grounded arguments, and allows scientists and the general public to stay abreast of current knowledge across all research disciplines. From an epistemological perspective, OA allows researchers to more readily access and build upon previous knowledge. From an academic career perspective, OA creates broader dissemination and citability of published articles. The only downside (if you can call it that) in moving towards a more open model of knowledge sharing is that publishers will need to adapt their profit models and academia will need to adapt to new technologies and develop new standards for evaluating the prestige of published works. This is similar to the process of adaptation that the record labels and musicians undertook when technology caught up to the recording industry. If we can learn a lesson from this recent history: don’t spend time and energy clinging to dated market conventions and do spend some time gaining an understanding of the emerging system. If you should adapt to emerging norms and remain competitive in open knowledge markets, the upcoming posts will help you to become confident in choosing appropriate venues for publishing your articles and will show you how to share your results beyond conventional publication channels.

Moving Along…

Now that you have some background, it is time to move into applications and provide you with some tools to make the publishing process easier. The next post will talk a little bit about author copyright agreements and provide resources to help you publish your research directly into the public domain (the “OA Gold” model). That will bridge us into discussing the “OA Green” model where authors publicly archive their published works. Finally, we will wrap-up with some practical considerations of OA, assessing article prestige (i.e., impact metrics), and how OA is contributing to new ways of measuring article impact and how that might affect your future academic career.

In the meantime, if you want to do your homework on OA, I recommend starting at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). If you do the Twitter thing, there are always interesting live updates on the #OpenAccess tag, or you can tweet @ColditzJB with questions.

Stay Open,


Follow Jason on Twitter: @colditzjb

Weekly Wisdom #95 by Paul Gray and Simon E. Drew
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SELECTING A PUBLISHER INVOLVES TRADE-OFFS. With a large pub­lisher that issues many books in your field in a year you gain the advantage of mass marketing and advertising. Large publishers em­ploy reps who visit campuses. However, these reps are given many books to push and their commissions depend on the number of books sold. As a result, they concentrate on freshman and sopho­more texts for required courses. Furthermore, since they receive the same commission no matter which book is adopted, they have little incentive to sell a particular book. Thus, you run the risk that pro­motion of your book will be lost among the many others with simi­lar titles being offered by that publisher. Small and specialty commercial publishers and university presses give you much more individual attention. You can judge whether they are a good fit for your book by looking at their publications list on their Web site, themailings you receive from them, the advertisements in your profes­sional journals, and the experience and recommendations of your peers. If a publisher looks reasonable based on these probes, go to your school’s library and look at their books they have published. Before signing a contract, make sure that (a) your publisher will have your manuscript peer reviewed, and (b) the publisher you chose “counts” with your field’s tenure committee. Under no circum­stances publish with a vanity press, that is, a publisher that charges you for publishing your book.

#AcWri Twitter Chat – Writing Grant Applications

The latest #acwri live chat was all about writing grant applications for research funding. Jeremy has done the storify summary of this chat and you can view it at his webpage as well.

Weekly Wisdom #94 by Paul Gray and Simon E. Drew
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PAY ATTENTION TO THE BOOK PUBLISHERS’ REPRESENTATIVES WHO COME INTO YOUR OFFICE. They are a valuable source of informa­tion. These reps have two missions: (a) to flog the books their com­pany issues and (b) to send intelligence back to the home office. They will be pleased to send you complimentary copies of the latest mass market elementary textbooks in your field. If your field is French, you can obtain many shelves of freshman- and sophomore-level French books. You can alsoobtain copies of books directly linked to specific courses you teach. It is a little more difficult (but not impossible) to obtain complimentary copies of books in your research area. There’s always the chance that you will adopt. Don’t, however, simply look at the reps as a source of freebies. Use them to find out what is going on in the book market. Sound them out on whether their firm is interested in a book manuscript you have under way. Their response will usually be positive. Ignore that. Just make sure that they get the wordabout your forthcoming manu­script back to the editors at the publisher’s headquarters.