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Take the ‘tiny text’ template I made based on the Thesis Whisperer (aka Inger Mewburn’s technique for kick-starting your academic writing)
Take an idea from your research (this could be the idea your entire thesis is based on, it might be the concept being presented in one chapter, or it might be an idea you haven’t worked out yet that may or may not end up being a part of your thesis/current project,
In just 5 minutes, write one sentence for each of the sections listed below.
SUBSPECIALIZE. Build and promote an expertise that’s cross-disciplinary or even tangential from your main subject area. A more generalised, let’s call it ‘sub-specialty’ is going to attract a wider group of people to your work. Engaging with folks in neighboring and related disciplines will help you build a more diverse network. The points of intersections between our own work and the work of our peers is often what most inspires us to push off in new directions. We’re fans of networks built around related but divergent interests. Fiona Barnett, the HASTAC Scholars Director, coined their fantastic mission statement, “Difference is our operating system.” This is something we believe strongly of academia and scholarship. Ultimately, our work is only as good as the connections it makes and the discussions it gives rise to.
HAVE A PROFESSIONAL APPROACH. It’s worth having a networking strategy for every academic event you attend, and even more important to strategize at a macro-scale. We advocate always having a 5 year plan, even if it changes iteratively every 6 months. What job would you like to have? What things might you have published? What courses might you have taught? Now, work back from there. Who will be able to help you achieve these goals? Don’t just think about who is going to publish your work — although that’s also important — think about who can advise you and about whose work can serve as a model? These are the people you’ll need to start reaching out to in one way or another. You might start just by following them on Academia.edu, or Twitter. But eventually you should be ready to engage with them in a mutually-supportive and professional way. However, don’t start with a slew of unsolicited emails announcing your five year plan, and also don’t hover around prospective collaborators at conferences with nothing interesting to say. When you first reach out to potential mentors or collaborators, be clear and upfront about why you’re getting in touch and what you’re asking them for so they can make an instant assessment of the time involved in completing your request. And relate your questions to their work so they know you are genuinely engaged with what they do. If you’re writing them anything longer than a Tweet (say, an email or Facebook message) try something like:
Dear Professor Clever-Cloggs,
I’m interested in applying your method of teaching X with Z. I have already read your paper ‘Blah Blah’ but would love the opportunity to ask you a few additional questions (see below) so that I can fully synthesise your approach.
Likewise, if you approach somebody at a conference, first patiently wait your turn and second, be clear and direct about how you’d like to connect with them. Often there won’t be time at the conference itself so be ready to suggest a low-labour alternative. For example ask them if they’d be happy to Skype or Google Hangout with you for 20 minutes at a time of their choosing. Or offer to send them a follow up email with a few mutual action points. The key is to make it easy for them to work with you.
SHHHHH! LISTEN! When it comes to collaborating and networking, listening is just good form, and it will give you a much better idea of where your own work sits in the landscape of your subject area and neighboring disciplines. In fact, think of interacting with people as doing a kind of book-less literature survey. Find out everything you can about that person’s opinions and publications. You’ll stop yourself making any embarrassing mistakes or overblowing the originality of your work if you survey the territory first — carefully. And think about how you might listen on multiple channels. The conversation on Twitter is different from the conversation on your colleagues’ blogs, and both are different from what you’ll find at your annual conference or in a peer-reviewed journal. Don’t get so caught up in any one medium that you can’t see the forest for the trees, so to speak. Your discipline is happening, literally and figuratively, all over the place.
TIP OFF THE PRESS. Sometimes you’ll organise an event or publish a piece of work that has obvious impact beyond your academic field alone. When this happens make sure you talk to your university’s marketing and press team. Work with them to draft a brief and to-the-point piece of text you can send out — press-release style — to relevant news outlets. It might be that you’re organising an event that will benefit the local community so make sure the local papers know about it well in advance. If you can make life easy for them as well by presenting them with text that pre-empts their questions you’ll increase your chances of the event/project being written about. If your work has real national/international impact then it’s really important you work closely with the press team not just to make sure you get press but also so that they can protect you and your intellectual property (no matter how you choose to license it, whether with a Creative Commons license or a more conventional copyright).
Academic work is seldom a fame-game, but it’s always worth publicising important work because it will be bring prestige to your university and give you added kudos in your department (not to mention it may well build an audience for your work and help sell books etc) and that can lead to bigger and better grants. Jesse writes more on this subject in his article, “Promoting Open Access Publications and Academic Projects.” There, he writes, “Our work has value, and it’s safe to openly admit that. In fact, at this moment in education, championing what we do should be a major part of what we do.”
ORGANIZE AN EVENT. The most productive sorts of networks are populated by both strong and weak ties. One of the best ways to network is to attend events in your field, and sometimes it’s just as useful to attend events in neighboring fields. Even more useful, though, is to organize an event of your own. Doing so will force you to not only show up for the event, but you’ll also have the opportunity to work closely with folks you might not otherwise have the opportunity to work with. It’s also an important service to the profession. If you’re a graduate student, perhaps start by organizing a dissertation writing group or a series of workshops about academic writing. If you’re a classroom teacher, start a pedagogy club for talking about new perspectives on and strategies for teaching. When you find yourself without community, build one, and work to populate the community with a diverse array of participants — not just students in your cohort or faculty in your department, but a wider group of people that don’t always do exactly what you’d do or say exactly what you’d say.
After you’ve had some practice with organizing a smaller event or community, try something more ambitious. Gather together a group of your peers for an unconference or symposium on a subject related to your work. Or, even better, find a way to gather your peers together for a project that engages your local community (or some more global digital community). Put yourself in the center of the fray, wherever that fray is, and do work to help your discipline — your community — evolve.
SHARE AND SHARE WELL. Be good at sharing useful content via the social media platforms you choose to use. This may sound obvious but it’s easily forgotten and it ties in with our tip about being a good listener. Don’t take to Facebook or Twitter just to announce the paper you published. You want people interested in you and to friend/follow you if they value you as a useful source of information. So find out what’s going on in your academic world and pass it on. A great tool that can help you with keeping a steady flow of interesting information flowing through your social media accounts is Buffer. Buffer allows you to quickly select meaningful content from around the web and queue it up to be published at selected intervals — even when you’re away from you computer. This means that if you have very limited time to catch up with your accounts, you’ll still come across as an active user. Another useful tool can be IFTTT. IFTTT allows you to automate lots of content gathering/sharing. There are some people who use it to automatically tweet content selected by a Google or Talk Walker alert for a particular subject area. But ultimately this will make your Twitter account seem like a bot and you’ll frustrate followers who want to hear from YOU! Far better to use it as a way of making sure your blog posts automatically get tweeted, or to allow the same piece of content to be shared across all social media platforms at once, or even to retweet content from your favourite blogs. In short, automation can be good but only when it’s set up carefully and deliberately.
ALWAYS BE THE EASIEST PERSON TO SCHEDULE A MEETING WITH. Certainly, there is a benefit to seeming like your time is in demand; however, the hassle of scheduling a meeting is a bear you shouldn’t let loose upon a new collaborator. Even if your schedule feels incredibly full, we recommend trying to offer as many possible times for a meeting. And, when in doubt, offer to meet somewhere that’s convenient for your colleague. In brief, fighting for the front seat of the car is not a game you should figuratively play with a potential collaborator. We both think of our schedule like a Rubik’s Cube, something constantly shifting as we move through the week to accommodate the various relationships we’re trying to develop.
HONE YOUR ELEVATOR PITCH. Learn how to describe what’s very broadly at stake in your work. This can take years of practice to get good at — and it’s especially hard to do straight after completing your PhD — but we don’t have years (we usually need to hone a pitch before the PhD is even finished), so here’s a cheat. Imagine you have to convey the life or death importance of your work (and that your life actually does depend on getting the message across). What would you say? Instead of being lost in the intricacies and jargon of your field, you have to tell someone — anyone — just why your work matters. This sort of thing is often described as an ‘elevator pitch’, a short teaser you could recite to the most important person within or outside your field in a short elevator trip.
DON’T BE A STALKER. While social media networks encourage us to watch each other and to jump into conversation with complete strangers, there are ethical limits. It’s important to learn the conventions of a professional space (whether physical or virtual) before engaging too rampantly in that space. It is not okay, for example, to use Twitter to follow one single person (and only that person) while using it for nothing else. That’s just creepy. It is also not okay to keep pushing people to engage with you. If someone is not responding, you need to respect their boundaries and/or how busy they are. Finally, social media channels are all about sharing, so make sure that you are contributing to your network, as much as (if not more than) they are contributing to you. If someone sends a message to you asking for help or for your thoughts on something, return the favor.
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STALK YOURSELF. Or rather, Google yourself. It’s a really useful exercise and will help you begin to think about ways to hone what Jesse calls your “Googlesume.” Know that potential employers, editors, and students are Googling your name, so what shows up is a part of your identity whether you’re aware of it or not. Buying your domain and creating professional profiles on social media are the best ways to harness what shows up in a Google search for your name but so too are making sure substantial work is well linked-to. In brief, when you google yourself, think carefully about what you see and the message it is conveying about you. You’ll be surprised about how much of what you see, you actually have direct control over.
BE A GOOD HACKADEMIC. Hackademia is all about honing your academic skills. It’s about thinking holistically about what it takes to be a good professional academic — which doesn’t end with simply being really quite clever. In our other tips we’ve helped you think about things like how to focus, collaborate, and critique your own work, but we produced these tips by being good at something else: researching and reflecting on our own methods. Therefore being a good hackademic means taking time out to regularly research everything from how you grade your students papers to whether papers are the best form of assessment and even what impact the tools you and your students use to write and grade papers might have on their learning. It means scouring professional development outlets like the Chronicle and Hybrid Pedagogy for debates on grading, or whatever other topic is keeping you up at night. It means keeping abreast of all the new tools out there you can deploy to grade and teach and research. And most of all it means sharing this information: good hackademics conduct their own professional development programmes and make them public!
GET A MENTOR. In some universities you might be lucky enough to be assigned a mentor and this may already be working well for you. Perhaps your PhD supervisor is still in the picture. Either way, it’s always worth trying to establish further relationships that will support your career growth. Try to identify someone in your field who you admire. Don’t start by approaching the biggest name in your field, because they probably won’t have time. Look instead for someone a few rungs higher up the career ladder and who you would like to be in regular contact with. Approach them by making it clear how the informal mentoring might operate — for example, you might agree to Skype for half an hour once a month. They’re likely to be really flattered you’ve asked and if you both set out some sort of schedule from the start, then neither of you need worry about taking up too much of their time. You might even decide to collaborate on a project together further down the line. Help lighten your mentor’s workload by providing a few questions/prompts in advance of your meetings. For example you might ask them about the major turning points in their career and invite them to help you reverse engineer the steps involved. Always be ready to help them in return. And as soon as you are ready, take on some mentees of your own!
This is a public worksheet/workshop for writing a draft of academic text in just 25 minutes. You’re invited to complete each task in the allotted time in your own Google/Scrivener/Word doc etc…. Set a timer for each writing task (1. 5 mins, 2. 15 mins, 3. 5 mins) and don’t go over! And then let us know in the comments how you go on.
Task 1: create a structure (in 5 minutes)
Focus: Broadly important fact or relevant story (In….)
Literature: What has been said already? (It is argued that…)
Gap: What hasn’t been said already? (However….)
Methods: How (By analysing…)
Implications: What practical or philosophical impact will this have? (This research shows…)
(template credit: Gerald Graff, Barbara Kamler and Pat Thomson, Karen Kelsky, Inger Mewburn)
Task 2: build 3 core sections (in 15 minutes)
Now, spread out the tiny text you’ve written, or focus on the following sections: Literature, Methods, Implications
- Focus: Broadly important fact or relevant story (In….)
- Literature: What has been said already? (It is argued that…)
[write more here!]
- Gap: What hasn’t been said already? (However….)
- Methods: How (By analysing…)
[write more here!]
- Implications: What practical or philosophical impact will this have? (This research shows…)
[write more here!]
Take the Thesis Whisperer’s ‘Thinking Bundles’ worksheet :
and use her ‘sentence scaffolds’ to write a brief paragraph for each of those sections,
You have 15 minutes to do this (5 minutes for each section plus reading time of a couple of minutes) – literally fill in the blanks with your own work!
Task 3: craft your paragraphs
Now, read the following worksheets by the Thesis Whisperer (you have a couple of minutes to do this):
Thesis Whisperer ‘powerful paragraphs’ worksheet https://sites.google.com/site/twblacklinemasters/powerful-paragraphs
‘Powerful paragraphs’ gives you a paragraph that looks like this (it starts with a more general statement and focuses in to make a point):
Thesis Whisperer ‘PEELL’ technique worksheet:
‘PEELL’ gives you a paragraph that looks like this (it has a tight focus/ makes a point up front and then builds on that):
Pick which structure appeals best and write one brief paragraph from scratch. Make it something that fleshes out the next stage of the work. For example write a further paragraph of your literature review/methods section, or introduce a case study.
You have just 5 more minutes to do this.
For more help constructing your paragraphs, and finding the right phrases, see the University Manchester Academic Phrasebank.
OK, so it was probably a bit tight working on all this in just 25 minutes (it’s a bit like a Jamie Oliver 15 minute meal, not everyone will ever do it this fast) and academia is certainly not a race, quality thinking takes time, but this is one technique you can use to kick start your work.
I suggest you take a break straight after working on your 25 minute text and when you return, use ‘Task 3’ to fill out more paragraphs. You might like to continue by working on each paragraph for a set amount of time – this time will depend on how much preparation you’ve done – but the Pomodoro Technique of working in 25 minute time slots is a proven way of keeping on task.
Charlotte Frost and Jesse Stommel met (as they often do) in a Google Doc to do some writing. This time, however, they invited a group of people to join them, and they demonstrated how and why they write together in Google Docs. In the blog post below, you can read the text they generated, but the original Google Doc they used can also be viewed as can the video of them writing together (which we’ve included below). If you have any further questions ask away in the comments section of this post.
My name is Charlotte Frost and I am a Visiting Assistant Professor here at SCM in Hong Kong. I run lots of projects looking at writing in an academic context including PhD2Published and AcWriMo. My other work is focused on digital and new media arts and the history of net art (the latter of which was the subject for my thesis). Jesse and I regularly work in Google Docs together on all manner of things because apart from anything else its fun.
My name is Jesse Stommel and I’m a teacher and researcher working in the US. I teach Digital Humanities and Digital Literacies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I’m also the Director of Hybrid Pedagogy, a digital journal of learning, teaching, and technology. I’ve been working closely with Charlotte for quite a while, and we have begun to inhabit each other’s writing in such a way that we often finish each other’s sentences.
In this session we’re going to:
- Use a Google Doc to show how we work together and discuss what works for us
- Describe and give examples of public writing.
- Show which parts of a Google Doc we use for what.
- Address some of the difficulties we encounter as we work in this way.
- Demo all of this in a meta-sort of way, so you can watch it unfold before your very eyes.
- (And hopefully film this demo so you have something to look at and refer to afterward)
Why Write Collaboratively?
Accountability: Writing together is a huge procrastination crusher. There’s safety in numbers and it makes it much less daunting to look at a blank screen with someone else there – you are NOT alone! (cause someone else is right there with you, prodding your sentences into life!)
Camaraderie: Having someone to talk to and write with and even ask questions about all sorts of things helps (especially questions about writing and academia of course!). It can make it easier to get started (see above) and make the whole process a lot more enjoyable.
Instant Proof-reading and Peer-review: Your partner can read for sense AND mistakes – if they don’t get it, others won’t either. But also, let them find your mistakes and save your blushes later on.
Less Work: If you work on something like this together in a Google Doc (whether it’s a blog post, article, outline, etc.) you halve the work. And, if you’re working with someone like Charlotte [says Jesse] it’s even less than half, because she’s very very prolific.
Progression: It will move your thinking and writing forward AND fast. There’s a difference between ‘thinking writing’ and ‘doing writing’ the former helps you work something out, the latter helps you show what you’ve worked out. A collaborative document can be used for either, but if nothing else, use it for ‘thinking writing’. It’s a sandbox for making sense of something of something.
Why not? Learning is social and doing this kind of work with collaborators helps improve your work and your partners. Writing does not have to be solitary. Sure, some writing prefers to live alone, but sometimes writing wants to live right alongside its readers.
How to Write Collaboratively?
(there’s lots of stuff to consider as you get started, but sometimes the best thing to do is just start putting words on the screen and work the details out as you go). Here are some strategies we’ve found work well:
Time and Place:
Set up a Google Doc and a specific time to meet – as well as the duration of your meeting.
Your work can continue asynchronously outside the scheduled time (especially if you’re working in different time zones) but writing together at the same time is key – so try to do that regularly.
But perhaps only do it for an hour at a time, it’s a tiring practice if you’re working very collaboratively.
Establish the ‘permissions’ you’ll set for the document, who can edit, who can comment, who can read, etc.
Decide whether you want your document open to the web.
If you’re inviting more people to work with you, make sure that you make them ‘editors’.[currently this document is set up to only allow folks aside from Jesse and Charlotte to view the document — or participate in the chat — though we often open up our documents to a wider group of editors at some point during our process.]
The Google Doc Spreadsheet for AcWriMo for example is public and open to anyone to write on.
Types of Writing:
As well as writing your main body of text you’ll also be:
Using the chatbox for live discussion about all things writerly/academia and to arrange what you’ll achieve in your joint writing sessions.
Using the ‘comment’ function to select parts of the document to provide targeted feedback.
Decide how to navigate the various writing spaces together.
We meet in the chat box to get started and to arrange what we’ll do during a writing session, and we’ll often pop back into the chat box when we need to confer about our process.
We’ll also use the chat box as a space for dividing up what each of us will do during a writing session.
Sometimes, we will write in different colors just for fun to distinguish our voices. But we usually take that out as we polish the document.
Other examples of how you can use a Google Doc to work publicly and collaboratively:
Partner with one other person and both use the same GoogleDoc to each work on a different project but so that your progress is witnessed and/or so you can get someone else to periodically review your work and comment on it, etc. (There are anxieties associated with writing in public in this way, so doing this work helps build trust.) Sometimes, Charlotte will work at the bottom of a Google Doc while I work at the top. This gives us some amount of privacy but the ability to “call each other” into our section of the document.
Write in a Google Doc and make it public for viewing and reviewing (you might allow people to comment but not rewrite the text itself). Offering up a piece of work to a specific group in this way is a great technique for obtaining instant peer review.
Example: Arts Future Book is one of Charlotte’s research projects and in this instance she wrote a paper and left it open to public peer-reviewing (using a blog rather than Google Docs though)
Use one Google Doc for a large group as a sort of central repository for content.
You can brainstorm in the same doc and share ideas. and shape it up into something later. An Extreme example: of this is DigiWriMo Novel in a Day (which had about 100 people working in one Google Doc.)
Write collaboratively with one or more people. Take turns to draft sections of the doc (perhaps its an article you’re writing together) and use the comments to discuss each other’s sections and how to combine them better.
Take turns to draft sections but then work on the same paragraph at the same time to review, comment AND edit.
Example: A document that started with 4 authors, evolved to 12, and the rest of the web to contribute to the creation of a Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age:
What Difficulties Do We Encounter When We Write Collaboratively?
Stage Fright: It will expose how many times you change a sentence before you finish it (or how many typos you make 😉 Charlotte likes to make typos, as do I. Luckily, we both find typos immensely charming.
Solution: If you see the other person writing at the speed of light you can lose your train of thought. Just carry on in your own way at your own pace until you feel comfortable. One of the most important things you can lean is that we all write differently and we have to find our own practice for ourselves.
Disagreements: It’s easy to get attached to your writing and hard sometimes to let someone else into your process. Occasionally, you will find yourself unable to share a common voice.
Solution: Decide in advance how you’ll resolve your writing issues with your writing partner. Agree to Skype, meet, or just agree to differ on what ever the issue is. Sometimes, you might decide that you want to write certain sections of a document independently, while continuing to collaborate on others.
Technical Problems: Technology can be temperamental. Occasionally, the gods of technology just don’t rule in our favor.
Solution: If you lose more than 15 mins to lost connections/Google Docs not refreshing it might best to just give up and work alone or on something else. But work out the next time you CAN meet and stick to it.
Ownership: Who owns this document? Who gets to decide its boundaries? When we work together in this way, who is the “author” of a document like this?
Solution: While we have both clearly been co-composing this particular example, what if one of us were writing and the other were primarily editing and offering feedback? If you set out to work on something together, even if one of your writes more of it, we think it’s probably best to just agree from the start that the work will be collaborative. This kind of work can’t be quantified in a cut and dry fashion. The production of one word is sometimes more difficult than the production of 10. Actual writing isn’t the only thing you bring to the table when you collaborate and we find that the balance of the work evens out in the end.
This Google Doc workshop was offered as part of the Improving Your Academic Writing workshop series Charlotte gave at the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong as part of AcWriMo 2013.