‘Floating away — Peace Pig 260′ by https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidonath/
Organise your time. No matter how much of your time you’re able to dedicate to your thesis/dissertation/article/paper/chapter you won’t get it done if you don’t manage your time. In fact, it’s not about the time you have but the way that you use it. There are lots of ways you can do this. One is to use the Pomodoro Technique and divide your writing day into pomodori (25 minutes of writing 5 minutes of resting). Another is to notice which are your most effective writing hours. For example do you do best first thing in the morning or only after your third cup of coffee? Whenever is best for you, mark out that time for writing and fit in other tasks around it. And don’t over-do the amount of time you dedicate to writing – sometimes less is more if it stops you from feeling burnt out the next day.
Break. it. down. Of course your writing project is daunting if you continue to think of it as a T/D/A/P/C. Instead try to break it down into a set of components. I have started using the free Trello project management software to help me create a workflow of task cards and action columns. You can attach all manner of items to a card including Word and Google Docs, images, check-lists and due dates. You might like to have columns for research tasks such as reading, note taking, writing up, editing, and then pass a topic card (and attachments) through various stages. Or maybe it makes more sense to you to divide up your project into chapter or section columns and sub-section cards. Perhaps you prefer to do this on a Whiteboard or using Post-Its? However you do it, the important part is just to get yourself to see the project as a set of elements and then to see each element in terms of what you’re required to do for that part alone. Once you’re at that stage it is a thousand times easier to start, to keeping working away on each tiny task and, most importantly, to finish (and finish on time because now you’ve seen your work for what it really is – a set of tasks – you’re more capable of allocating the right amount of time to each task).
Set realistic goals. In November for AcWriMo we advocate pushing yourself harder than usual. For the most part this is because it is a diagnostic programme; we believe that if you put in twice the hours (words, projects etc.) you’ll find out what doesn’t work in half the time. Plus we build a support community to spur you on and who doesn’t want to finish their T/D/A/P/C that bit quicker? But in the main it’s important to set goals that you can meet so that you learn to manage your time efficiently and can keep up the momentum. If you repeatedly fail to meet your goals you’ll feel bad about yourself and your writing, you’ll likely have a very erratic writing schedule and, you won’t be able to see what other tasks can be completed while writing is going on (you might even start to feel like you’re failing at everything and that’s not good). Use AcWriMo to find out what is realistic for you in terms of hours or words you can write and stick to that the rest of the year.
Put ya thing down. It often feels like academic writing means like you have to make a strong and definitive statement on something. This is intensified when working on a PhD thesis because you have all sorts of feelings of guilt and self-loathing and have the desire to prove yourself and have something megatastic to show for all that work. But would we ever even open our mouths if we felt this kind of weight on our shoulders. The trick is to think of academic writing as a conversation. Gerald Graff demonstrated this idea in his classic They Say, I Say (even if I prefer the Missy Elliott version). Each time you sit down to write imagine yourself in dialogue with someone. What do you need to say to carry that conversational baton on to the next runner/writer?
Duh! Read something.. It sounds really obvious but you need to have read enough to even start writing in the first place. If you are struggling to write, it probably means you haven’t read enough yet so get back to the books (other information platforms are available) and read some more. Or re-read the texts you’re working with and attain a deeper level of understanding. Likewise, if you find yourself stuck at any point, pick up a book for inspiration. Either look at the content and refresh your thoughts by reconsidering what is being said, or look at the style and see if you can’t jump start you next paragraph by using the same approach. You might even go and read the newspaper, just read something to fill the gap where the ‘omg what the hell am I trying to say’ thoughts are and you’ll be on your writing way in no time.
Honor your ups and downs. Academic Writing Month offers a good opportunity for us to assess the flow of our work in research and writing. If there were no other responsibilities and distractions, it would be far easier to manage daily goals. But there are days when it is difficult to meet the demands of the everyday (deadlines, travel, one’s job, classes to teach or take…along with one’s personal life) and still accomplish writing goals. The crucial response is to honor those difficult days and press on.
As many know from setting new year’s resolutions, it’s easy to get frustrated by unmet goals and give up entirely. Research from the Journal of Clinical Psychology shows that only 8 percent of those who set resolutions at the new year successfully achieve their resolution. Don’t let that discourage you. Here’s the big reveal: “People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.” If you set specific AcWriMo goals, you are far closer to accomplishing them than you would be otherwise. If you didn’t set AcWriMo goals, there’s still almost half a month remaining…what would you like to achieve before December?
Researchers who have looked at this subject are… (50 words)
Debate centres on the issue of … (25 words)
My contribution will be… (50 words)
If you’ve done a decent amount of research you should be able to meet this 175 word target in minutes. And the next step is just to expand on each point. So why not take one of the existing opinions you’ve read about and add roughly 200 words to section 2. And repeat.
2. The blog post. (ahem!) If getting stuck in on a piece of academic writing feels too daunting, there are two ways in which writing blog post can help you. Really, you just want to trick yourself into doing something other than looking at cat pictures so writing any old post for your blog can help here. Depending on the content of your blog, just put together the next installment (is it a conference report? is it about how to search for cat pictures? is it about how hard it is to start writing?). The key is to just get yourself writing anything and once you’re feeling productive you can hop over to the harder task of your thesis, book, chapter, article, conference paper…But another way this can help you is if you take the idea you are working on and try to make a 500-800 word blog post on it. This might align with the recent arguments for a buzz-feed-i-fication of academia (but it’s certainly not a dumbing down of your work). If you can take the pressure off by allowing yourself to write in a different style, for a slightly different audience, it can help you focus. Once you’ve hashed out the idea in web-speak, then copy that text into a new document and instead of having to start from scratch, you have to turn into an editor and convert and expand upon what you have.
3. The baby step. What’s the smallest possible thing you could do to write the next part of your work? Think about the paragraph you need to craft next or even just the sentence. Set yourself a time limit to do just that one small task (the good old Pomodoro Technique works well here) and promise yourself that’s all you have to do for now (and you’ll get a reward afterwards). Maybe you’ll watch a movie, take a bath, eat an entire jar of Nutella…the reward here is up to you. Now, sit down and complete your teeny-tiny writing task. Take that itty-bitty baby-step forwards and see if you don’t exceed your own self-imposed limit.
4. The note-taker. Oh no no no this isn’t academic writing, it’s just a bit of note taking actually! You may already use the Cornell Method of note taking, if so you’ll know this trick pretty well. Instead of sitting down to write, sit down to take some notes. If it helps, don’t even do it in a Word Doc, choose an application that allows you to jot down sections of notes instead (Scrivener, Trello, Gingko all work here). The idea is just that you disregard any thoughts of creating an argument and you simply gather notes on the ideas and concepts you’re dealing with. Believe it or not, this will form the bulk of the end product anyway and the ‘writing’ stage will become more of a ‘drafting/editing’ stage. In fact, if it helps, imagine there is no such thing as academic writing, just taking notes and organising them.
5. The insurance policy. Instead of waiting until you sit down with a cup of coffee on Monday morning to start or continue working on your latest writing project, have a writer’s block insurance policy. Towards the end of every writing session, make yourself a paragraph of detailed notes on what you need to do next. List the points you need to make and which texts you’ll use to help you make them. Be as detailed as you can. Next time you sit down to write, pull out your plan and set to work. Not only will this jog your memory come Monday morning, but you might even be able to use it as a template for writing by separating out each task and replacing it with the actual section of writing that performs that task.
Dr. Anna Tarrant is a social scientist with a background in human geography, currently working as a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Leeds. She is former editor of PhD2Published.com, and reflects on the history of #AcWri in this guest post.
#Acwri — which stands for academic writing — is a hashtag used in online discussions about all things related to academic writing (as it is broadly defined). It has been instrumental in establishing an on-going, online participatory community, providing an open platform for sharing knowledge about academic writing (empowering each member as experts in their right) and generating useful resources in the form of summaries. Scholars of all career stages and disciplines participate in a peer-to-peer support network by sharing tips, asking questions, discussing challenges and reflecting on how they write. But where did #AcWri come from?
Origins of the hashtag
I was the editor of PhD2Published during its first ever Academic Writing Month (originally Academic Book Writing Month or #AcBoWriMo, which was eventually shortened to Academic Writing Month or #AcWriMo). Interest in academic writing didn’t end when the month came to a close and this new community continued to regularly share their academic writing wins and woes using the shortened #AcWri hashtag that had been suggested by Melissa Lovell (@melovell). Around about the same time, Dr Jeremy Segrott (Cardiff University) ran a live chat using the hashtag #writter to find out if there was any interest in establishing a twitter-based writing support group. Following this chat (and having gained permission from the existing #AcWri community), we all decided to work together to organise and run fortnightly Live Chats using the #AcWri hashtag. These took place every fortnight on a Thursday evening at 8pm GMT and each one focused on a particular aspect of the writing process.
Some of the chats we have run
The live chats have covered a wide range of topics, including but not limited to; writing journal articles, turning conference papers into journal articles, writing grant applications, finding time to write and academic writing for part-time students and researchers. The topics were identified through monitoring of ongoing discussion using the #AcWri hashtag. This was important for ensuring that each topic was of interest to the community.
Every Live Chat was summarised using Storify, an online tool for creating stories from social media content. Posted on PhD2Published and Jeremy’s blog, these are really useful resources for academic writers and provide a record of the community’s discussions.
As a result of the live chats and the increasing popularity of the hashtag, the #AcWri community continued to grow and extend its reach. Demand for a chat time more suited to Australia/Asia/South Pacific time zones also grew so we announced #acwri APAC, a live chat run at 10+ GMT. This was co-chaired by Jennifer Lim and Wini Cooke who regularly participated in the community. #AcWri APAC extended the reach of #AcWri by supporting a multi-disciplinary, international discussion forum focused around academic writing.
While the live chats are no longer run, the hashtag continues to be used on a regular basis by a well-established, global and thriving academic community. #AcWri is a fantastic peer support network for academic writers of all career stages and continues to facilitate an open platform for sharing knowledge about academic writing, empowering each member as experts in their own right.
Melanie Boeckmann, M.A. works as Research Fellow at the University of Bremen and pursues a PhD in Public Health at the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology – BIPS in Germany. You can find her on twitter @m_boeckmann.
It’s only been 2.5 years but it feels much longer. This writing. This folder. This document. The final months of dissertation writing are a mixed bag of feelings. From wanting to quit, to crazy-making impatience, to doubting all merit of anything I have written, to ecstatic joy upon seeing my name in print and the pages piling up, this stretch of the process has its challenges. Regardless of the emotional turmoil that can accompany dissertation write-up season, now more than ever each word written matters. Cue AcWriMo 2014: right on time. This year “writing like there is no December” is particularly necessary to add to the final dissertation word count, to draft the next article manuscripts, and to develop teaching syllabi. So how do I plan to make the most of this academic writing month?
Keep my eyes on the prize
In early November, the thought of freewriting all the words is still joyous. This is bound to change, most likely once other tasks creep up on me and the self-imposed deadlines prove all too flexible. To keep at it throughout November, I plan on repeating this mantra:
The more I write in November, the earlier I am done.
The more I write in November, the less I have to write in December.
And maybe most importantly:
The more I write in November, the greater a Holidays present I can buy myself. Even if that present comes in the form of a submission and defense date in mid-2015.
Join the virtual community – but only AFTER writing for the day
No dissertation writer is an island. The spreadsheet, twitter, facebook, blog posts or good old fashioned emails to fellow researchers all provide options to share motivation, success stories and support. They can also be the siren songs of online distraction. My goal is to check in online after I have done my 500 words for the day. That way I can also better support others struggling. Being able to say “You can do it. I just did!” is better than: “You can do it. I also will… soon-ish”.
Set stretch goals, and embrace failure
AcWriMo relies on crazy ambitious, wonderfully overestimated goals. I can write 200 words any month, this time around it has got to be 500. Or 1000. Or whichever goal scares you a little bit. This month aims at challenging you. And trust me: maybe I won’t write 1000 words a day. But if I have written 235, that is still progress. I bet at least a few times you will not only reach but exceed your stretch goals, and it will feel grand. After all, those are the moments AcWriMo participants live for.
Matt Lawson is a final year funded PhD candidate in film musicology. His thesis is entitled ‘Scoring the Holocaust: a comparative, theoretical analysis of the function of film music in German Holocaust cinema’.You can find out more about Matt at his website: www.themusicologist.co.uk, and follow him on Twitter @MattLawsonPhD.
It’s getting to that time of the PhD. I’ve completed 26 months of a 36 month GTA studentship, and September 2015 is looming as ‘the month the money runs out’.
I’m fairly happy with my progress so far. I’ve ticked lots of boxes on my CV. International conferences presented at, a couple of articles about to be published, a book chapter on the way, ample teaching experience (and a PGCTHE underway) and organisation of a conference at my host institution. However, this aside, the thesis remains the most important aspect of the whole experience. Without the PhD at the end of it, all of the other stuff will seem a little futile.
So — with 57,000 words on the board (out of an expected 60-80,000 at my university) — I gratefully received a scholarship to spend a month in Germany, accessing archives, libraries and any other institutions of interest. My key aim for this month is to get as much writing done as possible, and it coincides rather nicely with #AcWriMo!
There are several questions I asked myself before arriving here. Will the change of scenery be good for productivity? I am, after all, basing myself in the Bavarian Alps for some of the stay. Will the lack of teaching ‘distractions’ help? Will being out of my own country and away from peer support be a good thing, or hinder me?
There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to get stuck in at the deep end. Within 24 hours of arriving, I had opened my laptop and was sat staring at the monster: also known as ‘thesis’. An hour later, I was half way up a mountain with my walking boots on. OK — so maybe not the best start, but I should allow myself a bit of enjoyment, surely? After all, with temperatures of 17C, it was a very late Indian summer in southern Germany. Might as well make the most of it before the snow arrives in a few weeks.
There are two areas I have struggled with throughout the PhD. Loneliness and isolation. Those two things may seem highly linked, but they are separate problems. Loneliness comes with not feeling as though there is anyone to speak to about my research, with a PhD being such a personal and individual piece of research. Isolation came with all of the trips abroad for conferences. While these were excellent for the CV, there were negative sides to jetsetting across the world with only my thesis and presentation for company. Because of this demons I’ve battled with over the past year or so, this month will be a challenge not only academically but psychologically.
So how are things so far in Germany? Well, as I write this, it’s day three and all is well. The sun is shining, and I’ve already managed to add an admittedly pitiful 600 words or so to my thesis, despite taking a hike in the mountains for much of the second day. My targets for AcWriMo are roughly 1,000 words a day, five days a week. This means that by the time I get back to England, I will be comfortably at the upper end of my word count allowance, and working well towards the target of handing in a first draft of my thesis by Christmas.
The archival and library work I will undertake will be vital for tying up loose ends, and I will be commencing this shortly, but it is the writing which must be the priority for this monthâs visit. I suppose it’s just a case of sitting down and doing it.
After three days, I feel good, and the month ahead is almost like a clean slate given the hectic 12 months that I have just had. Writing has never seemed more appealing. It’s one thing wanting to write, and another actually doing it though. Wish me luck!
By the Next 28 Days: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thenext28days/
The relevant quote. Pick up a text that relates to what you’re writing. If you’ve already read this text and have perhaps highlighted useful sections, pick a quotation and write it into your blank document. If you haven’t read the text, do a scan of a few pages looking for the most relevant part and again copy a quotation into your document. Now below the quote, explain what the author is saying, but in your own words. Now take a position, do you agree or disagree, or do you think there are both strengths and weaknesses to this point? Whatever your stance explain it under the text you’ve just written. Now you can either delete the quote (and reference the idea), or move it down so that it directly illustrates your interpretation of the point you just made.
The therapist. A while back I wrote about using 750Words as my writing therapist but you can actually use this approach with many a writing platform. The trick is to ask yourself a set of questions and answer them. Try starting something like this:
Me 1: Hi Charlotte, what do you think you should be writing today?
Me 2: Duh! My book!
Me 1: OK so which bit exactly?
Me 2: The last chapter, the one where I try to frame the different approaches to writing about art online.
Me 1: What is the ultimate point you are trying to make with this chapter?
Me 2: That there are ways of responding to art online that change what we think of as ‘art criticism’.
Me 1: Er, doesn’t that sound like a good starting sentence?
Now delete everything but that good starting sentence and carry on from there. If you get stuck, just ask yourself what’s going on again.
3. The route map. A little like ‘the therapist’, this technique is all about writing down your route before you set off. Think about what you need to do next in your writing project. What section do you need to write? What points do you need to make in that section? What point should come first? Write a few sentences to explain this all to yourself. For example: ‘next I need to explain how some art critics see no difference between writing for a newspaper or a blog. I should offer some examples – maybe three or four….’ Now you know where you need to go, you can assess how much time it will take to get there and set off on the first leg of the tour.
4. The thief. This is not where I condone plagiarism! But we can learn a whole lot from each other on how to do things. Choose a book or article that you like. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with what you are writing, it just has to be something that resonates with you. Look at the first few pages and analyse what the writer has done. For example, if you’re trying to write the start of something, ask yourself ‘how did they begin?’ Did they use a quotation or statistic? If you’re deeper inside a piece of written work, look at how they presented an idea. How many paragraphs did they use, how did they transition between paragraphs. Go back to what you’re working on and see if you can apply some of the same structure of logic.
5. The what’s worse than this. This trick is all about offsetting. Ever noticed how easy it is to fill out a dreaded grant application when your journal article is the worse task of the two? Well now you need to work that in reverse. What’s worse than writing whatever it is you need to write? How about grading students work? Cleaning the bathroom? Find something worse – you might even make a list of things you need to do an prominently include the worse tasks. Now notice how much more energy you have knowing your not doing any of that!
Dip into your networks. Whether or not you are participating in Academic Writing Month, it is a good reminder of the value of networks and communities. Many people cringe at the word “network” because it evokes ideas of being overtly self-promoting to strangers in rather shallow ways…a leftover connotation of the corporate world. AcWriMo is a way to celebrate the vast networks of scholars, researchers, and writers working around the world. Whether you connect through social media or face-to-face, take the opportunity to get encouragement and support from like-minded folk. One of the striking things is that when you offer encouragement to people in your networks, it often comes back to you twofold.
Do some warm ups! Academic Writing Month (AcWriMo) begins 1 November, and there is no time like the present to start considering your goals. As our own Charlotte Frost wrote recently, you can set goals for word counts, time committed, or pages completed–whatever works best for you. Trying out different kinds of goals can help you decide what method will be most useful for AcWriMo and help you prepare to set goals for our big thirty-day commitment.
Find a writing buddy. During Academic Writing Month, many writers used the spreadsheet to check in and log their daily progress. Accountability can be a great motivator, and it doesn’t need to end now that AcWriMo is over. In fact, you can make it even better. A fellow student, a childhood friend, a sibling, a colleague: someone who has had a supportive role in your life at some point can be a writing buddy. You don’t even need to be in the same town—or country—with your writing buddy. Best if the process and commitment is mutual, but you can also check in with someone who is not currently working on a project or not even a writer at all.
If you bristle at the term “buddy” because it reminds you of having to hold someone’s hand on a fourth grade field trip, come up with your own term. It’s another fine way to take ownership of the process. And creating a personal culture around your writing process adds meaning beyond the product itself.
What quality should the buddy has ? This may gives you an insight.
Ellie Mackin is a third year PhD student in Classics at King’s College London, and is working through Wendy Belcher’s ‘Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks’ while attempting to finish her thesis.
Evidence. A daunting word, and one that can mean so many different things. I have my own system of categorising primary evidence depending on the source of the material (for example, an inscription is just primary whereas a medieval manuscript of a classical-period play is still primary, but less so, and a textual edition is even less primary than the manuscript – it’s a pretty loose system). This week was all about evidence and fittingly Belcher began not with what evidence is but what the types of evidence are. She covers qualitative, quantitative, historical, geographical, textual and artistic evidence, finally asking you to identify the types of evidence that you use. I actually found this not only interesting but enlightening. It’s not that I didn’t know that the different evidence existed, but I’d never considered anything beyond the ‘primary’ ‘secondary’ and ‘tertiary’ categorisations, and thus had – in a way, but not consciously – lumped statistical data with historical data. Probably because I use the latter and not the former, I had never considered what function the former actually plays in some research.
The next section is about writing up, and like last week it was split into ‘Social Science’ and ‘Humanities.’ I read though the Social Science, but not in depth, so I will mainly talk about the humanities section. This was split into two sub-sections ‘close readings’ and ‘cultural studies.’ As what I do straddles the divide between the two sub-categories I didn’t favour one approach over the other but worked equally on both. Belcher took these two sub-categories from what she describes as the two common theoretical positions in literary criticism. I found her comments about each of these sections to be, in hindsight, obvious – but I don’t think I would have been able to list these as poles of theoretical approaches before I read this section. Under close readings she discusses meaningful quoting, brief summerisation, ‘large picture’ referencing, and – I think most importantly, though she doesn’t emphasis it – careful selection. That is, not trying to undertake too large a portion of text, asking the text ‘why’ or ‘how’, not ‘what’. She also, interestingly, notes that you should limit your footnotes or endnotes, stating that more and more journals are asking for these to be limited. I would have thought this would be in the author guidelines for any particular journal, and at this stage might be unnecessarily restrictive, but I’ve never come across this idea in my field, so perhaps it’s more relevant in some disciplines than others. The second section of this is for cultural studies, in which she says, straight and to the point, ‘avoid biography’, ‘avoid simple politicising,’ and ‘deploy theory, don’t replicate it.’ Most interestingly in this section was her instruction to avoid the discussion of intentionality. I really like this notion and I try very hard not to discuss what I think the author is trying to convey or intends to say, so I felt like I was slightly ahead of the game on this one (for once!). All in all, this was a useful exercise to think about the way that I use evidence.
The second day’s exercise was to discuss evidence in your field. The book asks you to make a few appointments to talk evidence, but I didn’t do this. I have lunch and drinks with colleagues on a fairly regular basis and thought it might be best to discuss here. We came up with some interesting things, including a discussion of the way that we all view primary source material in our field (which is Classics/Ancient History, and so primary sources can be of somewhat dubious origin in some cases).
I had fun and games with the third day’s task, which was to print out a copy of your paper and go though it paragraph by paragraph and pick out your evidence, determine whether it’s clearly presented and make a note if it doesn’t have a clear progression, ‘explanation power’ or is logical. My margins were full of little notes, which helped over the next two days when I went through and tried – sometimes with more ease than others – to correct these passages.
Finally, there is the revision of the whole document, to take in the changes made. My article is looking a lot different than it was at the start, and I’m really pleased that I saved a copy (though this was unintentional at the time, I admit!) at the start, so that I can look back and see how far I have actually progressed. I’m feeling good this week, even though it’s the end of AcWriMo, my writing has never been better!
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.]
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 DigiWriMoNovel 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.
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.
Ellie Mackin is a third year PhD student in Classics at King’s College London, and is working through Wendy Belcher’s ‘Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks’ while attempting to finish her thesis.
Half way! That’s right, things are finally starting to happen and my article is taking shape! This week was all about structure, and although I thought it was going to be a boring (albeit necessary) week, it actually turned out to be very interesting. The explanatory text for this week began with types of structure – what Belcher categorised as ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ structure. That is, the structure of your overall article and the structure within each paragraph. This started with five basic ‘organisational structures': description, sequence, causation, problem/solution and comparison: I’m not sure what effect knowing this has had on my writing, but it certainly has made me a better reader this week, because I’ve been concentrating on identifying these structures within other texts I’ve been reading (and, in fact, I wonder if this whole process is not just making me a better writer but a better reader and researcher as well – I certainly notice things differently and read more carefully than I did before…). Belcher then goes though article structures, and I have to be honest, I didn’t read the ones aimed at Social Sciences (although perhaps I will go back and read them), but skipped straight though to the Humanities-themed structure. This is a very useful part of the book, and if you do nothing else then read though this section (Humanities is on pp. 180-182.). Not only does Belcher give the general structure but she gives an example of how the structure works in an actual article (it would be interesting to go though and read the article with the structure in hand and see how this works. I should have done this, probably, but I’ve been so busy this week as per usual). We then go though ways to solving structure problems, including prompts asking if you could use more subheadings or summary, if you use an appropriate structure, if you present your evidence properly, if your main argument appears in each paragraph and, if not, should you include it more, and whether you could develop your examples more successfully. The next main task is to outline a model article. I used an article I was about to read anyway, instead of the suggestion to read the model article that was identified in week one. I’m not sure if this was more or less successful than it could have been in the circumstances, but I got a lot out of the exercise, both in terms of what I got out of the article and being able to identify what worked and what didn’t in the model. Finally, before getting to your own article, Belcher asks you to outline your article using the examples outlined. And then, you guessed it, you have to implement the structure. This wouldn’t be a blog by me if there wasn’t at least one confession, so here it is: I am rubbish at editing. And this was no different. I struggled big time with this task, but I got there. My article needs a lot more revision, and the two days that Belcher put aside for this task weren’t enough for me, so I will have to take this though into the weekend as well. I have taken away some really valuable lessons from this week, and lessons that are more widely applicable than just for my article. I’m going to create a structure map of my thesis, as a whole and chapter by chapter, and see if I can improve it using Belcher’s system. All in all, an interesting and useful week! Hope AcWriMo is treating everyone well.
Ellie Mackin is a third year PhD student in Classics at King’s College London, and is working though Wendy Belcher’s ‘Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks’ while attempting to finish her thesis.
I can’t believe I’m almost half way through the programme now, and my article is starting to take shape and I am starting to feel good about writing – both the article and more generally, which is lovely.
This week has been crazy. I ended the week pretty close to having a full first draft of my PhD, which I’m hoping to submit in two weeks. Some parts are a lot closer than others but it’s coming together and I’m feeling confident about it. As a result I was glad that this week’s tasks had a lot of reading components, because I knew I wouldn’t want to do too much writing other than my thesis. That’s also why this post is a little bit late.
This week started with a pep-talk that I really needed, the gist of which is DON’T FEEL GUILTY! Don’t feel guilty if you’re not working as much or as hard as you ‘think’ you should be working, because that guilt makes it even harder to get going. In that vein I’m going to share with you my answer to Belcher’s request this week to write something positive about your own writing: ‘My prose is improving, my editing is improving, my ability is improving. I’m not there yet, but writing is not as scary as it used to be.’ Okay, so not the overwhelmingly positive gush that it could be, but considering how I felt about writing in the week one tasks, I think I’m made some pretty significant improvements.
This week I went through revising the relevant literature, by first learning about the types of literature that there are: original (or primary, of which I have a fair amount!), derivative (or tertiary sources, or ‘classroom’ articles, encyclopaedias, etc. – should not be used!), contextual (for background information on the context of your topic), methodological, theoretical (both, I think, self-explanatory), and related literature (that is, scholarly work that is directly related to your topic.) Belcher then goes into how to read two specific types of literature: theoretical and related. Honestly, I wish I’d read the section on reading theoretical literature six years ago before I started my undergraduate thesis. My life would have been a whole lot easier then and now. One tip in particular, which I’m sure many students (and scholars) feel inadequate when and if they do it, is using reference books. I know this from first-hand experience of reading Kant and needing not only a book to explain the book, but a book to explain the language used in the book explaining the book! An interesting suggestion from Belcher is to read biographies of the theoreticians, which I had never considered but is actually a great idea!
Belcher moves on to how to read related literature and this is a much longer section, understandably. Belcher suggests that you limit your reading. This goes against what we’re always told, and what many scholars feel they need to do, but it does make sense. She suggests several ways of limiting research, and states that your article doesn’t need to be the comprehensive last-word on your topic. Next she talks about finding your way into the scholarship and how to start the conversation – the analogy here is that you wouldn’t walk into a party and just start talking about yourself, you need to engage first. I found a lot of this stuff common sense, but it’s always a good thing to revise (in fact, that’s a pretty good way to describe this whole week, particularly the section on avoiding plagiarism, which is always good to remind yourself of!).
For the first time in this process, I found the tasks to be a little bit tedious. I understand the point of going through citations, but seeing as I started with a piece of writing that was fairly comprehensive anyway I found it a bit over the top. One of the tasks (‘Identifying and reading the related literature’) was something I’d done pretty recently, and I am the kind of person/researcher that adds in new information and references as I find them, so my article is fairly up to date. Finally, I am not the sort of reader that appreciates an extensive literature review in an article (certainly some literature review is good, but too much just eats into the article’s own argument) and so I found the drafting of a literature review that I probably wouldn’t use most of a bit over the top.
The week certainly made me think about some things that it’s good to review, but so far this was, I think, the least successful week. Perhaps if I didn’t have so many other things going on I would have appreciated it more.
Ellie Mackin is a third year PhD student in Classics at King’s College London, and is working though Wendy Belcher’s ‘Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks’ while attempting to finish her thesis.
It seems habit that I start each blog with a confession now, although this confession is the exact opposite to the one I made last week. I am writing. A lot. It is #AcWriMo after all!
I am just not doing a lot of writing on my article. Probably lucky that this week was all about choosing an journal to submit to, so I am still mostly on track with my article. There is a good lesson to be learnt here about not letting setbacks set you back. What I mean is that you can take a small setback and let it become a big one by taking on an attitude of ‘well, I’ve already slipped this week so I may as well not do x, y, z either!’ Or, you can just take it in your stride, ‘I didn’t do a, but I can still do b and c.’ This is one of the things I’m finding nice about Belcher’s book: it is set up into easily manageable sized chunks of work each week, so it’s easy get back on track.
This week, as I said earlier, was all about picking a journal, and therefore the front pages of the week are packed full of information about different types of journals. Belcher breaks the section up into ‘Nonrecommended Publishing Outlets,’ which includes newspapers, trade publications, and conference proceedings, ‘Questionable Publishing Outlets,’ which includes non-peer reviewed journals, graduate, note, review and local journals and – surprisingly to me – chapters in edited volumes and electronic journals (though I assume that the field of electronic journals has changed significantly even since 2009, but I’ll still heed the advice for now!). Finally, ‘Preferred Publishing Outlets’ including regional, newer, field, interdisciplinary and disciplinary journals. Belcher asks you to identify one journal from each of these categories that might be suitable for your article, and I admit I struggled to come up with an interdisciplinary journal so I just left that blank.
The next task is to properly identify some journals that your article might be suitable for, just by searching. By asking colleagues and advisors/supervisors, the ‘old fashioned’ self search, journals that your article cites from, and electronic databases. Belcher gives some really good information about electronic searching, and a bunch of tips that will make the job a lot easier. Tips include varying search words, and searching for not just the topic of your paper but your methodological approach, or theory, or broad discipline keywords. The next day’s task is all about evaluating the journals you’ve uncovered during this searching process, and Belcher gives a great many criteria to think about when evaluating journals – she suggests spending ‘an hour’ (although I found it too longer than this) and that you look at print versions of the journals in question (which I did) rather than looking online for the information. The criteria include things like being peer-reviewed, reputable, from her recommended publishing outlet list, if the copy editing is good quality (that is, that the journal is not filled with typos and design problems), if it is timely in production, the journal size and number of articles published, how long it might take for an article to be published from acceptance, whether it is indexed online and who reads it. As you can see, this is quite a long list of things to look into, and some are as easy as flipping though a few issues to see for yourself and skim reading an article or two. When you have a list of half a dozen journals to look though, though, this process can take more time that Belcher has allowed you for the task, particularly when you take into account some of the things which are harder to find out on site – like how long it might take to publish an accepted article or how rigorous the peer-review process is – just something to keep in mind as you come up to this particular task. There is a handy form that you can use that will ensure that you don’t miss anything when searching, and that you can use for easy comparison between the journals.
Finally for this task you’re asked to review the forms and pick a journal – or several suitable journals in a ranked list! Then, the easy (and fun, I think!) part: read the journals. Belcher asks you to read though a few of the journal articles in a couple of recent editions of the journal(s) you’ve chosen. Take note, this exercise is not just about reading the articles you like but about scoping out what the journal is like (and perhaps finding a relevant article or two to cite in your own article). This is so you can really look at the direction of the journal, see whether your article can fill a gap in their recent issues, whether there is a trend to the topics and whether any of the recently published articles cover similar ground to your article – her general rule of thumb is that if it’s been done in the last three years the journal might not want to revisit the topic again so soon, unless your article is significantly different. Blecher almost tacks on the end to also look at the length of notes and bibliography, but I personally found this to be one of the most interesting differences in the journals I looked at – some had long, explanatory notes and some were just simple references, likewise some had many pages of bibliography and others had much shorter bibliographies – what I got from this little section is that you want your article to fit in to the overall feel of the journal, and I think this could make a difference to the place I choose to submit to.
Now – to return to the start of my post and my neglect. I confess: I haven’t done the day 5 task. I ran out of time because I was writing thesis-work. I am going to do this over the weekend and will put it in the next blog post, but I’ll run though briefly what the task is.
The task is to write a query letter to the editor(s) of your chosen journal(s). Belcher covers what you should ask editors, and gives a few sample letters, before running though what this kind of letter can do for you.
I’ll report more about that next week, until then – Happy AcWriMo everyone!