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The Finished Article? by Claire Warden

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and All the Academics Merely Players

In this post, regular contributor Claire Warden offers her top tips for giving excellent conference presentations. She is Lecturer in Drama at the University of Lincoln where she has been working since 2010. She blogs at www.clairewarden.net and tweets as @cs_warden.

Here in the University of Lincoln’s drama department we are approaching our first performance fortnight of the year: a chance for students to showcase their talents and explore new methods. Currently I spend Thursday mornings amid a sea of robots, fake blood and apocalyptic visions as we rehearse a version of Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. In recent days I have been thinking a little about the way we ‘perform’ as academics. Our performance ability is particularly tested at conferences and, in this my third short meditation for PhD2Published, I want to consider the way we perform at these events.

For as a postgraduate I remember being taught about archives and writing journal articles and the need to develop a workable bibliographic system, but I cannot recollect ever really learning about conference presentation. The assumption, I imagine, is that it must come naturally to anyone considering an academic career or passionate about their research. Anybody who has sat through long days of conference proceedings will know that this is far from the case and, though I do not claim any real expertise in this area (I am the presenter whose Powerpoint didn’t work at my first major international conference as well as the panel chair who introduced a colleague with the wrong university affiliation), I have been considering what help us ‘performing arts types’ could provide to colleagues in different departments. So, below are my top tips for excellent conference presentation and, for those of you balking already at the thought of a drama scholar at the helm, I can promise that there will be no exuberant jazz hands, no actorly hissy fits and I will not call you ‘darling’ at any stage…

Read more

Claire Warden – Interdisciplinarity: Variety Is the Spice of (Academic) Life

In this post Claire Warden, lecturer in Drama at Lincoln University, returns with another guest post, this time looking at the issues surrounding interdisciplinarity. You can follow Claire on twitter here. Recently I went to an Iron Maiden gig in Nottingham. Earlier in the day I had attended a yoga class and had then grabbed some sushi for lunch. Not owning an ‘Eddie’ top I decided to wear my Peter Gabriel 2003 tour t-shirt instead. An insightful friend called me ‘eclectic’ and I must admit that in all areas of life I rejoice in my slightly unusual day-to-day combinations: a lover of progressive rock but also a former classical soprano, a devotee of professional wrestling but also a reader of verbose Victorian novels. My friend is clearly right…I am nothing if not eclectic. This approach (call it eccentric if you will) actually impacts my work daily and I am starting to feel its effects more and more keenly.

In my last article for ‘PhD2published’ I briefly mentioned the importance of developing an interdisciplinary approach, of connecting our work with (or at least reading it alongside) the ideas of others outside of our immediate field. In this article I want to briefly begin to explore why and how this can be done. Read more