Browsing the archives for the Journal Articles tag

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #33 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Try microcalendaring. There are so many adages about how to tackle big projects and multiple deadlines, but getting from feeling overwhelmed to having a manageable process can be daunting. One approach is microcalendaring (not to be confused with the popular app MicroCalendar). Begin with your terminal deadline, and see how many project units you have available. For example, if you were submitting an article two months from now, you would have about 60 units to work with, or fewer if you were to take weekends off from working. Knowing the number of available units enables you to determine the size of each unit: some people work well with word counts while others find text sections more manageable (i.e., for Tuesday, finish writing the argument in section two). Either way, knowing the size of the task that awaits you helps you prepare better and see a reasonable goal in sight by the end of the day.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #30 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Follow your journals on Twitter. Many academic journals have active Twitter accounts, as do journal editors. Having those journals and editors in your Twitter feed can keep you current on calls for papers and publications. Equally important is the opportunity to listen in and participate in conversations about research in your areas of interest and expertise. If you’re not familiar with or not active on Twitter, there are great Twitter tips catalogued here in the Hackademic Guide to Networking series.

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Chatting with Editors and Publishers
Posted by Linda Levitt
Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan

Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan

In the first of a new series, we talk with Michael LeVan, editor in chief of Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies. Dr. LeVan shares his advice for best practices for authors submitting work to academic journals.

I’d say that there a few common mistakes I’ve seen over the past decade at Liminalities, especially with graduate students and early career scholars. In many cases these can be avoided by having the intended submission vetted by a trusted mentor (like an advisor in grad school or an established researcher in your first faculty position). They can help a lot, but you have to ask them. Even though you know they are busy with other things. But if they are successful, someone probably helped them early on. Having your peers review your work is often helpful for your esteem, but they usually are not seasoned enough themselves to know the big differences between writing seminar papers and writing journal articles.

One common mistake I see is authors making big claims that are not supported by the arguments and examples. I think many times we have a hunch about a big idea and we really need to spend our tenure-seeking years articulating and working on that question. My advisor liked to tell people that the dissertation, for example, was your first word, not your only word. Worry about being consistent, clear, and rigorous on a small observation rather than trying to part the clouds.

Another mistake that is pretty specific to Liminalities is when I get an essay from a graduate student who is writing about his or her full-length show. It is difficult enough to do a thorough critical analysis of a performance (or other aesthetic text) by someone else. It is exponentially harder to do this when it is your own text being analyzed. All they see is their own brilliance that comes from a thousand tendrils of tenuous connections to other ideas. Teasing out those connections in concert with vivid descriptions usually gets lost by the wayside and you end up with another case of heavy claims with light support. Rather than writing about your brilliant show, write about the insights into a research question that you learned from the process of doing your show. Of course, now with multimedia journals, you can submit the aesthetic text itself as a form of research, maybe including an artist statement that frames the motivating question(s).

Another mistake I’ll mention in essays is having a stinker of a conclusion. The conclusion is what you are writing toward, what you are leading the readers to, and where you can show the readers why your work was worth reading. This is where you can connect to bigger questions that your modest article exposes. Often, it feels like authors just stop at the end of their observations and say, “Ta-da! See? See?” Tell us what we should see, and this will want to make us read your next essay.

The final mistake that I’ll mention is doing too much exegesis of some theorist and too little analysis of the thing that your scholarship is supposed to be about (be it a text, an object, a discourse, or whatever). Of course, doing exegesis is important to showing your professors that you understand what’s going on in difficult texts, and the best graduate students excel at this kind of writing. But readers of scholarship want you to already know (and know you know) that stuff so that you can get to the interesting work of applying it, expending it, or arguing against it in terms of some tangible examples.

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Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks – Week Ten
Posted by Ellie Mackin

Content_WritingEllie 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.

With two weeks to go it’s time to get into the nuts and bolts of fixing up this article for good! So this week is all about revising at the sentence level. I recently read George Orwell’s essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ and I think this gave me the perfect mind-set to tackle this huge and ominous task. Everything to this point has been what Belcher calls ‘Macrostructure Revising,’ we’ve done literature review, identifying the debate, looking closely at the overall argument and structure. As she says: ‘Macrostructure revising involves big changes.’ This week is all about ‘Microstructure Revising’: grammar, punctuation, spelling, word choice.

Belcher does acknowledge that it’s normal to be sick of your article at this stage. I’ve been living with this article for ten weeks now, and I am ready to send it off into the big bad world – but it’s not quite ready for the same thing. So, we start this week’s exercises with some simple rules from (American) academic English:

  • Don’t use two words when one will do
  • Don’t use a noun when you can use a verb.
  • Don’t use an adjective or adverb unless you have to.
  • Don’t use a pronoun when a noun would be clearer.
  • Don’t use a general word when you can use a specific one.
  • Don’t use the passive voice unless the subject is unknown or unimportant.

(Incidentally, here are Orwell’s rules:

  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.)

The main part of this week is contained within Belcher’s own ‘Diagnostic Test,’ which has three main parts: ‘Words that might need to be cut,’ ‘Words that might need to be added,’ and ‘Words that might need to be changed.’  These categories are fairly self-explanatory.

Okay – here’s my weekly confession: I am a doubler. I have discovered that I double words. The very first point under Belcher’s very first Diagnostic Test and I well and truly failed. Here’s what I mean by doubling (or rather, what Belcher means): using two words with (near) identical meanings separated by the word ‘and.’ Here’s her example sentence and the fix:

‘Yang and Yu argued that emotion is necessary and essential.’

‘Yang and Yu argued that emotion is necessary.’

I don’t even need to read though my article to know that I am guilty of this. The rest of this category, which includes list making (also guilty) and run on sentences (this is something I have been very guilty of in the past and have come some way to overcoming).

This week’s workbook is worth reading, even if you’re not going to follow the whole twelve week program. I haven’t done the depth of information justice in this post. Belcher’s diagnostic test could be easily applied to any number of types of writing, and would be helpful and useful (see, still totally guilty of doubling!). Belcher gives really clear examples to illustrate each diagnostic point and provides both ‘better’ and ‘best’ revision sentences for a lot of the points, along with clear explanations of exactly why each sentence has been improved.

The basics of the diagnostic test are summed up by Blecher as: scrutinise your lists, scrutinise your verb, scrutinise your pronouns and cut unnecessary words. After coming to terms with the diagnostic test, the next thing to do is to take to your article armed with coloured pencils and start to strip (Belcher also says you can run the test using your word processor, but I wanted to break out the coloured pencils and do a proper mark-up). At the end of the day I had a pile of pages that were scribbled over in red, blue, purple, orange, green and brown (I did just use the colours suggested by Belcher). I’ll be honest, it was a little disheartening to see all those pages absolutely covered in marks. I spent the next two days diligently ploughing through the pages and happily throwing each finished page into the recycling bin. This took a little bit longer than the two hours scheduled by Belcher, and I spent around two hours on each of the two days to get through the whole article. The final day is to fix other types of sentence-level problems including looking at things like making sure your quotes are correct (in a technical sense, more than in a ‘being accurate’ sense), checking your punctuation (Belcher specifically mentions exclamation marks) and capitalisation, checking that you’ve italicised the correct types of words, that you haven’t included any non-explained acronyms, and more generally that your spelling and grammar is correct. I found this final day a lot easier, and it didn’t take the whole hour set out by the schedule.

I’m starting to feel really proud of my article now. It’s certainly a lot better than it was at the beginning. Next week’s task are all things we’ve covered before, but doing the final checks – I’m actually looking forward to seeing exactly how much better my article is!

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Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks – Week Nine
Posted by Ellie Mackin

Content_WritingEllie’s posts on Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks are  back after a holiday hiatus.

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.

It’s already week nine.  That means there are only three more weeks to go before my article will be ready for submission, and sent off into the big, wide world to fend for itself against peer review.  So, I was pleased when this week was all about getting and giving feedback.

I’m not the best at giving feedback, I think.  I am highly critical of my own work but I tend to give others the benefit of the doubt (perhaps I am not a peer reviewer in the making!).  Because of this lack of feedback-knowhow on my own part I was pleased that Belcher started this chapter by talking about what makes good feedback and how to give good, constructive feedback.  Of course, being a PhD student I am no stranger to receiving feedback, but the process of giving feedback is somewhat alien.

The first point that Belcher makes is one that I found very surprising at first, but the more I have thought about it the more it make sense: don’t obsess over the bibliography.  Sure, you can recommend texts that might provide additional proof, or suggest something that a peer reviewer would notice is missing, but don’t go overboard on it.  As Belcher points out: ‘An article is not meant to be exhaustive.’  I think that’s part of the trouble switching from thesis to article writing.  One is clearly meant to be exhaustive and there is an element of ‘look how much I have read!’ to the thesis that just isn’t needed (or appropriate) for an article.  Her other points (don’t approach the article as a writer trying to fix it, and don’t judge the work) are clear and make a lot of sense.

Finally, this section ends with a few paragraphs on what you should be doing when giving feedback, and I found this to be the most useful, even though it goes a bit over the ground of ‘positive-sandwich’ but goes on to some very good stuff: be specific! (how often have we all got back essays that just have a tick or cross, ‘good’ or ‘needs work’ or some other vague comment and it doesn’t help you very much!  I think I am particularly prone to doing this!).  The most useful part of this section was the comment that you should focus on telling the other author what you understood and didn’t, what the main argument you took away was – all of this helps the author to make sure they are clearly getting across what it is that they are trying to say.  Tied in to this is to focus on the bigger picture – view the article as a whole, rather than looking right down at the micro-detail.

After this, the chapter started on what to do when you are getting feedback on your own work: ask, be specific about what you want, try to ignore the emotion in the reviewer’s words, and listen to what they have to say (I am particularly bad at these final two points, both in terms of writing and in life in general!).

So, I shared my article with a good friend and scholar from Australia, and did as Belcher suggested and gave detailed instructions on what I wanted to get out of the experience, based on Belcher’s own feeback form.  My instructions included: ‘please write a short abstract for this article, so I can see what you took away at the main argument,’ and ‘please comment on the flow of the article’ which is important to me because my article covers two separate topics for the majority of the length, and then brings them both together in the conclusion, so I wanted to make sure that this worked.  I also gave my friend a copy of the pages with Belcher instructions, which include giving instructions of the types of feedback, but also how to go about reading the article:  once without a pen, looking at the whole, on the second read you tick or mark the good parts, third time you circle the unclear parts, the you write a summary of what you think the article is about.  Then you go over the marks (good and bad) with the author.  Although Belcher suggests exchanging articles, we didn’t – she didn’t have anything ready to review at this stage, and we also did it all over email (which I think worked just as well, and now I have a written record of what she has said, so that’s a bonus for me).

I have only just got the feedback back from her, so I haven’t had a chance to really go through it.  Her summary points out what my main point is, but I think I will need to clarify some of my sub-points which she seemed a bit confused about.  Overall, the first look at the feedback (with marks and circles done on track-changes) seems to indicate that my idea is clear but sometimes my delivery is not as clear as it could be.  There were a few passages that I wasn’t surprised to see big red marks around.

I’m going to go through this feedback in much more detail and make some revision to my article based on them.

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Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: Week Eight
Posted by Ellie Mackin

Content_WritingEllie’s posts on Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks will be back after a holiday hiatus. See you again in January!

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.

This week was all about opening and concluding the article, and the irony of the situation is the number of times it took to start writing this blog post.  I wanted to open with a joke, to emphasise the ‘good opening’ point, but I’m not very funny and I couldn’t think of anything.  So instead, I will just open by saying that this week I learned that I’m good at something.  Title writing!  The first task this week was to revise your title, making sure it’s not too broad or too vague, that it names your subject adequately, that is at least hints to your argument, that it contains keywords that are searchable, and isn’t overly dense.  It should, I learned, also include a verb.  I only had to insert three words (‘an examination of’) into my title to make it conform to these rules, and so I’m pretty happy with that.  I think it’s important to have a title, even a working one, that reflects what you’re doing and can keep you on track a little bit.  I have written my PhD with that in mind, and I’ve already previously revised my title the week we did the argument alterations.

The next two days of tasks were all about rewriting your introduction, and that’s where my elation fell flat.  My opening sentence is yawn-inducing boring.  It didn’t fit into any of Belcher categories (anecdotal, subject, critical, significance, historical and argumentative) but instead was vague and said nothing.  Certainly not ‘gripping,’ which is the next exercise.  Needless to say my answer to ‘Could my first sentence be more gripping?  If so, how could I accomplish this?’ didn’t fit into the box provided in the book.  One thing my opening sentence does do is introduce basic information about my topic, which apparently a lot of young writers forget to include.  So, at least the information is useful and usable.  Just perhaps not right at the start.

I don’t do any of the things Belcher suggests: stating my argument (that comes around sentence eight, roughly – so well into the introduction), I don’t identify my position in relation to previous research (which is something that I need to work on in all my writing!), but I do provide something of a roadmap of my article (although this does come in the introduction, and probably doesn’t need to be right up the front for my article).  So, over the next two days I did a lot of work on my introduction and fit all of these things in.  My opening sentence probably still needs a little bit of work, but that can happen.

The next day’s task involved revising the abstract, related literature review and author order (only relevant to those producing multiple author papers).  We have done a fair amount of work on the abstract, and I am pretty happy with how mine looks at present.  The advice is to go back and repeat the week 2 revision tasks, which I did, and have updated my abstract to take in the changes I’ve made over the past few weeks.  My related literature section is a constantly evolving thing so I didn’t do too much work on it.

Finally, the week concluded with the conclusion.  I’m a particularly weak conclusion writer (so I have been told) and so I really took the opportunity to go back and re-read my article, making notes about my argument (which has been tightened up significantly during this process).  This, I’ve discovered, is where I need to point to the significance of my article to the wider field, and so I’ve introduced that information into the conclusion.  All in all, I’m not 100% happy with the conclusion, but that will come with a bit more work.  I hope.

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Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks – Week Seven
Posted by Ellie Mackin
By Aadityasardwal via Wikimedia Commons

By Aadityasardwal via Wikimedia Commons

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!

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Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks – Week Six
Posted by Ellie Mackin
By Aadityasardwal via Wikimedia Commons

By Aadityasardwal via Wikimedia Commons

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.

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Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: Week 5
Posted by Ellie Mackin
By Aadityasardwal via Wikimedia Commons

By Aadityasardwal via Wikimedia Commons

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.

Hope everyone’s AcWriMo is going well!

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Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: Week Four
Posted by Ellie Mackin
By Aadityasardwal via Wikimedia Commons

By Aadityasardwal via Wikimedia Commons

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!

 

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Spinning a Good Yarn by T Davies-Barnard
Posted by T Davies-Barnard
Knitted animals in group symbolising story telling. Image from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sasha_kopf/3811949321/in/photostream/

“… And so the frogs cast off and lived happily ever after.”
Image from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/
sasha_kopf/3811949321/in/photostream/

When you think of academic writing, you don’t often think of a story in the conventional sense; academese is notorious for being dry and dull. But ‘story’ is a key piece of academic tacit knowledge.

Story: noun
Usual meaning: An account of events told for entertainment.
Academic meaning: A key conclusion/s of research which the reader is brought to through the flow of an academic paper.
Usage examples:
“I think I’ve got a story.”
“The story is coming together but it needs sharpening.”

The concept of story is an acknowledgement that a jumble of results doesn’t necessarily make a great paper. It’s easy to see the IMRAD structure followed by most scientific papers and think that all you need to do is fill in under each heading, and hey presto – paper. Not so. A paper needs results but also should have a punchy key message which the rest of the paper sets up and supports with a logical flow of ideas. The difficulty is that writing a great paper goes against most of the training PhD students have been given.

The concept of story in an academic paper is totally different to traditional essay structure. One of the key differences is balance – an essay is a balanced synthesis, whereas a paper is closer to a sales pitch. For those of you who have never been in sales, sales people deliberately control the conversation and lead the customer to buying the product. For an academic paper, the task is to control the reader’s thought-pathway so that they come to understand and agree with the key message. Though the word ‘control’ makes this sound awful, it’s not so different from the concept of classical style: the writer orients the reader to something in the world, which the reader can see with their own eyes. A paper attempts to lead the reader through the sequence of ideas so that they might come to the same conclusion as the author did. That’s a story.

The best papers draw you in to their narrative like a great story-teller. One of the ways that they do this is by telling a story and not getting distracted from it. That means paring down and building the story around the central logical sequence of ideas. A story needs the right amount of detail, at the right point. Too much or too little and the reader will go off down a mental side-alley. I realize that this is as clear as mud, so I will try to demonstrate using a crass example. Consider the following statement:

A person went down the street.

It’s informative and brief. This is fine, but leaves the reader wondering and potentially sidetracked by the lack of precision. What sort of person? How did they go down the street? What sort of street? The reader feels under-informed. Let’s try again, with more details:

The man in a blue coat skipped down the street with red brick houses on either side.

Lots more detail now, but how is the reader to ascertain what the salient point is? The sentence is longer, cumbersome and provides multiple opportunities for the reader to be derailed and wander off with a detail that may or may not be important to the story. Why is the man in a blue coat? What sort of red brick houses? The original purpose of the sentence, (to lead the reader down the street with the man), has been completely subverted by interesting but unimportant details. Third time lucky:

The man skipped down the street.

Here is a happy medium. Without increasing the word count from the original, the sentence provides two more (of the most salient) pieces of information. It keeps the focus on the person going down the street, with the most unusual element very clear (the skipping) because it isn’t hidden by other information.

So next time you’re writing, try asking yourself: what’s the story, and is this detail essential to it?

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From Panel to Publication: Putting together a special issue for a journal by Adia Benton
Posted by atarrant

writingToday’s post by Adia Benton provides some useful advice about preparing a special issue for a journal. Adia is an assistant professor of anthropology at Brown University. Her research focuses on humanitarianism, development, and technology and their interface with issues of race, gender and sexuality in sub-Saharan Africa. She can be found regularly tweeting @ethnography911 and blogging on Ethnographic Emergencies about engaged anthropology, ethnographic research and teaching. 

A few years ago, after organizing a well-attended conference panel, we – the panel co-organizers and panelists — decided to put together a special journal issue based upon our panel. The only problem was that none of us had ever done it before. So we each reached out to our mentors and advisors for help, compared notes and put together a proposal. Last year, some two years after putting the proposal together, that issue was published. In this post, I outline the steps we took to go from panel to publication.

1. Draft your proposal for the special issue.

a) Provide a brief overview of the special issue. Ours was about a paragraph. As is often the case, our original conference proposal, although narrow enough to have the panel accepted (ahem), was still fairly broad and did not specifically address the papers’ common themes and what specific new conceptual, theoretical and methodological insights they provide. Therefore, we circulated the abstract to all panelists and modified the proposal to ensure that we narrowed our topic appropriately and described the gaps in the literature that the papers address collectively.

b) Abstracts for each paper – maybe 250-300 words—that are also modified to better fit the overview of contents.

c) Timeline: Without a timeline, you will have difficulty convincing anyone (including yourselves) that you have what it takes to pull together a special issue. Here are some milestones that you can include (with suggested time allotment):

  • Agreement with journal editor (within 8 weeks of submission of the proposal);
  • Article submission (3-6 months after agreement);
  • Article review (8-12 weeks);
  • Revisions (6-8 weeks);
  • Proofing, typesetting, articles in press and online (8-12 weeks)

Note: These are rough estimates and depend on the journal’s existing publication schedule. The editor who accepted our special issue told us that our dates were all wrong because there was a backlog of articles, slow turnaround on peer review, and two special issues already forthcoming. Although this was longer than we would normally expect for a single paper, it seemed to be normal for a special issue. On the bright side, this backlog meant that we had more time to write, edit and circulate our papers within the group of authors.

2. Circulate the proposal among the special issue participants, and perhaps, to colleagues who have editorial and/or topic area expertise. Edit using their suggestions.

3. Make a list of all relevant journals. I used a spreadsheet that included:

  • contact information for the editor;
  • general submission requirements;
  • any special requirements for special issues so that you can modify your proposal accordingly;
  • length of the average journal (number of articles and number of pages). This is important because you want to ensure that your final product falls within the range of what they are capable of printing in a single issue. Some editors have a bit more leeway when it comes to the length of issue, but it seems that most of them have an issue/page limit for each year.
  • If you have mentors, advisors, and friends who are on editorial boards, they might be looking to bring in new stuff. Ask. They might be able to push a proposal through too.

4. Submit the proposal to all journals on your list. I used a free email merge program back in 2010, but Outlook and Mac Mail allow you to perform an email merge.

5. Await a response. Within a couple of weeks, we received responses to most of our inquiries. A few well-respected journals responded positively but did not provide any firm commitments. One journal immediately accepted our proposal, which ‘fast-tracked’ our timeline a bit… But she also suggested that we prepare a backup plan in case all of our articles were not accepted. We had a colleague ‘on call’ in case we needed his contribution, but because we planned to devote a lot of time to editing amongst ourselves, we felt fairly confident that our papers would make it through.

6. Submit the papers according to the agreed-upon timeline. After circulating and editing papers over a summer and part of the fall, we all submitted our papers for peer review.

7. Await peer review comments and… darn we should have done that call for papers. One of our papers was rejected, and another that was on the cusp (ultimately, a revise and resubmit that was later accepted). The editor had also received two articles that fit our theme, so we would have had a full issue — even if it did not include all our original gang. Had we been less self-assured regarding our editing abilities, we probably would have posted a call for papers on our sub-discipline’s listservs and the journal’s website.  And we would have posted it immediately after we had our initial proposal accepted.

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A short note about article conclusions by Linda McPhee
Posted by atarrant

In keeping with the writing theme, Linda McPhee of Linda McPhee Consulting, who contributed to the Guardian Higher Education chat on academic writing with me in July 2012, has written us a post about article conclusions. There are some interesting insights here that may be of use to those writing their own article conclusions.

A few of my classes in the past year have been looking at the strategies writers use in the conclusions of published articles. The published papers we took as a sample sometimes had separate concluding sections, and sometimes incorporated these into the previous section, although it was not really possible to see any difference between the two in content or strategy beyond presence or absence of a section heading.

One conclusion started by listing the authors’ assumptions and describing the problem that had been addressed. Another used a time structure: summarising the past, how this is now changing, and how the findings show the important factors in that change. The overwhelming majority began with a very brief summary of the most important findings – not a complete rehash of the findings, but a quick trip through the high points. Most were very brief and selective, though a couple provided more extensive summaries and examples from the paper.

The next part of the conclusion was more variable. Several explained how the paper fit into a larger, ongoing process (either a research process or in the actual case being researched). A few summarised the limitations of the work (all of which had been mentioned earlier in the papers at the relevant spots). One discussed why addressing the limitations could not supply enough data to change the findings, and ended with the implications of the findings. Several mentioned implications, either practical or for ongoing research. One that ended with long-term implications first discussed short-term implications. Similarly, one pointed out that although they had not found what they were looking for, the result was real and would change their research in particular ways.

The final part almost always included a sales pitch for the research. This could be its uniqueness, why it was special, its implications, or its practical value. For a few papers, the ending described what the authors saw as the logical next step to be researched. Our small sample (about 30 published papers) seemed to group around three broad scenarios, each with several variations.

Could any one of the three serve as a basic model for the conclusion of the paper you are now writing?

 

Restatement of the problem & its importancePast to present of problem

Brief summary of most important findings

More extensive summaries of implications of each result, including its history, examples and assumptions

Summary: research question and processHow this fits into a larger, ongoing process

Summary of limitations (all  mentioned earlier)

Why limitations did not change researcher’s mind

Overall implications of results

Immediate implications

Sales pitch for the research, its uniquenessImplications

Practical value

Next step

 

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A primer on preparing to publish by Prof. Jan Draper
Posted by atarrant

Today’s post by Prof. Jan Draper reflects on her own experiences of carving up her PhD thesis into publications and provides excellent advice for post PhD-ers about what to consider and how to do it. Jan is a Professor and Director of Nursing at the Open University, UK, in the Faculty of Health and Social Care.

I don’t have an academic book (unfortunately!) but when I completed my PhD (2000) I did approach a number of publishers to see if they were interested. I think my recollection from this (very dated now of course) was that the publishers could ‘spot’ a PhD ‘conversion’ a mile off, so you have to be very careful in this regard. Some publishers are very happy to consider conversions from PhDs, others are not. So in order to maximise chances, I think one needs to be very well informed about which publishers do what.

With that in mind here are my Top 5 Tips for getting published:

  1. Write a good PhD in the first place! Sounds obvious but you would be surprised at the range! Include in this writing a very solid theoretical foundation. Theory can really liberate and help make connections that otherwise might not be made.
  2. Make sure that you have a good publication strategy arising from your PhD. You may need to seek some help in gauging this – either supervisors or other colleagues, depending on the nature of your work. If you are located in a practice-based discipline for example, in addition to conventional academic papers arising from your thesis, there will also be professional/practice-related papers that you could write. So think very carefully about how you ‘cut’ your thesis.
  3. Think creatively about the above. Don’t just think the obvious i.e. the description of the project and the findings. Is there something about the method that was innovative, that I can write about? Was there something about the theory I used? How helpful was this theory? Did my work advance the theory in any way? Was there something about ethical considerations that was more unusual in my study that could be of benefit to the wider community in some way? Think also about conference presentations – not just papers.
  4. Think very carefully about where to publish. This may sound very obvious. But, I was very fortunate that I ‘stumbled’ across this important factor. Don’t settle for low impact journals but think about your academic career – if of course, that is something you wish to develop and enhance. Go for high impact journals that will get your work noticed. Not only will it get your work noticed, but it is likely that the feedback you get from reviewers will be of excellent quality. I learned so much from the feedback from reviewers working for The Sociology of Health and Illness not only about the papers but also about the process of reviewing. Their contributions to me as a writer have influenced by ongoing, longer-term work as a reviewer. Strange!
  5. Don’t underestimate the time it will involve! Cutting up a thesis is a traumatic and bloody affair! It has taken so long to write the thesis to get it to its current format, so to think about carving it up in a different way can actually be quite difficult. This is where wise counsel from either supervisors or other colleagues can be helpful. But my advice would be that no matter how hard it feels – just do it! To get to this stage and not publish would be a travesty so I would always encourage students that no matter how hard it feels, you must do it! From my own personal experience, I know that getting 5 good papers out of my PhD created a solid platform for my ongoing academic career. So it is worth it – honest!

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Collaborative Writing by Peter Tennant
Posted by atarrant

(C) http://www.flickr.com/photos/bshephard/Today’s post reflects on the commonly encountered in academic life; collaborative writing.  The author, Peter Tennant is a junior epidemiologist working at Newcastle University. His research predominantly concerns adverse pregnancy outcomes, but his interests include Social Medicine in its widest sense and the general challenges of an academic career. He can be found regularly tweeting and blogging about both of these.

I once showed my brother one of my papers.

‘Why is it written in such a dull and lifeless style?’

‘Oh, that’s the editor’s fault. It read much better when I submitted it’.

Neither of us was convinced.

There’s no shame in being a scientist who can’t write. Science is fairly well populated by people with exceptional skills in the most extraordinary areas, but who can’t write for toffee. Then again, even the best communicator would struggle writing a scientific paper. Because scientific papers are almost always written in teams.

This is fairly sensible, given most scientific studies are performed in teams, but there are also some serious advantages. For a start it allows contribution from people with a range of skills. Having medical co-authors means my papers can discuss the clinical significance without risking a life-threatening blunder. It also means you’ve got plenty of people to celebrate with when the paper gets accepted. And, it gives you someone else to blame if anyone ever calls your paper, ‘dull and lifeless’.

But, did I mention, it’s also very challenging? As the lead author (most commonly the first name on the authorship list, though not for all disciplines), the main challenge is to your sanity. As long as it might take crafting the first draft, this is nothing compared with the time spent sending it back and forth to your co-authors for more and more comments. It’s this process that I think produces that instantly recognisable multi-author style (the one my brother kindly referred to as ‘dull and lifeless’). Like washing a colourful shirt a hundred times. This is why (against the advice of senior authors like Martin White and Jean Adams, see bullet point 3) I rarely waste time overcooking my first drafts. There’s simply no point spending days writing a stunning introductory paragraph, only for it to be completely mauled by your co-authors.

Broadly speaking, co-authors come in one of three factory settings; the Rampant Re-writers, the Sweeping Suggestion-Makers, and the Utterly Useless.

The Rampant Re-writers get the most flack. These are the people who so heavily drench your draft in tracked-changes that, by the end, it stops feeling like your paper. Draining as this can be, these co-authors are actually the nice ones, generously spending their time to improve the paper. Until they start changing bits that everyone’s already agreed on. That’s when they get really annoying. And when it’s especially important to remember the Golden Rule of Rampant Re-writers: edits are only suggestions – as the lead author, you should always have the final say.

Next there are the Sweeping Suggestion-Makers. Wielding the deadly comment box, they add things like, ‘this bit needs shortening’ or ‘I think you should add something about X’. Sometimes I’m tempted to send it back and say, ‘I think YOU should add something about X if YOU think it’s so important!’ But they’re usually too busy. And they’re usually right. Damn them with their helpful comments.

By far the most harmful authors are the Utterly Useless. The ones who don’t reply to emails, or who get back saying vague things like, ‘looks great’. In the absence of praise from your other authors (sadly the academic for, ‘this is amazing, fantastic work’ is often simply, ‘no further comments’), these people can seem like your friends, but they’re not. They’re useless. That’s why I call them Utterly Useless. In fact, these authors are the ones that can cause genuine ethical dilemmas. Do they even satisfy the conditions of authorship? Occasionally a senior academic will insist on being an author due to some historical connection with the study, even if they then add nothing to the paper. This is unethical. But not something that the average PhD student is in a position to do anything about. More pertinent is the risk of being pushed down the author order, despite doing the most work. It’s common throughout the history of science. It’s also morally repugnant. Always try to discuss the authorship list and the author-order before starting writing a paper and this risk can be reduced (though, sadly, not eliminated).

If being the lead/first author is most difficult, it’s not necessarily easy being a support author, where the big challenge is in getting the right balance of comments. Despite years of therapy, I still fall firmly into the Rampant Re-writer category. On more than one occasion, I’ve made the first author cry by overdoing the edits. Some support authors try to soften the blow by spreading their edits over several revisions, e.g. making the ‘essential’ changes first, then the less major changes later. But I’ve experienced this as a first author and actually found it more depressing! It’s like getting to the end of a marathon, only to be told to run another five miles. Short of making them cry, over-editing might still annoy your co-authors, especially if they are senior. For some reason, Professors don’t always react very well to having their words rewritten by a PhD student. So here’s my advice, try and get all your comments in first time, but make sure they are all essential. If in doubt, leave it out. Unless you’re happy making your colleagues cry.

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