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Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks – Week Twelve.
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.

Today is the day. This week has been a bit of a blur of teaching and thesis work, and all I wanted to do today was make sure that everything was ready to go for the final submission of my article.  Earlier in the week I crafted, and then redrafted, and then edited, and then reedited, and then rewrote entirely my cover letter according to Belcher’s instructions.  The first draft sounded altogether too needy.  The second draft sounded too caviller.  I was starting to think that I was completely written-out.  But then, I went back and re-read Belcher’s advice from this week (and some of the advice from week four, when we drafted a query letter for the editor) and sat down and just followed her formula.  It turned out to be fine – not over the top, without an undertone of ‘please, please, please publish my article!’ even though that’s exactly how I feel. I also went back and thoroughly checked over the style notes from my selected journal, and then spent two afternoons going through every single stylistic point that Belcher mentions (in a very handy table) and that was on the style notes and making sure that each of these things was correct in my article.

I have been told numerous times (and Belcher mentions as well) that making sure your article is in the correct house style is pretty important, so I wanted to make sure this was right.  It probably didn’t need to take two afternoons, but I have put so much work into this article that I’m not prepared to trip at the last hurdle (if only I could put this much care into my thesis!) I don’t have any illustrations, tables, figures or similar so I didn’t really need to worry about permissions and getting good quality images, but Belcher has some great advice about this process.

This week I was a bit worried that the whole chapter would be devoted to preparing print versions of articles.  Even though the edition of the book I have is from 2009, I imagine that a lot of journals are increasingly moving to online submission systems, or – at the very least – to email submissions, and the journal I have chosen has such an online system (where you upload everything via a webpage).  While Belcher doesn’t specifically mention online-based applications systems I think this is pretty much covered by her electronic-version advice (there isn’t very much difference between submitting via email and an online system after all.)  I wish she’d mentioned a bit more about email etiquette (for example, should you upload your cover letter as an attachment, or paste it into the body of the email?) but as it happens, it wasn’t that necessary for me in the end. I was a little bit dismayed by some of her advice in the ‘Preparing the final electronic/print version’ checklists.  Namely, she very emphatically says ‘never use footnotes’ (rather you should use endnotes).  This is probably sound advice for many people, but might be a bit confusing if a journal’s house style notes specifically request footnotes (she mentions that you should follow house style to the letter, but doesn’t say anything about following this style even when it conflicts with her own advice). So, it’s all done and dusted.

Final version finished, style updated, edited, rewritten, loved, hated, cried over (okay, not quite – but there were some close calls!).  Cover letter ready to go.  All that remains is to upload the lot of it onto the submission system and wait.  And wait.  And wait. I finally wanted to say a few words about how I found the programme as a whole, and the last chapter of the book (titled ‘Week X’). There were parts of this process that I found overly tedious – I noted those along the way, but specifically I found parts of week four (Selecting a Journal) and parts of week five (Reviewing the Related Literature) to be tedious and excessive.  Having said that, I can understand why some people would find these tasks to be both timely and interesting.  I have always been in the habit of reviewing literature as I go, and keeping on top of that as a matter of priority (in articles, conference papers, theses, essays etc.).

The week I found the most useful was Week ten (Editing Your Sentences).  I think it’s worth getting this book (or checking it out from the library) for this chapter alone – looking at the microstructure of my article has improved my writing much more widely than any of the other exercises in this book. The book ends with Week X.  I haven’t read though this section is great detail, but it deals with waiting for the journal’s decision, how to read the decision and how to respond – basically a ‘where to from here?’.  I like the idea of including this information because the process certainly doesn’t stop once the article is submitted – there is a whole new process to go through, and Belcher’s informative (and extensive) advice on things like types of acceptances and rejections, how to go about revising or restructuring a rejected article, how to respond to reviewer’s comments will certainly be something that readers of this book will benefit from. I’m looking forward to getting to that stage, but for now – I think I’m ready to take a break from my article. Thanks for following along with these blog posts – I have learned a lot in the last twelve weeks, and I have a lot of new awareness about how I work and why I work the way I do (and I now have a much healthier writing habit!)

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Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks – Week Eleven
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.

I have long since accepted that my thesis won’t be perfect – that I just have to get it to good enough to pass (with minor corrections). Why cannot I do the same with this article?  I am starting to feel like it will never actually be finished. This week – the penultimate week of the programme – I can finally see how far my article has progressed, but it doesn’t seem quite good enough.  Thankfully, Belcher opened this week’s reading talking about just this issue, and she comes to basically the same conclusion that I have about my thesis: there needs to be some kind of problem for the examiner/peer reviewers to latch onto in their report – not to try and cover up any glaring mistakes (which at this stage, should have been sorted out anyway) but simply because they have to write something on their reports, and you don’t want to make them go digging for something to pick on.

The tasks for this week were pretty straightforward. Spend one day working on finalising the argument – reading back over week 3 and following the advice. The next is spent getting the literature review sorted out – we covered that in week 5. Then going over the Introduction – week 8. Getting the structure and sorting out the evidence come next – that’s from weeks 6 and 7. Finally, getting the conclusion together – week 8 again. So this week gives you a chance really to look over every aspect of the article in quick succession, and to gain a more general overview of the article as a whole. I started – as Belcher suggests – by actually printing out a copy of my article and marking it up (although, she suggests this under finalising the argument, I found it helpful to keep that hard copy to refer to during the rest of the week.)

I was initially a little bit scared at the concept of printing out this article and looking over it. I have done so much work, I thought, what if I find some really big, glaring errors or mistakes (oh no, I’m still doubling!). What if the article doesn’t actually make sense, or if I have to re-write whole sections! I think I’ve said before that I wish I had kept a copy of my article before I had started – the original product, as it were – so that I could do a bit of compare and contrast along the way (if you haven’t yet started Belcher’s programme and you are going to, this is my one big piece of advice!). More than any other week I think it would have been nice to go back and read my original article this week. I think it would have put some of my fear to rest, being able to actually see how far I have come.

And, even from my memories of that early piece, it’s a long, long way. So, after getting over my initial apprehension, I knuckled down and tackled this week’s tasks, half expecting a large amount of work still to do. Belcher even comments that going over each of these points might take more than a week. It didn’t (this bring on another set of anxieties though, of the ‘have I done enough?’ kind).

I had a few things to fix up in most of the categories – my literature review didn’t need any work because I have been fairly vigilant to keep on top of it during the whole process. My most troubling day was the last day – conclusion – which I have never been particularly confident with (I’m also currently tackling my thesis conclusion and having the same kinds of problems!).

But at the end of the week, there it was – in all it’s (highly edited, revised, rewritten, rethought, reworded) glory: my article ready to be sent next week.

And, I am excited.  And, I’ll admit, more than a little bit anxious!

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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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Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: Week Three
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 need to start with a confession today: I am still not writing every day.  I used to be in the habit – and writing is a habit, and that’s reinforced time and again in Belcher’s book – but lately I’ve been so overwhelmed by the task of writing that I still struggle.  I certainly didn’t get enough done last week, which I was feeling terrible about but as soon as I opened the Week Three chapter I felt better:

If you didn’t get as much writing done last week as you hoped, join the club.  Very few scholars ever feel that they have done enough.

Yep.  That’s me.  I never feel as though I’ve done anywhere near enough, and I bet many of you feel the same.  In the first exercise of this week I was asked to reflect on what I’d learned from the previous week.  I wrote: ‘I am still intimidated by writing.’  But, as Belcher very clearly states, the goal is not perfection but productivity, and as long as I keep being productive then I’m going okay.  I hope.

This week started with a long explanation about types of articles that get rejected, with some concrete points.  At the end of each section (which are things like ‘too narrow’ and ‘not scholarly’) you’re asked to reflect on your own article and see how you might address any or all of the problem points raised in the section.  I found this really helpful, not because my article was a  lot of one category or another, but because I could see that there were a small number of things from each category that I could improve my article by addressing.  The main part of this section is about articles having no argument – which leads on to the week’s main exercises.

Day two starts with exercises on finding out what your article actually is about, i.e. what’s the argument and what’s the evidence.  After you’ve identified your main argument (and this is a straightforward ‘In this article, I argue that…’ type of construction, so nothing super fancy but still very useful)  and written down a short list of the evidence you’ve collated to prove your argument, Belcher asks you to go back to your abstract and revise it, in light of what you’ve written about your argument.

And then, as seems to be a theme here, you’ve got to share it again, this time with three different people (I confess I only shared mine with two…) and ask them to pick out what they see as the argument.

Well, this exercise did a lot for my abstract but not much for my writing confidence!  My argument was more or less picked out by both and after a second revision (which I just did, it’s not in the book) it was significantly easier to spot.

(As a side note, and some proof of this book’s wide range, I’m about to start writing the conclusion of my PhD thesis – I’m going to modify the exercises from this week and put each of my chapters though the ringer, as it were, and use the ‘abstract’ created to draft my conclusion.)

Now, the task is to try and put that argument into your article, so the week ended with writing a list of revision tasks for each section of the article (that is ‘introduction’ ‘body’ ‘conclusion’ but also with headings ‘early’ and ‘evidence’) and then spending the last two days of the week revising the article, with these points and your (by now very clearly set) argument in mind.

I think my article is coming on – I feel that I’m making progress after this week, although my prose is still a point of contention (in my own mind, that is).  I definitely feel that I’ve got a better base to start working from now, though.

All in all, a very good week (but not as much writing as I’d have liked) and my article is certainly coming along.  This coming week is all about journal selection, and I wonder how my idea of appropriate journals will change after this!

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Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: Week Two
Posted by Ellie Mackin

By Aadityasardwal via Wikimedia CommonsEllie 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.

After feeling great about finishing Week One and ready to overcome all of my writing demons, I struck a problem.  Writer’s block.  My thesis wasn’t going anywhere, my article wasn’t going anywhere, even my personal blog wasn’t going anywhere.  But this will (I hope) highlight one of the great things about this book.  The first day of Week Two I didn’t do the proscribed task (that’s why I’m now a day behind), but I went back and re-read the section on overcoming writing obstacles, I identified why I was feeling badly about writing, and in the end I just forced myself to write (and yes, I did delete everything I wrote that day, but the point was I wrote.)

And then I came, fresh and feeling good, to Week Two.  The first task is to identify what type of article you are writing – predictably, I am writing an ‘humanities research article.’  Belcher covers every type of article imaginable, some of which I have never come across in my field, which was interesting if not useful (this, I suspect, is a feature of this book and the reason that it is relevant to so many people, because of the breadth of information Belcher provides – there will be some picking and choosing relevant information, but I think this is better than having a very narrowly focused book).

What came next is, I think, the most interesting information from this week’s tasks: Myths about Publishable Journal Articles, followed by What Gets Published and Why.  I admit – I held some erroneous notions about what gets published and what makes an article publishable, and I am feeling significantly better about my own article after reading these.  Articles do not have to be heavily theoretical, with an overload of ideas which are entirely original.  Instead, Belcher suggests, three types of article get published: those which approach new evidence in an old way, those which approach old evidence in a new way, and those which pair an old approach and old evidence but in a new way.  The key: something old (which makes your article relevant) with something new (which makes your article useful for others).  So, I’ve identified what’s ‘old’ and what’s ‘new’ in my article, and discovered that I need to work on linking my findings to previous scholarship in order to make my article both relevant and useful.

The tasks then move on to writing an abstract, which I admit I was taken aback by.  An abstract?  Before I’ve written the article?!?  But, it was a very useful exercise which went something like this: learning what makes a good abstract (hint: it’s not the same as a conference abstract!)  Then, you have to talk your abstract – that is, sit down with someone and start by saying ‘My article is about…’ and though that process you get to a one sentence description of your article.  Belcher then invites you to reflect on this process (which I found very handy, I have never been in the practice of reflecting on my own writing and I am quite enjoying doing it in this process).  Following this, you must read your paper twice – once straight though, and once making notes.  I found reading though without making notes both hard and useful.  It allowed me to get a sense of the overall picture that my article was/is trying to present.  I found it make the next activity, writing a list of revision tasks, much easier.  Then you get to draft your abstract.  Easy, right?  No.  Wrong.  I found this so painfully difficult (I should have read ahead in the book!) because I wanted to get it ‘just right.’

But I didn’t need to, because then I had to send it to a reviewer.  And they tore it apart (but in a good, nice, constructive way).  And, so I finished the week rewriting my abstract, and reflecting on the process.

I’ve learned this week that I am a terrible re-reader, and if I am going to produce good, clean writing then I need to force myself to stop and look at the bigger picture.  I’m looking forward to next week, where I get to start really tackling the argument of my article and making some of the changes I highlighted during the re-reading this week.  I think that will be fun.  As long as I don’t get writer’s block again!

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Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: Week One
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 am months away from submitting my PhD thesis and I, like many others in my position I suppose, am starting to worry about what I will do in my post-doctoral years.  As students we are told to attend conferences, present our work, network and, above all, to publish.  The ‘publish or perish’ mantra is one that has, for better or worse, reached down into the lowest levels of academia (I have taught first year undergraduates who are already worried about publishing to increase their chances of getting funding for postgraduate study, and there are increasing numbers of undergraduate journals appearing all over the UK.)  But, there is very little guidance on exactly how to publish work that you won’t cringe with embarrassment about ten years down the track.  That’s the reason I jumped at the change to review Wendy Laura Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks when Charlotte reached out over Twitter.

By way of introduction, I shall say this: I have submitted three articles for publication.  One was (quite rightly, in hindsight) rejected outright.  One was given a rewrite and resubmit, but I decided to shelve the idea for various reasons.  One was published only a few weeks ago.  I am a third-and-final-year PhD student in Classics in the UK.  I have also recruited a friend, Andy, to work though the book with me, as Belcher suggests it is best to work though the book in a group or partnership.  He has recently submitted, but not yet viva’d, and is also in Classics.  Belcher also suggests that you can go though the workbook in any order you like – depending on what works for you.  For the purpose of these reviews, I’ll be working though the book in the order it’s presented in.

The first think that strikes you about the book is how comforting the introduction is.  Not only is is clear, but Belcher really explains how the book came about, particularly that it is the result of a lot of trial and error.  It shows in the tasks, too, that a lot of experience has gone into the construction of the program.  Andy commented specifically that he liked that Belcher sets out to help ‘those on the margins’ – graduate students and junior faculty – but that it’s proven to be useful to those at all career stages.

Each week is set out with a number of tasks, spread over five days and of varying lengths.  Some of the tasks simply involve reading, some involve some thinking and workbooking.  I assume that later down the line they will involve more writing and less reading.  Week one gives a huge amount of information, and both Andy and I felt that some of it wasn’t relevant for us.  But, I can see how it would be relevant to other people and so it really is a case of just taking on board the things that you need and moving over the other things.  This included, more specifically, in a section about different types of writing challenges that writers face.  If you’re willing to go   through the information then there is a lot of great stuff that is very helpful.  The very first task in the book is about understanding your own feelings about writing, and I won’t lie, I found it a bleak and depressing exercise.  Incredibly helpful, but challenging to face up to my own emotional-writing-baggage.

By the end of the week, though, I’ve picked an article to work on and come to terms with some of my own writing habits.  I’ve identified the obstacles that are relevant to me and I’ve started working on overcoming them.  It’s early days, but I feel confident about getting though this book and having a good, solid piece of work at the end.

Next week we start actually working on the article!

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Writing Obstacle No. 13 – Wendy Laura Belcher
Posted by Charlotte Frost

This month of #AcWriMo we’re featuring heaps of advice from the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. She’ll offer a wealth of information on carefully planning your writing and getting over obstacles – practical and emotional.

I really can’t move forward on this writing project.

Sometimes, through no fault of your own, you cannot write. Perhaps you must wait for a result or further funding or your advisor’s response. If the way is blocked on one project, turn to another. Success correlates with authors who are not monomaniacal but have several writing projects going at once. If bored or frustrated with one, you can switch to the other. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that only full-time dedication to a single project will result in success. If you’re brought to a standstill, work on a grant application, revise an old article, or draft ideas for another article. You should always be moving forward on some front.What else is common writing obstacles ? Click here to find out.

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Writing Obstacle No. 12 – Wendy Laura Belcher
Posted by Charlotte Frost

This month of #AcWriMo we’re featuring heaps of advice from the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. She’ll offer a wealth of information on carefully planning your writing and getting over obstacles – practical and emotional.

My childcare responsibilities are preventing me from writing.

Interestingly, students with children are often the best practitioners of the tenets of this chapter. Caregivers simply do not have big blocks of time, so they get used to working in time-bound segments of one to four hours. They cannot make writing their number one priority, so they do not fixate. They cannot stay up all night binge writing and then take care of the baby the next day, so they plan ahead. For those of you who don’t have kids, no, I’m not recommending that you adopt. But if you have friends who are caregivers as well as students, you might want to study how they get it all done. You can learn good lessons from them.

If you are not getting writing done due to childcare responsibilities, you already know the answer: getting others to care for your children several hours a week. Many students would love to have such help, but are far from family and cannot afford to pay someone. Perhaps you might look into a shared childcare arrangement. Find another student who is a care-giver and arrange to trade baby-sitting so that each of you gets a full morning for writing. Or, if what you really need is some sleep or to run errands, exchange for that as well. Just remember to get fifteen minutes of writing done in that time. If none of this is possible, focus on working with the small amounts of time that crop up. Write for half an hour after you put the kids to sleep and before you start cleaning up.

If it’s any comfort, studies differ as to the effect of marriage and dependents on faculty productivity. One study found that female faculty with children have lower tenure and promotion rates, while male faculty with children have higher tenure and promotion rates (National Science Foundation 2004). Another study found that family has little effect on the actual productivity of either female or male faculty (Sax, Hagedorn, Arredondo, Dicrisi 2002). These scholars speculate that the gender gap in publication rates, which has steadily been closing, is not explained by the weight of domestic responsibilities. Rather, this slightly lower rate seems to have more to do with women’s prioritizing of “social change” over advancement and field recognition. This isn’t to imply that male and female faculty experience family responsibilities in the same way. Among men and women with the same publication rates, female faculty did more work around the home and spent fewer hours per week on writing and research than male faculty (ibid.). That is, women were more efficient, producing the same amount of writing in less time.

Besides kid, yourself can also be an obstacle for writing.

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Writing Obstacle No. 11 – Wendy Laura Belcher
Posted by Charlotte Frost

This month of #AcWriMo we’re featuring heaps of advice from the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. She’ll offer a wealth of information on carefully planning your writing and getting over obstacles – practical and emotional.

I’m not in the right mood to write.

Many people believe you have to be emotionally ready to write. If you are not in the right mood, they argue, don’t even try getting started because it’s not going to work. Yet, many can testify that it is possible to get in the writing mood. Behavior modification theory shows us that emotion follows action, not the other way around. If you don’t feel like doing something, then start doing it and usually your feelings will follow.

Individuals who procrastinate frequently confuse motivation and action. You foolishly wait until you feel in the mood to do something. Since you don’t feel like doing it, you automatically put it off. Your error is your belief that motivation comes first, and then leads to activation and success. But it is usually the other way around; action must come first, and the motivation comes later on. (Burns 1999, 125)

David D. Burns’s book Feeling Good describes many techniques for thinking positively about your life and work so that you can overcome perfectionism and guilty feelings.

You can also use ritual to overcome feeling unready. You can jumpstart the mood for writing by lighting a certain candle, playing a certain song, or doing certain stretches. When someone I know was writing her first book, she started every writing morning by reading a section from the King James Version of the Old Testament. The beauty of the passages always called up a writing response in her. Even on those days when she didn’t much feel like writing, she responded to the ritual. If Pavlov’s dogs can do it, so can you.

So, don’t wait until your feelings catch up with your goals. Just make a plan and follow it.

Maybe this is another difficulties you are facing.

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