Browsing the archives for the What They Didn’t Teach You in Graduate School tag

The 25 Minute Text by Charlotte Frost
Posted by Angson Chow
By holyponiesbatman via Flickr

By holyponiesbatman via Flickr

This is a public worksheet/workshop for writing a draft of academic text in just 25 minutes. You’re invited to complete each task in the allotted time in your own Google/Scrivener/Word doc etc…. Set a timer for each writing task (1. 5 mins, 2. 15 mins, 3. 5 mins) and don’t go over! And then let us know in the comments how you go on. 

Task 1: create a structure (in 5 minutes)

  • Take the ‘tiny text’ template I made based on the Thesis Whisperer (aka Inger Mewburn’s technique for kick-starting your academic writing)

  • Take an idea from your research (this could be the idea your entire thesis is based on, it might be the concept being presented in one chapter, or it might be an idea you haven’t worked out yet that may or may not end up being a part of your thesis/current project,

  • In just 5 minutes, write one sentence for each of the sections listed below.

  1. Focus: Broadly important fact or relevant story (In….)

  2. Literature: What has been said already? (It is argued that…)

  3. Gap: What hasn’t been said already? (However….)

  4. Methods: How (By analysing…)

  5. Implications: What practical or philosophical impact will this have? (This research shows…)

(template credit: Gerald Graff, Barbara Kamler and Pat Thomson, Karen Kelsky, Inger Mewburn)

Task 2: build 3 core sections (in 15 minutes)

  • Now, spread out the tiny text you’ve written, or focus on the following sections: Literature, Methods, Implications

  1. Focus: Broadly important fact or relevant story (In….)

 

  1. Literature: What has been said already? (It is argued that…)

[write more here!]

  1. Gap: What hasn’t been said already? (However….)

 

  1. Methods: How (By analysing…)

[write more here!]

  1. Implications: What practical or philosophical impact will this have? (This research shows…)

[write more here!]

  • Take the Thesis Whisperer’s ‘Thinking Bundles’ worksheet :

https://sites.google.com/site/twblacklinemasters/thinking-bundles

and use her ‘sentence scaffolds’ to write a brief paragraph for each of those sections,

  • You have 15 minutes to do this (5 minutes for each section plus reading time of a couple of minutes) – literally fill in the blanks with your own work!

Task 3: craft your paragraphs

  • Now, read the following worksheets by the Thesis Whisperer (you have a couple of minutes to do this):

  1. Thesis Whisperer ‘powerful paragraphs’ worksheet https://sites.google.com/site/twblacklinemasters/powerful-paragraphs

‘Powerful paragraphs’ gives you a paragraph that looks like this (it starts with a more general statement and focuses in to make a point):

 

  1. Thesis Whisperer ‘PEELL’ technique worksheet:

https://sites.google.com/site/twblacklinemasters/powerful-paragraphs

‘PEELL’ gives you a paragraph that looks like this (it has a tight focus/ makes a point up front and then builds on that):

  • Pick which structure appeals best and write one brief paragraph from scratch. Make it something that fleshes out the next stage of the work. For example write a further paragraph of your literature review/methods section, or introduce a case study.

  • You have just 5 more minutes to do this.

  • For more help constructing your paragraphs, and finding the right phrases, see the University Manchester Academic Phrasebank.

OK, so it was probably a bit tight working on all this in just 25 minutes (it’s a bit like a Jamie Oliver 15 minute meal, not everyone will ever do it this fast) and academia is certainly not a race, quality thinking takes time, but this is one technique you can use to kick start your work.

I suggest you take a break straight after working on your 25 minute text and when you return, use ‘Task 3’ to fill out more paragraphs. You might like to continue by working on each paragraph for a set amount of time – this time will depend on how much preparation you’ve done – but the Pomodoro Technique of working in 25 minute time slots is a proven way of keeping on task.

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Techniques for Different Writing Stages by Charlotte Frost
Posted by Angson Chow
By scott_williams via Flickr

By scott_williams via Flickr

This is a guide by Charlotte Frost to the many different stages of producing a piece of academic writing. Often we lump all these stages together and get overwhelmed. Here you’re reminded there are at least 10 different stages to academic writing and that by treating each differently, you can break your writing into more manageable chunks.  If you think we’ve missed a step or you have a different way of thinking about one of these 10 tasks then please tell us more in the comments section.

1. The mental preparation stage

Before you do anything, take 5-10 minutes to purge your mind. Write down everything that’s whirring around in your head from errands you have to run to things that are worrying you. It could take the form of a list, a scattered network of things or even a diary entry (why would so many people write diaries if it wasn’t so incredibly useful in making sense of your own head? And besides, therapists can be really expensive!) Sometimes we can’t see the wood for the trees, so sitting down and writing whatever comes to mind can be a good way of getting some of the distracting ideas out of your way. You might even turn up something useful for your work. But either way, empty your head of all these details before you start. You might also like to keep this page to hand while you’re working so you can continue to dump the distractions.

2. The note-taking stage

Never just read, never just take notes. Always make these as active and targeted as possible. I made my own summary cover sheet during my PhD without realising someone else had already devised a better one in the 1950s called the Cornell Note Taking System. There are 3 principles/parts of the Cornell note page. A large right-hand section for writing brief notes which you complete at the time of reading/listening. Two smaller sections to the left and to the bottom where you draw out the essential themes and questions of the piece and write a brief summary. There are even tools to create Cornell note page templates for yourself here and here.

4. The brainstorming stage

You might not need this stage. If you’ve got all your notes beautifully organised as per the Cornell and literature survey matrix techniques, all the arguments you want to make might be perfectly clear to you. It might be as simple as just taking each set of notes and fleshing them out. However, sometimes we get stuck or need to combine a lot of different ideas in one section. This might need a different approach. First brainstorm it. Give yourself five minutes and write down everything you can think of that relates to the topic at hand. Be as fast and as unfiltered as you can. Take no time to over-think any choice. Even if it seems random, put it down. And as long as you’re working on the same project, never destroy this early catchment area of ideas. Something that seems irrelevant for a long time can suddenly take on meaning later.

5. The mind mapping stage

Take your brainstorming and make a proper mind map with the ideas. This is the time when you organise the ideas and give them structure. The Thesis Whisperer uses a ‘spider diagram’ approach for mapping out ideas and has a worksheet to help you do this. Or there’s the Tony Buzan technique, which he claims is set out to mirror the way we think. For Buzan’s method, the key is that nothing by the central topic is enclosed in anyway, rather all ideas are written along the sides of each connecting line. This way, he says, everything has the potential to connect to something else. Really the main difference is that you can get more on a Buzan map, which is great for really complicated/intricate ideas or ideas you’ll want to add to as you go along. I’ve kept Buzan-style maps for topics and added over several months to keep an overview in once place.

6. The ‘Tiny Text’ stage

The Thesis Whisperer suggests that once you’re through researching and brainstorming, you write a ‘tiny text’. This is like a conference abstract that will give you the structure for the work you’re about to produce. I’ve combined several approaches to this and come up with a 7 part template. As soon as you’re ready to work on your paper/chapter/section, run it through this system writing just a sentence for each point.

  1. Focus: Broadly important fact or relevant story (In….)
  2. Literature: What has been said already? (It is argued that…)
  3. Gap: What hasn’t been said already? (However….)
  4. Urgency: Why is it important right now? (Without….)
  5. Question: What needs to be asked? (This research asks…)
  6. Methods: How (By analysing…)
  7. Implications: What practical or philosophical impact will this have? (This research shows…)

Credit: Gerald Graff, Barbara Kamler and Pat Thomson, Karen Kelsky, Inger Mewburn

7. The splurge/spew stage

Open up a document and if you’ve collected lots of organised notes, copy and paste/type them into the document. Now write up all the connecting sections as fast as you can. Or, if you’re working without these prepared notes, just write as much of the argument as you can in one session. If you do it the second way round (without the organised notes) use [insert here] to leave yourself clear markers for the material that will need adding such as summaries of other texts, quotes or examples. (But either way, use the ‘tiny text’ as a structure to keep yourself on course and be quick about it).

or rather the thinking writing stage

This is the stage where you are using your writing to tell you what you’ve got. You aren’t ready to show those ideas to the world yet, instead, you’re going to think them through in words on a page. For many of us, it is only at this point that the actual ideas come out. You might know you want to connect so-and-so’s theory with such-and-such but it might not be until you try to do this in words that you see just what the implications of that connection are. The point is that this is the stage of writing where you make it work for you, you use the act of writing to think through your ideas.

or even the keep it pacey

If possible, you do it fast because you’ll see much sooner if you’ve got enough of an idea/argument. If you can do this rough draft in one sitting, you’ll know straight away if you can make this point/write this section with the research you’ve already done, or if it’s too thin and you need to read/think some more. But (as I’m about to say) don’t over-think this part, it’s about getting words and ideas down in what ever form they take.

and certainly it’s the uncritical stage

Indeed, this is also the uncritical stage. When trying to think-write and/or rough-draft, you just want to get ideas down and nothing more. Even if you can write a pretty solid draft at this stage (thanks to being well read/prepared) you want to just write it up and leave it alone – don’t even think about editing at this point. This is not the time for that! In her book from the 1930s, Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande described it as the stage of writing where you turn off your inner critic and let your thoughts run free. And she suggests that to make sure you don’t criticise your work, you shouldn’t read any of it back at this point. She urges you write your words and walk away. Tools for plain writing that can help with the uncritical, fast, splurgey stage of writing include: 750 Words; WriteRoom: DarkRoom.

8. The ‘doing writing’ stage/the draft

Another way to think about what happens after the ‘thinking writing’ is the doing writing. You’ve got your ideas down, you’ve read them through, there does seem to be a substantial argument to make and enough material to do it with. Now you turn your writing around. You’re not using the act of writing to think, you’re using it to do (to show, demonstrate, argue – fight, even). Look at each sentence and convert it from a thought or rough idea, to a statement that presents that idea clearly to others.

which might also be the therapy stage

I wrote a blog post for AcWriMo and PhD2published in 2012 on using 750Words as a writing therapist. Basically, when I get to a certain point, or when I get stuck, I use an empty doc/writing app to ask myself questions about what I’m doing and whether I’m achieving it. I literally ask myself: what’s the problem with this section? And then, as I answer myself, I find – and write my way out of – the issue. In the example I used for the blog post, I’d lost track of why I was trying to summarise ideas about new materialism. By the time I’d asked myself a set of questions about this, I’d found what I was stuck on AND I’d written about it and much of what I’d written turned out to be perfectly useable in the actual draft. Your supervisor can’t talk you out of every confusion so you need to learn to do it yourself.

9. The critical stage

If you follow Brande then at the very earliest, the next day is the first point at which you can turn your critical voice back on. This is when the editing begins and you’re invited to need to release your inner critic. If you’ve got a lot of writing done, preferably without over-thinking it, you now ask questions of that work and begin to shape the material into something more coherent. Let your critical side be a bit brutal, chopping irrelevant parts, making substitutions and forming better alliances between sections.

10 The darling-i-cide stage

‘Killing your darlings’ is the name given to the brutal part of editing when you take out the parts you love but which are clearly not contributing anything to the argument (a ‘darling’ is often an overly wordy or self-indulgent sentence/paragraph). In fiction this might even mean taking out an entire character, or some elegant phrases that don’t move the story forwards. In academic writing it’s probably a tangent or an idea that fascinates you but distorts the argument at hand.

or rather, darling exile…

There are two ways to make this easier on yourself.

1.Use strikethrough. That way you can read the document without these parts and confirm in your own mind that they do have to go before you actually delete them.

2.Don’t delete them at all, just banish them to another location. Start a document, note or folder for all the bits you take out. Trust me, for every thesis there’s a huge archive of unused material that means a great deal to the thesis writer (perhaps it even contains the nugget of an idea they started with). But you have to be tough. What your thesis needs to do is make a point and make it clearly. The best way to help yourself achieve that end goal is to remove anything that will get in the way of clarity.

 

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Weekly Wisdom #100 by Paul Gray and Simon E. Drew
Posted by atarrant

GRAY’S THEOREM OF N + 2. The number of papers required for tenure is N + 2, where N is the number you published. (Corollary: Gray’s Theorem is independent of N.)

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Weekly Wisdom #99 by Paul Gray and Simon E. Drew
Posted by atarrant

SPECIALIZE. GET KNOWN FOR SOMETHING. It helps visibility. Sadly, brilliant, restless people who work on several topics simultaneously usually do not achieve as much visibility as those who plod along in the same area for many years.

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Weekly Wisdom #98 by Paul Gray and Simon E. Drew
Posted by atarrant

COMPLETION TIME. No matter how long you think it will take to write a paper based on your research, see the paper you just submitted in print, complete a research project, prepare a new course,or  prepare for a session of a course you gave previously it will take longer.  The wide-eyed optimists always think the task will be completed on time. The mildly realistic optimists think the task will take their esti­mated time plus 10%. The pessimists understand that the delay is at least 50% on average.

(Corollary: Even if you add the above delay times to your estimate, it will still take longer than that.)

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Weekly Wisdom #97 by Paul Gray and Simon E. Drew
Posted by atarrant

LEARN TIME MANAGEMENT. Determine your work priorities and try as best you can to match your time commitments to those priorities. The model of an academic having large blocks of time at work to think deeply about a problem is not valid, and may never have been. Your time on campus is fragmented. You are interrupted for teaching, office hours, supervising dissertations, phone calls, keeping up with e-mail, research, writing, publication, and more. Each activity is important and/or mandatory. You barely have time to be collegial. If you are overloaded, use time management tools. The simplest is the calendar that comes with e-mail software. Keep a record not only of your appointments and your teaching commitment but also your interruptions. Analysis will show times when you can combine repetitive interruptions and when you can undertake reading, research, and professional activities. Learn to say no! One of our colleagues, who published well over 30 books in his career, advised: “If you write only a page a day, that’s a book a year.

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Weekly Wisdom #96 by Paul Gray and Simon E. Drew
Posted by atarrant

GET TO KNOW THE MAJOR EDITORS of the book publishers in your field. The best place to meet them is at the book exhibits asso­ciated with your annual professional conference. You will find that some of them know absolutely nothing about your field, not to mention your subject. Avoid working with such editors because they will treat your work as a commodity, like pork bellies.

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Weekly Wisdom #95 by Paul Gray and Simon E. Drew
Posted by atarrant

SELECTING A PUBLISHER INVOLVES TRADE-OFFS. With a large pub­lisher that issues many books in your field in a year you gain the advantage of mass marketing and advertising. Large publishers em­ploy reps who visit campuses. However, these reps are given many books to push and their commissions depend on the number of books sold. As a result, they concentrate on freshman and sopho­more texts for required courses. Furthermore, since they receive the same commission no matter which book is adopted, they have little incentive to sell a particular book. Thus, you run the risk that pro­motion of your book will be lost among the many others with simi­lar titles being offered by that publisher. Small and specialty commercial publishers and university presses give you much more individual attention. You can judge whether they are a good fit for your book by looking at their publications list on their Web site, themailings you receive from them, the advertisements in your profes­sional journals, and the experience and recommendations of your peers. If a publisher looks reasonable based on these probes, go to your school’s library and look at their books they have published. Before signing a contract, make sure that (a) your publisher will have your manuscript peer reviewed, and (b) the publisher you chose “counts” with your field’s tenure committee. Under no circum­stances publish with a vanity press, that is, a publisher that charges you for publishing your book.

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Weekly Wisdom #94 by Paul Gray and Simon E. Drew
Posted by atarrant

PAY ATTENTION TO THE BOOK PUBLISHERS’ REPRESENTATIVES WHO COME INTO YOUR OFFICE. They are a valuable source of informa­tion. These reps have two missions: (a) to flog the books their com­pany issues and (b) to send intelligence back to the home office. They will be pleased to send you complimentary copies of the latest mass market elementary textbooks in your field. If your field is French, you can obtain many shelves of freshman- and sophomore-level French books. You can alsoobtain copies of books directly linked to specific courses you teach. It is a little more difficult (but not impossible) to obtain complimentary copies of books in your research area. There’s always the chance that you will adopt. Don’t, however, simply look at the reps as a source of freebies. Use them to find out what is going on in the book market. Sound them out on whether their firm is interested in a book manuscript you have under way. Their response will usually be positive. Ignore that. Just make sure that they get the wordabout your forthcoming manu­script back to the editors at the publisher’s headquarters.

 

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Weekly Wisdom #93 by Paul Gray and David E.Drew
Posted by atarrant

DO SERVE AS A REVIEWER for journals, particularly top journals. Treat this job seriously. You will see much junk being submitted and appreciate why some journals reject 80% or more of their submissions. You will develop an aesthetic for what is good and what is not. You will correspond with some powerful people. When you do get a good paper to review, you will receive much earlier knowledge of an important new development. The information gained is worth more than the time you take reviewing.

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Weekly Wisdom #92 by Paul Gray and David E.Drew
Posted by atarrant

COAUTHORING A PAPER WITH A SUPERSTAR increases your visibility and associates you with his or her reputation. However, becareful which papers you coauthor. If the idea is yours, the superstar will likely get most of the credit

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Weekly Wisdom #91 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew
Posted by atarrant

REWARDS FOR ACADEMIC PUBLISHING. The old saw “virtue is its own reward” applies to most of your academic publications. There are exceptions. If you write a scholarly monograph in the humanities or the social sciences you receive a small royalty. Journals invariably do not pay you. Your annual review to determine whether you should receive a raise, however, tends to reward you for publishing, particularly in high-repute journals. Of course, if you work abroad in a school such as one we know about in South Korea, you may be awarded a bonus every time you publish, with the size of the bonus depending on the journal.

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Weekly Wisdom #90 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew
Posted by atarrant

RECOGNIZE THE DELAYS IN PUBLISHING. You face long, long delays. In this hint we estimate the delays in journal publica­tion. For books, the total time is usually much longer. Let’s assume you’ve written your first article and printed out a copy that is ready to send off to the top journal in the field. If you expect that this brilliant piece will appear in the next issue or, at the latest, the one after that, we have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn. Let’s assume that your paper is so good it is accepted without a request for even minor revisions. Even in this unusual case, the pace of publication is extremely slow.

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Weekly Wisdom #89 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew
Posted by atarrant

INCLUDE SINGLE-AUTHOR PAPERS IN YOUR PORTFOLIO. Review committees wonder about people who always publish with someone else. Did they do the work or did they ride the coauthor’s coattails? Were they the first author? If you must coauthor, pick people whose names follow yours alphabetically and then suggest that your name really belongs first. (Choosing the order by drawing lots, as was done for this book, is not recommended.) If you are unfortunate enough to be named Zyzygy, go to court and get it changed.

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Weekly Wisdom #88 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew
Posted by atarrant

THE LITERATURE SEARCH YOU PERFORMED FOR YOUR DISSERTATION IS A TREASURE TROVE of information. It should be the foundation of a survey article on the field. And the world desperately needs more survey articles. Unfortunately, although only a few journals (e.g., Computer Surveys) accept such articles, you receive little credit for them in tenure and promotion reviews. You will be rewarded more for adding one little new data point to the literature than for a brilliant synthesis of that literature (unless your name is Arnold J.Toynbee). You can, however, transform a literature review into a meta-analysis, which is a systematic, statistical aggregation of pre­viously published research findings. Such a paper carries more ca­chet with tenure committees, and the statistics are not difficult.

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