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The 25 Minute Text by Charlotte Frost
By holyponiesbatman via Flickr
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.

Techniques for Different Writing Stages by Charlotte Frost
By scott_williams via Flickr
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.

 

Forming Good Writing Habits by Charlotte Frost
By koalazymonkey via flickr
4212237542_8bfeba6ac1_z

By koalazymonkey via Flickr

 Here are Charlotte Frost’s top 10 tips on how to form good writing habits.

1. Have a schedule

If you try and tag writing on at the end of the day when all tasks are done, there’ll never be any writing time. It just won’t happen. So make sure it’s part of your schedule every day.Try and carve out a block of writing time every single day. Plan for it ahead of time by blocking it out in your diary/calendar. Even setting aside 25 minutes of uninterrupted writing time can make a huge difference if you focus for that time. And to be honest, starting small is often best. Add small chunks of writing time to your schedule and build up once you get in the habit.

2. Make a habit of it

OK, so you’ve learned to plan the time and sit down and work. Now you just keep doing that over the next few weeks. These don’t have to be long torturous sessions, it’s best to keep them brief and productive. But keep them going. You’ll peak and trough during that time of course. There’ll be some days when the time flies by and you finish with extreme satisfaction at having written well. Other times even though you’ve only got 25 minutes to write something, it’ll seem like forever. You’ll have trouble formulating ideas and words won’t flow. Well guess what?

A) That was still productive time because even if the words aren’t there, the thinking has been done and

B) you stuck to a routine. And that’s the really important part!!!

If you carried on regardless of the difficulties, it means it’ll be all the easier to sit down tomorrow and get more work done. Try to keep this daily writing routine no matter what else is going on. So, even if you’re traveling, consider setting aside just a small amount of time to do some writing, even if you’re just pecking letters into the notes app on your smartphone. Writing sessions are like rabbits – they breed like crazy. If you put two together, you’ll get a third and fourth and before you know it, there’ll be a whole line of cute furry writing sessions behind you and, look what’s in front of you, a finished piece of work – and that’s even cuter!

3. Plan

Never sit down to write without knowing ahead of time what you’re sitting down to write! Many people believe that writer’s block and or procrastination come from an empty or muddled mind. Even if you’ve set aside some writing time, shut down all distractions, and approached your desk rested and coffeed up, you might still stare at a blank screen for the next 5 hours if you don’t know what it is you’re supposed to be writing. Firstly you can help this by making sure you’re well prepared. It can help to schedule reading time in advance of writing time. Some people find that they write best in the morning and read well in the afternoon. If this is the case, when you have your afternoon reading session, end it by making a brief plan of what you’ll write up the next day. But whatever happens, make sure you keep an up-to-date plan of what needs writing next. If you’re working on a literature review, list the books and amount of writing time you’ll allocate to each and tick them off. If you’re working on another section, divide it up and again allocate portions of time for each.

4. Have a back up plan

Sometimes with the best will in the world you can’t quite wrap your head round your work. Even the worst writing session can pay off if it means you’ve somehow (even without quite realising it) thought something through. You might not have many words on a page to show for it but they’ll fall out of your fingers next time you write. However, if you really think you’re being unproductive or you think it’ll break your writing spirit to sit another minute without having achieved something tangible, go to your back-up list of tasks. This is a list you’ll make of things that always need doing. This might mean doing some research, editing a section, checking footnotes…Have this back up list so you never lose momentum. Although you should only use it when you really need to feel productive, otherwise this will become your procrastination weapon of choice.

5. Limit desk time

As the mighty ‘Thesis Whisperer’ Inger Mewburn says, the less time you have at your desk the more productive you’ll be when you are there.  Don’t do all your socialising and online shopping at your desk and then try to work from it too, all you’ll feel is that you’ve been at your desk for hours. Try to use another tool or location for your online life (a tablet, a smartphone) and keep your desk as ‘pure’ as possible. If you have to use the one machine/location for all, absolutely don’t do it in the same sitting. Make sitting down to work a ‘fresh’ thing to do.

6. Limit hours

Even if you can write all day, you can’t be productive all day, so think about how much of that time has been wasted on words you won’t use. Limit the amount of time you work to manageable chunks. Again, it’s the Thesis Whisper who reminds us to be mindful of the 2 hr rule – that you only have about 2 productive working hours in you per day. She urges you to get them out straight away. So sit down to write, and write more or less for 2 hours. That said, it’s also a good idea to keep to brief time slots and refresh yourself in between.

One of the best methods for this is the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity method that applies to almost any task. You take a timer (the technique is named after the iconic tomato-shaped kitchen timers), set it for 20 minutes and go full throttle. Stop for five to visit the toilet and get refreshments. This 25 minute slot is called a ‘pomodoro’. If you try to divide your working hours into these tomato-timed units you’ll stay refreshed and productive throughout. And now here’s the thing. When you’re done for the day, you’re done. Walk away. Even if – actually especially if – you’ve reached a thorny subject. Leave it! Even if – actually, especially if – you’ve hit your stride. Make notes for the next day and, leave it! Don’t over do it or burn out because it’ll take its toll in another writing session and erode the habit you’re building.

Apps for timing and counting your progress include:

Focusbooster: http://www.focusboosterapp.com/

Tomato timer: http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/timer/

PhDometer: http://www.phd2published.com/the-phdometer/

7. Limit words

Maybe writing in time slots doesn’t work for you. Perhaps the timer goes off just as you get going. Try instead to set word-count-based targets for yourself. But be kind! Some people can dash off a thousand words in an hour and will go back and edit it later. Other people plan each word on the page and might take an hour to hit 50 words. First, notice which way your write. Then test yourself over a week or so. Record how many words you’ve written at the end of each day, average it and there’s your word count for each day of the next week. Record your results and decide if you need to drop your target word-count to make it easier to achieve or if you can put it up a bit to stretch yourself. Just don’t push too far. Try to stay within the realms of the realistic or you’ll break your writing spirit.

8. Just do it!

If you schedule writing time and sit down ready to write (even if you been doing urgent work email for the last hour, get up, get a quick break and signal your good intentions by sitting down refreshed for this important new task) you must now write. This sounds so easy in theory and it’s so much harder in reality, but block out those nagging thoughts of failure and don’t you dare touch that browser address bar. Remind yourself you’ve only got to get 25 minutes of work done and just do it. Get up, get a coffee. Sit down and do it again. If you force yourself to stick to this simple act of just starting (and remember, starting anywhere is fine) you’ll soon find you can get work done and – crazy as it may sound – repeatedly get work done without much stress.

9. Write anything

Writing regularly is the key. It almost doesn’t matter what you’re writing because regular writing will improve your communication skills in all areas of your work and ward off that dreaded writer’s block. And let’s face it, there’s always writing to be done in academia, whether it’s your thesis, or a paper, or a blog post, a lesson plan or conference abstract. If tackling your thesis is too much to begin with, use your allotted writing time/space to work on anything that needs to be written. Every bit of writing we do helps hone our craft. But as soon as you start to nail your writing habit, phase in some project writing. Perhaps alternate to start with going backwards and forwards between two pieces of work.

10 . Remember that routine?

The single most important slayer of procrastination is having a routine and sticking to it. OK so we’ve all sat down to work, let our minds wander and ended up 2hrs/40 cat videos later feeling like we’re worthless academic failures. Maybe that’s going to happen now again. But if you set aside productive time, and keep it that way, the cat video might never come to call. Keeping to set times and not focusing on one task for too long helps you to make sure you are productive (and then who cares what you do with the rest of your time. Although, ever noticed how a successful writing session kills any desire to search for cat videos?) In fact, have you ever noticed how being productive in one area propels you forwards into being productive in another area. You might find a great writing sessions ends with a bunch of errands run in record time and an evening or a weekend doing something truly fulling.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #2 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Looking askew and anew at the writing process for tweaks and inspiration.

Let the committee in your head cheer you on. Whether it’s your thesis committee, journal editors, or collaborators, we can let ourselves be intimidated by the people who will judge our work. Imagine instead that they are there to support you, because indeed they are.

Want more tips from Linda? Find it here!

Sending a journal article for peer review – what not to send, by Anna Tarrant
Running the peer review gauntlet (from GenomicEnterprise.com)

Running the peer review gauntlet (from GenomicEnterprise.com)

I have learnt a lot about academic publishing in the past year, particularly about publishing journal articles. This is partly because I have been writing up my PhD thesis into journal articles and in part because of my work for PhD2Published as Managing Editor. In todays post I share some of my recent experiences of peer reviewing to provide advice about what not to send to reviewers.

In the past four months I have gained experience of peer reviewing journal articles. I have reviewed 3 in total; two I was asked to do by a known colleague and mentor who also happens to be a journal editor, and one came out of the blue but related well to my research interests (suggesting I am getting known for my research interests –yay!). I have found peer reviewing a really interesting and fruitful experience. Seeing less than perfect academic writing has been a real eye-opener and has given me a new, more confident perspective on my own writing.

Today’s post is based on my experience of peer reviewing one of these journal articles. Of the three I have reviewed, I have awarded two ‘major revisions’ and one I actually rejected. I found it very difficult to reject the article because as an early career researcher sending out my own work for review, I know how nerve-wracking it can be to put your writing out there. I also thought that the paper had real potential but unfortunately the more I read, the more disappointing it became. I was very careful to give constructive feedback and to fully explain my decision so as not to discourage the author or to offend them. As it turned out, it appeared my decision was justified. The other two reviewers also rejected the paper (which shows I know what I’m doing. Double yay! ;)).

If I’m being honest, I was quite surprised that the paper was sent for review in the state it is was in. Perhaps the looming REF meant it was sent under pressure, or perhaps the author just wanted some feedback at an earlier stage? Perhaps there is a genuine issue in academia that not all of us know how to write a strong first draft of a journal article, an issue that PhD2Published at least has tried to remedy (e.g. Inger Mewburn’s series on Writing Journal Articles). Either way, there were some significant problems identified by all three reviewers. And having gained this insight, I wanted to write this post to share some of these significant issues (without revealing the author of course) so that others who are new to publishing journal articles or asking for early feedback know what to avoid. While some of these examples may seem far-fetched, they are based on my experience. There are other things to be aware of, of course, but for me, these are key and are what I look out for when reviewing.

So here are my tips about what not to send if you want to be accepted:

  1. If your paper is based on empirical findings don’t send a paper that doesn’t explain what methods were conducted, who the sample was or how the data was analysed. The readers need to know that your findings and conclusions are based on a well-designed research project.
  2. Don’t make grand claims that cannot be substantiated with evidence from data or literature. Your points and claims need to be believable and convince the readers that your arguments are well-grounded throughout.
  3. Don’t write a conclusion that does not explicitly state the take-away point from your article. Likewise don’t send a paper that does not explicitly state its aim and purpose in the introduction. Tell the reader what you are going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you told them.
  4. Avoid making assumptions about the prior knowledge of the readers, particularly if you discuss an event or situation that is only well known in your own context. Make use of foot or endnotes for explaining things that aren’t pertinent to the text but need explanation.
  5. Avoid over-using jargon and complex academic language that you haven’t explained or referenced, especially if this affects the clarity of the paper.

And here’s a bonus tip from a review of one of my own papers:

Don’t send a paper that hasn’t been edited thoroughly before submission. Irritating grammar errors annoy reviewers and may detract from the quality of your paper.

How to be a Hackademic #1 by Charlotte Frost & Jesse Stommel
Image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/fiddleoak/ under this licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en_GB

[Photo by Flickr user fiddle oak]http://www.flickr.com/photos/fiddleoak/6908080437/

Hybrid Pedagogy’s Jesse Stommel and our very own Charlotte Frost rethink academic life and writing productivity in this on-going series of hints, tips and hacks. 

WRITE. Establishing a writing lifestyle is perhaps the most important step you can take in securing your successful academic career. If you devise a routine right from the start, it’ll seem like second nature. There are all sorts of ways of doing this, but suffice to say you must build writing into your working week. In fact, preferably, you should make writing a part of your daily routine. Once you’ve gotten into the swing of things, writing will no longer seem like a chore, your productivity will increase, and you’ll excel in your field. And it really can be as simple as just pulling up a chair and writing. In fact, we’re guessing there’s a writing project you should be doing right now, so our first tip is to stop reading this and write at least 250 words on any project you have underway. And, yes, we do mean right now! Want more tips on Hackademic? Click here!

#acwri Live chat Open Topic: 16.08.12

Our latest #acwri live chat on Twitter was open topic so we didn’t have any pre-set topic choices. Both me and Jeremy chaired this chat. With our now well established community this resulted in a heady mix of discussion focusing on a variety of academic writing related topics. These have been summarised as always on Storify by Jeremy and you can read it below. The aim is too provide some really helpful tips, to encourage thinking about academic writing and kick start thinking about the one of the key foundations of academic life/work; writing.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

 

Book and Other Reviews by Raphael Susewind
Image c/o Eric Lanke

 

Image c/o Eric Lanke

is a political anthropologist at the Universities of Bielefeld and Oxford. He works on Muslim belonging, the ambivalence of the sacred and diplomatic culture in India – and blogs and tweets about these issues and academic life in general. Today’s post also gave him a good excuse to further delay his seventh book review

In her last post, Laura Pasquini suggested that publishing book reviews provides not only writing practice, but also improves one’s reading skills and habits. Today, I want to highlight one more synergy: book reviews prepare you for grading student papers (and probably also for other kinds of reviews) and vice versa. I learned this lesson when I recently had to write a stack of concise narrative evaluations of undergraduate disserations; the next book review flowed from my pen (well, keyboard) like a charm. Pleased about this, I discovered three similarities:

  • Firstly, as Laura emphasized, book reviews require analytical reading – and they are best if you are able to concentrate on one key point only (which should be the key argument, if present). The same holds for grading student papers: for speedy marking alone, you need to read analytically rather than sequentially – and students generally prefer one major and substantive suggestion for improvement over a heap of nitty-gritty details of what else could have been better, too. Though admittedly finding the key point in student papers can be harder than in a good monograph…
  • Secondly, and again going back to Laura, book reviewers should evaluate. There are good books, and there are not so good ones – your readers want to know your reasoned opinion. Likewise, lecturers have to decide in the end which mark to assign. If all book reviews and marking sheets screamed excellence, the whole point of the exercise were lost. Because they are rare, review editors in fact love differentiated evaluations (almost as much as submission on time); one even called me up to congratulate me for my balanced, but in the end negative review. My judgement balance now stands at two excellent, two good, one “ok” and one terrible book – which about reflects the state of publishing in my field.
  • Finally, book reviews and narrative evaluations of student papers (as well as other kinds of reviews) share the same basic structure: one introductory sentence, a weighted summary highlighing one particularly mentionable section or chapter, an evaluation of the key argument, a comment on style and presentation (only if particularly commendable or really dismal, in my opinion), and a final mark/recommendation. Practicing this structure in book reviews will make your grading more effective; and evaluating student work can improve your review style.

Importantly, the two formats have differences as well however. Above all, they are written with different audiences in mind: other readers in the case of book reviews, but authors in the case of student papers (or other kinds of reviews). This difference needs to show:

  • In book reviews, your suggestions on how to improve should preferably target the field at large, not the specific work under review. The book has been published and cannot be changed anymore: it is as good as it is. If it isn’t good, it is sufficient to point out why; you need not make the author suffer by demonstrating that you could do better within your 800 word review. But more can always be done by others, and lessons can be learned by the whole discipline. Focus on these. In contrast to books, however, student papers can be resubmitted – and it is only the student him- or herself who hopefully learns a lesson. This should render different kinds of suggestions.
  • And book reviews are of course public, so being nasty or sloppy is not an option (and will most likely backfire, too). Oh wait – shouldn’t “being nice and careful” be an integral part of teaching, grading (and journal refereeing) as well, precedent notwithstanding? How could I forget…

Finally, there is a last similarity between book reviews and teaching: neither count for much on the academic career ladder. Which is another good reason to be rather efficient about them (and efficiency stems from practice, and from synergies such as the one pointed out above). But going back to Laura’s earlier post, both teaching and reading (and by extension book reviews) are also seedbeds for ideas: they may not count directly, but practicing them will ultimately help you achieve what counts.

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

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.

A Book Review is #AcWri Too! by Laura Pasquini
Image c/o Eric Lanke
Image c/o Eric Lanke

For graduate students and junior faculty, book reviews can be a way to dip your toes in the publishing realm of academic journals. Although peer-reviewed articles are the pinnacle for publishing and tenure, I do not think academic book reviews should be scoffed at. A book review is a great way to engage, comment, and contribute on a colleague’s work in the field. More importantly, a refereed journal publication review can be a fun piece to hone your writing, develop your analytical reading skills, and provide interesting insights for your fellow researchers to read.

The process of writing a book review encourages academic researchers to engage in the literature. Often, the practices of summarizing chapters and restating ideas provides the book reviewer how to read a book to understand the author’s key points. A great book review will weave the text into the current academic subject.

Here are some general guidelines for book reviews I have seen in academic journals and suggested practices from those who are writing #acwri book reviews:

  • Read – Check out book reviews in journals that you might be interested in publishing in 1st. See what books are being selected for review & check out the format/style.
  • Good Publications to Review – Find a book that highlights issues or resources relevant to the field and/or subject of the academic journal you are submitting to
  • Describe & evaluate – focus on the book’s purpose, contents, format,  and authority
  • Not Just a Summary – Positions and opinions should be supported with a logical argument and review the pertinent literature. Highlight strengths and weaknesses of the publication, and why this book is interesting and/or useful.
  • Be constructive with your criticism. Remember to be kind and respectful to the author(s). A great deal of effort on the author, editorial board, blind review, etc. has been put into this text. Choose to be constructive with your criticism.
  • Provide your thoughts on the book – use quotes sparingly. Readers will be interested in what YOU have to say.
  • Share key ideas. What is the main idea of the work? What does this publication contribute to the field?
  • Review Your Review – try to read from the vantage point of your audience. Is there too much/enough summary? Does your argument or key thoughts about the text make sense?

Typically academic journals will accept book reviews for publications that have been released within the year that highlights issues or resources relevant to that journal topic, genre, or field. If you are lucky, some journals might even purchase the book for you to review. It would be important to select a text that would offer solutions or directions to the field, and it would be helpful to verify with the editor if the publication would be appropriate to review.  Sometimes, journals will give preference in the review process to book review essays that comment on two or more related books

In thinking about the book review requirements for the Learning and Performance Quarterly journal, I took a gander at a number of scholarly sources that published book reviews. Here are some of the common technical requirements* for academic book reviews:

  • Reviews of publications within the recent year, i.e. 2011 or later would be acceptable now
  • Include the title, author(s), year, publisher, publisher location, ISBN, cost, book format, and page numbers of the book(s) under review.
  • Keep it simple. Typically book reviews are between 600 to 2000 words (unless you are reviewing a period or series of books).
  • An abstract of 150 words or less might be required to accompany the book review.
  • Draft a short biography and/or contact information to be included at the end of your book review.
  • *Follow ANY and ALL other book review requirements for your specific journal of choice.

Happy #acwri reading & reviewing!

Laura Pasquini is a doctoral student in the Department of Learning Technologies at the University of North Texas, and editor for the Learning and Performance Quarterly journal. She can be found tweeting as @laurapasquini and blogging here.

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

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

Tools for Academic Writing #acwri

The latest #acwri live chat was held on Thursday 7th June 2012 at 6pm on Twitter, chaired by PhD2Published. This week the community voted for the topic ‘Tools for academic writing’. The chat was well attended and lively and has created a great resource for all academic writers (and indeed writers!). Included are some fantastic links to different websites and software that can be used to boost writing processes and productivity including Scrivener, Mendeley and 750 words.com. Dr Jeremy Segrott has now Storified the chat (below).