Browsing the archives for the Writing tag

Fuelling Your Writing Process by Gillie Bolton
Posted by Charlotte Frost

inspriational writingGillie Bolton author of Inspirational Writing for Academic Publication gives us some practical and motivational advice.

  1. Make a timetable and stick to it. Make firm diary commitments (even for sessions as short as 10 minutes) for writing time, and treat them as if they are UNCANCELLABLE meetings. Turn off email completely; switch phone and iPad right off.
  2. Start writing using the 6 minute dumpª. And CARRY STRAIGHT ON writing. Don’t do any of the other million and one things which take me away from writing. Use the time as if it were a train journey: I have to finish this section by the time the train pulls into Paddington Station (this is how I’ve written this blog post).
  3. If I get the wobbles, I send my Internal Saboteur back to hell, and invite in my Internal Brilliant Academic Writing Adviser to tell me, amongst other things: ‘You Can Do It!’
  4. Set myself up for my next session by leaving this writing part way through a section. Either I don’t rush to complete this one, so I can begin satisfactorily by doing so next time, or push myself to write at least notes beginning the next section. This way I never start with that terrifying thing to any writer: The Blank Sheet.
  5. Don’t allow myself to edit (Phase 3) too soon: focussing on grammar etc when I should be thinking of ideas or structure, is a killer.
  6. Instead of wasting time trying to work out a research or computer skill – I make an appointment with someone who can teach me (University Library; Apple do brilliant lessons in how to use the Mac; etc).
  7. When I am really STUCK, I:
  • Make a date with a trusted, confidential peer to discuss it with.
  • Try going somewhere else to write (cafe / park / bed / …).
  • Write a letter to the kindest wisest person I can possibly imagine, asking their advice on my writing. And write their reply myself. This is my Internal Brilliant Academic Writer, or my Internal Mentor. I often ask their advice: they are ALWAYS available.
  • Change my type of writing for a while. to 6 minute writing dumpª for example.

a. 6 Minute Dump:

I take pen and paper (seems better for emergencies than keyboard), and scribble for at least 6 minutes whatever is in my head, telling myself NO-ONE NEED EVER READ THIS. I might write anything: our minds do hop about when we let them. If I’m blocked, just the change of focus can unblock, or perhaps I can write about what the block is and explore what to do about it. Sometimes I frantically write about something completely different: clearing out whatever is on my mind (birthday present / a huge row with my partner / … .). Then I reread what I’ve just written and reflect on it in writing.

Now I am much better focussed for academic writing.

No Comments Posted in AcWriMo, Writing
Tagged , ,
So Ya Wanna Finish That Thesis/Dissertation/Article/Paper/Chapter? Pt II
Posted by Charlotte Frost
'Floating away — Peace Pig 260' by https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidonath/

‘Floating away — Peace Pig 260′ by https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidonath/

Keep things in perspective. So what if you didn’t achieve your goal today. Who cares if you spent valuable writing time on Facebook or went out on the night you’d promised yourself you’d write. These things happen. In fact, sometimes these things happen because we really need a break! If you ditch your writing for something else don’t beat yourself up about it, just see it for what it is: a bit of time out. Feeling guilty about not writing is a waste of your time and energy and it will only make it harder to write in the future. Guilt will gnaw away at your self-esteem and when you do actually get down to writing, you will be filled with thoughts of failure. Keeping a record (like our 2014 accountability spreadsheet) of your progress on a project can really help with guilt because it will keep things in perspective. It will also help you see patterns forming – if there are any. For example maybe there’s a reason why you regularly struggle to write at a certain time.

Say no to people in a way that shuts down negotiation. Many of us just can’t say no. For early-career academics it can be frightening to turn down an offer to contribute to something. We worry that we’ll get a bad reputation or that we’ll skip over something that might  be CV gold dust. We say yes through a fear of missing out, a really bad grasp of time management or worst of all, guilt. But if you want to finish that T/D/A/P/C you HAVE to say no and in a way that can’t become a yes, when you inevitably get a second begging email 2 days later. Don’t use language that allows for any wiggle room ‘I don’t think I can right now’ or ‘I’m really over-stretched’, phrases like that are just open doors to a good negotiator!  Don’t list the things you have on your plate right now because let’s face it, there’s no standard ‘to do list’ length. Sure you have 100 things to do, well big whoop because the person who asking for your help has 110! Quantifying like this is just a way of not saying no! And certainly don’t counter-offer with a reduced task because that reduced task is going to magically grow over night – and who’s to say that the person asking isn’t already giving you a reduced task in the hope of building on that. Just say NO! Keep it kind, quick and closed! For example ‘Thank you so much for thinking of me but unfortunately I am not able to contribute at this time.’ You know what, copy and paste that exact phrase right now and keep it somewhere handy because you’re going to need it!

Stow your inner critic. Many of us undo our good intentions by letting the critical voice inside take over. We write a sentence, we edit that sentence, we rewrite that sentence and so forth…Try it this way: write as much as you can of what you’d like to say. This will vary from person to person. Personally I like to get an entire draft done before I pick it apart. Other people find this difficult and do better writing a section or a set of paragraphs. Whatever you do, try and complete a substantial portion before you turn to your inner critic to evaluate things. In fact write it and leave it to marinade for a while if possible. Then return to it for a designated ‘editing’ session. Only now should you unleash all that critical power and get that text into better shape. Criticise too soon and you’ll get caught in loop.

Bring it! Being an academic isn’t easy but then, that’s kind of the point. We’re supposed to think really hard, I mean, that’s what we signed on for right? Sometimes this gets the better of us. We all  have moments of feeling over-stimulated, overwhelmed or over-stretched. And sometimes we need to seek refuge and and a bit of R ‘n’ R. The rest of the time however you gotta bring it! And what I mean by that is energy and a positive attitude. One way to do this is to try and start everyday with some positivity. Before your feet even touch the floor when you wake up in the morning, take a mental inventory of three things you’re grateful for. Any three things! You might choose people in your life or, if you’re like me, you might choose food! (I’m grateful for Hong Kong pineapple buns and milk tea nearly every day!) Notice how differently you feel when you start off like this, rather than from a state of stress. And notice how it impacts your writing if you sit down with the right attitude.

Get support. AcWriMo is all about building a support team. It’s all well and good having a great PhD supervisor or a lot of fantastic colleagues but they won’t always be there at 2.00am when you’re freaking out about citation styles. The beauty of AcWriMo is that you’ll virtually meet people from all over the world with a range different of experiences and many of those people will be online at 2.00am! Find people to connect with during AcWriMo and continue to nurture those relationships after the month is over. These are your people, treat them well! You might find them supporting and advising you on all manner of academic life. You might even find them inviting you to present your work at their own institution or letting you know about jobs that might suit you.

No Comments Posted in AcWriMo, Writing
Tagged , , ,
Getting to Know Your Writing Process by Gillie Bolton
Posted by Charlotte Frost

inspriational writingGillie Bolton author of Inspirational Writing for Academic Publication gives us some practical and motivational advice.

Dear Academic Writer

Getting going with writing is really hard. I’d find myself at the other end of the house doing something else. Or agonising that it’s impossible.

In order to make myself get on instead of doing other things (tackling every email possible in the fullest possible way), I made myself rules: instead of fiddling about or panicking, I HAD to work through my strategies.

Before this, I had to figure out the process of writing: break it down into workable stages for myself.

Imagining I’m writing publishable words all the time is frightening: they clearly aren’t good enough. If I can break it down into stages towards those fantastic definitive published words, I can allow myself to write much more. So here’s what I worked out:

What the Process of Academic Writing IS

Academic writing worked best for me when undertaken in 3 phases. Only after the last one can I see what my audience will read.

Phase 1: Write for myself. This is where I try to get down what I want to write about, what is significant about it, what really fires me: my ideas, theories. What’s wonderful about seeing it as just a phase, is that it doesn’t matter if my ideas are half-baked, or seemingly unsupported by data as yet.  I can write anything at all now, because it will ALL be redrafted, reworked, edited. What freedom!

Phase 2: Write for my readers. Now I ask: Who are you my reader? What, out of all I scribbled in Phase 1 do you want to hear? Why and How do you want to hear it: how can I explain and arrange it so you can grasp it? This is redrafting.

Phase 3: Write for my publisher. Now I check all the grammar etc. Now I rewrite my abstract so it’s clear, punchy, concise, to the point. Now I check all my references and so on. This is editing.

Some people work through these phases until they reach the end, and bingo there’s a publishable paper. Others, like me, get through Phase 2, or even 3, and realise there’s a great chunk missing and have to go right back to Phase 1 to work out what it is and then Phase 2 to address my reader appropriately. Or I find some needs much more than editing and I return to say it better for my readers. Or, my co-author Stephen Rowland found, for example, that he used the word ‘clearly’ when he wanted to persuade the reader it was clear, when he was very far from clear about it: he had to return to Phase 1 to rethink it.

Leaving out any of the phases, or rushing to Phase 2 or 3 too soon can make writing dull and lifeless, not communicating well. Academic writing is a conversation. Working out what we want to say, and then to whom we want to say it, why, and how – is vital.

Now I’ve given you my writing structure. In my next post I will tell you some of the self-advice which glued my bottom to the writing chair.

No Comments Posted in AcWriMo, Writing
Tagged , ,
So Ya Wanna Finish That Thesis/Dissertation/Article/Paper/Chapter? Pt I
Posted by Charlotte Frost
'Floating away — Peace Pig 260' by https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidonath/

‘Floating away — Peace Pig 260′ by https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidonath/

Organise your time. No matter how much of your time you’re able to dedicate to your thesis/dissertation/article/paper/chapter you won’t get it done if you don’t manage your time. In fact, it’s not about the time you have but the way that you use it. There are lots of ways you can do this. One is to use the Pomodoro Technique and divide your writing day into pomodori (25 minutes of writing 5 minutes of resting). Another is to notice which are your most effective writing hours. For example do you do best first thing in the morning or only after your third cup of coffee? Whenever is best for you, mark out that time for writing and fit in other tasks around it. And don’t over-do the amount of time you dedicate to writing – sometimes less is more if it stops you from feeling burnt out the next day.

Break. it. down. Of course your writing project is daunting if you continue to think of it as a T/D/A/P/C. Instead try to break it down into a set of components. I have started using the free Trello project management software to help me create a workflow of task cards and action columns. You can attach all manner of items to a card including Word and Google Docs, images, check-lists and due dates. You might like to have columns for research tasks such as reading, note taking, writing up, editing, and then pass a topic card (and attachments) through various stages.  Or maybe it makes more sense to you to divide up your project into chapter or section columns and sub-section cards. Perhaps you prefer to do this on a Whiteboard or using Post-Its? However you do it, the  important part is just to get yourself to see the project as a set of elements and then to see each element in terms of what you’re required to do for that part alone. Once you’re at that stage it is a thousand times easier to start, to keeping working away on each tiny task and, most importantly, to finish (and finish on time because now you’ve seen your work for what it really is – a set of tasks – you’re more capable of allocating the right amount of time to each task).

Set realistic goals. In November for AcWriMo we advocate pushing yourself harder than usual. For the most part this is because it is a diagnostic programme; we believe that if you put in twice the hours (words, projects etc.) you’ll find out what doesn’t work in half the time. Plus we build a support community to spur you on and who doesn’t want to finish their T/D/A/P/C that bit quicker? But in the main it’s important to set goals that you can meet so that you learn to manage your time efficiently and can keep up the momentum. If you repeatedly fail to meet your goals you’ll feel bad about yourself and your writing, you’ll likely have a very erratic writing schedule and, you won’t be able to see what other tasks can be completed while writing is going on (you might even start to feel like you’re failing at everything and that’s not good). Use AcWriMo to find out what is realistic for you in terms of hours or words you can write and stick to that the rest of the year.

Put ya thing down. It often feels like academic writing means like you have to make a strong and definitive statement on something. This is intensified when working on a PhD thesis because you have all sorts of feelings of guilt and self-loathing and have the desire to prove yourself and have something megatastic to show for all that work. But would we ever even open our mouths if we felt this kind of weight on our shoulders. The trick is to think of academic writing as a conversation. Gerald Graff demonstrated this idea in his classic They Say, I Say (even if I prefer the Missy Elliott version). Each time you sit down to write imagine yourself in dialogue with someone. What do you need to say to carry that conversational baton on to the next runner/writer?

Duh! Read something.. It sounds really obvious but you need to have read enough to even start writing in the first place. If you are struggling to write, it probably means you haven’t read enough yet so get back to the books (other information platforms are available) and read some more. Or re-read the texts you’re working with and attain a deeper level of understanding. Likewise, if you find yourself stuck at any point, pick up a book for inspiration. Either look at the content and refresh your thoughts by reconsidering what is being said, or look at the style and see if you can’t jump start you next paragraph by using the same approach. You might even go and read the newspaper, just read something to fill the gap where the ‘omg what the hell am I trying to say’ thoughts are and you’ll be on your writing way in no time.

No Comments Posted in AcWriMo, Writing
Tagged , , ,
Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #56 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Honor your ups and downs. Academic Writing Month offers a good opportunity for us to assess the flow of our work in research and writing. If there were no other responsibilities and distractions, it would be far easier to manage daily goals. But there are days when it is difficult to meet the demands of the everyday (deadlines, travel, one’s job, classes to teach or take…along with one’s personal life) and still accomplish writing goals. The crucial response is to honor those difficult days and press on.

As many know from setting new year’s resolutions, it’s easy to get frustrated by unmet goals and give up entirely. Research from the Journal of Clinical Psychology shows that only 8 percent of those who set resolutions at the new year successfully achieve their resolution. Don’t let that discourage you. Here’s the big reveal: “People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.” If you set specific AcWriMo goals, you are far closer to accomplishing them than you would be otherwise. If you didn’t set AcWriMo goals, there’s still almost half a month remaining…what would you like to achieve before December?

 

No Comments Posted in AcWriMo, Weekly Wisdom, Writing
Tagged , , , ,
5 More Ways to Start Writing by Charlotte Frost
Posted by Charlotte Frost
By the Next 28 Days: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thenext28days/

By the Next 28 Days: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thenext28days/

1. The template. The Thesis Whisperer, Inger Mewburn, and many other academic research and writing experts (including: Gerald Graff, Barbara Kamler and Pat Thomson, Karen Kelsky) suggest using a template to get yourself started. Here’s one Inger shared with us:

My paper’s main purpose is… (50 words)

Researchers who have looked at this subject are… (50 words)

Debate centres on the issue of … (25 words)

My contribution will be… (50 words)

If you’ve done a decent amount of research you should be able to meet this 175 word target in minutes. And the next step is just to expand on each point. So why not take one of the existing opinions you’ve read about and add roughly 200 words to section 2. And repeat.

2. The blog post. (ahem!) If getting stuck in on a piece of academic writing feels too daunting, there are two ways in which writing blog post can help you. Really, you just want to trick yourself into doing something other than looking at cat pictures so writing any old post for your blog can help here. Depending on the content of your blog, just put together the next installment (is it a conference report? is it about how to search for cat pictures? is it about how hard it is to start writing?). The key is to just get yourself writing anything and once you’re feeling productive you can hop over to the harder task of your thesis, book, chapter, article, conference paper…But another way this can help you is if you take the idea you are working on and try to make a 500-800 word blog post on it. This might align with the recent arguments for a buzz-feed-i-fication of academia (but it’s certainly not a dumbing down of your work). If you can take the pressure off by allowing yourself to write in a different style, for a slightly different audience, it can help you focus. Once you’ve hashed out the idea in web-speak, then copy that text into a new document and instead of having to start from scratch, you have to turn into an editor and convert and expand upon what you have.

3. The baby step. What’s the smallest possible thing you could do to write the next part of your work? Think about the paragraph you need to craft next or even just the sentence. Set yourself a time limit to do just that one small task (the good old Pomodoro Technique works well here) and promise yourself that’s all you have to do for now (and you’ll get a reward afterwards). Maybe you’ll watch a movie, take a bath, eat an entire jar of Nutella…the reward here is up to you. Now, sit down and complete your teeny-tiny writing task. Take that itty-bitty baby-step forwards and see if you don’t exceed your own self-imposed limit.

4. The note-taker. Oh no no no this isn’t academic writing, it’s just a bit of note taking actually! You may already use the Cornell Method of note taking, if so you’ll know this trick pretty well. Instead of sitting down to write, sit down to take some notes. If it helps, don’t even do it in a Word Doc, choose an application that allows you to jot down sections of notes instead (Scrivener, Trello, Gingko all work here). The idea is just that you disregard any thoughts of creating an argument and you simply gather notes on the ideas and concepts you’re dealing with. Believe it or not, this will form the bulk of the end product anyway and the ‘writing’ stage will become more of a ‘drafting/editing’ stage. In fact, if it helps, imagine there is no such thing as academic writing, just taking notes and organising them.

5. The insurance policy. Instead of waiting until you sit down with a cup of coffee on Monday morning to start or continue working on your latest writing project, have a writer’s block insurance policy. Towards the end of every writing session, make yourself a paragraph of detailed notes on what you need to do next. List the points you need to make and which texts you’ll use to help you make them. Be as detailed as you can. Next time you sit down to write, pull out your plan and set to work. Not only will this jog your memory come Monday morning, but you might even be able to use it as a template for writing by separating out each task and replacing it with the actual section of writing that performs that task.

No Comments Posted in AcWriMo, Writing
Tagged , ,
They’re called stretch goals for a reason! Using AcWriMo during the last stretch of dissertation writing by Melanie Boeckmann
Posted by Linda Levitt

wordsMelanie Boeckmann, M.A. works as Research Fellow at the University of Bremen and pursues a PhD in Public Health at the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology – BIPS in Germany. You can find her on twitter @m_boeckmann.

It’s only been 2.5 years but it feels much longer. This writing. This folder. This document. The final months of dissertation writing are a mixed bag of feelings. From wanting to quit, to crazy-making impatience, to doubting all merit of anything I have written, to ecstatic joy upon seeing my name in print and the pages piling up, this stretch of the process has its challenges. Regardless of the emotional turmoil that can accompany dissertation write-up season, now more than ever each word written matters. Cue AcWriMo 2014: right on time. This year “writing like there is no December” is particularly necessary to add to the final dissertation word count, to draft the next article manuscripts, and to develop teaching syllabi. So how do I plan to make the most of this academic writing month?

Keep my eyes on the prize

In early November, the thought of freewriting  all the words is still joyous. This is bound to change, most likely once other tasks creep up on me and the self-imposed deadlines prove all too flexible. To keep at it throughout November, I plan on repeating this mantra:

  • The more I write in November, the earlier I am done.
  • The more I write in November, the less I have to write in December.

And maybe most importantly:

  • The more I write in November, the greater a Holidays present I can buy myself. Even if that present comes in the form of a submission and defense date in mid-2015.

Join the virtual community – but only AFTER writing for the day

No dissertation writer is an island. The spreadsheet, twitter, facebook, blog posts or good old fashioned emails to fellow researchers all provide options to share motivation, success stories and support. They can also be the siren songs of online distraction. My goal is to check in online after I have done my 500 words for the day. That way I can also better support others struggling. Being able to say “You can do it. I just did!” is better than: “You can do it. I also will… soon-ish”.

Set stretch goals, and embrace failure

AcWriMo relies on crazy ambitious, wonderfully overestimated goals. I can write 200 words any month, this time around it has got to be 500. Or 1000. Or whichever goal scares you a little bit. This month aims at challenging you. And trust me: maybe I won’t write 1000 words a day. But if I have written 235, that is still progress. I bet at least a few times you will not only reach but exceed your stretch goals, and it will feel grand. After all, those are the moments AcWriMo participants live for.

 

No Comments Posted in AcWriMo, Writing
Tagged , , ,
5 Ways to Start Writing by Charlotte Frost
Posted by Charlotte Frost
By the Next 28 Days: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thenext28days/

By the Next 28 Days: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thenext28days/

  1. The relevant quote. Pick up a text that relates to what you’re writing. If you’ve already read this text and have perhaps highlighted useful sections, pick a quotation and write it into your blank document. If you haven’t read the text, do a scan of a few pages looking for the most relevant part and again copy a quotation into your document. Now below the quote, explain what the author is saying, but in your own words. Now take a position, do you agree or disagree, or do you think there are both strengths and weaknesses to this point? Whatever your stance explain it under the text you’ve just written. Now you can either delete the quote (and reference the idea), or move it down so that it directly illustrates your interpretation of the point you just made.
  2. The therapist. A while back I wrote about using 750Words as my writing therapist but you can actually use this approach with many a writing platform. The trick is to ask yourself a set of questions and answer them. Try starting something like this:

Me 1: Hi Charlotte, what do you think you should be writing today?

Me 2: Duh! My book!

Me 1: OK so which bit exactly?

Me 2: The last chapter, the one where I try to frame the different approaches to writing about art online.

Me 1: What is the ultimate point you are trying to make with this chapter?

Me 2: That there are ways of responding to art online that change what we think of as ‘art criticism’.

Me 1: Er, doesn’t that sound like a good starting sentence?

Now delete everything but that good starting sentence and carry on from there. If you get stuck, just ask yourself what’s going on again.

3. The route map. A little like ‘the therapist’, this technique is all about writing down your route before you set off. Think about what you need to do next in your writing project. What section do you need to write? What points do you need to make in that section? What point should come first? Write a few sentences to explain this all to yourself. For example: ‘next I need to explain how some art critics see no difference between writing for a newspaper or a blog. I should offer some examples – maybe three or four….’ Now you know where you need to go, you can assess how much time it will take to get there and set off on the first leg of the tour.

4. The thief. This is not where I condone plagiarism! But we can learn a whole lot from each other on how to do things. Choose a book or article that you like. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with what you are writing, it just has to be something that resonates with you. Look at the first few pages and analyse what the writer has done. For example, if you’re trying to write the start of something, ask yourself ‘how did they begin?’ Did they use a quotation or statistic? If you’re deeper inside a piece of written work, look at how they presented an idea. How many paragraphs did they use, how did they transition between paragraphs. Go back to what you’re working on and see if you can apply some of the same structure of logic.

5. The what’s worse than this. This trick is all about offsetting. Ever noticed how easy it is to fill out a dreaded grant application when your journal article is the worse task of the two? Well now you need to work that in reverse. What’s worse than writing whatever it is you need to write? How about grading students work? Cleaning the bathroom? Find something worse – you might even make a list of things you need to do an prominently include the worse tasks. Now  notice how much more energy you have knowing your not doing any of that!

1 Comment Posted in AcWriMo, Writing
Tagged , ,
Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #52 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Find friends for peer review. Good friends, colleagues, and collaborators don’t only help solve problems and figure things out, they also catch typographical errors. Finding a small network of those who do work similar to your own can be a tremendous benefit to preparing articles and manuscripts for submission. Having someone read through your work with a critical but kind eye can mean everything from noticing style points to recommending additional sources and helping smooth out complex arguments. When you return the favor, you are likely to learn more about your own writing style from reading someone else’s work in progress.

 

No Comments Posted in Weekly Wisdom, Writing
Tagged , , ,
Publishing online and outside of a discipline by Tony E. Adams
Posted by Linda Levitt

publications_imageTony Adams is Associate Professor and Chair of Communication, Media, and Theatre at Northeastern Illinois University. For more information about his work, visit www.TonyEAdams.com

I write this blog from the perspective of someone who has the privilege to publish in a variety of outlets—my institution does not rank or evaluate the best journals; citation counts do not matter; and we do not use external reviewers for retention, tenure, or promotion. As such, this blog may not be of much interest to academics working at research institutions or at institutions where specific journals matter. Here, I offer my experiences with the limited aspect of disciplinary publishing, the benefits of open-access publishing, and writing about research practices and methods.
*

On a job interview for a mid-size, public university, I asked the interviewers about tenure requirements.

“If you publish three articles in the nationally sanctioned journals, you should be okay for tenure,” one interviewer says.

“I don’t publish in our nationally sanctioned journals,” I reply. “Most of the time, they do not welcome qualitative research, especially research that uses ethnography and autoethnography.”

“You’d probably get tenure if you published six articles in the regionally sanctioned communication journals,” the interviewer continues.

“I don’t publish in those journals either,” I say. “These journals also do not welcome ethnographic and autoethnographic research.”

Our interview ended.

Of the 11 nationally sanctioned, disciplinary journals—those journals sponsored by the National Communication Association—only two are open to ethnography and autoethnography, my primary methods for research. If I want (or need) to get published, and if I want (or need) to be published in nationally sanctioned publications, then I immerse myself in a highly competitive publishing process. While I suppose not being accepted for publication in these journals may have some indication about the value of my work to/for the communication discipline, I also believe that many of the discipline’s journal editors are against particular methods before they would even review my submissions. By trying to publish ethnographic and autoethnographic scholarship in more traditional, social scientific outlets, I may exhaust myself in a pointless task.

*
In April 2014, I had a conversation with a colleague about the citation count of “Autoethnography: An Overview,” a 2011 article I co-authored with Carolyn Ellis and Arthur Bochner published in the open-access journal, Forum: Qualitative Social Research. My colleague could not believe that this article alreadyhad more than 200 citations (as of this writing [September 2014], it has more than 300 citations). Further, while I believe that any of my disciplinary journals would have rejected the article especially since these journals focus on content—the findings of research projects, and not necessarily on how to do (communication) research, the article already has more citations than many of the articles published in these journals in the last two decades.

I am most pleased with this citation count because I believe it is an easy indicator that people at least know of the article. And the reason I publish is not to expand my vita or because I am required, but rather because I want to offer  work that is (hopefully) of use to others. I also believe that the open-access journal helps with the citation count—unlike more traditional, disciplinary articles, the article is not locked behind a library database; anyone can access it free of charge.

Further, the article may be of interest to many because it talks about a research method rather than a disciplinary-specific topic; it could be helpful for anyone doing ethnographic and autoethnographic research, not only communication researchers.

*
I want my writing to be read. I feel as though I am wasting my time publishing work without any reason. I like to engage research and to provide other researchers with new conceptual material and support. At some institutions, the journals in which I publish might not be the most credible according to often-ambiguous and elitist standards, but I find it more important that my research is engaged by others.

I recognize that some people do not have the privilege or luxury to publish outside of disciplinary journals, and I recognize the privilege I have in working in and being tenured at an institution that does not require me to publish in so-called “prestigious” publication outlets. If you are privileged to be on a tenure-track position, and if you are at an institution where journals matter, maybe wait until tenure and promotion to publish or meet institutional, tenure requirements for publication and then, post-tenure, publish in other outlets. At the very least, I think we should all do our best to have different conversations about publishing—about recognizing possible limits of disciplinary journals, the benefits of open-access publishing, and the importance of research methodology and practice.

No Comments Posted in Pitching & Publishing, Writing
Tagged , , ,
Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #51 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Read before you write, part III. Whether you are seeking inspiration, guidance, writing prompts, or tips for productivity, there is a wealth of information available to get you started. PhD2Published.com and its archives can be a good starting place, as many guest bloggers here also blog elsewhere. Setting up an RSS reader or creating a list of bookmarks or favorites can give you quick and easy access to good sources.

No Comments Posted in Weekly Wisdom, Writing
Tagged , ,
Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #49 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Read before you write, Part I. One of my mentors once told his students to read the scholars whose work we most like, and read as much of their work as possible. Read widely and deeply. Read for both theory and style. Determine if your favorite scholars are those whose writing you would want to emulate. If so, figure out why. What are those authors doing well in their writing that draws you to it and draws you back again? At the same time that you are learning what you want to emulate in those writers, you’ll learn their foibles and not let them trip you up in the same way. Next week: a different spin on reading before you write.

No Comments Posted in Weekly Wisdom, Writing
Tagged , , ,
Writing a book proposal part II – the market section & avoiding dissertation style by Astrid Bracke
Posted by Linda Levitt

Astrid BrackeIn this series of posts, Astrid Bracke writes about the process of moving from disseration to book. She has a PhD in ecocriticism and contemporary British fiction and teaches English literature at the University of Amsterdam and HAN University of Applied Sciences.

In the previous two posts I wrote about making the decision to turn your dissertation into a book, and what to include in the book proposal. In this post, I’ll continue by discussing the market section of the proposal and the importance of making your book look – and sound – less like a rewritten dissertation.

While the market section may seem a particularly difficult section to write, you’ve established yourself as an expert in the field through your dissertation, so you most probably already know what’s out there in terms of other works. For the publisher, this is a vital aspect: they need to know that the book will sell, otherwise they’re unlikely to take it on. This section is not just about proving how unique your book is: just writing “no one has ever done this before” is not enough. In fact, you’ll have to explicitly refer to other books that are somehow similar to yours, or that present an argument that you’ll continue, in order to show that their readers will also be likely to read your book.

Rachel Toor’s very useful article on the market section really helped me to think this through more: she recommends starting to think about the author questionnaire, which asks specific questions related to marketing your book, early. While writing the market section of your proposal, it is also useful to think about the conferences that where your book might be put on display, and the professional organizations that you belong to of which others members might be interested as well.

In the previous post I wrote that the piece of advice I got most frequently when I asked people about their experiences of turning their dissertation into a book, is that you should only do it if you can find the time, but especially the motivation and energy to do so. Another piece of advice that I heard again and again is the importance of making your monograph – even if it’s based on your dissertation – look less than a dissertation. Although it may seem that this is a matter that can wait until you start writing the book, it is actually an issue that you need to think about when you’re writing your book proposal. Some publishers explicitly ask whether the monograph is based on your dissertation, but even if they don’t explicitly do so, you’ll have to demonstrate in your proposal that the monograph is an actual book, not a dissertation.

So what is the difference between a dissertation and a book? One of the biggest differences is its purpose: the purpose of your dissertation is to prove that you are worthy of belonging to the academic community. The – published! – monograph, on the other hand, implies your membership of the academic community, so you don’t need to explicitly show it. Instead, the monograph will have to be both intellectually thorough, and broad enough to appeal to an audience large enough to merit the publisher taking it on.

William Germano, in From Dissertation to Book, also provides an interesting discussion of the dissertation versus the book. He suggests that in addition to differences in purpose and audience, a dissertation “rehearses scholarship in the field,” while the book “has absorbed scholarship in the field, and builds on it” (157). For instance, many dissertations include lengthy literature reviews or initial chapters that set out precisely what kind of work has gone before. While these demonstrate your so-called “cabinet making skills” as a PhD student, they are less relevant to readers of monographs, and often need to go. The audience for your book is interested in your argument, and far less in seeing that you know everything that has gone before in your field.

Other signs of “dissertation style” that Germano warns against are an overdependence on citation and reference, and repetitious statements of intent (“In this section I will demonstrate that…”, “Following the preceding discussion of X, I will now move on to analyze Y…”). These are all things to avoid when writing your book, and require you to take considerable critical distance from your dissertation before turning it into a monograph. Rewriting the dissertation, then, may very well turn out to be more about extensive cutting and revising, than about giving it a mere polish.

While you’re determining the focus of your book you’ll also have to decide on a publisher to submit your proposal to, which I’ll discuss in my next post.

No Comments Posted in Pitching & Publishing, Writing
Tagged , , , ,
Writing a book proposal part I – structure & significance by Astrid Bracke
Posted by Linda Levitt

Astrid BrackeIn this series of posts, Astrid Bracke writes about the process of moving from disseration to book. She has a PhD in ecocriticism and contemporary British fiction and teaches English literature at the University of Amsterdam and HAN University of Applied Sciences.

While every publisher has their own book proposal guidelines – available on their website – these tend to cover the same elements, such as the title, short summary, a longer chapter-by-chapter outline and a section on the significance of your book. Some publishers ask you to fill in a form that covers all of these elements, and others simply require you to submit a document that incorporates all the required elements in a running text.

An obvious but nonetheless worthwhile piece of advice is that if a publisher suggests a certain structure, follow it. While you may feel that deviating from the requested structure reflects originality and individuality, the editors and reviewers that will evaluate your proposal are used to a certain structure. Choosing a different structure will more likely confuse or even irritate the editors and reviewers – who usually have little time – rather than make your proposal stand out positively.

When I started working on my book proposal, I found it nonetheless hard to determine what my book proposal should look like. Asking a friend who works more or less in the same field as I do whether I could look at her – successful – proposal helped me a lot. Another valuable resource is Palgrave Macmillan’s Open Peer Review Trial. Although primarily meant to encourage open peer review of submitted book proposals, its archive gives examples of book proposals and the feedback they received.

Eventually I decided to write a proposal as a running text that includes the elements that most publishers require. This allowed me to really conceive of my proposal as a whole, rather than a series of fields to be filled in as part of a form. Once I’d written the proposal – and had asked feedback from trusted colleagues – I could tweak and adjust the proposal to the specific forms or guidelines provided by individual publishers.

I structured my proposal as follows:

  • A longer section describing the book’s main argument, the gap(s) it will be filling and the texts and theories I’ll be concerned with. This section ends with a paragraph that sums up the specific contributions the book will make (total length about 6 paragraphs);

  • Table of contents with titles of chapters and word count. Includes notes and bibliography;

  • Chapter outline (about 500-650 words per chapter);

  • Market;

  • About the author;

  • Timeline for completion.

A number of these elements are particularly important, and worth thinking about some more.

First, you’ll need to demonstrate the significance of your book. Why should others read it? What does it contribute, and to which fields? This may require you to broaden the scope of your dissertation somewhat. The challenge is to turn your dissertation from something that is interesting primarily to your supervisor and committee members into a book that will gain the interest of a larger group of scholars.

For instance, my dissertation was aimed explicitly at expanding ecocriticism through readings of contemporary British novels. While this may be of interest as well to some scholars working outside of ecocriticism, my primary audience consisted of ecocritics, and I explicitly engaged with and responded to existing work in the field. In order to appeal to a wider audience – and hence make the book more interesting to publishers – my monograph is less explicitly concerned with ecocritical theory and practice. Instead, I’ve shifted my focus to the second element of my dissertation: an analysis of representations of nature in contemporary fiction. Since my own interest as well as work in the field is moving towards post-millennial British novels, I’ve adjusted my corpus from novels published between 1975 and 2011 – as was in the case of my dissertation – to British novels published since 2000. Consequently, the audience for my monograph increases, as I aim to appeal to several scholarly communities equally: ecocritics as well as those working on contemporary fiction, especially post-millennial British fiction.

In the next post I’ll discuss another key element of the book proposal – the market section – and one of the most frequently heard pieces of advice for recent PhDs: making your book sounds less like the dissertation you based it on.

No Comments Posted in Pitching & Publishing, Writing
Tagged , ,
Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #47 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Top Tip: Meet deadlines. Once I was working on a submission in response to a call for chapters for a book. I did not make time adequately and got behind on my writing schedule. I had to finish the last section and conclusion when the deadline came. I wrote to the editor and asked for a few more days. He replied that no one had met the deadline, and he did not want to work with a group of authors who clearly didn’t have a vested interest in the project. The book was abandoned.

Editors are certainly pleased by responsive authors, and your ability to meet a deadline makes the process move not only more efficiently but also on time. You can only enhance your reputation and network by completing your work on time.

No Comments Posted in Pitching & Publishing, Weekly Wisdom, Writing
Tagged , , , , ,