Browsing the archives for the Writing tag

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Should you turn your dissertation into a book? by Astrid Bracke
Posted by Linda Levitt

Astrid BrackeThis is the first in a series of posts from Astrid Bracke regarding the process of moving from disseration to book. Astrid Bracke has a PhD in ecocriticism and contemporary British fiction and teaches English literature at the University of Amsterdam and HAN University of Applied Sciences.

Over the past months I’ve been working on a book proposal for a monograph based on my dissertation. In this and the next three posts I’ll be sharing my experiences and advice on getting from finishing your dissertation to submitting a book proposal, and going on – hopefully – to publish a book. In this first post, I’ll be talking about making the decision to turn your dissertation into a book, and everything that comes with it.

It’s easy to follow the advice of only those in your Department, such as your supervisor and immediate colleagues. This may not be the best advice, though, no matter how well meant. For instance, in the Department where I did my PhD, most of my colleagues focused largely on articles – and barely on monographs. Hence, the advice to recent PhDs was to turn their dissertation into a series of articles, rather than seek to publish it as a monograph. Indeed, as I learned later, the monograph – while seen as the Holy Grail in many academic fields – is of considerably less importance in others.

Either way, it’s important to seek advice outside of your immediate academic environment, by asking external advisors or committee members, people at conferences or even following discussions on Twitter and using websites such as PhD2Published or The Research Whisperer. It can also help to look at job adverts when making this decision: they don’t always specifically list The Book as a requirement, but often do add a published monograph to their list of desired qualities.

That should be one of the first questions you ask yourself: how much do I need The Book for my career, or does a series of articles carry equal or greater weight in my field? Of course, in literary studies, the monograph is generally seen as very important, which made working on and submitting a book proposal important if I wanted to get a job outside of my own Department. At the same time, the dissertation doesn’t have to be your first monograph – although it will probably take longer to publish a book based on a wholly new project, than one based on your PhD project.

I deliberately gave myself a year from my PhD defense to decide whether or not I wanted to turn my dissertation into a book. During that year I didn’t look at my dissertation at all. Instead, I talked to people – mostly outside of my own Department –about their experiences and advice. The number one advice I got is that you should only turn your dissertation into a book if you can find the motivation to do so. If you cannot be enthusiastic about it, don’t take it on. Similarly, if you realize that large parts of your dissertation are already outdated, or make it unfeasible as a book for other reasons, you’re better off turning the best parts into articles – if you hadn’t done so already – and move on to a new project.

One of the biggest reasons why I eventually decided to turn my dissertation into a book is that I felt that otherwise the work I did in the four years it took me to write the dissertation would go to waste. I still believed in my dissertation as a whole, yet also realized that although I wanted to use the material, I also wanted to rework it. Consequently, the book proposal that I’ve now written describes a book that is more a spin-off from my dissertation than actually based on it.

In the following three posts I’ll discuss the next steps: writing a book proposal and deciding on a publisher.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #46 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Consider your audience. An often-repeated reminder: your dissertation or thesis cannot be repackaged as your first book without significant revision. Many students find themselves in a position where they are writing primarily for their director and committee, each of whom plays a critical role in the student’s success. If your committee does not see your project making a meaningful contribution to the field, you may get sucked into a spiral of revision that keeps you from completion.

Once you have succeeded and graduated, your audience changes. Do you have a publisher in mind? A press that you would most like to put out that first book for you? Take a close look at what that press publishes. Will your manuscript be a good fit? Is there a particular editor to whom you would submit the manuscript? What books are in that editor’s repertoire? The degree to which you would write toward a particular audience/market changes from one discipline to another, but it can be helpful to bear in mind that an editor will need to know your book is marketable before offering you a contract.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #45 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Find friends from other disciplines. Switching from one discipline to another or doing interdisciplinary research can be a challenge, especially as methods change from one discipline to another.  Yet working with a colleague or friends from another discipline can bring a fresh perspective to your research. Some patience may be required to find a common lexicon, but it is likely that there is more common ground that we might expect from one discipline to another. Should a project idea develop that you can work on together, each of you can be first author for the work in your own discipline. More collaboration, less competition.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #38 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)For the next several posts, Weekly Wisdom will be looking at the physiological state of the writer—both literally and metaphorically. The contradictions are deliberate: some days you need to stay hungry, and other days you need to be well fed.

Be sure you are well fed. A brief metaphorical journey: Research and writing is a multicourse banquet. Aperitif, appetizers, soup, a first course and so on through dessert, with possibly a coffee or cigar to conclude. It is a long and arduous process, but one that should provide as much satisfaction as possible at each step. Some courses take longer to prepare than others, especially if it’s your first time with a particular recipe. A new method, a different theoretical approach, or a new dataset can be daunting, so make sure you have prepared yourself well before coming to the table. Sometimes the banquet gets reduced to a quick bite at the side of the road, when for one reason or another we need to hurry through some part of the process. Don’t be in too big of rush, though. Savor the process.

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

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

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

Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Crossing Disciplines – From Fashion Undergrad to Geography PhD by Emma Waight
Posted by Linda Levitt

Bronze_bowl_pink_flowersEmma Waight (@EmsWaight) is a third year PhD student in Human Geography at the University of Southampton. She blogs at emmawaight.co.uk.

If there’s one thing I do a lot of, it’s write. Everything from my diary (which only I read), to my PhD thesis (which if I’m lucky three people will read) to my blog (which is open to all). I’ve always rather enjoyed writing; a helpful quality in a social scientist.

I haven’t always wanted to be a social scientist though. Growing up, I was dedicated to a career in fashion and planned my subject choices and work experience around being a fashion journalist. In my sixth form leaver’s book my English teacher wrote that he looked forward to seeing me as a future editor of Vogue. Now my main ambition is to publish a social theory text on consumption or material culture. Sometimes people find it difficult to comprehend the path I’ve taken to date, but actually, is a fashion journalist all that different to a scholar of material culture?

I recently attended a career and leadership development course and completed a MBTI psychometric questionnaire. The report suited me perfectly (apparently I come across as mysterious, which I like, so I won’t spoil it by saying which type I was) and matched me up to jobs such as writer, sociologist, teacher, artist, counsellor. I’m a conceptual thinker, creative and value driven. Being a fashion journalist would have suited the creative part, but perhaps didn’t fit with my values. This is clearly the case, as I directed my undergraduate dissertation to ethical fashion, followed by an MPhil on the same topic, leading to a PhD on consumption and its social role. I am very fortunate to have had the space to explore this; I doubt fashion could have ever fulfilled my inquisitive nature and desire to make a difference.

So now I’m able to do the two main things that I enjoy—I’m writing up my PhD in human geography and planning an academic career in the social sciences, whilst I continue to blog about ethical fashion for my own blog and others. Both roles stem from a desire to investigate the wider world, to find out about stuff that interests me. Both involve desk-based research as well as getting into the field for interviews and observation. Both involve writing up that research in order to communicate on a broader platform. And both allow others to engage with my ideas, provide feedback and become part of a wider conversation. Clearly, there are huge differences too and I’m sure many academics would be livid to hear me comparing academia to journalism, but I do believe many of the processes are the same.

Starting a PhD in human geography was a steep learning curve, simply due to the change in subject matter, not in the way I approached writing. Yes, I had to learn some new lingo but now I’m nearing the end of my PhD, I can see that an interdisciplinary background has helped rather than hindered in the long term. It allows me to draw on a broad range of literature, using them as I see fit to build up my argument. One thing I did struggle with at the start was the use of first person. I had been trained before to take a more report-like, business style approach to writing which becomes difficult when you need to discuss and highlight reflexivity as a researcher. My cultural/social geography PhD research draws strongly on ethnographic techniques; hence I had to learn to adopt a narrative approach to my writing and not be afraid to situate myself within my topic.

The fact that I was blogging in a fashion role before my PhD meant that blogging about academia was a natural progression. Not only do I write about PhD life for our departmental postgrad blog, but I also use my academic work as a basis for popular writing on consumption and shopping issues. I’ve found a happy medium where I can have two interlinked elements of my life, and both feed into each other. I hope in the long term my broad networks will lead to interesting collaborations both inside and outside of academia, and mean that my research has a use outside the ivory towers (which is happening more and more across academia anyway). Sometimes I still feel like I have a lot of catching up to do in the social sciences, but no academic knows everything and I intend to make the most of my interdisciplinary background as a strength rather than a weakness.

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Hackademic Guide to Networking: Buy a Domain Name
Posted by Linda Levitt
Image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/fiddleoak/  under this licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en_GB

Image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/fiddleoak/
under this licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en_GB

Hybrid Pedagogy’s Jesse Stommel and our very own Charlotte Frost continue their Hackademic series with a new set of hints, tips and hacks focused on academic networking.

BUY A DOMAIN NAME. This is relatively simple. If you don’t own your own domain, buy it now. You don’t necessarily even need server space or a website to put up. In lieu of anything more elaborate, simply forward your domain to your work profile or Academia.edu page. Eventually you might build a blog or substantial website and use the domain for that. The point is to start laying claim to your online identity. You’ll be glad you did as your career grows, because you’ll have an easy-to-find web presence with some history that will help your work show up in google searches.

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Hackademic Guide to Networking: Be a Good Blogger
Posted by Charlotte Frost
Image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/fiddleoak/  under this licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en_GB

Image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/fiddleoak/
under this licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en_GB

Hybrid Pedagogy’s Jesse Stommel and our very own Charlotte Frost continue their Hackademic series with a new set of hints, tips and hacks focused on academic networking.

BE A GOOD BLOGGER. Blogging is a genre and so it has certain conventions. On the other hand, while we’re full of tips, we’re also both fans of experimentation. Here are some suggestions on how to get started with blogging, but these are only a jumping off point, from which you should carve your own path:

  1. Make it as easy as possible to post to your blog. Many blogging sites allow you to email your content and add an image as an attachment. Or there are sharing widgets you can add to your desktop or smartphone so you can add content at the click of a button. This means you don’t have to login anywhere to write full blog posts. It also means you can recycle content. For example the usual email announcement about your upcoming talk can be speedily repurposed into a blog post.
  2. Help readers share your content. Most people can copy and paste a link from your blog post to their Facebook wall, but if you’ve added some sharing buttons (which can be done in seconds using a WordPress plugin) then you make it even easier. Likewise, consider setting up a ‘recipe’ tool like IFTTT so that when you upload a blog post you automatically post it to your own Facebook page, Twitter account, etc.

  3. If it’s too big a commitment to blog alone, set up a group blog with some friends/colleagues. This can be an even better idea than blogging alone because you’ll bring more readers to your site with the increase in volume and variety of content. It’ll keep the blog fresh and full of interest and take the pressure off each of you to be highly productive.

  4. Schedule staggered content. If you’ve got four big things planned in a month, write four posts and schedule them weekly. This will stop you ever having to even think about apologising for not posting. Likewise, if you’re suddenly feeling prolific, by all means write a whole bunch of posts, but spread out their publication. You might also bank a few posts in advance for quiet times.

  5. Plan ahead. Aim to feed your blog with varied content by keeping an eye out – in advance – for what that content is going to be and by taking advantage of every opportunity. For example, if you know you’re going to a conference, why not arrange to interview someone or report on a particular paper or session?

  6. Comment. Take time to read other people’s blogs and add your own comments to their posts. This will help you get a better idea of what other people are blogging about (and how) as well as directing them and their audience back to your own blog.

  7. Have a piece of stock content as your fall-back. It could even be light-hearted. Why not post a relevant video every Friday, or ask another academic the same set of questions every Wednesday? The goal is consistency, and what might otherwise feel like “filler” can actually help create bridges from one substantive post to the next. And sometimes its the stock content that draws in the bigger crowd, meaning more people will eventually discover the meat of your research.

  8. Other bits of regular content can include: book reviews; summaries for newcomers to the field; posts about your latest paper presentation, guest lecture, or journal article; profiles of your students and their work; and championing of contingent colleagues that might not otherwise have time to write about their own work.

  9. Recycle and reshare. As your blog grows popular pieces of content will become less visible. Periodically review your content and re-share (through Facebook and Twitter et al) good posts over a period of time. You might consider writing a new post that updates or expands on the older one (but definitely visibly links to it). Also, when reviewing your past content, notice which posts are thematically connected and take a second to add links back and forth between each post. Again this will make burried material more findable to new visitors.

  10. Look at your stats. Google Analytics will tell you how many people are visiting your website/blog and from where. Initially this might just be a nice ego boost and a way of forcing yourself to continue blogging when you feel stressed and over-stretched but eventually this is the type of data that can be used on grant applications and even CVs.

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Overcoming a negative critique – by Virginia Yonkers
Posted by Linda Levitt

Sunrise_AuerbachToday’s post reflects on one of the commonly experienced–but less often discussed–aspects of academic writing: receiving a negative review of your work. The author, Virginia Yonkers, is a long term adjunct in the Communication Department at the University at Albany.  She has written articles in the fields of Language, Communication, Marketing & Management, Education, and Business Ethics.

A couple of weeks ago I received a rejection of my article submission from a prominent journal. What made it especially difficult was that it did not even get to the peer review process, but rather was filtered by the editor who decided it “would not fit” the journal. That was it: “would not fit.” My first inclination was to throw the article away, crawl up in a ball, and just stop trying. Of course, I did not. But that is the natural inclination when you receive such a strongly worded rejection.

We are often taught in Phd programs how to succeed, but not how to be rejected. A very successful colleague of mine related how she had at least 15 articles completely written her first year of post-phd, which she never resubmitted until mentor encouraged her to do so. She had 7 articles in a year as a result.

So how do you get over the feeling of rejection, especially as an early career researcher? Here are some tips in getting over the barrier of rejection in journal publishing.

1)  Give yourself a week before you do anything after reading a rejection. It takes some time to disassociate your emotions (rejection, anger, disappointment) from the piece you have written. It is necessary to disassociate them when you need to make decisions about your next step. After you have given yourself a week, reread your rejection letter/email for any feedback, then reread your submitted to piece. This allows you to analyze what your next step will be.

2)  You have 3 choices: Rewrite and resubmit the piece; submit the piece as is to another journal; or scrap the piece for a better time.

3)  If you decide to resubmit, you will need to do some additional work. You may want to email the editor to see if you can get specific direction in how to make the manuscript more acceptable. If your manuscript has made it to the peer review process, review each comment. I find having a table which addresses each point helps in your revision, but also in the follow up letter you will submit with your new manuscript.  If the manuscript was rejected outright (without indication of revisions), you will need to justify how the revised manuscript is substantially different than the original. In your follow up letter you will need to address each comment made by editors/peer reviewers.

You do not have to revise everything a reviewer comments on, but you do have to address it. For example, one of the reviewers of an article I co-wrote used a different theoretical  framework in his analysis of our research. We maintained our methodology and justified it in our comments (and why we DID NOT use the methodology he would prefer).

4)  You may decide to submit the same article to another journal or publisher (Note of warning: you should not have the same manuscripts at two different places at the same time). One possibility is to email the journal from which you were just rejected for recommendations for other places in which your piece might be more appropriate. This does two things: 1) it insures that the other journal knows you are withdrawing your article and will be submitting it elsewhere so they will not be allowed to print it in the future; 2) you may receive some additional feedback so you can make adjustments in your next submission.

If you decide to go to a different publisher, you need to do a little more homework. Based on your rejections, try to identify a publisher by which your ideas will be accepted. My recently rejected article was in a top journal (which I did not know at the time of the submission). In reviewing the list of reviews and the authors’ names, I discovered that there were very few outside of Ivy League/top 20 international universities represented in the articles and none represented as a reviewer. My assumption is that since I was not from one of these institutions, nor a leading researcher in the field, editors filtered my article out. Often they will have 100-200 submissions a month, so this helps decrease the workload for reviewers. Now when I look for new journals to submit to, I look at readership, topics (usually they have a description on their website), reviewers, and any professional organizations they are affiliated with.

There are two areas you MUST change when you resubmit to another journal. The first is the style (most websites have a style guide). The other is your introduction. You need to always include in your introduction how your article will be of interest for the journal’s readership.

5)  If you decide not to resubmit your manuscript, you should consider how you can still communicate your research. You might want to consider submitting a paper to a conference (even having it published as a conference proceeding), upload it to a public depository (such as Academia.edu or your university’s working papers depository), or blog about it. Make sure you save the article. One of my most successful articles was an update of a colleague’s article that had never been published. She gave it to me to update and the two of use worked on creating a new model based on our discussions.

As an early career researcher, an article that was not accepted is a good starting point for collaboration or new research. So do not think of the unpublished manuscript as a failure, but rather a future starting point. It is important to continue to work even if you have had numerous articles rejected. If you feel that you are not getting anywhere with publishing, work with a mentor in your field who can give you direction on places to publish, ways to make your manuscripts more marketable, and motivation to continue to submit for publication.

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

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

Ellie Mackin is a third year PhD student in Classics at King’s College London, and is working through Wendy Belcher’s ‘Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks’ while attempting to finish her thesis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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