Browsing the archives for the Writing tag

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. An online, peer-reviewed journal, Liminalities is published at

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.

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

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.

No Comments Posted in Writing
Tagged , , ,
Hackademic Guide to Networking: Buy a Domain Name
Posted by Linda Levitt
Image by  under this licence:

Image by
under this licence:

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 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.

2 Comments Posted in Self Promotion, Social Media, Weekly Wisdom, Writing
Tagged , , , , , , ,
Hackademic Guide to Networking: Be a Good Blogger
Posted by Charlotte Frost
Image by  under this licence:

Image by
under this licence:

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.

3 Comments Posted in Self Promotion, Social Media, Weekly Wisdom, Writing
Tagged , , , , , , ,
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 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.

2 Comments Posted in Pitching & Publishing, Writing
Tagged , , ,
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.

No Comments Posted in Writing
Tagged , , ,
Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #10 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Your glass is (at least) half full. During the holidays, well-meaning family and friends are likely to ask about your progress on your dissertation, book, or article. Prepare your soundbite in advance.

Focus on what you have accomplished, and what you’re looking forward to: It’s going well. I’m making good progress. I’m looking forward to having more time to work on it. It’s a good challenge. I’m working through the theories/the introduction/the second chapter.

It’s not that your loved ones think you’ll never finish. Asking about your work means they recognize that it’s important to you. Appreciate that, without ever feeling bad about what you haven’t accomplished, yet.

No Comments Posted in Weekly Wisdom, Writing
Tagged , , ,
Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: Week Eight
Posted by Ellie Mackin

Content_WritingEllie’s posts on Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks will be back after a holiday hiatus. See you again in January!

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

This week was all about opening and concluding the article, and the irony of the situation is the number of times it took to start writing this blog post.  I wanted to open with a joke, to emphasise the ‘good opening’ point, but I’m not very funny and I couldn’t think of anything.  So instead, I will just open by saying that this week I learned that I’m good at something.  Title writing!  The first task this week was to revise your title, making sure it’s not too broad or too vague, that it names your subject adequately, that is at least hints to your argument, that it contains keywords that are searchable, and isn’t overly dense.  It should, I learned, also include a verb.  I only had to insert three words (‘an examination of’) into my title to make it conform to these rules, and so I’m pretty happy with that.  I think it’s important to have a title, even a working one, that reflects what you’re doing and can keep you on track a little bit.  I have written my PhD with that in mind, and I’ve already previously revised my title the week we did the argument alterations.

The next two days of tasks were all about rewriting your introduction, and that’s where my elation fell flat.  My opening sentence is yawn-inducing boring.  It didn’t fit into any of Belcher categories (anecdotal, subject, critical, significance, historical and argumentative) but instead was vague and said nothing.  Certainly not ‘gripping,’ which is the next exercise.  Needless to say my answer to ‘Could my first sentence be more gripping?  If so, how could I accomplish this?’ didn’t fit into the box provided in the book.  One thing my opening sentence does do is introduce basic information about my topic, which apparently a lot of young writers forget to include.  So, at least the information is useful and usable.  Just perhaps not right at the start.

I don’t do any of the things Belcher suggests: stating my argument (that comes around sentence eight, roughly – so well into the introduction), I don’t identify my position in relation to previous research (which is something that I need to work on in all my writing!), but I do provide something of a roadmap of my article (although this does come in the introduction, and probably doesn’t need to be right up the front for my article).  So, over the next two days I did a lot of work on my introduction and fit all of these things in.  My opening sentence probably still needs a little bit of work, but that can happen.

The next day’s task involved revising the abstract, related literature review and author order (only relevant to those producing multiple author papers).  We have done a fair amount of work on the abstract, and I am pretty happy with how mine looks at present.  The advice is to go back and repeat the week 2 revision tasks, which I did, and have updated my abstract to take in the changes I’ve made over the past few weeks.  My related literature section is a constantly evolving thing so I didn’t do too much work on it.

Finally, the week concluded with the conclusion.  I’m a particularly weak conclusion writer (so I have been told) and so I really took the opportunity to go back and re-read my article, making notes about my argument (which has been tightened up significantly during this process).  This, I’ve discovered, is where I need to point to the significance of my article to the wider field, and so I’ve introduced that information into the conclusion.  All in all, I’m not 100% happy with the conclusion, but that will come with a bit more work.  I hope.

1 Comment Posted in Writing
Tagged , , ,
Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks – Week Seven
Posted by Ellie Mackin
By Aadityasardwal via Wikimedia Commons

By Aadityasardwal via Wikimedia Commons

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

Evidence.  A daunting word, and one that can mean so many different things.  I have my own system of categorising primary evidence depending on the source of the material (for example, an inscription is just primary whereas a medieval manuscript of a classical-period play is still primary, but less so, and a textual edition is even less primary than the manuscript – it’s a pretty loose system).  This week was all about evidence and fittingly Belcher began not with what evidence is but what the types of evidence are.  She covers qualitative, quantitative, historical, geographical, textual and artistic evidence, finally asking you to identify the types of evidence that you use.  I actually found this not only interesting but enlightening.  It’s not that I didn’t know that the different evidence existed, but I’d never considered anything  beyond the ‘primary’ ‘secondary’ and ‘tertiary’ categorisations, and thus had – in a way, but not consciously – lumped statistical data with historical data.  Probably because I use the latter and not the former, I had never considered what function the former actually plays in some research.

The next section is about writing up, and like last week it was split into ‘Social Science’ and ‘Humanities.’  I read though the Social Science, but not in depth, so I will mainly talk about the humanities section.  This was split into two sub-sections ‘close readings’ and ‘cultural studies.’  As what I do straddles the divide between the two sub-categories I didn’t favour one approach over the other but worked equally on both.  Belcher took these two sub-categories from what she describes as the two common theoretical positions in literary criticism.  I found her comments about each of these sections to be, in hindsight, obvious – but I don’t think I would have been able to list these as poles of theoretical approaches before I read this section.  Under close readings she discusses meaningful quoting, brief summerisation, ‘large picture’ referencing, and – I think most importantly, though she doesn’t emphasis it – careful selection.  That is, not trying to undertake too large a portion of text, asking the text ‘why’ or ‘how’, not ‘what’.  She also, interestingly, notes that you should limit your footnotes or endnotes, stating that more and more journals are asking for these to be limited.  I would have thought this would be in the author guidelines for any particular journal, and at this stage might be unnecessarily restrictive, but I’ve never come across this idea in my field, so perhaps it’s more relevant in some disciplines than others.  The second section of this is for cultural studies, in which she says, straight and to the point, ‘avoid biography’, ‘avoid simple politicising,’ and ‘deploy theory, don’t replicate it.’  Most interestingly in this section was her instruction to avoid the discussion of intentionality.  I really like this notion and I try very hard not to discuss what I think the author is trying to convey or intends to say, so I felt like I was slightly ahead of the game on this one (for once!).  All in all, this was a useful exercise to think about the way that I use evidence.

The second day’s exercise was to discuss evidence in your field.  The book asks you to make a few appointments to talk evidence, but I didn’t do this.  I have lunch and drinks with colleagues on a fairly regular basis and thought it might be best to discuss here.  We came up with some interesting things, including a discussion of the way that we all view primary source material in our field (which is Classics/Ancient History, and so primary sources can be of somewhat dubious origin in some cases).

I had fun and games with the third day’s task, which was to print out a copy of your paper and go though it paragraph by paragraph and pick out your evidence, determine whether it’s clearly presented and make a note if it doesn’t have a clear progression, ‘explanation power’ or is logical.  My margins were full of little notes, which helped over the next two days when I went through and tried – sometimes with more ease than others – to correct these passages.

Finally, there is the revision of the whole document, to take in the changes made.  My article is looking a lot different than it was at the start, and I’m really pleased that I saved a copy (though this was unintentional at the time, I admit!) at the start, so that I can look back and see how far I have actually progressed.  I’m feeling good this week, even though it’s the end of AcWriMo, my writing has never been better!

No Comments Posted in AcWriMo, Writing
Tagged , , , ,
The 25 Minute Text by Charlotte Frost
Posted by Angson Chow
By holyponiesbatman via Flickr

By holyponiesbatman via Flickr

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

Task 1: create a structure (in 5 minutes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

  4. Methods: How (By analysing…)

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

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

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

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

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


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

[write more here!]

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


  1. Methods: How (By analysing…)

[write more here!]

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

[write more here!]

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

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

‘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:

‘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.

No Comments Posted in AcWriMo, Top Tips, Writing
Tagged , , , , , , ,
Collaborative and Public Writing Techniques for Google Docs by Charlotte Frost and Jesse Stommel
Posted by Angson Chow

Charlotte Frost and Jesse Stommel met (as they often do) in a Google Doc to do some writing. This time, however, they invited a group of people to join them, and they demonstrated how and why they write together in Google Docs. In the blog post below, you can read the text they generated, but the original Google Doc they used can also be viewed as can the video of them writing together (which we’ve included below). If you have any further questions ask away in the comments section of this post.

My name is Charlotte Frost and I am a Visiting Assistant Professor here at SCM in Hong Kong. I run lots of projects looking at writing in an academic context including PhD2Published and AcWriMo. My other work is focused on digital and new media arts and the history of net art (the latter of which was the subject for my thesis). Jesse and I regularly work in Google Docs together on all manner of things because apart from anything else its fun.

My name is Jesse Stommel and I’m a teacher and researcher working in the US. I teach Digital Humanities and Digital Literacies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I’m also the Director of Hybrid Pedagogy, a digital journal of learning, teaching, and technology. I’ve been working closely with Charlotte for quite a while, and we have begun to inhabit each other’s writing in such a way that we often finish each other’s sentences.

In this session we’re going to:

  • Use a Google Doc to show how we work together and discuss what works for us
  • Describe and give examples of public writing.
  • Show which parts of a Google Doc we use for what.
  • Address some of the difficulties we encounter as we work in this way.
  • Demo all of this in a meta-sort of way, so you can watch it unfold before your very eyes.
  • (And hopefully film this demo so you have something to look at and refer to afterward)

Why Write Collaboratively?

Accountability: Writing together is a huge procrastination crusher. There’s safety in numbers and it makes it much less daunting to look at a blank screen with someone else there – you are NOT alone! (cause someone else is right there with you, prodding your sentences into life!)

Camaraderie: Having someone to talk to and write with and even ask questions about all sorts of things helps (especially questions about writing and academia of course!). It can make it easier to get started (see above) and make the whole process a lot more enjoyable.

Instant Proof-reading and Peer-review: Your partner can read for sense AND mistakes – if they don’t get it, others won’t either. But also, let them find your mistakes and save your blushes later on.

Less Work: If you work on something like this together in a Google Doc (whether it’s a blog post, article, outline, etc.) you halve the work. And, if you’re working with someone like Charlotte [says Jesse] it’s even less than half, because she’s very very prolific.

Progression: It will move your thinking and writing forward AND fast. There’s a difference between ‘thinking writing’ and ‘doing writing’ the former helps you work something out, the latter helps you show what you’ve worked out. A collaborative document can be used for either, but if nothing else, use it for ‘thinking writing’. It’s a sandbox for making sense of something of something.

Why not? Learning is social and doing this kind of work with collaborators helps improve your work and your partners. Writing does not have to be solitary. Sure, some writing prefers to live alone, but sometimes writing wants to live right alongside its readers.


How to Write Collaboratively?

(there’s lots of stuff to consider as you get started, but sometimes the best thing to do is just start putting words on the screen and work the details out as you go). Here are some strategies we’ve found work well:

Time and Place:

Set up a Google Doc and a specific time to meet – as well as the duration of your meeting.

Your work can continue asynchronously outside the scheduled time (especially if you’re working in different time zones) but writing together at the same time is key – so try to do that regularly.

But perhaps only do it for an hour at a time, it’s a tiring practice if you’re working very collaboratively.


Establish the ‘permissions’ you’ll set for the document, who can edit, who can comment, who can read, etc.

Decide whether you want your document open to the web.

If you’re inviting more people to work with you, make sure that you make them ‘editors’.

[currently this document is set up to only allow folks aside from Jesse and Charlotte to view the document -- or participate in the chat -- though we often open up our documents to a wider group of editors at some point during our process.]

The Google Doc Spreadsheet for AcWriMo for example is public and open to anyone to write on.

Types of Writing:

As well as writing your main body of text you’ll also be:

Using the chatbox for live discussion about all things writerly/academia and to arrange what you’ll achieve in your joint writing sessions.

Using the ‘comment’ function to select parts of the document to provide targeted feedback.


Decide how to navigate the various writing spaces together.

We meet in the chat box to get started and to arrange what we’ll do during a writing session, and we’ll often pop back into the chat box when we need to confer about our process.

We’ll also use the chat box as a space for dividing up what each of us will do during a writing session.

Sometimes, we will write in different colors just for fun to distinguish our voices. But we usually take that out as we polish the document.


Other examples of how you can use a Google Doc to work publicly and collaboratively:

Writing Buddy:

Partner with one other person and both use the same GoogleDoc to each work on a different project but so that your progress is witnessed and/or so you can get someone else to periodically review your work and comment on it, etc. (There are anxieties associated with writing in public in this way, so doing this work helps build trust.) Sometimes, Charlotte will work at the bottom of a Google Doc while I work at the top. This gives us some amount of privacy but the ability to “call each other” into our section of the document.

Public Peer-Review:

Write in a Google Doc and make it public for viewing and reviewing (you might allow people to comment but not rewrite the text itself). Offering up a piece of work to a specific group in this way is a great technique for obtaining instant peer review.

Example: Arts Future Book is one of Charlotte’s research projects and in this instance she wrote a paper and left it open to public peer-reviewing (using a blog rather than Google Docs though)


Use one Google Doc for a large group as a sort of central repository for content.

You can brainstorm in the same doc and share ideas. and shape it up into something later. An Extreme example: of this is DigiWriMo Novel in a Day (which had about 100 people working in one Google Doc.)


Write collaboratively with one or more people. Take turns to draft sections of the doc (perhaps its an article you’re writing together) and use the comments to discuss each other’s sections and how to combine them better.

Take turns to draft sections but then work on the same paragraph at the same time to review, comment AND edit.

Example: A document that started with 4 authors, evolved to 12, and the rest of the web to contribute to the creation of a Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age:

What Difficulties Do We Encounter When We Write Collaboratively?

Stage Fright: It will expose how many times you change a sentence before you finish it (or how many typos you make ;-) Charlotte likes to make typos, as do I. Luckily, we both find typos immensely charming.

Solution: If you see the other person writing at the speed of light you can lose your train of thought. Just carry on in your own way at your own pace until you feel comfortable. One of the most important things you can lean is that we all write differently and we have to find our own practice for ourselves.

Disagreements: It’s easy to get attached to your writing and hard sometimes to let someone else into your process. Occasionally, you will find yourself unable to share a common voice.

Solution: Decide in advance how you’ll resolve your writing issues with your writing partner. Agree to Skype, meet, or just agree to differ on what ever the issue is. Sometimes, you might decide that you want to write certain sections of a document independently, while continuing to collaborate on others.

Technical Problems: Technology can be temperamental. Occasionally, the gods of technology just don’t rule in our favor.

Solution: If you lose more than 15 mins to lost connections/Google Docs not refreshing it might best to just give up and work alone or on something else. But work out the next time you CAN meet and stick to it.

Ownership: Who owns this document? Who gets to decide its boundaries? When we work together in this way, who is the “author” of a document like this?

Solution: While we have both clearly been co-composing this particular example, what if one of us were writing and the other were primarily editing and offering feedback? If you set out to work on something together, even if one of your writes more of it, we think it’s probably best to just agree from the start that the work will be collaborative. This kind of work can’t be quantified in a cut and dry fashion. The production of one word is sometimes more difficult than the production of 10. Actual writing isn’t the only thing you bring to the table when you collaborate and we find that the balance of the work evens out in the end.

Looking for some more tips for working with Google Docs?

 This Google Doc workshop was offered as part of the Improving Your Academic Writing workshop series Charlotte gave at the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong as part of AcWriMo 2013.

No Comments Posted in AcWriMo, Pitching & Publishing, Writing
Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,
Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #6 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Be a kid, again. Last week, we talked about reading children’s books. This week, think about getting down on the floor to play. Get some crayons, markers, or colored pencils. And turn off your inner critic. Giant spirals and streaks, tiny intimate figures, big or small patterns—take advantage of the color and texture of your tools and toys. Task-oriented writers might like to start with a coloring book too, and there are some coloring books designed specifically for adults. The embodied act of creating something that is not your writing project can be an inspiration, a distraction, or a way to release some pent up energy.

Missed last week’s tip from Linda? Find it here!

No Comments Posted in Weekly Wisdom, Writing
Tagged , , ,
Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks – Week Six
Posted by Ellie Mackin
By Aadityasardwal via Wikimedia Commons

By Aadityasardwal via Wikimedia Commons

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

 Half way!  That’s right, things are finally starting to happen and my article is taking shape! This week was all about structure, and although I thought it was going to be a boring (albeit necessary) week, it actually turned out to be very interesting.  The explanatory text for this week began with types of structure – what Belcher categorised as ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ structure.  That is, the structure of your overall article and the structure within each paragraph.  This started with five basic ‘organisational structures’: description, sequence, causation, problem/solution and comparison:  I’m not sure what effect knowing this has had on my writing, but it certainly has made me a better reader this week, because I’ve been concentrating on identifying these structures within other texts I’ve been reading (and, in fact, I wonder if this whole process is not just making me a better writer but a better reader and researcher as well – I certainly notice things differently and read more carefully than I did before…). Belcher then goes though article structures, and I have to be honest, I didn’t read the ones aimed at Social Sciences (although perhaps I will go back and read them), but skipped straight though to the Humanities-themed structure.  This is a very useful part of the book, and if you do nothing else then read though this section (Humanities is on pp. 180-182.).  Not only does Belcher give the general structure but she gives an example of how the structure works in an actual article (it would be interesting to go though and read the article with the structure in hand and see how this works.  I should have done this, probably, but I’ve been so busy this week as per usual). We then go though ways to solving structure problems, including prompts asking if you could use more subheadings or summary, if you use an appropriate structure, if you present your evidence properly, if your main argument appears in each paragraph and, if not, should you include it more, and whether you could develop your examples more successfully. The next main task is to outline a model article.  I used an article I was about to read anyway, instead of the suggestion to read the model article that was identified in week one.  I’m not sure if this was more or less successful than it could have been in the circumstances, but I got a lot out of the exercise, both in terms of what I got out of the article and being able to identify what worked and what didn’t in the model. Finally, before getting to your own article, Belcher asks you to outline your article using the examples outlined.  And then, you guessed it, you have to implement the structure. This wouldn’t be a blog by me if there wasn’t at least one confession, so here it is: I am rubbish at editing.  And this was no different.  I struggled big time with this task, but I got there.  My article needs a lot more revision, and the two days that Belcher put aside for this task weren’t enough for me, so I will have to take this though into the weekend as well. I have taken away some really valuable lessons from this week, and lessons that are more widely applicable than just for my article.  I’m going to create a structure map of my thesis, as a whole and chapter by chapter, and see if I can improve it using Belcher’s system. All in all, an interesting and useful week! Hope AcWriMo is treating everyone well.

No Comments Posted in AcWriMo, Writing
Tagged , , , ,
Techniques for Different Writing Stages by Charlotte Frost
Posted by Angson Chow
By scott_williams via Flickr

By scott_williams via Flickr

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

1. The mental preparation stage

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

2. The note-taking stage

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

4. The brainstorming stage

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

5. The mind mapping stage

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

6. The ‘Tiny Text’ stage

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

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

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

7. The splurge/spew stage

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

or rather the thinking writing stage

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

or even the keep it pacey

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

and certainly it’s the uncritical stage

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

8. The ‘doing writing’ stage/the draft

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

which might also be the therapy stage

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

9. The critical stage

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

10 The darling-i-cide stage

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

or rather, darling exile…

There are two ways to make this easier on yourself.

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

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


1 Comment Posted in AcWriMo, Top Tips, Writing
Tagged , , , , , ,
Collaborative writing at a distance by Melanie Boeckmann
Posted by Linda Levitt

800px-Teamwork_(5893295462)Melanie 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.

Sometimes, you are just really really lucky. You get funding to go to an international conference, you network and all of a sudden you and a colleague (or several colleagues even) email about this great idea you have for a project. Yes, you think, we should write this article together. The caveat: You are at your institution, and your colleague is on a different continent in an inconveniently shifted time zone. The only solution: collaborating online.

Research thrives from exchange. So does writing: thinking and writing both profit from telling somebody about your thoughts, to receive input or (constructive!) criticism. In addition, collaborative work can lead to research that is beyond your original field of expertise, or in a subfield, and just in general allows you to broaden your horizon.  Collaborative writing, then, is work requiring a tool box rather than a single tool.

Whether you are toying with the idea of suggesting a joint project to the colleagues you met at that (inter-)national conference, or are a pro at juggling time zones and document versions, here’s how a colleague and I successfully cooperated on an article that we are submitting:

1.    Set a realistic goal
Ideally, we wanted to pump out a bunch of articles and apply for a huge grant. And we can, eventually. But the first step was to identify one area that interested us both, and to formulate a specific research question that we could actually achieve in one year.

2.    Divide the tasks
Especially with interdisciplinary collaboration, one or several persons will be experts at different topics or methods. This way the splitting up tasks is fairly straightforward. If you are all from similar fields, maybe you can negotiate the sections and chores you are most interested in? And everybody should contribute to the tedious tasks, too!

3.    Use interactive platforms
Options include mailing each other the documents, syncing devices like Dropbox or Spideroak, working on a google document together, or sharing the writing through other tools like github. The Profhacker blog over at the Chronicle of Higher Education usually has great introductory posts to software and tools such as these.

4.    Version control
Sometimes you send something and you wait for feedback, but then you also have a great idea and you change some sections around in the document. Of course you can just send the document again with track changes and hope the other persons have not added many changes themselves yet. Nicer would it be to have everyone work on the same document without danger of erasing what the other person has just written. This works with google docs, but for the next project I hope to learn how to use github, because I hear their version control is excellent: one worry less!

5.    Keep in touch!
I found this to be one of the most important aspects of our collaboration. Obviously don’t over-do it, but checking in once in a while, especially if you don’t have fixed deadlines, is helpful.

What about you? Do you have any online collaboration success stories to tell?

Coming up soon, Charlotte Frost and Jesse Stommel will show you how they work together using collaborative tools across continents and time zones!

No Comments Posted in AcWriMo, Writing
Tagged , , ,