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

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

Book Reviewing: The Basics by Katie Faulkner
Image c/o Eric Lanke

Image c/o Eric Lanke

Todays post, written by Katie Faulkner is part of a short, multi-authored series of posts recently published on PhD2Published, all about book reviewing as academic publishing. Katie is a doctoral researcher and visiting lecturer at the Courtauld Institute of Art. She is also editor-in-chief of the Courtauld postgraduate journal immediations and Tweets as @katierosemary12

At the outset of our academic careers it can be so very gratifying when you realize you are now considered smart enough to review the work of your fellow researchers. Not to mention the joy of receiving a free book. Books for free are up there with complimentary conference lunches that involve chocolate brownies as far as I am concerned.

But reviewing books takes time, and tempting as it may be to imagine yourself as your favoured food critic writing a searing attack on your local branch of Nandos, a hostile or undiplomatic review could be potentially embarrassing. So before you eagerly sacrifice your precious Sunday to reading a book cover to cover, ask yourself the following questions:

What is in it for me?

  • Did I mention the free book? If there’s a book you want but can’t afford, it is worth seeing if you can review it for a journal. Look on the website of your chosen journal for contact details of their reviews editors.
  • A book review counts as a publication. It may not be peer reviewed, but a book review in a well-respected journal is a great advert for your knowledge of, and critical skills in your field.
  • How often do we study a book from start to finish? Writing a review gives you an opportunity to gain a really deep insight into the methodologies the author has used, how they have structured the narrative of their research and how they deal with the problems thrown up by their data and approach. Flexing your critical muscles is really helpful for thinking about your own writing, especially if you are working on a book or book proposal of your own.
  • Book reviews are meant to be succinct. They usually have a word count of anything between 300 to 2000 words, often without footnotes. If done well, writing a review is excellent practice in communicating complex ideas in relatively few words.

What is in it for the reader?

  • Why do people read book reviews? Usually, simply to work out if they need or want to read this book.
  • In mainstream publishing, the rise of social media, blogging and online magazines has diluted the power of the traditional literary critic writing for print journalism. Potentially, everyone is a critic. But as plenty of critics and authors point out, reviews from a trusted source are still valuable indicators of credibility and quality. In academic publishing, where success is reliant on the approval of your peers, the book review surely still has an important and useful place.
  • Bearing in mind that readers of your review will be looking for a fair and balanced assessment of the book in question, there are several necessary elements to every review piece:
    • A summary of the key argument of the book and the evidence used to support this.
    • A discussion of the author’s methodological framework and how this relates to the work of other scholars working in the same field.
    • The identification of any gaps, omissions or problematic areas in the gathering of data and subsequent analysis. How might it have been possible to interpret this information differently?
    • How does the book fit in with other research in the same field?
    • Who will find this book useful? Is it aimed at a specific audience or is it of more general interest.

What is in it for the author and/or the publisher?

  • There’s no such thing as a free book (I lied). In return for the shiny new tome on your bookshelf the publisher is hoping your review will drive sales of the book. By participating in the reviewing process, you are effectively implicated in the marketing of this book. This is probably fine if you think the book is great, but might niggle at your conscience if it is bad book.
  • If the author sees your review, they will know that at least one person has read their precious research with the attention it deserves. Choose your words carefully; remember how personally you can take criticism of your own work. Be rigorous, but don’t be personal or petty.

Want to know more? Check out the other two posts in the series by Laura Pasquini and Raphael Susewind.

#AcWri – Making Plans by Jeremy Segrott and Anna Tarrant

It’s five months since we started #Acwri, and this week we took some time to think about what it’s achieved and how it could be developed in the future. 

For those of you who don’t know much about #Acwri you can read about us here.  But in a nutshell, the aim is that once a fortnight, we invite academic writers at any stage of their career to discuss a particular aspect of the writing process.  The aim is to share problems, ideas and solutions, and provide a supportive peer network. So far we have discussed a range of topics including writing journal articles, writing conference papers and writing research proposals. The summaries from these talks are posted on both PhD2Published and Jeremy’s website.

The group seems (from our perspective) to be meeting the aims we set out with, and we’re proposing to continue running the group every two weeks without any major changes.  But we have a few ideas about how to make it run slightly better, and would welcome your thoughts and ideas.

One change we’ve already made is to create a dedicated @acwri Twitter account that you can follow, which we’ll use to publicise our meetings, chair the discussion, and spread awareness of the group. This should hopefully help give #Acwri a clearer, more visible identity.

Our meetings will continue to be on alternate Thursday evenings, but we’re going to change the time from 6pm to 8pm, to make it easier for UK folks to join in, as the current 6pm start clashes with many people’s evening commute and family commitments.  Do let us know what you think!

Over the summer we’ll be meeting on 2nd August, 16th August, and then taking a break until Thursday 6th September.  The 16th August meeting will be an ‘open house’ – a chance for anyone to share what they’re writing about, problems/challenges they’re facing, and tips on how to keep the motivation and the writing going over the long hot summer.

For all our other meetings we’ll be taking on a particular theme.  We need people to suggest the kinds of things they’d like to discuss.  From these ideas we’ll create a poll with a choice of topics for each meeting, and the most popular one wins.  We’ve used this system for some of our previous chats, but it will now be something we try to do for every #Acwri session.

The two of us @DrAnnaTarrant and @DrJeremySegrott will continue to take turns at chairing the sessions and summarising the discussion on our websites (Dr Jeremy Segrott and PhD2Published), but we’ll also invite the winner of the topic poll to kick off each session by telling everyone why they chose the subject, and highlighting some of the key points they think are important.

Plans are also afoot to set up a parallel #Acwri group for Australia and Asia, as the current #Acwri group takes place in the early hours of the morning there.

Let us know what you’d like #Acwri to discuss, and any other ideas about how we should develop the group.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy #acwri reading & reviewing!

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

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

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

How to Write a Peer Review for an Academic Journal: Six Steps from Start to Finish by Tanya Golash-Boza
Image by James Yang http://www.jamesyang.com

Image by James Yang http://www.jamesyang.com

PhD2Published has several informative posts about writing journal articles, and more recently has featured a post outlining a potentially revolutionary collaborative peer review process for this kind of publishing. Todays post offers an alternative perspective; that of the journal article peer reviewer. Doing peer reviews provides important experience for those writing their own papers and may help writers consider what they should include based on what peer reviewers are looking for.

At some point in your scholarly career, you likely will get asked to review an article for a journal. In this post, I explain how I usually go about doing a peer review. I imagine that each scholar has their own way of doing this, but it might be helpful to talk openly about this task, which we generally complete in isolation.

Step One:  Accept the invitation to peer review. The first step in reviewing a journal article is to accept the invitation. When deciding whether or not to accept, take into consideration three things: 1) Do you have time to do the review by the deadline? 2) Is the article within your area of expertise? 3) Are you sure you will complete the review by the deadline? Once you accept the invitation, set aside some time in your schedule to read the article and write the review.

Step Two: Read the article. I usually read the article with a pen in hand so that I can write my thoughts in the margins as I read. As I read, I underline parts of the article that seem important, write down any questions I have, and correct any mistakes I notice.

Step Three: Write a brief summary of the article and its contribution. When I am doing a peer review, I sometimes do it all in one sitting – which will take me about two hours – or I read it one day and write it the next. Often, I prefer to do the latter to give myself some time to think about the article and to process my thoughts. When writing a draft of the review, the first thing I do is summarize the article as best I can in three to four sentences. If I think favorably of the article and believe it should be published, I often will write a longer summary, and highlight the strengths of the article. Remember that even if you don’t have any (or very many) criticisms, you still need to write a review. Your critique and accolades may help convince the editor of the importance of the article. As you write up this summary, take into consideration the suitability of the article for the journal. If you are reviewing for the top journal in your field, for example, an article simply being factually correct and having a sound analysis is not enough for it to be published in that journal. Instead, it would need to change the way we think about some aspect of your field.

Step Four: Write out your major criticisms of the article. When doing a peer review, I usually begin with the larger issues and end with minutiae. Here are some major areas of criticism to consider:

–          Is the article well-organized?

–          Does the article contain all of the components you would expect (Introduction, Methods, Theory, Analysis, etc)?

–          Are the sections well-developed?

–          Does the author do a good job of synthesizing the literature?

–          Does the author answer the questions he/she sets out to answer?

–          Is the methodology clearly explained?

–          Does the theory connect to the data?

–          Is the article well-written and easy to understand?

–          Are you convinced by the author’s results? Why or why not?

Step Five: Write out any minor criticisms of the article.  Once you have laid out the pros and cons of the article, it is perfectly acceptable (and often welcome) for you to point out that the table on page 3 is mislabeled, that the author wrote “compliment” instead of “complement” on page 7, or other minutiae. Correcting those minor errors will make the author’s paper look more professional if it goes out for another peer review, and certainly will have to be corrected before being accepted for publication.

Step Six: Review. Go over your review and make sure that it makes sense and that you are communicating your critiques and suggestions in as helpful a way as possible.

Finally, I will say that, when writing a review, be mindful that you are critiquing the article in question – not the author. Thus, make sure your critiques are constructive. For example, it is not appropriate to write: “The author clearly has not read any Foucault.” Instead, say: “The analysis of Foucault is not as developed as I would expect to see in an academic journal article.” Also, be careful not to write: “The author is a poor writer.” Instead, you can say: “This article would benefit from a close editing. I found it difficult to follow the author’s argument due to the many stylistic and grammatical errors.” Although you are an anonymous reviewer, the Editor knows who you are, and it never looks good when you make personal attacks on others. So, in addition to being nice, it is in your best interest.

Tanya Golash-Boza is  Associate Professor of Sociology and American Studies at the University of Kansas. She Tweets as @tanyagolashboza and has her own website.

Weekly Wisdom #79 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew

COLLABORATE AND COOPERATE. You are not alone either as a graduate student or as a young faculty member. You cooperate and collaborate with many others. Even the dissertation is not a one-person effort inasmuch as you work with an advisor and a committee, with people you study if your work involves human subjects as well as interacting on your topic with fellow graduate students.  When you begin your academic career, you need not sit off in a corner and try to do it all by yourself. You can collaborate and cooperate with peers, senior faculty, and even students. In a research institution, you will find you collaborate on projects with coauthors.  Most will be close by, but others are from your doctoral program or people whom you know through conferences and other professional interactions.  Your teaching assistants and your students will help you with specific tasks, including routine ones. You become part of an ongoing group that cooperates on projects, reads and critiques each other’s papers before submission, gives you ideas, and receives ideas from you.  It is a two-way relationship that you need to cultivate.  Although telecommuting is needed to obtain integrated blocks of time, you should allocate some time on campus for collaboration and cooperation.  It will make you more productive and enrich your life as an academic.

Weekly Wisdom #75 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew

COMMUNICATING YOUR FIELD TO THE PUBLIC. Those who can communicate ideas from their discipline clearly to the public hold an important place in our society.  If you develop this skill, you can become a “public intellectual”.  Some highly successful public intellectuals in the recent past included astronomer Carl Sagan (Cornell) who had a television series, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (Harvard) who became a United States senator, and Stephen Jay Gould (Harvard) a broadly published a paleontologist and evolutionary biologist. Listed by your school’s PR department as an expert in your field, you can expect local (and sometimes national) media will ask for your comment.  If you are good on TV, you will be asked about all kinds of subjects, many beyond your expertise. Be careful not to pontificate about subjects where you know next to nothing.

Weekly Wisdom #74 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew

AS A FULL PROFESSOR YOU MUST BE KNOWN FOR SOMETHING. When you reach the exalted state of tenured associate professor, the time has come to see the big picture and undertake large, long-term research projects so that you can become a full professor. Unfortunately, you spent the previous six years (and your dissertation time) doing small, short-term research projects, each designed to earn you a publication or two so that you could achieve tenure. The system never taught you how to conduct a large project. You are therefore put back into a learning situation. Merely doing more of what you did as an assistant professor doesn’t hack it in major institutions because the promotion committees ask different questions. Having survived the tenure process, everyone knows you can do research. But to be a full professor, you must be known for something.

…and All the Academics Merely Players

In this post, regular contributor Claire Warden offers her top tips for giving excellent conference presentations. She is Lecturer in Drama at the University of Lincoln where she has been working since 2010. She blogs at www.clairewarden.net and tweets as @cs_warden.

Here in the University of Lincoln’s drama department we are approaching our first performance fortnight of the year: a chance for students to showcase their talents and explore new methods. Currently I spend Thursday mornings amid a sea of robots, fake blood and apocalyptic visions as we rehearse a version of Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. In recent days I have been thinking a little about the way we ‘perform’ as academics. Our performance ability is particularly tested at conferences and, in this my third short meditation for PhD2Published, I want to consider the way we perform at these events.

For as a postgraduate I remember being taught about archives and writing journal articles and the need to develop a workable bibliographic system, but I cannot recollect ever really learning about conference presentation. The assumption, I imagine, is that it must come naturally to anyone considering an academic career or passionate about their research. Anybody who has sat through long days of conference proceedings will know that this is far from the case and, though I do not claim any real expertise in this area (I am the presenter whose Powerpoint didn’t work at my first major international conference as well as the panel chair who introduced a colleague with the wrong university affiliation), I have been considering what help us ‘performing arts types’ could provide to colleagues in different departments. So, below are my top tips for excellent conference presentation and, for those of you balking already at the thought of a drama scholar at the helm, I can promise that there will be no exuberant jazz hands, no actorly hissy fits and I will not call you ‘darling’ at any stage…

Read more

Weekly Wisdom #65 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew

PREPARE AN “ELEVATOR SPEECH”. Throughout your PhD studies, your professors grounded you in your discipline and taught you all the caveats and disclaimers that must accompany your scholarly research.  Then, in the dissertation defense, and afterwards, for example when you seek a job, you will be asked to succinctly summarize your work and what it means. Imagine that you are attending a national conference.  You step into an express elevator on the 45th floor of the building, and push “lobby”.  the only other person in the elevator is, say the senior Federal policy maker in your area of interest, for example, the National Endowment for the Humanities or the President’s Science Advisor, or the chair of the department you really want to interview for a job.  He or she says that they heard that you completed an important dissertation study.  S/he explains that s/he would like to know about your research, but,given a packed schedule, only has this elevator ride to learn about your work.  What do you tell them?

Rochelle Melander’s Write-A-Thon Techniques Part II

The following is an excerpt from Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) by Rochelle Melander, now available from Writer’s Digest Books. Rochelle Melander is a certified professional coach and the author of 10 books, including a new book to help fiction and nonfiction writers write fast: Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) (October 2011). Melander teaches professionals how to get published, establish credibility, and navigate the new world of social media. In 2006, Rochelle founded Dream Keepers Writing Group, a program that teaches writing to at-risk tweens and teens. Visit her online at www.writenowcoach.com.

Create Your Research and Development Team

Half of being smart is knowing what you’re dumb at.

—David Gerrold

“You can’t research and write a nonfiction book in a month! There’s not enough time!” said my client. Read more