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Can Academic Writers Treat Procrastination the Same Way as Creative Writers? by Vivian Lam
infinity clock

infinity clockVivian Lam, a student at the City University of Hong Kong, is an intern at PhD2Published.

Being an intern at PhD2Published means in the past few months, I’ve read more pieces on academic writing than my entire three years in the university combined. Many of what I have read involves investigating the problem of procrastination. I can’t help but notice that academic writers and creative writers hold very different beliefs when it comes to that problem. Some people are calling for academics to cease thinking of themselves as just scholars or researchers, but also writers, so perhaps we can take a few notes from people who fully identify themselves as writers.

So what exactly do creative writers have to say about procrastination?

Embrace it. That’s among the first things you will hear.

Creative writers often have slightly more flexible deadlines, so when they hit a writer’s block, they probably won’t tackle it by sitting down and ordering themselves to write at least 5000 words a day. They prefer putting the tasks aside and wait until inspiration strikes. “I’ve spent the last two weeks not writing and I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it, and I don’t feel guilty for not feeling guilty about it [,]” writes Bryan Hutchinson, a creative writer and the proud owner of the Positive Writer blog. He explains in a blog post on why procrastination is a good thing that forcing himself to write usually results in work he doesn’t appreciate. He finds this method wastes time and is causes more stress.

Of course, this doesn’t mean creative writers simply procrastinate for the rest of eternity. Rather  they treat their procrastination period as a short break for their worn out mind. They believe creativity comes and goes as it pleases, and cannot be squeezed out like lemon juice. When the time comes, inspiration hits and that’s their sign of going back to work. Optimistic much? Perhaps, but funnily enough, from what I’ve read, this strategy usually works. “I discovered that the more time I put off writing and procrastinate, the more time I spend creating [,]” claims Hutchinson in his post.

Indeed, for creative writers, writing is a process of creation, not gluing your hands to the keyboard and typing until you hit a word limit. The problem academic writers have to ask themselves is, do they have the luxury to NOT do the latter? Sadly, most of the time the answer is no.

The bottom line, creative writers are people who value quality over quantity, while the academic world seems to expect the opposite. Quantity often dictates a scholar’s worth: The number of their works which have been published by high impact journals; the number of citations those works have received… The list goes on.

Just to cheer things up, I believe academic writers do have the chance to procrastinate. One thing both academic and creative writers can agree on is the best time to procrastinate: Something good usually comes out of putting your work aside after the very first draft. Give yourself a break before revising and editing and you will see your writing in a whole new perspective. If you don’t experience an inspiration spur during one of your showers at the procrastination period, it often still comes when you start working on the piece again.

On a final note, creative writers enjoy the writing process itself. As academics, you may find joy in researching or being published, but do try to enjoy the in-betweens like creative writers do. When you sit in a café with no wifi, writing your literature review, treat the process as something you have come to love. Passion always makes quality work.


The Pros and Cons of Procrastination by Vivian Lam
infinity clock

infinity clockVivian Lam, a student at the City University of Hong Kong, is an intern at PhD2Published.

Here are some common conceptions about the negative impact of procrastination:
1.Decrease in productivity: Obviously, procrastination means avoiding serious or pressing tasks. When we procrastinate, we basically stop achieving anything constructive. It delays our work progress, creating much bigger problems down the line when that chapter is due.
2.Decrease in motivation: The longer you drag your feet on the task, the less motivated you become to start working on it at all, resulting in lower quality work overall.
3.A decrease in self-discipline: When we start giving ourselves reasons to believe we have all the time in the world to finish a task, we become more and more disorganised and our lack of work discipline can lapse into other areas.

However, a quick trip to the mysterious realm called ‘the internet’ reveals some benefits of procrastination:
1.Stress relief: If a current task is difficult enough to make us want to stop for a while, it usually means we are too stressed up by it. Taking a break from it can relax our mind.
2.Boosting creativity: A lot of people, especially creative writers, believe coming back from procrastination gives them a fresh perspective, and thus stimulates creative thinking. Personally, I am a firm believer in this point. In fact, as a student, the best grade I ever received from my assignments came from a sudden outburst of ideas right after a bad case of procrastination.
3.Sense of control: When we force ourselves to turn off the internet, ignore all the WhatsApp messages, and simply write, write, and write, it feels like we are letting our work control our life. The realization is both unpleasant and counterproductive. We need passion to get a job done well and right now all we’ve got is a deep sense of loathing. Procrastination gives the sense of control back to us. It might be a waste of time, but at least it would be your choice to waste that time, and when we start working again, we may have a new-found appreciation of what we are doing when we cease wasting time.
4.Getting the overlooked tasks done We accomplish a lot of other tasks when avoiding the main one (This is basically the idea of “structured procrastination” I talked about before. Some people procrastinate by completing less important, but also pending, tasks. Some do it by cleaning up their desks. All these, while less important, are still productive tasks. When we procrastinate, we actually have the chance to work on the responsibilities we normally ignore.

Apparently, even procrastination can have its moment if we look at it from the right angle. Some psychologists are brushing it off as people trying to reduce the cognitive dissonance in the act of procrastination. However, if you find yourselves trapped in a procrastination period, don’t panic. Remember, you are not alone!

On Structured Procrastination, and Why It Probably Won’t Work for Me by Vivian
infinity clock

infinity clockVivian Lam, a student at the City University of Hong Kong, is an intern at PhD2Published.

I was going to start writing this post on procrastination yesterday, but then I thought, maybe later.

Procrastination sucks. We all know that. Professor John Perry from Stanford University coined the concept “structured procrastination”. The idea is that you can turn procrastination into a productive process if you spend the time not doing one important task by doing an apparently less important one. For example, in the time when Dr. Perry really should have been grading papers and filling book order forms, he wrote his essay on structured procrastination in order to procrastinate doing those top priority task. The essay would go on to win him an Ig Nobel Prize in literature fifteen years later, proving everyone procrastinates, including the Prize Committee.

Of course, Dr. Perry had admitted that “structured procrastination requires a certain amount of self-deception”. For this to work, you have to adjust your mentality into thinking the task with the seemingly (but not really) most pressing deadline is your absolute first priority right now, so you would gladly fulfil other tasks to avoid working on that.

When I first heard this, I thought it sounded rather clever. Structured procrastination assumes that all chronic procrastinators always ditch the first priority for slightly less important work. It plays with our own psychology.

However, the problem, I believe, is the evil existence of some less flexible deadlines. Perhaps a conference coming right up, or, for a humble BA student like myself, assignment due dates. Unlike Dr. Perry’s examples, these responsibilities can’t be ignored and saved until some even more urgent matters pop up. It also depends highly on the procrastinator’s self-discipline. The fact that my method of procrastination, instead of accomplishing other marginally useful tasks, is to start a Doctor Who marathon definitely does not help!

Personally, I prefer the traditional ways to overcome procrastination. Bribing yourself is usually a good idea. Take a tiresome piece of writing: When in doubt, take a deep breath; sit down, and once you reach a certain word count you get a drink, or maybe snack a bit, or even reward yourself 2 pages of that novel you’ve been obsessing over – whatever floats your writer boat. I also find adding more details onto the outline whenever I feel like putting the writing aside helps motivate me to continue working.

Whether it’s for you or not, structured procrastination means one more option for all procrastinators out there. If you are interested, I would suggest first trying it out on tasks with softer deadlines. Be sure to let us know what you think about it. Do you have other great ideas for battling procrastination? We would love to hear about that too!

The Creative Touch by Professor Helen Sword
helen sword book cover

helen sword book coverProfessor Helen Sword (The University of Auckland) is the author of the hugely popular Stylish Academic Writing. Below is an excerpt from her book which offers her top 10 tips on using creativity to keep the words flowing.

1.  “Read like a butterfly, write like a bee.” 19 Novelist Philip Pullman exhorts writers to read widely and voraciously, without necessarily worrying about whether a given book or article will be useful to their current research. Later, you can make a conscious effort to integrate ideas drawn from your outside reading into your academic writing

2. Freewriting is a generative technique advocated by Peter Elbow and others as a quick and easy way to get your creative juices flowing.
a. Grab a pen and paper (I favor high-quality fountain pens and attractively bound notebooks, but many writers are not so fussy), settle yourself someplace where you will not be disturbed (a park bench or café would be ideal, but an office with the door closed works just fine too), and resolve to write without interruption for a predetermined amount of time.
b. As you write, don’t allow your pen to leave the paper for more than a few seconds at a time. Your goal is to keep writing continuously until your time is up, without stopping to correct errors, read over what you have just written, or polish your prose.
c. You may feel emotional barriers rising or falling and unexpected thoughts surging through your head. Whatever happens, keep writing.
d. Afterward, you can shape your words into something more coherent—or not. The process, not the product, is the point of the exercise. Free drawing, mind mapping, and verbal brainstorming (for example, talking into a voice recorder) offer visual and oral alternatives to free writing.

3. Free drawing, mind mapping, and verbal brainstorming (for example, talking into a voice recorder) offer visual and oral alternatives to freewriting.

4. Make a list of all the ways your research arouses your passion, stokes your commitments, and gives you pleasure.

5. Write about the funny side, the absurd side, or even the dark side of your research project.

6.Write a poem about your research – anything from a confessional poem about your own scholarly struggles to a series of haiku about your research subject.

7. Make a mind map of your research, starting with your central thesis or research question and working outward from there. (For more detailed instructions on mind mapping, see Tony Buzan’s Mind Map Book or any of the many computer programs that include mind-mapping software).

8. Color code your research: for example, by using colored highlighters to signal connections between themes or ideas.

9. For a new perspective on your research, try looking at your work while wearing each of Edward de Bono’s six “thinking hats”: the white hat (facts and figures), the red hat (emotions and feelings), the black hat (cautious and careful), the yellow hat (speculative-positive), the green hat (creative thinking), and the blue hat (control of thinking).

10. Ask colleagues from other disciplines to recommend work by the best and most accessible writers in their field. As you read, consider form as well as content: What strategies do these authors use to engage and inform their readers? Are those strategies different from the ones commonly used in your discipline? Can you spot any new techniques worth borrowing?


Announcing AcWriMo 2015


AcWriMo stands for Academic Writing Month –  an academic write-a-thon hosted by PhD2Published every November.

The idea is that you set yourself an academic writing goal to achieve by the end of the month. Some people prefer to count words typed, others the time and effort they put in, or the number of projects completed. You sign up and then follow the hashtag on Twitter or check our Facebook page for tips, tricks advice and support from a community of thousands of academics. Together we investigate what it takes to become an efficient academic writer – and of course make academic writing a bit less lonely.

For the first time this year we are offering facilitator toolkits (click the pink button to the right) to help you host an AcWriMo team at your own university or even just focus on academic writing in one of your classes. La Trobe University are a great example of how to lead AcWriMo in your own institution.

If you need help getting started just ask on Twitter or Facebook and someone will be there to help you!

More about US:

The newly redesigned PhD2Published boasts hundreds of blog posts on various aspects of academic publishing from writing book proposals to dealing with reviewers comments on a journal article; presenting papers at conferences; publishing with open access journals; and professional networking – as well as countless tips on writing productivity. We receive well over 10,000 unique visitors a month and have a Twitter following of more than 13,000 people. Founder, Charlotte Frost, has presented PhD2Published at institutions including the Australian National University, Duke University and University College London and we have been featured in publications including Chronicle of Higher Education, the Guardian and Inside Higher Ed.

Reflections on #AcWriMo by Matt Lawson
Creative Commons photo by Michael CoghlanCreative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan
Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan

Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan

Matt Lawson is a final year funded PhD candidate in film musicology. His thesis is entitled ‘Scoring the Holocaust: a comparative, theoretical analysis of the function of film music in German Holocaust cinema’. You can find out more about Matt at his website: www.themusicologist.co.uk, and follow him on Twitter @MattLawsonPhD.

After a fantastic month in Germany, I am now back in the UK. Is it a case of proudly looking over what I’ve achieved, or licking my wounds after an unproductive month? Well I’m delighted to announce that it’s the former! I have had one of my most productive months of writing in the short history of my PhD.

It was always going to be a challenge working in a foreign country for a month, but they say “change is as good as a rest”, and the different scenery and culture helped a great deal with my productivity.

After my interim report stated that I’d made a solid start, things got even better in the following week, meaning—and I take a deep breath as I type this—I have returned to England with a final first draft of my PhD thesis! It’s an incredible feeling, and one I didn’t expect when I flew out on October 31st, but the month away has propelled me into a very strong position.

How did I make it work for me? Well, as previously highlighted, I made use of daylight hours by sightseeing, hiking, taking photographs and generally forgetting about research. Mentally and physically, this was important. Then, when it got dark at 4.30pm, I wrote until around 9.30pm each evening, with breaks for drinks and a meal. I repeated this Monday to Friday, and took weekends off.

Over the course of three weeks, I managed to write 14,000 words using this method. The final week, it was decided early on, would be a break as a reward for working hard. I cannot recommend taking a week off enough. It is the first time in over two years of PhD research that I have truly abandoned my research for a week. I didn’t think about it, I didn’t check emails, I didn’t even open my laptop on some days. The impact on my wellbeing was incredible. From feeling proud of my efforts, but also a little stressed to say the least, I returned to England invigorated, refreshed and as enthused as the day I began my PhD journey. As I tweak and polish my thesis in the run up to Christmas, I have already promised myself two weeks with no PhD over the festive break.

In conclusion, I look back with fondness on a country and experience which worked wonders on my PhD productivity, and perhaps there is something to be said for a 3 week/1 week working pattern, giving the body and mind time to recover before the next stretch of research.

What’s next?

puzzleIt’s been a busy Academic Writing Month here at PhD2Published.com! So many people set their intentions, set goals, got writing done, submitted work for publication…

Whether you set goals. met goals, or decided not to even consider #AcWriMo, the important takeaway is a vibrant, supportive community of scholars who are encouraging one another year round.

So we’d like to ask you, our community of academic writers, what we can do to keep that community going strong beyond November. Would you want a series of Twitter chats? A virtual Shut Up & Write session? Workshops? Tips? Please post your ideas here!

Looking forward to a productive December.

AcWriMo in the Alps: Part II by Matt Lawson
Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan

Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan

Matt Lawson is a final year funded PhD candidate in film musicology. His thesis is entitled ‘Scoring the Holocaust: a comparative, theoretical analysis of the function of film music in German Holocaust cinema’. You can find out more about Matt at his website: www.themusicologist.co.uk, and follow him on Twitter @MattLawsonPhD. His mid-point AcWriMo reflection follows below.

So – half way through. How are things going? Well, this weekend (Saturday 15th/Sunday 16th) is one I have designated as a weekend off. I will be watching Germany score many goals past Gibraltar in Nuremberg on Friday evening, and then allowing myself a little sightseeing and relaxing on the Saturday and Sunday.

‘What about the PhD?’, I hear you ask. Well, it’s going satisfactorily well! I know that doesn’t sound like I’m dancing around the Alpine lodge in excitement, but I’m content with my progress. Let’s do some number crunching. I arrived in Germany with 57,096 words, and as I go into my free weekend, that has blossomed to 65,281. I’ve worked on ten of the eleven days up from my arrival on 2nd November up to and including Wednesday 12th November, giving me an average of 818 words per day. That’s good going. I was aiming for 1,000, but with my thesis being in a fairly ‘completed’ state, that would perhaps be overdoing it. My realistic aim now is to head back to England with my thesis anywhere in the 70-80,000 range. Whether that is 70,001 or 80,000 remains to be seen, but I’ll be delighted with anything in between. That will give me three weeks before Christmas to edit what I’ve written, print, bind and hand in a full first draft.

What I would also like to mention in this instalment is how I have kept myself sane while I have been here. As mentioned in the previous post, isolation and loneliness are two of the down sides to a doctoral programme which have affected me deeply over the past year or so. I won’t lie: there have been evenings where I have felt these keenly since the beginning of the month, but I have coping mechanisms. One of these, which can only be good news for my mental AND physical health, is to walk ridiculous amounts during daylight hours, and work at night. It seems such a shame not to experience the country I have so kindly been given access to by my funding body, and with the sun going down at around 4:30pm, it seems counterproductive to sit inside pretending to write my thesis while I looking out of the window at the blue skies. I have clocked up countless miles up mountains, down valleys, around lakes and so forth, and have been back in my accommodation by 4:30pm each day to commence 4-5 hours of writing once it’s dark. It’s worked a treat, and my productivity is helped by the fact that for some of the walk, I’m planning what to write when I return!

This weekend off will give me a good chance to try and forget about the PhD (ha!), and clear my mind before the start of the next working week. To be honest, I’d quite like some horrible weather, because then it’d force me to some extent to stay inside and get lots done. At the same time, given what I’ve mentioned above, getting out and about is important. A PhD sometimes causes us to lose touch of reality somewhat, and there’s nothing that screams reality like being up a 6,000ft mountain wondering how you’re going to get down!

Half way through, and my report would read ‘satisfactory progress, but could do better’. Without putting too much pressure on myself, I’m hoping for a decent next couple of weeks to return to England knowing I’ve done everything I could have done to give me the best possible chance of handing a first draft in that I’m both happy and proud of.

‘Write like there’s no December’, is one quote I’ve seen banded around with regards to #AcWriMo. I like that a lot. However, I know that there’ll be a December, and that feeds my Alpine procrastination somewhat…

Fuelling Your Writing Process by Gillie Bolton
inspriational writing

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

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

a. 6 Minute Dump:

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

Now I am much better focussed for academic writing.

So Ya Wanna Finish That Thesis/Dissertation/Article/Paper/Chapter? Pt II
'Floating away — Peace Pig 260' by https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidonath/'Floating away — Peace Pig 260' by https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidonath/
'Floating away — Peace Pig 260' by https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidonath/

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting to Know Your Writing Process by Gillie Bolton
inspriational writing

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

Dear Academic Writer

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

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

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

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

What the Process of Academic Writing IS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Ya Wanna Finish That Thesis/Dissertation/Article/Paper/Chapter? Pt I
'Floating away — Peace Pig 260' by https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidonath/'Floating away — Peace Pig 260' by https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidonath/
'Floating away — Peace Pig 260' by https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidonath/

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #56 by Linda Levitt

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

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


5 More Ways to Start Writing by Charlotte Frost
By the Next 28 Days: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thenext28days/By the Next 28 Days: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thenext28days/
By the Next 28 Days: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thenext28days/

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

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

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

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

Debate centres on the issue of … (25 words)

My contribution will be… (50 words)

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

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

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

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

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

The origins of the #AcWri hashtag by Anna Tarrant

annaDr. Anna Tarrant is a social scientist with a background in human geography, currently working as a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Leeds. She is former editor of PhD2Published.com, and reflects on the history of #AcWri in this guest post.

#Acwri — which stands for academic writing — is a hashtag used in online discussions about all things related to academic writing (as it is broadly defined). It has been instrumental in establishing an on-going, online participatory community, providing an open platform for sharing knowledge about academic writing (empowering each member as experts in their right) and generating useful resources in the form of summaries. Scholars of all career stages and disciplines participate in a peer-to-peer support network by sharing tips, asking questions, discussing challenges and reflecting on how they write. But where did #AcWri come from?

Origins of the hashtag

I was the editor of PhD2Published during its first ever Academic Writing Month (originally Academic Book Writing Month or #AcBoWriMo, which was eventually shortened to Academic Writing Month or #AcWriMo). Interest in academic writing didn’t end when the month came to a close and this new community continued to regularly share their academic writing wins and woes using the shortened #AcWri hashtag that had been suggested by Melissa Lovell (@melovell). Around about the same time, Dr Jeremy Segrott (Cardiff University) ran a live chat using the hashtag #writter to find out if there was any interest in establishing a twitter-based writing support group. Following this chat (and having gained permission from the existing #AcWri community), we all decided to work together to organise and run fortnightly Live Chats using the #AcWri hashtag. These took place every fortnight on a Thursday evening at 8pm GMT and each one focused on a particular aspect of the writing process.

Some of the chats we have run

The live chats have covered a wide range of topics, including but not limited to; writing journal articles, turning conference papers into journal articles, writing grant applications, finding time to write and academic writing for part-time students and researchers. The topics were identified through monitoring of ongoing discussion using the #AcWri hashtag. This was important for ensuring that each topic was of interest to the community.

Every Live Chat was summarised using Storify, an online tool for creating stories from social media content. Posted on PhD2Published and Jeremy’s blog, these are really useful resources for academic writers and provide a record of the community’s discussions.

Going global

As a result of the live chats and the increasing popularity of the hashtag, the #AcWri community continued to grow and extend its reach. Demand for a chat time more suited to Australia/Asia/South Pacific time zones also grew so we announced #acwri APAC, a live chat run at 10+ GMT. This was co-chaired by Jennifer Lim and Wini Cooke who regularly participated in the community. #AcWri APAC extended the reach of #AcWri by supporting a multi-disciplinary, international discussion forum focused around academic writing.

#AcWri today

While the live chats are no longer run, the hashtag continues to be used on a regular basis by a well-established, global and thriving academic community. #AcWri is a fantastic peer support network for academic writers of all career stages and continues to facilitate an open platform for sharing knowledge about academic writing, empowering each member as experts in their own right.

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