Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in comments
Search in excerpt
Search in posts
Search in pages
Search in groups
Search in users
Search in forums
Filter by Categories
Academic Practice
Academic Writing Month
Academic Writing Month
Blogging and Social Media
Book Editing
Book Literature Review
Book Marketing and Impact
Book Planning
Book Proposals
Book Publishing
Book Writing
Citations and Referencing
Conference Paper Abstracts
Conference Paper Editing
Conference Paper Literature Review
Conference Paper Marketing and Impact
Conference Paper Planning
Conference Paper Presenting
Conference Paper Writing
Conference Papers
Digital Publishing
Experimental Digital Publishing
Grant Abstracts
Grant Completion Reporting
Grant Impact Statement
Grant Literature Review
Grant Methods Section
Grant Writing
Journal Article Abstracts
Journal Article Editing
Journal Article Literature Review
Journal Article Marketing and Impact
Journal Article Peer Review
Journal Article Planning
Journal Article Writing
Journal Articles
Open Access
Reading and Note-Taking
Reseach Project Planning
Writing Obstacle No. 8 – Wendy Laura Belcher

This month of #AcWriMo we’re featuring heaps of advice from the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. She’ll offer a wealth of information on carefully planning your writing and getting over obstacles – practical and emotional.

I just can’t get started.

Many students find sitting down at the computer and starting to write to be the most difficult challenge facing them. Indeed, the horror of the blank page is a frequent theme of literature. The literary scholar Richard D. Altick talked about “First Paragraph Block” (1963, 190). Francoise Sagan described writing as “having a sheet of paper, a pen and . . . not an idea of what you’re going to say” (Brussell 1988, 618). Getting started is painful. One of the reasons for this, as one of my students put it so well, is that “if I never start, then I never fail.”

An excellent way of dealing with the difficulty of getting started is to make a preferred task contingent on a non-preferred task, as the behavior management experts put it. In this case, writing is the non-preferred task you have to complete before you get to something you prefer. For instance, do not allow yourself to read the morning newspaper or check your e-mail before you write for thirty minutes. Tell yourself that you will call a friend or watch a favorite television program after writing for an hour. Most students flip this and tell themselves “I’ll watch TV for an hour and then write.” But it is better to make the pleasurable activity a reward. Turn your procrastination tactics into productivity tools.

One warning on this tool. A friend of mine, when invited to socialize, always told us that she couldn’t get together because she had to write. When we called her the next day, however, she usually admitted that she had just watched bad television. It’s better to feel guilty about really enjoying something than to feel guilty about misspending your time and not writing. Denying yourself a real pleasure in order to force writing rarely works. Delaying a pleasure does.

Another method is to start by writing something else. Some students begin by typing a quote from their reading. Others write a plan for what they would like to do in that writing session. If you really feel shut down, it is useful to start by writing down the thoughts of your inner critic. You know, “It’s hubris for me even to pick up a pen, I haven’t a prayer of actually finishing this article in time,” etc., etc., etc. When you get bored with this inner critic and think, “Oh come on, things aren’t that bad,” then you can start writing your article. Eventually you get bored with this voice. It’s not very good company and writing becomes preferable to whining.

Another method is to focus on writing badly. If you can’t get started because your first sentence has to be perfect, this method can be useful. For fifteen minutes, write down every thought you have about your article without stopping to edit. Just let it all hang out. This is writing what Ann Lamott has celebrated as “a shitty first draft.” I could use the more alliterative word fecal, but shitty gets at the real feelings of shame and revulsion many have about writing. If you set out deliberately to write something horrible, this roadblock is erased. Again, eventually you write a sentence or have an idea that, despite your best efforts at producing ghastly work, sounds pretty good. And then you are on your way.

Still another method is to have a phone or e-mail partner. Arrange with another prospective author to agree to write at the same time. Check in by phone or e-mail when you are supposed to start, encourage each other, and then get started writing, knowing that someone else is going through the same horrible suffering, I mean, wonderful process that you are. Lots of my students have found this really helpful. It seems to be more helpful than the plan of meeting at someone’s house to write together, which often ends up being a talking session rather than a writing session.

A final method is to plan the agenda for your next writing session at the end of the last one. That way you will know what to do when you sit down to write. This will also help you stay focused on your article as a series of small tasks. Some authors even recommend that you always stop in the middle of a sentence, so that you have somewhere to pick up. I prefer to recommend pushing a bit into the next section.

Want more tips on writing obstacles? Click here.

Writing Obstacle No. 7 – Wendy Laura Belcher

This month of #AcWriMo we’re featuring heaps of advice from the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. She’ll offer a wealth of information on carefully planning your writing and getting over obstacles – practical and emotional.

I have to read just one more book.

Many of us tend to bog down in research. We find it difficult to get to writing because we are lured into the forest of no return, otherwise known as the library. Each article leads to another and then another, especially online. We wander deeper and deeper into this forest, rarely finding a path out. Why do we do this? While we remain in the forest, we are safe from the perils of writing. The idea that just one more article is going to give us mastery is an illusion. If such a thing as mastery is possible, it comes from writing not reading.

The best way I know to get out of the research bog is to do your writing and research at the same time. Do not take endless notes and underline huge sections of books, and then feel overwhelmed because you have to go back through all of those notes and texts. Read and then write an actual paragraph, however loose, about what you have read.

The point here is that you do not have to “finish” research before you start writing. You do not have to complete your literature search or finalize your data analysis or even read your advisor’s book. You do not have to know everything on the subject. Start writing and find out what you must know. As Boice puts it, “Writers who learn to leave holes in manuscripts to be filled later master valuable skills in writing: they learn to proceed amid ambiguity and uncertainty” (1997, 29). I know a graduate student who claims that she finished her dissertation by posting this quote on her computer and looking at it every time she wanted to reach for another book.

Erich Auerbach’s masterpiece Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature is a good example of this principle of research. Discharged from his university position in Germany by the Nazi government, Auerbach emigrated to Turkey, where he wrote Mimesis from 1942 to 1945. In his epilogue, Auerbach explains that the book lacks footnotes and may assert things that “modern research has disproved or modified” because the libraries in Istanbul were “not well equipped for European studies.” Then he adds a fascinating note. “It is quite possible that the book owes its existence to just this lack of a rich and specialized library. If it had been possible for me to acquaint myself with all the work that has been done on so many subjects, I might never have reached the point of writing” (1953, 557).

Don’t feel bad about not having done enough research. In the twenty-first century, it is no longer possible to be comprehensive. As knowledge expands and ways to communicate that knowledge explode, accelerating ignorance is an inevitable state. The best future researcher will be someone who learns to make a path through this immensity without getting overwhelmed.

What else is common writing obstacles ? Click here to find out.

Writing Obstacle No. 6 – Wendy Laura Belcher

This month of #AcWriMo we’re featuring heaps of advice from the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. She’ll offer a wealth of information on carefully planning your writing and getting over obstacles – practical and emotional.

I couldn’t get to my writing site.

“Living in limbo” is the graduate student’s theme song. One is always standing in some line, stuck in some meeting, stranded in traffic, lingering for delayed public transportation, or sitting around until someone shows up for an appointment. Whole days can be frittered away in waiting. If you find these times useful for planning your day or just relaxing, then all power to you. Most people, however, waste this time on feeling frustrated. It can be useful to carry a draft of your article everywhere. You can review the draft and make notes to yourself on improvements or do line editing. Many students I have worked with get their fifteen minutes a day done during these down times. There is nothing like doing two things at once to give you a marvelous feeling of efficiency!Perhaps this is also the obstacle you are facing. 

Successful Academic Writers Make Writing Social – Wendy Laura Belcher

This month of #AcWriMo we’re featuring heaps of advice from the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. She’ll offer a wealth of information on carefully planning your writing and getting over obstacles – practical and emotional.

The myth that writing should be a solo activity is just that, a myth. Yet, the popular image persists of the writer as someone who works alone for months in a cold garret, subsisting on bread and cigarettes while coughing consumptively and churning out page after page of sui generis prose. It’s a lonely, hard life, but that’s what writing takes.

Academics in the humanities persist in believing that texts spring fully formed from the mind of the writer. In the sciences, this myth is not so prevalent since most science articles are the result of a team of researchers who publish as coauthors. Students in the sciences work as secondary authors, contributing sections or data to faculty members’ articles, long before they ever become primary authors. That is why the rate of writing dysfunction in the sciences is so much lower. Scholars in the sciences consistently see writing as a form of conversation. When this idea of collaboration is lost, many of the writing problems so common in the academic community arise—writer’s block, anxiety over having one’s ideas stolen, the obsession with originality, the fear of belatedness, difficulties with criticism, even plagiarism. All rise from the myth that writing should be private and isolated.

Just look at the host of reviewers, friends, and family members thanked in any published book. This is not just civility on the part of the author; authors are usually understating the case. Those thanked may have performed research, suggested theses, recommended resources, and actually written conclusions. This was especially true in the past, when faculty wives not only typed and edited manuscripts, but also sometimes wrote sections of their husbands’ texts. The recent legal suit against the Da Vinci Code for copyright infringement suggests that such wives are still around. According to Dan Brown, his wife Blythe Brown did most of the research for the Da Vinci Code, suggested the idea of centering a book on the suppression of women in the Catholic Church, and insisted that the book include a child of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene (Collett-White 2006). Because the myth of originality is so strong, authors rarely give these laborers coauthor credits. This variation on the repressive silence discussed at the beginning of this chapter is the result of not recognizing that writing is collaborative labor.

A useful corrective to the myth of the solitary writer is the experience of Indonesian novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who was Southeast Asia’s leading contender for the Nobel Prize. Toer spent fourteen years as a political prisoner on Indonesia’s infamous Buru Island. Denied paper and pen, from 1969 to 1973, Pramoedya composed oral stories for the eighteen prisoners in his isolated camp, who would whisper the latest installment to other prisoners during their only daily contact, in the showers. These stories were so rich and human that many prisoners attributed their survival to them. Pramoedya himself has called the Buru novels “my lullaby for my fellow-prisoners, to calm their fears, they who were suffering so much torture” (Belcher 1999). The prisoners, in turn, did his work and gave him their food to enable his creation. When his captors finally allowed him to write in 1975, “it was like a dam breaking.” Toer wrote continuously to capture the stories from memory, sitting on the floor and writing on his prison cot. Only four of these books were smuggled out; six others were destroyed by prison guards. The first, This Earth of Mankind, is one of the best novels of colonialism ever written in English. The quartet of which it is a part is a defining work of this century. Is Toer’s story unusual? Yes. But his experience of writing highlights a persistent truth: The best writing is created in community with a strong sense of audience.

So, work to make your writing more public and less private, more social and less solitary. Start a writing group. Take a writing class. Convince another student to co-write an article with you. Meet a classmate at the library or a café to write for an hour. Attend conferences, participate in electronic discussion lists, join journal clubs, and introduce yourself to scholars whose work you admire. Do not get distracted into reading yet another article when a conversation with someone in your field can better help you to shape your ideas and direction. You should be spending as much time on establishing social scholarly connections as you do on writing, for the best writing happens in active interaction with your potential audience.

The more you participate, the better your experience of writing will be. This is partly because others give you ideas and language. But it is also because you must relate your ideas to others’ ideas. You must know what theories professors in your discipline are debating, what their primary research questions are, and what methodologies they consider appropriate. You can only know this if you are an active member of the community.

Students usually experience several problems with making their writing more social.

1. Many students feel real horror at the prospect of networking. Some feel awkward or invasive attempting to contact someone they admire. Others experience deliberate attempts at befriending others as superficial or brown-nosing. Certainly, reaching out socially takes courage and tact. Yet, you will find that others are often interested in meeting you and even grateful to you for taking the first step. Many established scholars enjoy being asked for advice on the field. So, whatever your comfort zone, try to push outside it.

2. Many students are hesitant about showing their writing to anyone. The university environment can encourage students to see their colleagues as adversaries rather than advocates. Classmates and professors can appear too busy to read and comment on your work. Students can be afraid that sharing their work will reveal them as impostors and demonstrate their deep unsuitability for the academy. Fortunately, if you manage to share your work, you usually find that others are happy to help and that you are not as much of an idiot as you thought you were. Moreover, others can quickly identify omissions and logical breaks that would take you weeks to figure out. Of course, some readers will be too critical and others will give you bad advice. But an essential part of becoming a writer is learning to sift useful criticisms from useless ones. The more often you deal with others’ subjective reactions to your work, the more readily you will be able to deal with peer reviewers’ comments down the road.

3. Some students are good at sharing their work, but only when they consider the article complete. Avoid waiting until your manuscript is “done” before sharing it. You will be disappointed when you share it with others, expecting compliments. Instead, you will get recommendations for revision that you are little interested in addressing. The point of sharing is to improve your writing, not to convince others of your talents. So, share your writing in the early stages. Show outlines to classmates, faculty members in your discipline, or even journal editors. Exchange abstracts. Give out drafts and ask for specific comments about aspects of your writing that you suspect are weak. Learn to share your writing at all stages.

4. Students fear that sharing their work will lead to their ideas being stolen. Like so many of the anxieties named in this book, there is a rational reason for this fear: students’ ideas are stolen. Stories are always circulating among graduate students about stolen intellectual property. But hiding your work will not solve this problem. In fact, getting your work out to a number of people will protect it. Furthermore, no one can articulate your idea like you can. You may suspect that anyone could do a better job of presenting your ideas than you could, but my book will help you see that’s not true.

All these activities will help you counter the myth of the lonely writer. Nothing is as collaborative as good writing. All texts depend on other texts, all writers stand on the shoulders of other writers, all prose demands an editor, and all writing needs an audience. Without community, writing is inconceivable. My book will help you to develop social writing habits and to share your work. If you are working with a writing partner or in a group, you are making excellent progress already!

Writing Obstacle No. 5 – Wendy Laura Belcher

This month of #AcWriMo we’re featuring heaps of advice from the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. She’ll offer a wealth of information on carefully planning your writing and getting over obstacles – practical and emotional.

I’m going to make writing my number one goal in life.

This may seem counterintuitive, but focusing all your energy on writing will not result in more productivity. In fact, research shows that whatever goal you make your highest priority you most likely will not attain. That’s because “the most valued activity” always “carries demands for time and perfection that encourage its avoidance” (Boice 1997, 23). Writers who make writing a modest, realistic priority are more productive.

Do not establish self-defeating writing goals that relegate everything else in your life to mere backdrop. Aiming for a forty-hour writing week will only make you feel guilty, not productive. Furthermore, the feeling that you should always be working will haunt every pleasurable moment. You do not resolve desires by suppressing them entirely. Make time to go to the beach, meet a friend for dinner, or play basketball. A well-balanced life—with time allotted for friends and family, games and sports, movies and light reading, as well as writing, research, and teaching—is the best ground for productive writing.

Making writing your last goal won’t work well either. In some cases, you may need to think long and hard about what your real goals are. You may need to work on seeing your number one goal as completing your dissertation, not perfecting it.

Or do you have trouble getting started on your writing? Click here to seek help.

Successful Academic Writers Write – Wendy Laura Belcher

This month of #AcWriMo we’re featuring heaps of advice from the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. She’ll offer a wealth of information on carefully planning your writing and getting over obstacles – practical and emotional.

Samuel Eliot Morison, author of several academic classics including The Oxford History of the American People, had the following literary advice for young historians, “First and foremost, get writing!” (1953, 293).

It may sound tautological, but the main key to a positive writing experience is writing. Most students’ negative experiences of writing revolve around not writing (i.e., procrastinating) and most students’ positive experiences of writing revolve around actually doing it. That is, when students write, they feel a sense of accomplishment and the pleasure of communicating their ideas. In this sense, writing is the same as exercise. Although it may not be easy at first, it does get easier and more pleasurable the more you do it. As the very productive academic writer and my colleague Chon A. Noriega tells his graduate students when they embark on their dissertations, “One usually gets better at whatever one does on a regular basis. If one does not write on a regular basis, one will get better at not writing. In fact, one will develop an astonishing array of skills designed to improve and extend one’s not writing.”

Those who do not write often claim that they are “too busy.” Indeed, people today are very busy. Some students have long commutes, others have full-time jobs, and still others have young children. So, here’s the good news and the bad news. Lots of busy people have been productive writers. Are they just smarter? No. If you pay attention to the way you actually spend time, you will find that you may not be quite as busy as you suppose and that writing doesn’t take as much time as you fear.

Robert Boice, the leading scholar on faculty productivity, proved this by finding faculty members who claimed to be “too busy” to write and then following them around for a week. With Boice staring at them all day, most had to admit that “they rarely had workdays without at least one brief period of fifteen to sixty minutes open for free use” (1997a, 21). His subjects spent this free time in activities that were neither work nor play. Boice also found that those likely to describe themselves as very “busy” or very “stressed” did not produce as much as those who were writing steadily. In other words, you are not too busy to write, you are busy because you do not write. Busy-ness is what you do to explain your not writing. (If you skimmed over those last two sentences, I recommend you go back and read them one more time. It’s essential.)

No matter how busy your life is, make a plan for writing. Successful academic writers do not wait for inspiration. They do not wait until the last minute. They do not wait for big blocks of time. They make a plan for writing every day and they stick to it.

Writing Obstacle No. 4 – Wendy Laura Belcher

This month of #AcWriMo we’re featuring heaps of advice from the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. She’ll offer a wealth of information on carefully planning your writing and getting over obstacles – practical and emotional.

I’m too depressed to write.

This is a very real problem and should not be underestimated. Depression among graduate students and faculty members is a common reason for under-productivity. Depression is variously defined, but some causes are useful for academics to remember.

Depression is an emotional disorder usually triggered by environment. Some researchers believe that continuous stress over a long period tricks the brain into responding to all events as stressful, which in turn triggers depression (Blackburn-Munro and Blackburn-Munro 2001). Since there may be no better description of graduate school than operating continuously in stress mode, it is not surprising that depression is such a common problem in academia. Although the trigger is environmental, the effect is chemical—an imbalance in the neurotransmitters called dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Low levels of these natural brain chemicals prevent the nerve cells in the brain from transmitting signals normally. This slow down makes people feel that performing daily activities is like struggling to walk through mud.

The terrible curse of depression is that it impairs the very faculty you need to solve that problem. So, if you suspect that you are depressed, go to your campus clinic and ask for an appointment with a doctor. If you don’t have such access, e-mail a few people for references and make an appointment with a doctor. This is the easiest step I know of to start moving beyond depression. The doctor can then refer you to a counselor, whose services are often provided free for graduate students, or can recommend an antidepressant. Taking any medication is a serious step, but antidepressants aren’t designed to make you feel euphoric or to take away your blue feelings. They are designed to help you get up in the morning and complete tasks. They are about escaping that feeling of moving through mud; they are not about escaping your life. The doctor may also recommend exercise, which has been found a good antidote to mild depression.

If you are depressed, I know how hard it can be to take the steps to take care of yourself, but you simply must. Your academic future and maybe your life depend on it.What is better than to set up some goal for your writing.


Writing Obstacle No. 3 – Wendy Laura Belcher

This month of #AcWriMo we’re featuring heaps of advice from the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. She’ll offer a wealth of information on carefully planning your writing and getting over obstacles – practical and emotional.

I will write just as soon as (fill in the blank).

Many students explain to me that they will get to writing just as soon as some more important task is completed. This list is varied and fascinating; that is, as soon as the apartment is clean, my lecture notes are organized, exams are over, the divorce is final, my advisor comes back from sabbatical, my medication kicks in, and so on. Only you can tell if these situations really do demand a break from writing. I suggest to you, however, that if you have not been writing regularly, none of these is an adequate excuse for not writing fifteen minutes a day.

Oddly enough, the most common “important task” of this sort is cleaning the house. Apparently, it is a common fact that many people simply cannot write if the house is dirty. My advice to you: Clean your house! In fact, if the way you get yourself in the writing mood is to spend fifteen minutes of cleaning before you spend fifteen minutes of writing, I’m all for it. Many of these same people feel that once they start cleaning they cannot stop, however. If so, I recommend that you reverse the order and do your fifteen minutes of writing first.

In other words, you don’t have to “clear the decks” before you can get started on a writing project. Writing seems to thrive on messy decks.

But you sometimes be stuck at your writing.

Writing Obstacle No.2 – Wendy Laura Belcher

This month of #AcWriMo we’re featuring heaps of advice from the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. She’ll offer a wealth of information on carefully planning your writing and getting over obstacles – practical and emotional.

Teaching preparation takes up all my extra time.

A common complaint of graduate students (and faculty) is that teaching preparation takes up the time they had hoped to use for writing. Certainly, preparing for class can devour time, especially if you have rarely taught before and want to avoid appearing like an idiot in front of thirty undergraduates. There is always more preparation and reading you can do for any class. Teaching assistants in the humanities can easily spend a forty-hour workweek just on meeting with students and grading.

The best solution for this very real problem is to set limits on your preparation time. You should learn to do this if you plan a career in academia since preparation will be an ongoing reality. Schedule your writing time before your teaching prep time. For instance, do not start to prepare for class until you have done half an hour of writing. That way, teaching preparation cannot spill over into your writing time. Now that you know that writing does not have to take hours and hours, and can be done daily, you should be able to fit writing in before other tasks.

Finally, if you are dedicated to being a good teacher, you should know that, among untenured faculty, having a commitment to your students correlates positively with higher rates of writing productivity (Sax, Hagedorn, Arredondo, Dicrisi 2002). Being well-rounded matters!

Maybe this is another difficulties you are facing.

Writing Obstacle No. 1 – Wendy Laura Belcher

This month of #AcWriMo we’re featuring heaps of advice from the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. She’ll offer a wealth of information on carefully planning your writing and getting over obstacles – practical and emotional.

I really am too busy!

If you really are too busy to fit in fifteen minutes of writing a day, then I cannot help you. I recommend that you plan, in the very near future, a weekend away from it all where you can really think about your life. If taking this time off means you cannot meet some obligations, do it anyway. Serious thinking about the quality and direction of your life is in order. Perhaps this is also the obstacle you are facing.

Understanding Feelings About Writing – Wendy Laura Belcher

This month of #AcWriMo we’re featuring heaps of advice from the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. She’ll offer a wealth of information on carefully planning your writing and getting over obstacles – practical and emotional.

Writing is to academia what sex was to nineteenth-century Vienna: everybody does it and nobody talks about it. The leading researcher on academic writers found that most academics were more willing to talk about even their most personal problems, including sexual dysfunction, than about problems with writing (Boice 1990) The prevalent belief among academics seems to be that writing, like sex, should come naturally and should be performed in polite privacy.

Because of this silence, writing dysfunction is common in academia. A recent survey of over 40,000 U.S. faculty revealed that 26 percent of professors spent zero hours a week writing, and almost 27 percent had never published a peer-reviewed journal article (Lindholm et al. 2005). In addition, 43 percent had not published any piece of writing in the past two years. The majority, 62 percent, had never published a book. Put another way, only 25 percent of faculty spent more than eight hours every week writing and only 28 percent of faculty had produced more than two publications in the past two years. Furthermore, these statistics are self-reported and reflect the activities of only those organized enough to respond to the survey. Some scholars believe the figure is much lower, estimating productive academic writers as less than 15 percent of faculty (Moxley and Taylor 1997, Simonton 1988). Since publication is the major marker of productivity in academia, these statistics are surprising. Or are they?

You do not have to be Freud to figure out that academia’s silence about writing may be repressive. Writing is, after all, a creative process and like any such process, depends on connection. If you try to create in an environment where sharing is discouraged, dysfunction is the inevitable result. Certainly, many have found that talking about their struggles with writing has been very freeing, both for them and their chosen confidant. The lesson: Learning to talk about writing is an important key to becoming a productive writer.

One of the reasons that academics do not talk about writing is that it involves talking about feelings. Academics tend to be more comfortable with the rational than the emotional. Therefore, even if we do manage to talk about writing, we are more likely to talk about content than process. In fact, many of us have feelings about writing that we rarely acknowledge in public. The first step to success is understanding your relationship to writing.

So, let’s get started with a very broad question. What feelings come up when you think about writing? I recommend that you call a classmate or colleague and discuss this question with them before jotting down your answers. Or you can compose an e-mail to a friend or family member.

When I ask this question about feelings in class, usually negative feelings come up first. I have cited these verbatim from my class notes:

I feel both terror and boredom. . . .

I get depressed when I think about having to write. . . .

I feel discouraged because I feel like I have never done enough research to start writing. . . .

I have fun in the beginning but I really hate revising. . . .

I enjoy revising, but I hate getting that first draft down. . . .

My advisor is so critical that whenever I think of writ- ing

I feel inadequate. . . .

I feel like there are rules that everyone knows but me. . . .

I feel like procrastinating whenever I think of how much writing I have to do and how little I have done. . . .

I feel ashamed of my writing skills. . . .

I wish my English was better. . . .

I feel that if people read my writing they will know that I’m a dumb bunny. . . .

I feel like I work at writing for hours and have so little to show for it. . . .

I spend so much time critiquing my students’ writing that I shut down when I come to my own….

I get a good idea but then I feel a fog come over me. . . .

When I think about the fact that my entire career depends on publication, I feel completely paralyzed. . . .

I feel confident that I could do anything, if I could just get out of bed.

Guess what? You are not alone! Most writers, even accomplished writers, hear these inner negative voices that whisper their fears to them whenever they think about writing. Using this book will diminish those voices, but the most important step is to realize that these feelings are warranted. Writing is difficult and scary. Feeling anxious is an entirely appropriate response.

It is worthwhile to spend some time thinking about what links your negative feelings. Do they revolve around one or two anxieties, perceptions, habits? Do they point to a particular fear, such as what others will think of you? Or to a particular negative self-assessment, such as labeling yourself lazy? Again, jot down some answers.

When I ask students to discuss their feelings about writing, some positive feelings usually come up, too. Students say things like:

I feel excited when I think up a good idea. . . .

Sometimes I write a sentence that comes out more coherently than I expected and I feel great. . .

I feel euphoric when I realize that I have a good conclusion that ties the paper together. . . .

I love the feeling of having just finished a paper. . . .

When I reread something I wrote a year ago, I’m impressed and I think, did I write that!?

In order to feel better about your writing, then, remember the context in which positive feelings arose.

For instance, do you have any particularly good memories of writing? During that experience when you felt good, what was making that happen? What are the lessons you can learn from those experiences?

When I ask this question in class, students list good experiences like:

I had a deadline that forced me to sit down and do the writing. . . .

I had an advisor/friend/spouse who was encouraging. . . .

I was working on a paper that meant a lot to me personally. . . .

My parents took my kids for a week. . . .

I got into a rhythm of writing every evening after Seinfeld. . . .

I had a part-time job that forced me to use my time more efficiently. . . .

I read an article that really inspired me and got me going. . . .

I asked my advisor to meet with me once a week and to expect some writing from me every time.

Interestingly, the lessons students learn from these experiences are similar. Apparently, happy writers are all alike, to paraphrase Tolstoy. Successful academic writers share similar attitudes and work habits. I call them the keys to academic writing success.

A primer on preparing to publish by Prof. Jan Draper

Today’s post by Prof. Jan Draper reflects on her own experiences of carving up her PhD thesis into publications and provides excellent advice for post PhD-ers about what to consider and how to do it. Jan is a Professor and Director of Nursing at the Open University, UK, in the Faculty of Health and Social Care.

I don’t have an academic book (unfortunately!) but when I completed my PhD (2000) I did approach a number of publishers to see if they were interested. I think my recollection from this (very dated now of course) was that the publishers could ‘spot’ a PhD ‘conversion’ a mile off, so you have to be very careful in this regard. Some publishers are very happy to consider conversions from PhDs, others are not. So in order to maximise chances, I think one needs to be very well informed about which publishers do what.

With that in mind here are my Top 5 Tips for getting published:

  1. Write a good PhD in the first place! Sounds obvious but you would be surprised at the range! Include in this writing a very solid theoretical foundation. Theory can really liberate and help make connections that otherwise might not be made.
  2. Make sure that you have a good publication strategy arising from your PhD. You may need to seek some help in gauging this – either supervisors or other colleagues, depending on the nature of your work. If you are located in a practice-based discipline for example, in addition to conventional academic papers arising from your thesis, there will also be professional/practice-related papers that you could write. So think very carefully about how you ‘cut’ your thesis.
  3. Think creatively about the above. Don’t just think the obvious i.e. the description of the project and the findings. Is there something about the method that was innovative, that I can write about? Was there something about the theory I used? How helpful was this theory? Did my work advance the theory in any way? Was there something about ethical considerations that was more unusual in my study that could be of benefit to the wider community in some way? Think also about conference presentations – not just papers.
  4. Think very carefully about where to publish. This may sound very obvious. But, I was very fortunate that I ‘stumbled’ across this important factor. Don’t settle for low impact journals but think about your academic career – if of course, that is something you wish to develop and enhance. Go for high impact journals that will get your work noticed. Not only will it get your work noticed, but it is likely that the feedback you get from reviewers will be of excellent quality. I learned so much from the feedback from reviewers working for The Sociology of Health and Illness not only about the papers but also about the process of reviewing. Their contributions to me as a writer have influenced by ongoing, longer-term work as a reviewer. Strange!
  5. Don’t underestimate the time it will involve! Cutting up a thesis is a traumatic and bloody affair! It has taken so long to write the thesis to get it to its current format, so to think about carving it up in a different way can actually be quite difficult. This is where wise counsel from either supervisors or other colleagues can be helpful. But my advice would be that no matter how hard it feels – just do it! To get to this stage and not publish would be a travesty so I would always encourage students that no matter how hard it feels, you must do it! From my own personal experience, I know that getting 5 good papers out of my PhD created a solid platform for my ongoing academic career. So it is worth it – honest!

Sending a journal article for peer review – what not to send, by Anna Tarrant
Running the peer review gauntlet (from GenomicEnterprise.com)

Running the peer review gauntlet (from GenomicEnterprise.com)

I have learnt a lot about academic publishing in the past year, particularly about publishing journal articles. This is partly because I have been writing up my PhD thesis into journal articles and in part because of my work for PhD2Published as Managing Editor. In todays post I share some of my recent experiences of peer reviewing to provide advice about what not to send to reviewers.

In the past four months I have gained experience of peer reviewing journal articles. I have reviewed 3 in total; two I was asked to do by a known colleague and mentor who also happens to be a journal editor, and one came out of the blue but related well to my research interests (suggesting I am getting known for my research interests –yay!). I have found peer reviewing a really interesting and fruitful experience. Seeing less than perfect academic writing has been a real eye-opener and has given me a new, more confident perspective on my own writing.

Today’s post is based on my experience of peer reviewing one of these journal articles. Of the three I have reviewed, I have awarded two ‘major revisions’ and one I actually rejected. I found it very difficult to reject the article because as an early career researcher sending out my own work for review, I know how nerve-wracking it can be to put your writing out there. I also thought that the paper had real potential but unfortunately the more I read, the more disappointing it became. I was very careful to give constructive feedback and to fully explain my decision so as not to discourage the author or to offend them. As it turned out, it appeared my decision was justified. The other two reviewers also rejected the paper (which shows I know what I’m doing. Double yay! ;)).

If I’m being honest, I was quite surprised that the paper was sent for review in the state it is was in. Perhaps the looming REF meant it was sent under pressure, or perhaps the author just wanted some feedback at an earlier stage? Perhaps there is a genuine issue in academia that not all of us know how to write a strong first draft of a journal article, an issue that PhD2Published at least has tried to remedy (e.g. Inger Mewburn’s series on Writing Journal Articles). Either way, there were some significant problems identified by all three reviewers. And having gained this insight, I wanted to write this post to share some of these significant issues (without revealing the author of course) so that others who are new to publishing journal articles or asking for early feedback know what to avoid. While some of these examples may seem far-fetched, they are based on my experience. There are other things to be aware of, of course, but for me, these are key and are what I look out for when reviewing.

So here are my tips about what not to send if you want to be accepted:

  1. If your paper is based on empirical findings don’t send a paper that doesn’t explain what methods were conducted, who the sample was or how the data was analysed. The readers need to know that your findings and conclusions are based on a well-designed research project.
  2. Don’t make grand claims that cannot be substantiated with evidence from data or literature. Your points and claims need to be believable and convince the readers that your arguments are well-grounded throughout.
  3. Don’t write a conclusion that does not explicitly state the take-away point from your article. Likewise don’t send a paper that does not explicitly state its aim and purpose in the introduction. Tell the reader what you are going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you told them.
  4. Avoid making assumptions about the prior knowledge of the readers, particularly if you discuss an event or situation that is only well known in your own context. Make use of foot or endnotes for explaining things that aren’t pertinent to the text but need explanation.
  5. Avoid over-using jargon and complex academic language that you haven’t explained or referenced, especially if this affects the clarity of the paper.

And here’s a bonus tip from a review of one of my own papers:

Don’t send a paper that hasn’t been edited thoroughly before submission. Irritating grammar errors annoy reviewers and may detract from the quality of your paper.

Collaborative Writing by Peter Tennant
(C) http://www.flickr.com/photos/bshephard/

(C) http://www.flickr.com/photos/bshephard/Today’s post reflects on the commonly encountered in academic life; collaborative writing.  The author, Peter Tennant is a junior epidemiologist working at Newcastle University. His research predominantly concerns adverse pregnancy outcomes, but his interests include Social Medicine in its widest sense and the general challenges of an academic career. He can be found regularly tweeting and blogging about both of these.

I once showed my brother one of my papers.

‘Why is it written in such a dull and lifeless style?’

‘Oh, that’s the editor’s fault. It read much better when I submitted it’.

Neither of us was convinced.

There’s no shame in being a scientist who can’t write. Science is fairly well populated by people with exceptional skills in the most extraordinary areas, but who can’t write for toffee. Then again, even the best communicator would struggle writing a scientific paper. Because scientific papers are almost always written in teams.

This is fairly sensible, given most scientific studies are performed in teams, but there are also some serious advantages. For a start it allows contribution from people with a range of skills. Having medical co-authors means my papers can discuss the clinical significance without risking a life-threatening blunder. It also means you’ve got plenty of people to celebrate with when the paper gets accepted. And, it gives you someone else to blame if anyone ever calls your paper, ‘dull and lifeless’.

But, did I mention, it’s also very challenging? As the lead author (most commonly the first name on the authorship list, though not for all disciplines), the main challenge is to your sanity. As long as it might take crafting the first draft, this is nothing compared with the time spent sending it back and forth to your co-authors for more and more comments. It’s this process that I think produces that instantly recognisable multi-author style (the one my brother kindly referred to as ‘dull and lifeless’). Like washing a colourful shirt a hundred times. This is why (against the advice of senior authors like Martin White and Jean Adams, see bullet point 3) I rarely waste time overcooking my first drafts. There’s simply no point spending days writing a stunning introductory paragraph, only for it to be completely mauled by your co-authors.

Broadly speaking, co-authors come in one of three factory settings; the Rampant Re-writers, the Sweeping Suggestion-Makers, and the Utterly Useless.

The Rampant Re-writers get the most flack. These are the people who so heavily drench your draft in tracked-changes that, by the end, it stops feeling like your paper. Draining as this can be, these co-authors are actually the nice ones, generously spending their time to improve the paper. Until they start changing bits that everyone’s already agreed on. That’s when they get really annoying. And when it’s especially important to remember the Golden Rule of Rampant Re-writers: edits are only suggestions – as the lead author, you should always have the final say.

Next there are the Sweeping Suggestion-Makers. Wielding the deadly comment box, they add things like, ‘this bit needs shortening’ or ‘I think you should add something about X’. Sometimes I’m tempted to send it back and say, ‘I think YOU should add something about X if YOU think it’s so important!’ But they’re usually too busy. And they’re usually right. Damn them with their helpful comments.

By far the most harmful authors are the Utterly Useless. The ones who don’t reply to emails, or who get back saying vague things like, ‘looks great’. In the absence of praise from your other authors (sadly the academic for, ‘this is amazing, fantastic work’ is often simply, ‘no further comments’), these people can seem like your friends, but they’re not. They’re useless. That’s why I call them Utterly Useless. In fact, these authors are the ones that can cause genuine ethical dilemmas. Do they even satisfy the conditions of authorship? Occasionally a senior academic will insist on being an author due to some historical connection with the study, even if they then add nothing to the paper. This is unethical. But not something that the average PhD student is in a position to do anything about. More pertinent is the risk of being pushed down the author order, despite doing the most work. It’s common throughout the history of science. It’s also morally repugnant. Always try to discuss the authorship list and the author-order before starting writing a paper and this risk can be reduced (though, sadly, not eliminated).

If being the lead/first author is most difficult, it’s not necessarily easy being a support author, where the big challenge is in getting the right balance of comments. Despite years of therapy, I still fall firmly into the Rampant Re-writer category. On more than one occasion, I’ve made the first author cry by overdoing the edits. Some support authors try to soften the blow by spreading their edits over several revisions, e.g. making the ‘essential’ changes first, then the less major changes later. But I’ve experienced this as a first author and actually found it more depressing! It’s like getting to the end of a marathon, only to be told to run another five miles. Short of making them cry, over-editing might still annoy your co-authors, especially if they are senior. For some reason, Professors don’t always react very well to having their words rewritten by a PhD student. So here’s my advice, try and get all your comments in first time, but make sure they are all essential. If in doubt, leave it out. Unless you’re happy making your colleagues cry.

Becoming a journal editor by Dr Tseen-Ling Khoo

Dr Tseen-Ling Khoo blogs regularly for the Research Whisperer and is currently Senior Advisor in Research Grant Development at RMIT University. Prior to joining RMIT, Tseen completed research fellowships at Monash University (2004-2010) and the University of Queensland (2001-2004). She also convenes the Asian Australian Studies Research Network (asianaustralianstudies.org; 160 members), and was editor of the Journal of Intercultural Studies (Routledge; ERA A-ranked) which she reflects on in today’s post. 

There is no better way to fast-track your grasp of academic productivity and evaluation than becoming a journal editor.

A stint as an editor for a collection of essays in a book or the role of a guest-editor for a journal will give you taste of what it’s like, but nothing can prepare you for being an ongoing journal editor.

It’s not for everyone, and its rewards can be great.

What makes a good editor?

The qualities a good editor needs are:

  • The ability to make fast, good decisions about papers or issue proposals.
  • Thoroughness with processes and around reviews and revisions.
  • Good academic network, or the potential to grow one.
  • Tenacity about doing the job well, even though it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t often get concrete rewards. It’s also the kind of role where the recognition you might get never reflects the amount of time you’ve put into it.

Given this somewhat daunting list that nudges close to martyrdom, why would you do it?

  1. Being an editor of a good journal repays you with prestige points, and you get to list it on your CV as an ‘esteem factor’.
    With your name on the mast-head of every issue and on the publication’s website, it also helps with getting your name out there consistently.
  2. You get to grow a field in your own image. Sort of.
    With journals that cover more specific topic areas, you can often manage the content such that areas you feel are neglected get more love or, if you feel they’re overrepresented (over-saturated), these topics get ‘rested’. You can tap promising early scholars to submit and have your journal associated with their probable rise through the ranks.
  3. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to work with a good, tight editorial team.
    In my experience, if you couldn’t work well with your editorial team colleagues, life as a journal editor would be hellish. I was lucky enough to have a team with whom I loved working and could have a laugh. We also had a publisher who treated us to 3-course lunches once a year. This helped.

That’s all very well, and what many academic mentors may tell you, but here’s why I say you should do it:

  1. Being a journal editor gives you a crash course in high level, on-the-job professionalism.
    You think you have editing expertise? It’s not until you are editing a constant stream of papers, revisions, and whole special issues that you appreciate what ‘being an editor’ means.a) You get an intimate perspective on how your own work may travel through a journal’s processesand start to realise the profoundly unpredictable input and schedule that’s involved in just one paper’s review. The editing skills you pick up as a journal editor feedback, of course, into the quality of your own writing and how you may pitch proposals to journals or editors in the future. You will necessarily have picked up on what kinds of things slow or expedite work through the academic journal system.b) You realise what the time pressures really are in producing publications. I had always thought I was a fairly organised and efficient worker, but it wasn’t until I became a regular editor of publications that I realised I had a shallow idea of the intricate juggling process that gets a book or journal from go to woe. If you’re lucky, you’ll have an associate/assistant editor who also works on the journal and they may well take responsibility for the lion’s share of the proofing and stylistic aspects (all hail associate editors, I say!). Still, ensuring that the publication is consistent, each piece as intellectually exciting as possible, and any glitches are addressed and accounted for (with authors and publishers) is gruelling. As a guest-editor, it’s bad enough; for an ongoing editor, multiply this by at least four.
  1. You get to see the seedy and noble sides of your colleagues.
    It would only really make sense to take up big editorial duties with a journal if the publication was in your area and fed your critical and professional knowledge. When I say “professional knowledge”, I’m not referring here to the process of editing per se; I’m talking about how you get to know the academics in your discipline. Chances are, they’re your reviewers and contributors. How do they assess their peers or deal with criticism of their own work? As I’ve written about in more detail elsewhere, you can tell a LOT about your colleagues through how they review (and are reviewed). This kind of information pays dividends immediately in your broader academic life and ‘insider’ knowledge about the personalities at play in a given field.

For me, having been an editor in various capacities (including five years at the helm of a rapidly growing quarterly journal), the experience and insight I’ve gained is invaluable.

No doubt, the time that the editing gigs took up could have been channelled into a few more papers and chapters on my CV. But there is no way I would have known as much about the academic game, or as many players in that game, as I do now.