In this series of posts, Astrid Bracke writes about the process of moving from disseration to book. She has a PhD in ecocriticism and contemporary British fiction and teaches English literature at the University of Amsterdam and HAN University of Applied Sciences.
In the previous two posts I wrote about making the decision to turn your dissertation into a book, and what to include in the book proposal. In this post, I’ll continue by discussing the market section of the proposal and the importance of making your book look – and sound – less like a rewritten dissertation.
While the market section may seem a particularly difficult section to write, you’ve established yourself as an expert in the field through your dissertation, so you most probably already know what’s out there in terms of other works. For the publisher, this is a vital aspect: they need to know that the book will sell, otherwise they’re unlikely to take it on. This section is not just about proving how unique your book is: just writing “no one has ever done this before” is not enough. In fact, you’ll have to explicitly refer to other books that are somehow similar to yours, or that present an argument that you’ll continue, in order to show that their readers will also be likely to read your book.
Rachel Toor’s very useful article on the market section really helped me to think this through more: she recommends starting to think about the author questionnaire, which asks specific questions related to marketing your book, early. While writing the market section of your proposal, it is also useful to think about the conferences that where your book might be put on display, and the professional organizations that you belong to of which others members might be interested as well.
In the previous post I wrote that the piece of advice I got most frequently when I asked people about their experiences of turning their dissertation into a book, is that you should only do it if you can find the time, but especially the motivation and energy to do so. Another piece of advice that I heard again and again is the importance of making your monograph – even if it’s based on your dissertation – look less than a dissertation. Although it may seem that this is a matter that can wait until you start writing the book, it is actually an issue that you need to think about when you’re writing your book proposal. Some publishers explicitly ask whether the monograph is based on your dissertation, but even if they don’t explicitly do so, you’ll have to demonstrate in your proposal that the monograph is an actual book, not a dissertation.
So what is the difference between a dissertation and a book? One of the biggest differences is its purpose: the purpose of your dissertation is to prove that you are worthy of belonging to the academic community. The – published! – monograph, on the other hand, implies your membership of the academic community, so you don’t need to explicitly show it. Instead, the monograph will have to be both intellectually thorough, and broad enough to appeal to an audience large enough to merit the publisher taking it on.
William Germano, in From Dissertation to Book, also provides an interesting discussion of the dissertation versus the book. He suggests that in addition to differences in purpose and audience, a dissertation “rehearses scholarship in the field,” while the book “has absorbed scholarship in the field, and builds on it” (157). For instance, many dissertations include lengthy literature reviews or initial chapters that set out precisely what kind of work has gone before. While these demonstrate your so-called “cabinet making skills” as a PhD student, they are less relevant to readers of monographs, and often need to go. The audience for your book is interested in your argument, and far less in seeing that you know everything that has gone before in your field.
Other signs of “dissertation style” that Germano warns against are an overdependence on citation and reference, and repetitious statements of intent (“In this section I will demonstrate that…”, “Following the preceding discussion of X, I will now move on to analyze Y…”). These are all things to avoid when writing your book, and require you to take considerable critical distance from your dissertation before turning it into a monograph. Rewriting the dissertation, then, may very well turn out to be more about extensive cutting and revising, than about giving it a mere polish.
While you’re determining the focus of your book you’ll also have to decide on a publisher to submit your proposal to, which I’ll discuss in my next post.
In this series of posts, Astrid Bracke writes about the process of moving from disseration to book. She has a PhD in ecocriticism and contemporary British fiction and teaches English literature at the University of Amsterdam and HAN University of Applied Sciences.
While every publisher has their own book proposal guidelines – available on their website – these tend to cover the same elements, such as the title, short summary, a longer chapter-by-chapter outline and a section on the significance of your book. Some publishers ask you to fill in a form that covers all of these elements, and others simply require you to submit a document that incorporates all the required elements in a running text.
An obvious but nonetheless worthwhile piece of advice is that if a publisher suggests a certain structure, follow it. While you may feel that deviating from the requested structure reflects originality and individuality, the editors and reviewers that will evaluate your proposal are used to a certain structure. Choosing a different structure will more likely confuse or even irritate the editors and reviewers – who usually have little time – rather than make your proposal stand out positively.
When I started working on my book proposal, I found it nonetheless hard to determine what my book proposal should look like. Asking a friend who works more or less in the same field as I do whether I could look at her – successful – proposal helped me a lot. Another valuable resource is Palgrave Macmillan’s Open Peer Review Trial. Although primarily meant to encourage open peer review of submitted book proposals, its archive gives examples of book proposals and the feedback they received.
Eventually I decided to write a proposal as a running text that includes the elements that most publishers require. This allowed me to really conceive of my proposal as a whole, rather than a series of fields to be filled in as part of a form. Once I’d written the proposal – and had asked feedback from trusted colleagues – I could tweak and adjust the proposal to the specific forms or guidelines provided by individual publishers.
I structured my proposal as follows:
A longer section describing the book’s main argument, the gap(s) it will be filling and the texts and theories I’ll be concerned with. This section ends with a paragraph that sums up the specific contributions the book will make (total length about 6 paragraphs);
Table of contents with titles of chapters and word count. Includes notes and bibliography;
Chapter outline (about 500-650 words per chapter);
About the author;
Timeline for completion.
A number of these elements are particularly important, and worth thinking about some more.
First, you’ll need to demonstrate the significance of your book. Why should others read it? What does it contribute, and to which fields? This may require you to broaden the scope of your dissertation somewhat. The challenge is to turn your dissertation from something that is interesting primarily to your supervisor and committee members into a book that will gain the interest of a larger group of scholars.
For instance, my dissertation was aimed explicitly at expanding ecocriticism through readings of contemporary British novels. While this may be of interest as well to some scholars working outside of ecocriticism, my primary audience consisted of ecocritics, and I explicitly engaged with and responded to existing work in the field. In order to appeal to a wider audience – and hence make the book more interesting to publishers – my monograph is less explicitly concerned with ecocritical theory and practice. Instead, I’ve shifted my focus to the second element of my dissertation: an analysis of representations of nature in contemporary fiction. Since my own interest as well as work in the field is moving towards post-millennial British novels, I’ve adjusted my corpus from novels published between 1975 and 2011 – as was in the case of my dissertation – to British novels published since 2000. Consequently, the audience for my monograph increases, as I aim to appeal to several scholarly communities equally: ecocritics as well as those working on contemporary fiction, especially post-millennial British fiction.
In the next post I’ll discuss another key element of the book proposal – the market section – and one of the most frequently heard pieces of advice for recent PhDs: making your book sounds less like the dissertation you based it on.
Top Tip: Meet deadlines. Once I was working on a submission in response to a call for chapters for a book. I did not make time adequately and got behind on my writing schedule. I had to finish the last section and conclusion when the deadline came. I wrote to the editor and asked for a few more days. He replied that no one had met the deadline, and he did not want to work with a group of authors who clearly didn’t have a vested interest in the project. The book was abandoned.
Editors are certainly pleased by responsive authors, and your ability to meet a deadline makes the process move not only more efficiently but also on time. You can only enhance your reputation and network by completing your work on time.
This is the first in a series of posts from Astrid Bracke regarding the process of moving from disseration to book. Astrid Bracke has a PhD in ecocriticism and contemporary British fiction and teaches English literature at the University of Amsterdam and HAN University of Applied Sciences.
Over the past months I’ve been working on a book proposal for a monograph based on my dissertation. In this and the next three posts I’ll be sharing my experiences and advice on getting from finishing your dissertation to submitting a book proposal, and going on – hopefully – to publish a book. In this first post, I’ll be talking about making the decision to turn your dissertation into a book, and everything that comes with it.
It’s easy to follow the advice of only those in your Department, such as your supervisor and immediate colleagues. This may not be the best advice, though, no matter how well meant. For instance, in the Department where I did my PhD, most of my colleagues focused largely on articles – and barely on monographs. Hence, the advice to recent PhDs was to turn their dissertation into a series of articles, rather than seek to publish it as a monograph. Indeed, as I learned later, the monograph – while seen as the Holy Grail in many academic fields – is of considerably less importance in others.
Either way, it’s important to seek advice outside of your immediate academic environment, by asking external advisors or committee members, people at conferences or even following discussions on Twitter and using websites such as PhD2Published or The Research Whisperer. It can also help to look at job adverts when making this decision: they don’t always specifically list The Book as a requirement, but often do add a published monograph to their list of desired qualities.
That should be one of the first questions you ask yourself: how much do I need The Book for my career, or does a series of articles carry equal or greater weight in my field? Of course, in literary studies, the monograph is generally seen as very important, which made working on and submitting a book proposal important if I wanted to get a job outside of my own Department. At the same time, the dissertation doesn’t have to be your first monograph – although it will probably take longer to publish a book based on a wholly new project, than one based on your PhD project.
I deliberately gave myself a year from my PhD defense to decide whether or not I wanted to turn my dissertation into a book. During that year I didn’t look at my dissertation at all. Instead, I talked to people – mostly outside of my own Department –about their experiences and advice. The number one advice I got is that you should only turn your dissertation into a book if you can find the motivation to do so. If you cannot be enthusiastic about it, don’t take it on. Similarly, if you realize that large parts of your dissertation are already outdated, or make it unfeasible as a book for other reasons, you’re better off turning the best parts into articles – if you hadn’t done so already – and move on to a new project.
One of the biggest reasons why I eventually decided to turn my dissertation into a book is that I felt that otherwise the work I did in the four years it took me to write the dissertation would go to waste. I still believed in my dissertation as a whole, yet also realized that although I wanted to use the material, I also wanted to rework it. Consequently, the book proposal that I’ve now written describes a book that is more a spin-off from my dissertation than actually based on it.
In the following three posts I’ll discuss the next steps: writing a book proposal and deciding on a publisher.
Consider your audience. An often-repeated reminder: your dissertation or thesis cannot be repackaged as your first book without significant revision. Many students find themselves in a position where they are writing primarily for their director and committee, each of whom plays a critical role in the student’s success. If your committee does not see your project making a meaningful contribution to the field, you may get sucked into a spiral of revision that keeps you from completion.
Once you have succeeded and graduated, your audience changes. Do you have a publisher in mind? A press that you would most like to put out that first book for you? Take a close look at what that press publishes. Will your manuscript be a good fit? Is there a particular editor to whom you would submit the manuscript? What books are in that editor’s repertoire? The degree to which you would write toward a particular audience/market changes from one discipline to another, but it can be helpful to bear in mind that an editor will need to know your book is marketable before offering you a contract.
I’ve recently conducted an “Introduction to Academic Publishing” seminar for PhD students at the University of Newcastle and the University of Canberra. During the seminar, I spend some time explaining to students the new emphasis on publication impact. Publication impact is the influence that scholarly publications have on other scholars and the general public, and it is becoming more and more important in academia. Below, I consider some of the ways in which publication impact is making an impact in the research world.
The quality and quantity of a researcher’s publications provide a key measure of their research productivity. Consequently, publication track records are often used to determine whether or not researchers get hired, promoted, or funded for their future research. In addition, at the institutional level, the quality and quantity of a university’s publication output help to determine its international reputation and the amount of funding that it receives based on national research performance reviews. So, there are several reasons why researchers find themselves and their research outputs to be objects of measurements.
The ethos of “publish or perish” has been around for a long time. However, in recent years, this message has become more articulated, and it now takes into account the impact of researchers’ publications. In particular, researchers are now told that they must not only publish their research but also get their publications acknowledged by other researchers and society at large. In practice, this means that researchers need to get their publications (a) cited in the work of other researchers and (b) discussed in traditional and online media. To help achieve a greater scholarly and public impact, researchers must promote and advertise their work as much as possible. In this respect, the message has now become “publish and publicise, or perish!”
Measuring Publication Impact in the Scholarly Literature: The H Index
The concern about impact in the scholarly literature explains the growing popularity of the h index, a metric that is used to quantify not only the number of articles that a researcher has published but also the number of citations that these articles have accrued in other scholarly work. My own h value is currently 12, meaning that 12 of my 33 research publications have each been cited at least 12 times in other research articles.High impact researchers are expected to have h indices that are at least as large as the number of years since their first publication. The h index is not without its critics, and some have argued that a more comprehensive assessment of publication impact should take into account a broader array of alternative impact metrics, or altmetrics, that include more than just citations in scholarly work.
Altmetrics platforms such as altmetric and impact story count the number of times that scholarly articles are mentioned in both the scholarly literature and online social media and websites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Wikipedia.They can also measure the number of times that online articles are viewed, bookmarked, liked, and downloaded on document managers such as Mendeley and Citeulike. Like the h index, altmetrics has its critics. However, if used wisely, altmetrics can provide a useful tool for assessing publication impact.
“Facebook for Researchers”
In an effort to increase their scholarly impact, researchers are now advertising their work on professional social networking websites such as Academia and ResearchGate, which have over 12 million researchers signed up between them. Researchers can follow other researchers in their area and be notified about their activities, including when they publish new articles. These sites also allow researchers to publish self-archived versions of their research papers that other users can then access, further increasing their citation potential.
By ResearchGate [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Funnelling News of Research Outputs: Research Blog Aggregators
Modern researchers are also blogging about their work. I do this myself and, although it takes a bit of time to prepare each post, I really enjoy turning a dry research abstract into a more accessible and appealing piece for my blog. Like many other researchers, I feed my posts through to research blog aggregators like ScienceSeeker and ResearchBlogging. These platforms funnel posts from many different research blogs into a single stream of the latest research.
Open-Access = Greater Impact
The drive to publish lots of highly cited and publically-acknowledged articles also helps to explain the rise of open-access journals. Unlike traditional journals, open-access journals publish articles 100% online rather than in print and, without the associated printing costs, they are able to accommodate a greater number of journal articles. For example, PLOS ONE published 23,464 articles in 2012, making it the largest journal in the world!
Importantly, the appeal of open-access journals is not only their ability to publish more publications, but also their ability to make those publications more accessible to readers. Unlike traditional journals, which tend to hide their content behind subscriber-only paywalls, open-access journals make their content freely available to everyone with internet access. This has the effect of increasing publication impact by increasing citation rates among scholars as well as online discussion among the general public.
Hello? Can Anyone Hear Me!?
If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no-one around to hear it, then does it make a noise? I can’t answer that one I’m afraid. But I do know that, nowadays, if a researcher publishes an article in a journal and no-one views it, downloads it, cites it, or Tweets it, then it certainly doesn’t make an impact!
I’d say that there a few common mistakes I’ve seen over the past decade at Liminalities, especially with graduate students and early career scholars. In many cases these can be avoided by having the intended submission vetted by a trusted mentor (like an advisor in grad school or an established researcher in your first faculty position). They can help a lot, but you have to ask them. Even though you know they are busy with other things. But if they are successful, someone probably helped them early on. Having your peers review your work is often helpful for your esteem, but they usually are not seasoned enough themselves to know the big differences between writing seminar papers and writing journal articles.
One common mistake I see is authors making big claims that are not supported by the arguments and examples. I think many times we have a hunch about a big idea and we really need to spend our tenure-seeking years articulating and working on that question. My advisor liked to tell people that the dissertation, for example, was your first word, not your only word. Worry about being consistent, clear, and rigorous on a small observation rather than trying to part the clouds.
Another mistake that is pretty specific to Liminalities is when I get an essay from a graduate student who is writing about his or her full-length show. It is difficult enough to do a thorough critical analysis of a performance (or other aesthetic text) by someone else. It is exponentially harder to do this when it is your own text being analyzed. All they see is their own brilliance that comes from a thousand tendrils of tenuous connections to other ideas. Teasing out those connections in concert with vivid descriptions usually gets lost by the wayside and you end up with another case of heavy claims with light support. Rather than writing about your brilliant show, write about the insights into a research question that you learned from the process of doing your show. Of course, now with multimedia journals, you can submit the aesthetic text itself as a form of research, maybe including an artist statement that frames the motivating question(s).
Another mistake I’ll mention in essays is having a stinker of a conclusion. The conclusion is what you are writing toward, what you are leading the readers to, and where you can show the readers why your work was worth reading. This is where you can connect to bigger questions that your modest article exposes. Often, it feels like authors just stop at the end of their observations and say, “Ta-da! See? See?” Tell us what we should see, and this will want to make us read your next essay.
The final mistake that I’ll mention is doing too much exegesis of some theorist and too little analysis of the thing that your scholarship is supposed to be about (be it a text, an object, a discourse, or whatever). Of course, doing exegesis is important to showing your professors that you understand what’s going on in difficult texts, and the best graduate students excel at this kind of writing. But readers of scholarship want you to already know (and know you know) that stuff so that you can get to the interesting work of applying it, expending it, or arguing against it in terms of some tangible examples.
Ellie Mackin is a third year PhD student in Classics at King’s College London, and is working through Wendy Belcher’s ‘Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks’ while attempting to finish.
Today is the day. This week has been a bit of a blur of teaching and thesis work, and all I wanted to do today was make sure that everything was ready to go for the final submission of my article. Earlier in the week I crafted, and then redrafted, and then edited, and then reedited, and then rewrote entirely my cover letter according to Belcher’s instructions. The first draft sounded altogether too needy. The second draft sounded too caviller. I was starting to think that I was completely written-out. But then, I went back and re-read Belcher’s advice from this week (and some of the advice from week four, when we drafted a query letter for the editor) and sat down and just followed her formula. It turned out to be fine – not over the top, without an undertone of ‘please, please, please publish my article!’ even though that’s exactly how I feel. I also went back and thoroughly checked over the style notes from my selected journal, and then spent two afternoons going through every single stylistic point that Belcher mentions (in a very handy table) and that was on the style notes and making sure that each of these things was correct in my article.
I have been told numerous times (and Belcher mentions as well) that making sure your article is in the correct house style is pretty important, so I wanted to make sure this was right. It probably didn’t need to take two afternoons, but I have put so much work into this article that I’m not prepared to trip at the last hurdle (if only I could put this much care into my thesis!) I don’t have any illustrations, tables, figures or similar so I didn’t really need to worry about permissions and getting good quality images, but Belcher has some great advice about this process.
This week I was a bit worried that the whole chapter would be devoted to preparing print versions of articles. Even though the edition of the book I have is from 2009, I imagine that a lot of journals are increasingly moving to online submission systems, or – at the very least – to email submissions, and the journal I have chosen has such an online system (where you upload everything via a webpage). While Belcher doesn’t specifically mention online-based applications systems I think this is pretty much covered by her electronic-version advice (there isn’t very much difference between submitting via email and an online system after all.) I wish she’d mentioned a bit more about email etiquette (for example, should you upload your cover letter as an attachment, or paste it into the body of the email?) but as it happens, it wasn’t that necessary for me in the end. I was a little bit dismayed by some of her advice in the ‘Preparing the final electronic/print version’ checklists. Namely, she very emphatically says ‘never use footnotes’ (rather you should use endnotes). This is probably sound advice for many people, but might be a bit confusing if a journal’s house style notes specifically request footnotes (she mentions that you should follow house style to the letter, but doesn’t say anything about following this style even when it conflicts with her own advice). So, it’s all done and dusted.
Final version finished, style updated, edited, rewritten, loved, hated, cried over (okay, not quite – but there were some close calls!). Cover letter ready to go. All that remains is to upload the lot of it onto the submission system and wait. And wait. And wait. I finally wanted to say a few words about how I found the programme as a whole, and the last chapter of the book (titled ‘Week X’). There were parts of this process that I found overly tedious – I noted those along the way, but specifically I found parts of week four (Selecting a Journal) and parts of week five (Reviewing the Related Literature) to be tedious and excessive. Having said that, I can understand why some people would find these tasks to be both timely and interesting. I have always been in the habit of reviewing literature as I go, and keeping on top of that as a matter of priority (in articles, conference papers, theses, essays etc.).
The week I found the most useful was Week ten (Editing Your Sentences). I think it’s worth getting this book (or checking it out from the library) for this chapter alone – looking at the microstructure of my article has improved my writing much more widely than any of the other exercises in this book. The book ends with Week X. I haven’t read though this section is great detail, but it deals with waiting for the journal’s decision, how to read the decision and how to respond – basically a ‘where to from here?’. I like the idea of including this information because the process certainly doesn’t stop once the article is submitted – there is a whole new process to go through, and Belcher’s informative (and extensive) advice on things like types of acceptances and rejections, how to go about revising or restructuring a rejected article, how to respond to reviewer’s comments will certainly be something that readers of this book will benefit from. I’m looking forward to getting to that stage, but for now – I think I’m ready to take a break from my article. Thanks for following along with these blog posts – I have learned a lot in the last twelve weeks, and I have a lot of new awareness about how I work and why I work the way I do (and I now have a much healthier writing habit!)
Today’s post reflects on one of the commonly experienced–but less often discussed–aspects of academic writing: receiving a negative review of your work. The author, Virginia Yonkers, is a long term adjunct in the Communication Department at the University at Albany. She has written articles in the fields of Language, Communication, Marketing & Management, Education, and Business Ethics.
A couple of weeks ago I received a rejection of my article submission from a prominent journal. What made it especially difficult was that it did not even get to the peer review process, but rather was filtered by the editor who decided it “would not fit” the journal. That was it: “would not fit.” My first inclination was to throw the article away, crawl up in a ball, and just stop trying. Of course, I did not. But that is the natural inclination when you receive such a strongly worded rejection.
We are often taught in Phd programs how to succeed, but not how to be rejected. A very successful colleague of mine related how she had at least 15 articles completely written her first year of post-phd, which she never resubmitted until mentor encouraged her to do so. She had 7 articles in a year as a result.
So how do you get over the feeling of rejection, especially as an early career researcher? Here are some tips in getting over the barrier of rejection in journal publishing.
1) Give yourself a week before you do anything after reading a rejection. It takes some time to disassociate your emotions (rejection, anger, disappointment) from the piece you have written. It is necessary to disassociate them when you need to make decisions about your next step. After you have given yourself a week, reread your rejection letter/email for any feedback, then reread your submitted to piece. This allows you to analyze what your next step will be.
2) You have 3 choices: Rewrite and resubmit the piece; submit the piece as is to another journal; or scrap the piece for a better time.
3) If you decide to resubmit, you will need to do some additional work. You may want to email the editor to see if you can get specific direction in how to make the manuscript more acceptable. If your manuscript has made it to the peer review process, review each comment. I find having a table which addresses each point helps in your revision, but also in the follow up letter you will submit with your new manuscript. If the manuscript was rejected outright (without indication of revisions), you will need to justify how the revised manuscript is substantially different than the original. In your follow up letter you will need to address each comment made by editors/peer reviewers.
You do not have to revise everything a reviewer comments on, but you do have to address it. For example, one of the reviewers of an article I co-wrote used a different theoretical framework in his analysis of our research. We maintained our methodology and justified it in our comments (and why we DID NOT use the methodology he would prefer).
4) You may decide to submit the same article to another journal or publisher (Note of warning: you should not have the same manuscripts at two different places at the same time). One possibility is to email the journal from which you were just rejected for recommendations for other places in which your piece might be more appropriate. This does two things: 1) it insures that the other journal knows you are withdrawing your article and will be submitting it elsewhere so they will not be allowed to print it in the future; 2) you may receive some additional feedback so you can make adjustments in your next submission.
If you decide to go to a different publisher, you need to do a little more homework. Based on your rejections, try to identify a publisher by which your ideas will be accepted. My recently rejected article was in a top journal (which I did not know at the time of the submission). In reviewing the list of reviews and the authors’ names, I discovered that there were very few outside of Ivy League/top 20 international universities represented in the articles and none represented as a reviewer. My assumption is that since I was not from one of these institutions, nor a leading researcher in the field, editors filtered my article out. Often they will have 100-200 submissions a month, so this helps decrease the workload for reviewers. Now when I look for new journals to submit to, I look at readership, topics (usually they have a description on their website), reviewers, and any professional organizations they are affiliated with.
There are two areas you MUST change when you resubmit to another journal. The first is the style (most websites have a style guide). The other is your introduction. You need to always include in your introduction how your article will be of interest for the journal’s readership.
5) If you decide not to resubmit your manuscript, you should consider how you can still communicate your research. You might want to consider submitting a paper to a conference (even having it published as a conference proceeding), upload it to a public depository (such as Academia.edu or your university’s working papers depository), or blog about it. Make sure you save the article. One of my most successful articles was an update of a colleague’s article that had never been published. She gave it to me to update and the two of use worked on creating a new model based on our discussions.
As an early career researcher, an article that was not accepted is a good starting point for collaboration or new research. So do not think of the unpublished manuscript as a failure, but rather a future starting point. It is important to continue to work even if you have had numerous articles rejected. If you feel that you are not getting anywhere with publishing, work with a mentor in your field who can give you direction on places to publish, ways to make your manuscripts more marketable, and motivation to continue to submit for publication.
Charlotte Frost and Jesse Stommel met (as they often do) in a Google Doc to do some writing. This time, however, they invited a group of people to join them, and they demonstrated how and why they write together in Google Docs. In the blog post below, you can read the text they generated, but the original Google Doc they used can also be viewed as can the video of them writing together (which we’ve included below). If you have any further questions ask away in the comments section of this post.
My name is Charlotte Frost and I am a Visiting Assistant Professor here at SCM in Hong Kong. I run lots of projects looking at writing in an academic context including PhD2Published and AcWriMo. My other work is focused on digital and new media arts and the history of net art (the latter of which was the subject for my thesis). Jesse and I regularly work in Google Docs together on all manner of things because apart from anything else its fun.
My name is Jesse Stommel and I’m a teacher and researcher working in the US. I teach Digital Humanities and Digital Literacies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I’m also the Director of Hybrid Pedagogy, a digital journal of learning, teaching, and technology. I’ve been working closely with Charlotte for quite a while, and we have begun to inhabit each other’s writing in such a way that we often finish each other’s sentences.
In this session we’re going to:
Use a Google Doc to show how we work together and discuss what works for us
Describe and give examples of public writing.
Show which parts of a Google Doc we use for what.
Address some of the difficulties we encounter as we work in this way.
Demo all of this in a meta-sort of way, so you can watch it unfold before your very eyes.
(And hopefully film this demo so you have something to look at and refer to afterward)
Why Write Collaboratively?
Accountability: Writing together is a huge procrastination crusher. There’s safety in numbers and it makes it much less daunting to look at a blank screen with someone else there – you are NOT alone! (cause someone else is right there with you, prodding your sentences into life!)
Camaraderie: Having someone to talk to and write with and even ask questions about all sorts of things helps (especially questions about writing and academia of course!). It can make it easier to get started (see above) and make the whole process a lot more enjoyable.
Instant Proof-reading and Peer-review: Your partner can read for sense AND mistakes – if they don’t get it, others won’t either. But also, let them find your mistakes and save your blushes later on.
Less Work: If you work on something like this together in a Google Doc (whether it’s a blog post, article, outline, etc.) you halve the work. And, if you’re working with someone like Charlotte [says Jesse] it’s even less than half, because she’s very very prolific.
Progression: It will move your thinking and writing forward AND fast. There’s a difference between ‘thinking writing’ and ‘doing writing’ the former helps you work something out, the latter helps you show what you’ve worked out. A collaborative document can be used for either, but if nothing else, use it for ‘thinking writing’. It’s a sandbox for making sense of something of something.
Why not? Learning is social and doing this kind of work with collaborators helps improve your work and your partners. Writing does not have to be solitary. Sure, some writing prefers to live alone, but sometimes writing wants to live right alongside its readers.
How to Write Collaboratively?
(there’s lots of stuff to consider as you get started, but sometimes the best thing to do is just start putting words on the screen and work the details out as you go). Here are some strategies we’ve found work well:
Time and Place:
Set up a Google Doc and a specific time to meet – as well as the duration of your meeting.
Your work can continue asynchronously outside the scheduled time (especially if you’re working in different time zones) but writing together at the same time is key – so try to do that regularly.
But perhaps only do it for an hour at a time, it’s a tiring practice if you’re working very collaboratively.
Establish the ‘permissions’ you’ll set for the document, who can edit, who can comment, who can read, etc.
Decide whether you want your document open to the web.
If you’re inviting more people to work with you, make sure that you make them ‘editors’.
[currently this document is set up to only allow folks aside from Jesse and Charlotte to view the document -- or participate in the chat -- though we often open up our documents to a wider group of editors at some point during our process.]
As well as writing your main body of text you’ll also be:
Using the chatbox for live discussion about all things writerly/academia and to arrange what you’ll achieve in your joint writing sessions.
Using the ‘comment’ function to select parts of the document to provide targeted feedback.
Decide how to navigate the various writing spaces together.
We meet in the chat box to get started and to arrange what we’ll do during a writing session, and we’ll often pop back into the chat box when we need to confer about our process.
We’ll also use the chat box as a space for dividing up what each of us will do during a writing session.
Sometimes, we will write in different colors just for fun to distinguish our voices. But we usually take that out as we polish the document.
Other examples of how you can use a Google Doc to work publicly and collaboratively:
Partner with one other person and both use the same GoogleDoc to each work on a different project but so that your progress is witnessed and/or so you can get someone else to periodically review your work and comment on it, etc. (There are anxieties associated with writing in public in this way, so doing this work helps build trust.) Sometimes, Charlotte will work at the bottom of a Google Doc while I work at the top. This gives us some amount of privacy but the ability to “call each other” into our section of the document.
Write in a Google Doc and make it public for viewing and reviewing (you might allow people to comment but not rewrite the text itself). Offering up a piece of work to a specific group in this way is a great technique for obtaining instant peer review.
Example: Arts Future Book is one of Charlotte’s research projects and in this instance she wrote a paper and left it open to public peer-reviewing (using a blog rather than Google Docs though)
Use one Google Doc for a large group as a sort of central repository for content.
You can brainstorm in the same doc and share ideas. and shape it up into something later. An Extreme example:of this is DigiWriMoNovel in a Day (which had about 100 people working in one Google Doc.)
Write collaboratively with one or more people. Take turns to draft sections of the doc (perhaps its an article you’re writing together) and use the comments to discuss each other’s sections and how to combine them better.
Take turns to draft sections but then work on the same paragraph at the same time to review, comment AND edit.
What Difficulties Do We Encounter When We Write Collaboratively?
Stage Fright: It will expose how many times you change a sentence before you finish it (or how many typos you make Charlotte likes to make typos, as do I. Luckily, we both find typos immensely charming.
Solution: If you see the other person writing at the speed of light you can lose your train of thought. Just carry on in your own way at your own pace until you feel comfortable. One of the most important things you can lean is that we all write differently and we have to find our own practice for ourselves.
Disagreements: It’s easy to get attached to your writing and hard sometimes to let someone else into your process. Occasionally, you will find yourself unable to share a common voice.
Solution: Decide in advance how you’ll resolve your writing issues with your writing partner. Agree to Skype, meet, or just agree to differ on what ever the issue is. Sometimes, you might decide that you want to write certain sections of a document independently, while continuing to collaborate on others.
Technical Problems: Technology can be temperamental. Occasionally, the gods of technology just don’t rule in our favor.
Solution: If you lose more than 15 mins to lost connections/Google Docs not refreshing it might best to just give up and work alone or on something else. But work out the next time you CAN meet and stick to it.
Ownership: Who owns this document? Who gets to decide its boundaries? When we work together in this way, who is the “author” of a document like this?
Solution: While we have both clearly been co-composing this particular example, what if one of us were writing and the other were primarily editing and offering feedback? If you set out to work on something together, even if one of your writes more of it, we think it’s probably best to just agree from the start that the work will be collaborative. This kind of work can’t be quantified in a cut and dry fashion. The production of one word is sometimes more difficult than the production of 10. Actual writing isn’t the only thing you bring to the table when you collaborate and we find that the balance of the work evens out in the end.
This Google Doc workshop was offered as part of the Improving Your Academic Writing workshop series Charlotte gave at the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong as part of AcWriMo 2013.
Ellie Mackin is a third year PhD student in Classics at King’s College London, and is working though Wendy Belcher’s ‘Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks’ while attempting to finish her thesis.
It seems habit that I start each blog with a confession now, although this confession is the exact opposite to the one I made last week. I am writing. A lot. It is #AcWriMo after all!
I am just not doing a lot of writing on my article. Probably lucky that this week was all about choosing an journal to submit to, so I am still mostly on track with my article. There is a good lesson to be learnt here about not letting setbacks set you back. What I mean is that you can take a small setback and let it become a big one by taking on an attitude of ‘well, I’ve already slipped this week so I may as well not do x, y, z either!’ Or, you can just take it in your stride, ‘I didn’t do a, but I can still do b and c.’ This is one of the things I’m finding nice about Belcher’s book: it is set up into easily manageable sized chunks of work each week, so it’s easy get back on track.
This week, as I said earlier, was all about picking a journal, and therefore the front pages of the week are packed full of information about different types of journals. Belcher breaks the section up into ‘Nonrecommended Publishing Outlets,’ which includes newspapers, trade publications, and conference proceedings, ‘Questionable Publishing Outlets,’ which includes non-peer reviewed journals, graduate, note, review and local journals and – surprisingly to me – chapters in edited volumes and electronic journals (though I assume that the field of electronic journals has changed significantly even since 2009, but I’ll still heed the advice for now!). Finally, ‘Preferred Publishing Outlets’ including regional, newer, field, interdisciplinary and disciplinary journals. Belcher asks you to identify one journal from each of these categories that might be suitable for your article, and I admit I struggled to come up with an interdisciplinary journal so I just left that blank.
The next task is to properly identify some journals that your article might be suitable for, just by searching. By asking colleagues and advisors/supervisors, the ‘old fashioned’ self search, journals that your article cites from, and electronic databases. Belcher gives some really good information about electronic searching, and a bunch of tips that will make the job a lot easier. Tips include varying search words, and searching for not just the topic of your paper but your methodological approach, or theory, or broad discipline keywords. The next day’s task is all about evaluating the journals you’ve uncovered during this searching process, and Belcher gives a great many criteria to think about when evaluating journals – she suggests spending ‘an hour’ (although I found it too longer than this) and that you look at print versions of the journals in question (which I did) rather than looking online for the information. The criteria include things like being peer-reviewed, reputable, from her recommended publishing outlet list, if the copy editing is good quality (that is, that the journal is not filled with typos and design problems), if it is timely in production, the journal size and number of articles published, how long it might take for an article to be published from acceptance, whether it is indexed online and who reads it. As you can see, this is quite a long list of things to look into, and some are as easy as flipping though a few issues to see for yourself and skim reading an article or two. When you have a list of half a dozen journals to look though, though, this process can take more time that Belcher has allowed you for the task, particularly when you take into account some of the things which are harder to find out on site – like how long it might take to publish an accepted article or how rigorous the peer-review process is – just something to keep in mind as you come up to this particular task. There is a handy form that you can use that will ensure that you don’t miss anything when searching, and that you can use for easy comparison between the journals.
Finally for this task you’re asked to review the forms and pick a journal – or several suitable journals in a ranked list! Then, the easy (and fun, I think!) part: read the journals. Belcher asks you to read though a few of the journal articles in a couple of recent editions of the journal(s) you’ve chosen. Take note, this exercise is not just about reading the articles you like but about scoping out what the journal is like (and perhaps finding a relevant article or two to cite in your own article). This is so you can really look at the direction of the journal, see whether your article can fill a gap in their recent issues, whether there is a trend to the topics and whether any of the recently published articles cover similar ground to your article – her general rule of thumb is that if it’s been done in the last three years the journal might not want to revisit the topic again so soon, unless your article is significantly different. Blecher almost tacks on the end to also look at the length of notes and bibliography, but I personally found this to be one of the most interesting differences in the journals I looked at – some had long, explanatory notes and some were just simple references, likewise some had many pages of bibliography and others had much shorter bibliographies – what I got from this little section is that you want your article to fit in to the overall feel of the journal, and I think this could make a difference to the place I choose to submit to.
Now – to return to the start of my post and my neglect. I confess: I haven’t done the day 5 task. I ran out of time because I was writing thesis-work. I am going to do this over the weekend and will put it in the next blog post, but I’ll run though briefly what the task is.
The task is to write a query letter to the editor(s) of your chosen journal(s). Belcher covers what you should ask editors, and gives a few sample letters, before running though what this kind of letter can do for you.
I’ll report more about that next week, until then – Happy AcWriMo everyone!
The time has come to announce that this is my last post for PhD2Published for a little while (boo! because I am going to be taking some time off to have a baby! She (yes apparently it’s a girl!) is due at the end of April 2013 so my attentions will be re-directed elsewhere for a while.
I have thoroughly enjoyed being the Managing Editor for PhD2Published and given that my body is being incredibly productive, I thought I would also take this opportunity to reflect on my time with PhD2Published to share some of the things I have learnt.
Becoming Managing Editor was a ‘seize the moment’ type affair (my first tip; seize any opportunity that you can – but be strategic!). I was working as a Senior Teaching Associate at Lancaster University (a teaching only position) at the time and I felt really disconnected from the world of academic publishing and research. In identifying a need for support and guidance in publishing I embarked on an online search for resources and that was when I came across PhD2Published. As luck would have it, Charlotte was looking for someone to fill the Managing Editor role so I jumped at the opportunity and just over a year later I am so grateful I did. Here’s why:
I have learnt about how and where to publish
One of my roles as Managing Editor is to source material relating to topics relevant to academic publishing. With a desire to publish myself I sought information that would not just help me, but others too, in all our publishing journeys. This helped me to collate useful material that also built a strong personal, but openly accessible narrative about publishing. In the past year I have invited academics of various career stages to write blogs, ranging in focus and including (but not limited too): contemporary publishing models such as Open Access; developing academic writing (see the benefits of writing in groups and collaborative writing); and reflection on publishing and emotion (e.g. Publish or Perish). I have even written my own resources for the site (see my series of #acwri summaries and what not to send for peer review) and for other reputable blogs including Guardian Higher Education.
As well as publishing blogs, I have gained a great deal of knowledge and confidence in publishing in more traditional ways. In the past year I have had three journal articles accepted, have had a book chapter published, with another on the way, and have been asked to peer review for several journals – all skills I needed to acquire but felt less able to in my teaching post. Needless to say, I am now a Research Associate at the Open University and can boast a much-developed CV.
I have upskilled
I have learnt how to blog, how to set up a blog site and how to write for different audiences,
I have learnt how to use Twitter, to network, to establish a professional identity, to share resources, to chair and manage a live chat (#acwri) and a large scale online project (#acwrimo),
I have also learnt how to use a range of different social media and applications including Twitter, Storify, Paper.li, Dropbox and Google Docs.
Networking: online and off
Networking and contacting academics from a variety of backgrounds, disciplines, geographic locations and so on has also launched me into a supportive, active and engaged community across multiple social media platforms; the website itself, Twitter and Facebook. Meeting people at conferences who know of me through Twitter has undeniably enhanced my ability to network and to meet people in my fields of research. Get known on Twitter, it helps to enhance your networking skills and visibility at conferences!
I have become involved in emerging academic debates about publishing/writing
Finally, PhD2Published has also expanded my research interests and expertise, so much so that I gave a conference paper about it at the SRHE Annual Conference 2012. This has afforded me the opportunity to reflect critically on academic use of social media for knowledge production and there is even a publication in the pipeline about this very topic, so watch this space!
Last but not least, as well as acquiring a range of skills I have also found a great colleague and friend in the one and only, charismatic and creative, Charlotte Frost. She is a quirky, selfless lady (with a penchant for pretty, purple, glittery things) and a true inspiration. I have the utmost respect for her and she has truly shown me that respect is earned; through hard work, tenacity, friendship, intelligence and a lust for life. I have a lot to thank her for and everyone who I have had the pleasure of working with/meeting in the past year or so.
Today’s post by Adia Benton provides some useful advice about preparing a special issue for a journal. Adia is an assistant professor of anthropology at Brown University. Her research focuses on humanitarianism, development, and technology and their interface with issues of race, gender and sexuality in sub-Saharan Africa. She can be found regularly tweeting @ethnography911 and blogging on Ethnographic Emergencies about engaged anthropology, ethnographic research and teaching.
A few years ago, after organizing a well-attended conference panel, we – the panel co-organizers and panelists — decided to put together a special journal issue based upon our panel. The only problem was that none of us had ever done it before. So we each reached out to our mentors and advisors for help, compared notes and put together a proposal. Last year, some two years after putting the proposal together, that issue was published. In this post, I outline the steps we took to go from panel to publication.
1. Draft your proposal for the special issue.
a) Provide a brief overview of the special issue. Ours was about a paragraph. As is often the case, our original conference proposal, although narrow enough to have the panel accepted (ahem), was still fairly broad and did not specifically address the papers’ common themes and what specific new conceptual, theoretical and methodological insights they provide. Therefore, we circulated the abstract to all panelists and modified the proposal to ensure that we narrowed our topic appropriately and described the gaps in the literature that the papers address collectively.
b) Abstracts for each paper – maybe 250-300 words—that are also modified to better fit the overview of contents.
c) Timeline: Without a timeline, you will have difficulty convincing anyone (including yourselves) that you have what it takes to pull together a special issue. Here are some milestones that you can include (with suggested time allotment):
Agreement with journal editor (within 8 weeks of submission of the proposal);
Article submission (3-6 months after agreement);
Article review (8-12 weeks);
Revisions (6-8 weeks);
Proofing, typesetting, articles in press and online (8-12 weeks)
Note: These are rough estimates and depend on the journal’s existing publication schedule. The editor who accepted our special issue told us that our dates were all wrong because there was a backlog of articles, slow turnaround on peer review, and two special issues already forthcoming. Although this was longer than we would normally expect for a single paper, it seemed to be normal for a special issue. On the bright side, this backlog meant that we had more time to write, edit and circulate our papers within the group of authors.
2. Circulate the proposal among the special issue participants, and perhaps, to colleagues who have editorial and/or topic area expertise. Edit using their suggestions.
3. Make a list of all relevant journals. I used a spreadsheet that included:
contact information for the editor;
general submission requirements;
any special requirements for special issues so that you can modify your proposal accordingly;
length of the average journal (number of articles and number of pages). This is important because you want to ensure that your final product falls within the range of what they are capable of printing in a single issue. Some editors have a bit more leeway when it comes to the length of issue, but it seems that most of them have an issue/page limit for each year.
If you have mentors, advisors, and friends who are on editorial boards, they might be looking to bring in new stuff. Ask. They might be able to push a proposal through too.
4. Submit the proposal to all journals on your list. I used a free email merge program back in 2010, but Outlook and Mac Mail allow you to perform an email merge.
5. Await a response. Within a couple of weeks, we received responses to most of our inquiries. A few well-respected journals responded positively but did not provide any firm commitments. One journal immediately accepted our proposal, which ‘fast-tracked’ our timeline a bit… But she also suggested that we prepare a backup plan in case all of our articles were not accepted. We had a colleague ‘on call’ in case we needed his contribution, but because we planned to devote a lot of time to editing amongst ourselves, we felt fairly confident that our papers would make it through.
6. Submit the papers according to the agreed-upon timeline. After circulating and editing papers over a summer and part of the fall, we all submitted our papers for peer review.
7. Await peer review comments and… darn we should have done that call for papers. One of our papers was rejected, and another that was on the cusp (ultimately, a revise and resubmit that was later accepted). The editor had also received two articles that fit our theme, so we would have had a full issue — even if it did not include all our original gang. Had we been less self-assured regarding our editing abilities, we probably would have posted a call for papers on our sub-discipline’s listservs and the journal’s website. And we would have posted it immediately after we had our initial proposal accepted.
A few of my classes in the past year have been looking at the strategies writers use in the conclusions of published articles. The published papers we took as a sample sometimes had separate concluding sections, and sometimes incorporated these into the previous section, although it was not really possible to see any difference between the two in content or strategy beyond presence or absence of a section heading.
One conclusion started by listing the authors’ assumptions and describing the problem that had been addressed. Another used a time structure: summarising the past, how this is now changing, and how the findings show the important factors in that change. The overwhelming majority began with a very brief summary of the most important findings – not a complete rehash of the findings, but a quick trip through the high points. Most were very brief and selective, though a couple provided more extensive summaries and examples from the paper.
The next part of the conclusion was more variable. Several explained how the paper fit into a larger, ongoing process (either a research process or in the actual case being researched). A few summarised the limitations of the work (all of which had been mentioned earlier in the papers at the relevant spots). One discussed why addressing the limitations could not supply enough data to change the findings, and ended with the implications of the findings. Several mentioned implications, either practical or for ongoing research. One that ended with long-term implications first discussed short-term implications. Similarly, one pointed out that although they had not found what they were looking for, the result was real and would change their research in particular ways.
The final part almost always included a sales pitch for the research. This could be its uniqueness, why it was special, its implications, or its practical value. For a few papers, the ending described what the authors saw as the logical next step to be researched. Our small sample (about 30 published papers) seemed to group around three broad scenarios, each with several variations.
Could any one of the three serve as a basic model for the conclusion of the paper you are now writing?
Restatement of the problem & its importancePast to present of problem
Brief summary of most important findings
More extensive summaries of implications of each result, including its history, examples and assumptions
Summary: research question and processHow this fits into a larger, ongoing process
Summary of limitations (all mentioned earlier)
Why limitations did not change researcher’s mind
Overall implications of results
Sales pitch for the research, its uniquenessImplications
Todays post is written by Helen Wainwright. Helen is a final year PhD Candidate from The Department of Art History at The University of Nottingham, researching conceptual art’s supposed demise in the early 1970s in New York, and the concurrent redefinition of the spaces and/or places of artistic practice and dissemination stemming from the period. She is particularly interested in the work three separate artists: Stephen Shore (1947-present), Gordon Matta Clark (1943-78) and Anthony McCall (1946-present), and the gap that exists between their early works and later (re)interpretations of them.
Recently, the thoughts of what to do post-PhD have started to worm their way into my mind – a good six months ahead of schedule. Rather than ignoring my subconscious efforts to prompt me into a premature job search, I used them as a nudge in the right direction to think about what I really want to accomplish in the year leading up to my viva, and likewise what I would need to accomplish in the subsequent year (or two) after it. This is when I metaphorically stumbled, via Twitter, across William Germano’s book From Dissertation to Book, an extremely useful and accessible text first published in 2005 by University of Chicago Press. I initially approached it with caution, thinking it would ultimately lead to a flurry of self-doubt, but what I actually found was an insider’s guide to what it takes, and how to make the first moves towards publishing your thesis as a book, and what decisions and barriers will more than likely be encountered along the way.
As the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social sciences at Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, and a former Vice President and Publishing Director at Routledge, William Germano knows exactly what it takes to take those first steps towards publication. The message running throughout the book is clear: be willing to revise, rework and even rethink your PhD research. This advice is coupled with a hefty warning: a thesis is not a book manuscript and will more-often-than-not be rejected by a publisher without any form of editing. Germano provides his readers with a list of eight options to choose from when considering what to do with the thesis once complete: ‘do not resuscitate’; ‘send the dissertation out as is…’; ‘publish the one strong chapter’; ‘publish two or three chapters as articles’; ‘revise the dissertation lightly’; ‘revise the dissertation thoroughly’ or ‘cleave the ample dissertation in two’ (p.38). It is safe to say that readers of From Dissertation to Book are most likely seeking advice on just that topic, and are thus left with the sole prospect of gentle/hefty revision. However, reading between the lines, I think the underlying message of the book is clear: there are more routes towards writing your first book than simply turning your doctoral dissertation straight into a manuscript.
One suggestion is the transformation of chapters into publications. Not only will this allow ideas to be transmitted to a larger audience; gaining much needed publicity, but it will grant the opportunity for a moment’s pause to deliberate whether these ideas could actually form the basis of further research, and lay the foundations for an entirely different book proposal. Likewise, such reflection may aid in the dissection of the thesis as a whole; allowing it to be sliced in two, moving both parts in separate directions, and therefore furthering the possibilities of future research and publication. Alternatively, as Germano continually recommends: revision is the key. Whilst attempting to re-work the thesis, it is also highlighted that a publisher who can recognise the potential audience for a book is far more likely to accept a manuscript or proposal, because they can clearly see who the text is aimed at and who it will be sold to. In contrast to the doctoral thesis, which will only ever meet the eyes of a handful of people, despite best wishes, the book must have a definite audience, and therefore a direct and highly relevant message. If you can argue this case straight away, then perhaps you are on to a winner.
The awareness of your thesis as something far from finished, but as the stepping stone into the world of academia is a daunting prospect, given the amount of blood, sweat and tears which are poured into the work. However, this realisation is also entirely invigorating when realisation dawns that all the routes of thought that had to be closed off in order to concentrate on getting to the finish line, could one day be re-opened. As a researcher you are expected to be adaptable and full of belief in your ideas, and From Dissertation to Book echoes these basic assumptions, asking its readers to think in the same way about their doctoral research: that it is malleable and full of potential, whether published as a book on first attempt, or not.