Browsing the archives for the Writing category

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #54 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)tl;dr. You may be familiar with this acronym, which is an abbreviation for “too long; didn’t read.” We’ve been critiqued for being a short attention-span culture, scrolling down the page of an online article and unwilling to commit to a lengthy piece of writing. Consider going for the long read, because most academics are committed to the long write, right? Not only is there much to be gained from deep reading, but you can also see ways to sustain (or lose) your readers’ interest based on your own willingness to keep reading.

 

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #53 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Do some warm ups! Academic Writing Month (AcWriMo) begins 1 November, and there is no time like the present to start considering your goals. As our own Charlotte Frost wrote recently, you can set goals for word counts, time committed, or pages completed–whatever works best for you. Trying out different kinds of goals can help you decide what method will be most useful for AcWriMo and help you prepare to set goals for our big thirty-day commitment.

 

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #52 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Find friends for peer review. Good friends, colleagues, and collaborators don’t only help solve problems and figure things out, they also catch typographical errors. Finding a small network of those who do work similar to your own can be a tremendous benefit to preparing articles and manuscripts for submission. Having someone read through your work with a critical but kind eye can mean everything from noticing style points to recommending additional sources and helping smooth out complex arguments. When you return the favor, you are likely to learn more about your own writing style from reading someone else’s work in progress.

 

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Publishing online and outside of a discipline by Tony E. Adams
Posted by Linda Levitt

publications_imageTony Adams is Associate Professor and Chair of Communication, Media, and Theatre at Northeastern Illinois University. For more information about his work, visit www.TonyEAdams.com

I write this blog from the perspective of someone who has the privilege to publish in a variety of outlets—my institution does not rank or evaluate the best journals; citation counts do not matter; and we do not use external reviewers for retention, tenure, or promotion. As such, this blog may not be of much interest to academics working at research institutions or at institutions where specific journals matter. Here, I offer my experiences with the limited aspect of disciplinary publishing, the benefits of open-access publishing, and writing about research practices and methods.
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On a job interview for a mid-size, public university, I asked the interviewers about tenure requirements.

“If you publish three articles in the nationally sanctioned journals, you should be okay for tenure,” one interviewer says.

“I don’t publish in our nationally sanctioned journals,” I reply. “Most of the time, they do not welcome qualitative research, especially research that uses ethnography and autoethnography.”

“You’d probably get tenure if you published six articles in the regionally sanctioned communication journals,” the interviewer continues.

“I don’t publish in those journals either,” I say. “These journals also do not welcome ethnographic and autoethnographic research.”

Our interview ended.

Of the 11 nationally sanctioned, disciplinary journals—those journals sponsored by the National Communication Association—only two are open to ethnography and autoethnography, my primary methods for research. If I want (or need) to get published, and if I want (or need) to be published in nationally sanctioned publications, then I immerse myself in a highly competitive publishing process. While I suppose not being accepted for publication in these journals may have some indication about the value of my work to/for the communication discipline, I also believe that many of the discipline’s journal editors are against particular methods before they would even review my submissions. By trying to publish ethnographic and autoethnographic scholarship in more traditional, social scientific outlets, I may exhaust myself in a pointless task.

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In April 2014, I had a conversation with a colleague about the citation count of “Autoethnography: An Overview,” a 2011 article I co-authored with Carolyn Ellis and Arthur Bochner published in the open-access journal, Forum: Qualitative Social Research. My colleague could not believe that this article alreadyhad more than 200 citations (as of this writing [September 2014], it has more than 300 citations). Further, while I believe that any of my disciplinary journals would have rejected the article especially since these journals focus on content—the findings of research projects, and not necessarily on how to do (communication) research, the article already has more citations than many of the articles published in these journals in the last two decades.

I am most pleased with this citation count because I believe it is an easy indicator that people at least know of the article. And the reason I publish is not to expand my vita or because I am required, but rather because I want to offer  work that is (hopefully) of use to others. I also believe that the open-access journal helps with the citation count—unlike more traditional, disciplinary articles, the article is not locked behind a library database; anyone can access it free of charge.

Further, the article may be of interest to many because it talks about a research method rather than a disciplinary-specific topic; it could be helpful for anyone doing ethnographic and autoethnographic research, not only communication researchers.

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I want my writing to be read. I feel as though I am wasting my time publishing work without any reason. I like to engage research and to provide other researchers with new conceptual material and support. At some institutions, the journals in which I publish might not be the most credible according to often-ambiguous and elitist standards, but I find it more important that my research is engaged by others.

I recognize that some people do not have the privilege or luxury to publish outside of disciplinary journals, and I recognize the privilege I have in working in and being tenured at an institution that does not require me to publish in so-called “prestigious” publication outlets. If you are privileged to be on a tenure-track position, and if you are at an institution where journals matter, maybe wait until tenure and promotion to publish or meet institutional, tenure requirements for publication and then, post-tenure, publish in other outlets. At the very least, I think we should all do our best to have different conversations about publishing—about recognizing possible limits of disciplinary journals, the benefits of open-access publishing, and the importance of research methodology and practice.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #51 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Read before you write, part III. Whether you are seeking inspiration, guidance, writing prompts, or tips for productivity, there is a wealth of information available to get you started. PhD2Published.com and its archives can be a good starting place, as many guest bloggers here also blog elsewhere. Setting up an RSS reader or creating a list of bookmarks or favorites can give you quick and easy access to good sources.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #50 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Read before you write, part II. It can be helpful to revisit your notes from previous reading before you sit down to start writing, especially if you are working on a literature review or applying theory in a particular context. At times, re-reading the same chapter from a beloved theorist doesn’t provide an adequate starting point or inspiration. Struggling to get started? Take ten minutes and read something dramatically different from what you’re writing. A romance novel, some poetry, a graphic novel…all use different kinds of language to different ends, and may open a new path for you to consider.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #49 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Read before you write, Part I. One of my mentors once told his students to read the scholars whose work we most like, and read as much of their work as possible. Read widely and deeply. Read for both theory and style. Determine if your favorite scholars are those whose writing you would want to emulate. If so, figure out why. What are those authors doing well in their writing that draws you to it and draws you back again? At the same time that you are learning what you want to emulate in those writers, you’ll learn their foibles and not let them trip you up in the same way. Next week: a different spin on reading before you write.

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Writing a book proposal part II – the market section & avoiding dissertation style by Astrid Bracke
Posted by Linda Levitt

Astrid BrackeIn 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.

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Writing a book proposal part I – structure & significance by Astrid Bracke
Posted by Linda Levitt

Astrid BrackeIn 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);

  • Market;

  • 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.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #47 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)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.

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Should you turn your dissertation into a book? by Astrid Bracke
Posted by Linda Levitt

Astrid BrackeThis 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.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #46 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)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.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #45 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Find friends from other disciplines. Switching from one discipline to another or doing interdisciplinary research can be a challenge, especially as methods change from one discipline to another.  Yet working with a colleague or friends from another discipline can bring a fresh perspective to your research. Some patience may be required to find a common lexicon, but it is likely that there is more common ground that we might expect from one discipline to another. Should a project idea develop that you can work on together, each of you can be first author for the work in your own discipline. More collaboration, less competition.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #44 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Take stock of what works. Much of the conversation about academic writing and publishing focuses on how to improve processes and be more productive. Many scholars are in the midst of transitioning back from summer break, and the demands on your time will change as the daily routine changes. Consider the good writing and research habits you developed over the summer. Are there routines or habits that you can carry forward into the fall? What can you modify to maintain some semblance of writing in your everyday practices?

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #43 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Walk with a light step. Maybe you’ve had a particularly vexing time with revisions. Or a computer error that resulted in a corrupted file. Or you just haven’t been able to meet those perhaps overly ambitious summer writing goals. You don’t need to make excuses for goals that are only in your head. If you’re accountable to a writing group or partner, chances are there won’t be any serious punitive measures. So don’t be unkind to yourself. If you’re gearing up for the Fall semester, think about how you’ll answer the inevitable question: How was your summer? Prepare an answer that demonstrates your satisfaction with something you did accomplish. A former boss used to describe demanding tasks as “good hard work.” What good hard work did you muddle through? And can you walk away from it with a lighter step?

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