Browsing the archives for the Writing category

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #27 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Another note to self. Do you have a paragraph in an essay you’re working on that vexes you? Or maybe an idea that you can’t seem to sort out? Print out or write down some of your work-so-far and carry it with you. When you have a bit of downtime, pull out your note instead of your phone. Checking in with social media is important, but checking in with your research can be even more meaningful. Spending time with your research periodically in spaces away from those where there is pressure to write can also alleviate some of the discomfort that occurs when you get distanced from your research-in-progress.

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Chatting with Editors and Publishers
Posted by Linda Levitt
Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan

Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan

In the first of a new series, we talk with Michael LeVan, editor in chief of Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies. Dr. LeVan shares his advice for best practices for authors submitting work to academic journals. An online, peer-reviewed journal, Liminalities is published at http://liminalities.net/.

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.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #25 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Notes to self. Overwhelm and disorder are common to the writing process. Not only is it a challenge to keep papers, books, and electronic files in order so they are easy to access and use, it is also easy to get distracted. Sometimes a question will lead to an hour-long rabbit hole of searching for another source or pursuing an idea not immediately relevant to your writing project. An easy reminder to stay on task is to write your thesis statement on a sticky note and post it on the corner of your screen. It’s not there to nag you but to help you stay focused.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #24 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Read out loud: another old standby. Reading out loud can reveal your clunky sentences, your unclear ideas, and your weak transitions. Reading out loud can also reveal a beautiful turn of phrase, a just-right articulation, and a resonant idea. A few variations on the theme may be useful as well: have someone else read your work out loud so you can hear a different articulation of your writing. Or, by recording yourself reading, you can listen to what you have written and be able to make notes and edits at the same time.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #23 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Print out a hard copy. An old standby, but a good one. When you need another perspective on your writing, print out a hard copy and read off of the page instead of the screen. A hard copy is helpful for both proofreading and editing, and can also be a useful way to get at seeing significant changes you might want to make to the piece you’re writing. Bring scissors, tape, highlighters, colored pens, and whatever tools might be helpful to the table.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #22 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Tell your Mom. This is an idea inspired by my friend Gil Rodman, who challenged his students to write complex concepts in readable terms. If you’re struggling to sort out your theories or ideas, pick up the phone or sit down with someone who is not familiar with what you are researching and tell them about it. There’s no better evidence that you know your material than being able to explain it to someone…and perhaps even interest them in the topic at the same time.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #21 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Set early deadlines. A brief anecdote: my cousin asked if I could drop him off at the airport to travel home. When I asked what time his flight was scheduled to depart, he wasn’t entirely honest with me. By modifying the flight time, he built in a cushion of comfort so there was no panic about getting to the airport on time.

Set early departure times for your abstracts and article submissions. Putting something on your calendar the week before it’s due will bring it to your attention earlier. Additional time to start thinking about and working on your submission might potentially alleviate last-minute, rushed writing.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #20 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Have your day of hate (bear with me). Mentors will say you should select your research topic carefully. If you choose to study something you love, you might end up hating it. It happens. Should you find yourself having a serious wrestling match with your topic, wanting to scrap the whole thing, and wishing you had made a different choice, go with it. Throw yourself into the negative space until you exhaust all of the possible complaints. Then go for a walk, play a video game, or engage in some other activity you enjoy. Don’t think about or go back to your project until the next day. See how you feel when you come back to it, and plan to have a day of reconciliation with your work.

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Crossing Disciplines – From Fashion Undergrad to Geography PhD by Emma Waight
Posted by Linda Levitt

Bronze_bowl_pink_flowersEmma Waight (@EmsWaight) is a third year PhD student in Human Geography at the University of Southampton. She blogs at emmawaight.co.uk.

If there’s one thing I do a lot of, it’s write. Everything from my diary (which only I read), to my PhD thesis (which if I’m lucky three people will read) to my blog (which is open to all). I’ve always rather enjoyed writing; a helpful quality in a social scientist.

I haven’t always wanted to be a social scientist though. Growing up, I was dedicated to a career in fashion and planned my subject choices and work experience around being a fashion journalist. In my sixth form leaver’s book my English teacher wrote that he looked forward to seeing me as a future editor of Vogue. Now my main ambition is to publish a social theory text on consumption or material culture. Sometimes people find it difficult to comprehend the path I’ve taken to date, but actually, is a fashion journalist all that different to a scholar of material culture?

I recently attended a career and leadership development course and completed a MBTI psychometric questionnaire. The report suited me perfectly (apparently I come across as mysterious, which I like, so I won’t spoil it by saying which type I was) and matched me up to jobs such as writer, sociologist, teacher, artist, counsellor. I’m a conceptual thinker, creative and value driven. Being a fashion journalist would have suited the creative part, but perhaps didn’t fit with my values. This is clearly the case, as I directed my undergraduate dissertation to ethical fashion, followed by an MPhil on the same topic, leading to a PhD on consumption and its social role. I am very fortunate to have had the space to explore this; I doubt fashion could have ever fulfilled my inquisitive nature and desire to make a difference.

So now I’m able to do the two main things that I enjoy—I’m writing up my PhD in human geography and planning an academic career in the social sciences, whilst I continue to blog about ethical fashion for my own blog and others. Both roles stem from a desire to investigate the wider world, to find out about stuff that interests me. Both involve desk-based research as well as getting into the field for interviews and observation. Both involve writing up that research in order to communicate on a broader platform. And both allow others to engage with my ideas, provide feedback and become part of a wider conversation. Clearly, there are huge differences too and I’m sure many academics would be livid to hear me comparing academia to journalism, but I do believe many of the processes are the same.

Starting a PhD in human geography was a steep learning curve, simply due to the change in subject matter, not in the way I approached writing. Yes, I had to learn some new lingo but now I’m nearing the end of my PhD, I can see that an interdisciplinary background has helped rather than hindered in the long term. It allows me to draw on a broad range of literature, using them as I see fit to build up my argument. One thing I did struggle with at the start was the use of first person. I had been trained before to take a more report-like, business style approach to writing which becomes difficult when you need to discuss and highlight reflexivity as a researcher. My cultural/social geography PhD research draws strongly on ethnographic techniques; hence I had to learn to adopt a narrative approach to my writing and not be afraid to situate myself within my topic.

The fact that I was blogging in a fashion role before my PhD meant that blogging about academia was a natural progression. Not only do I write about PhD life for our departmental postgrad blog, but I also use my academic work as a basis for popular writing on consumption and shopping issues. I’ve found a happy medium where I can have two interlinked elements of my life, and both feed into each other. I hope in the long term my broad networks will lead to interesting collaborations both inside and outside of academia, and mean that my research has a use outside the ivory towers (which is happening more and more across academia anyway). Sometimes I still feel like I have a lot of catching up to do in the social sciences, but no academic knows everything and I intend to make the most of my interdisciplinary background as a strength rather than a weakness.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #19 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Keep a recycling file. Whether in the process of moving material from an outline to the document you’re writing or editing a piece toward completion, it’s likely that you’ll be deleting some significant chunks of text. Instead of trashing them, put those sentences and paragraphs in a recycling file. “Unused” or “save for later” work just as well. Later in the revision process, you may find a place for that concept or quote. Or, it may spark a new project or be just the idea you need for the next essay you’re writing.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #18 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Go ahead and clean the kitchen. Many academic writers talk about how when it comes time to sit down and write, they are distracted by the whole list of things they have to do first. Instead of sitting down with a clenched jaw, determined to stave off distraction, take a few minutes to review your draft or your notes. Then go clean the kitchen, wash the car, or tend to whatever physical task distracts you. If you do that mundane task or put your space in order while you are already thinking about your project, you might find yourself coming up with epiphanies rather than distractions.

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Hackademic Guide to Networking: Have a Business Card
Posted by Linda Levitt
Image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/fiddleoak/  under this licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en_GB

Image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/fiddleoak/
under this licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en_GB

Hybrid Pedagogy’s Jesse Stommel and our very own Charlotte Frost continue their Hackademic series with a new set of hints, tips and hacks focused on academic networking.

HAVE A BUSINESS CARD. It might seem strange for two Twitter-obsessives to suggest something as old-fashioned as a business card but what we’re really promoting is being multi-modal. Business cards remain useful ways to leave your details with somebody, especially if you’re easily connected with your card – the physical trace can work in ways different from our virtual presence. Also, you’ll find that different cultures respond better to different forms of networking/self-promotion. For example in Hong Kong, where Charlotte lives and works, business cards are considered an essential networking convention (even human beatboxes carry them). There is even a ritual to receiving a business card and reading all of its details before continuing to talk to the person who gave it to you. Today it’s quick, cheap and easy to get a stash of cards so the only thing to think about is how to present yourself. You might keep your card very minimal, you might go for lots of visual or textual information, you might even include a word cloud rather than job description to better represent your academic interests. And, if you are indeed a Twitter-obsessive, don’t forget to include your Twitter handle.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #17 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Use Post-its. Many years ago, I read an article by the author Michael Ventura in which he talked about writing bits of scenes and dialogue on Post-it notes and putting them on one wall of his office. As he used a bit, he moved it to the other wall. He could also easily stand in front of the wall with the notes to see where he might go next, and move ideas around, physically. Being able to step back and take a long look at your ideas can help tackle difficult organizational issues.

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Hackademic Guide to Networking: Buy a Domain Name
Posted by Linda Levitt
Image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/fiddleoak/  under this licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en_GB

Image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/fiddleoak/
under this licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en_GB

Hybrid Pedagogy’s Jesse Stommel and our very own Charlotte Frost continue their Hackademic series with a new set of hints, tips and hacks focused on academic networking.

BUY A DOMAIN NAME. This is relatively simple. If you don’t own your own domain, buy it now. You don’t necessarily even need server space or a website to put up. In lieu of anything more elaborate, simply forward your domain to your work profile or Academia.edu page. Eventually you might build a blog or substantial website and use the domain for that. The point is to start laying claim to your online identity. You’ll be glad you did as your career grows, because you’ll have an easy-to-find web presence with some history that will help your work show up in google searches.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #16 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Consider your props.  If changing your shoes and putting on a sweater like Fred Rogers seems a bit much, consider changing your outlook with a small change. Years ago I saw Anne Sexton’s eyeglasses on display at the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center. Oddly, it was deeply affecting. What does your writer’s outfit look like? Try a hat, a headband, a particular piece of jewelry, and see what works. If you have a lucky shirt that you wear hoping your favorite team will win their game, why not a lucky writing shirt too?

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