Monthly Archives: May 2012

Links: Time Enough, What Not to Do, Writing Across Boundaries

This advice from the GradHacker blog is excellent: wanting and needing more time aren’t necessarily the same thing. We almost always feel that we could use more time with our academic writing projects; when there is no objective way to determine that something is finished, we are often reliant upon our own assessment of quality. Since our assessment of our own writing is frequently negative, we end up feeling that we need more time. But it is important to ask ourselves hard questions about our writing and to be aware of the potential for diminishing returns on time spent with that writing. What is the piece of writing? Who will read it? What sort of expectations will that reader have? In other words, what is ‘good enough’ in each case? We may lack the ability to make this judgement because we habitually only stop tinkering with a piece of writing when we are out of time. But think of the value of being able to determine sufficient quality on our own. With a developed sense of what is sufficient in each case, we are more likely to devote the appropriate amount of time to each of our writing projects, without getting stuck in a cycle of unproductive revisions.

Here is a great post from The Thesis Whisperer blog on mistakes that rookie researchers make. (This post is a few months old, and I would urge everyone to read her current post on thesis writing despair, too.) I think her specific advice here is very good, but I particularly like the overall approach of the ‘reverse list’; “I like a reverse list because it highlights the problem more than the suggested solutions, leaving you free to choose your own.” The beauty of being told what not to do is that you get forceful advice that doesn’t assume it has all the answers. In other words, bossyness that doesn’t tell people what to do. Getting a PhD, needless to say, has as many ‘right ways’ to do it as there are doctoral students; while this is true, thesis writers—in their periodic moments of quiet writing desperation—aren’t looking for relativism or anodyne truisms. They want real advice, and I think the reverse list is a great way to deliver that advice: it doesn’t presume to tell you what to do, but it does use the benefit of experience to highlight some consistently unproductive paths.

The Writing Across Boundaries project from Durham University offers reflections on academic writing from established academics. These reflections—varied and extremely interesting—give novice writers a chance to see that polished and assured academic writing is still accompanied by struggle and self-doubt. These reflections all come from social science writers, but I think their insights are applicable to the broader academic writing community.

My links posts are a discussion of things (articles, news items, or blog posts) that I have recently found interesting. I choose things that are connected—sometimes closely, sometimes only tangentially—to academic writing. Responding to other people’s ideas allows me to clarify my own thoughts and to draw your attention to other approaches to the issues central to this blog.