Category Archives: Links

Posts that discuss ideas presented in other people’s blogs

Links: Summer Edition

Explorations of Style is going on a summer hiatus. I’ll be back in the middle of August, after a family vacation and a summer research institute. While I’m away, I’m going to experiment with reprinting some older posts. Many of you are recent followers of the blog and may not have seen the earlier posts. I’m going to resist the almost-irresistible temptation to update those posts, but I welcome, as always, your comments about what needs more clarity. When I return from the summer institute, I’m beginning a sabbatical, which will give me some time to devote to all the half-written posts I’ve accumulated over the course of the year. I also plan to create some sort of annotated table of contents to help new readers find what they need in the archives; if you have any thoughts about how to make any aspect of the blog easier to use, please let me know.

I wish you all a happy and productive summer of writing!

Recent links from @explorstyle on Twitter

From @thesiswhisperer, a post on finishing and feeling finished.

From @readywriting, a project to create a list of academic blogs across the disciplines. Add yours!

From @DocwritingSIG, an account of different disciplinary approaches to publishing during the PhD.

From @ThomsonPat, a great account of different reading strategies. Don’t try reading in graduate school without a strategy!

From @monkeycageblog, an interesting question about the relationship between academic writing and the humanities.

A good summary of what @Feedly has done over the last 100 days to welcome new users.

From @chronicle, interesting reflections from a self-aware grammar stickler.

From William Helmreich in @insidehighered, advice on the job interview.

From @chronicle, the Ph.D. Placement Project, an information gathering project on post-PhD employment.

From @NewYorker, the relationship between thought and writing on Twitter.

From @thesiswhisperer, a post on the status of research Masters students.

From @fishhookopeneye, a reminder that commenting on blogs is an important part of social media participation.

From Mary Ann Mason in @Slate, child-bearing and academia.

From Geoffrey Pullum in Lingua Franca, the tension between editorial practices and academic approaches to usage.

From the New APPS blog, strategies for productive writing for early career researchers.

From @insidehighered, guidance on the early stages of a job search.

From @WmGermano, in praise of very, very long words.

From @TheAmScho, interesting thoughts on the psychology of how we use acronyms.

From @qui_oui, a great piece on fat shaming in academia, reminding us it’s not just about social media etiquette.

From @ProfessorIsIn, creating space for writing amid the busyness of teaching, service, and family.

From @chrishumphrey, concrete and helpful advice on doing a non-academic job search.

From @ThomsonPat, a discussion of the value of specific headings and subheadings in academic writing.

Maybe I shouldn’t be spending so much time trying to craft the perfect ending to my blog posts, via @Slate.

From @GradHacker, advice about finding new productivity strategies to support graduate study.

From @DocwritingSIG, why doctoral study can be different for mothers.

Lots to think about here, but at what point does banning laptops become like banning pen and paper for some students?

From @byagoda, using the word ‘blog’ to refer to a ‘blog post’. I use ‘post’, but is there a better option?

From @RohanMaitzen, thoughtful comments on the relationship between blogging and academic publishing.

From Claire Goldstene, an interesting long read on the politics of contingent academic labour.

From the CAUT Bulletin, a reminder about the vital importance of childcare at conferences.

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Links: Germano’s Snow Globes

Sometimes I choose articles for my links posts because I have something particular that I want to add to the topic. This week, however, I just want to be sure that as many people as possible see this great piece by William Germano. Even the title is interesting: Do We Dare Write for Readers? Germano, as most of you will know, is a wonderful writer and an insightful analyst of developments in academic writing and publishing. In this piece, he discusses the role of the reader and the way that academic writing, as it is often practiced, fails to serve that reader well. His analysis is informed by recent technological shifts in the way we read, but I think his argument would work just as well without the historical specificity: academic writing that strives for complete self-sufficiency can end up excluding the reader to the detriment of its overall vitality.

To convey this point, Germano characterizes academic writing as a snow globe: a smooth impermeable shell over a carefully staged scene with limited action. What I love about the snow globe image is the way it conveys the sealed-off quality of so much academic prose. Have you ever gotten inside a snow globe? Me either, but you can imagine that the experience would be messy and toxic, rather than interactive or instructive. Germano wants to supplant this notion of academic writing as artifact with a more dynamic notion of academic writing as a tool. A tool, of course, is something the reader can use, something that, as he says, “has consequence”. Germano uses the image of a machine to convey the more dynamic sense of writing as a tool. In keeping with his souvenir motif, I immediately found myself thinking of it instead as a map, one of those ones with a route traced out with little stylized footprints. A map of this sort tells its audience the truth as the creator understands it and yet leaves room for the audience to use that truth as it sees fit.

Germano concludes his piece by describing his conception of academic writing as less polished and more engaging:

I’m advocating for a riskier, less tidy mode of scholarly production, but not for sloppiness. I’m convinced, though, that the scholarly book that keeps you awake at night thinking through ideas and possibilities unarticulated in the text itself is the book worth reading. It may be that the best form a book can take—even an academic book—is as a never-ending story, a kind of radically unfinished scholarly inquiry for which the reader’s own intelligence can alone provide the unwritten chapters.

It’s a challenging model, especially for novice academic writers who may be looking to replicate rather than challenge existing norms. But it’s also a compelling vision of writing as essentially open to what it does not itself contain. And however we choose to orient ourselves to this issue, we will be better writers for having reflected on Germano’s artful elaboration of the tensions within academic writing.

Recent links from @explorstyle on Twitter

From @scilogscom, an interesting account of the many ways in which jargon is a relative term.

Congratulations to the U of T participants in the Ontario Three Minute Thesis competition. Well done! 

From @nprnews, using ‘yo’ as a gender neutral pronoun: ‘Yo’ Said What?

From @evalantsoght, the different types of writing we can do ‘from day one’.  My take on writing early.

I’ll believe anything that advises me to get more sleep! From @GradHacker: Sleep in Graduate School.

From Lingua Franca, a very fun post on ‘slash’ as a written out form of punctuation.

From @NewYorker, a lyrical account of the existential mystery at the heart of the decision to do a doctorate.

From @literarychica, a great post on the dearth of options for writing support for doctoral writers.

From @ProfHacker, a profile of the Digital Public Library of America.

From William Germano, a must-read on academic writingCalling for writing that is engaging, open, and consequential.

From @ThomsonPat, part two of her discussion of PhD by publication.

From @ThomsonPat, an important post on the shift towards ‘PhD by publication‘ and the role of the integrated thesis.

From Dave Paradi’s PowerPoint blog, insightful advice on words that may betray a weakness in presentation slides.

From @DocwritingSIG, thoughts on writing the acknowledgement section of your thesis.

From @fishhookopeneye, helpful advice on how to explain academic work experience in a non-academic world.

From Lingua Franca, William Germano addresses the question of academic titles and rank.

From @sciam, encouraging graduate students to blog for the good of their writing. 

From @evalantsoght, a list of common mistakes. Every thesis writer should be keeping a list like this!

From @chronicle, “Why STEM Should Care about the Humanities”.

From @GradHacker, advice on thinking strategically during graduate study: going beyond ‘creativity and hard work’.

From @UVenus, interesting reflections on different models for publishing doctoral dissertations.

A question about originality posed to Leiter Reports generates an interesting conversation in the comments.

From @tressiemcphd, a great analysis of why “don’t go to graduate school” is problematic as a blanket prescription.

From @qui_oui, an excellent post on what it means to say that we are producing ‘too many PhDs‘.

Love this @ProfHacker post on Inbox Zero. It’s not about the Zero, it’s about limiting the power of the Inbox.

Links: Somebody That I Used to Know

I heard recently that ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ was the number one song on Spotify this year.* Encountering that unsurprising fact must have moved the phrase onto the tip of my tongue because I found myself using it later in the day to explain why I couldn’t answer a simple question about my own thesis from one of my students. The question that stumped me? What was the title of your thesis, Rachael? I was eventually able to recall the proper title, but I stumbled over a number of inaccurate versions first. I was mildly embarrassed, of course, but mostly I was just amazed. In less than 10 years, my thesis had gone from being my everything to being, well, ‘somebody that I used to know’. My students were tolerant, as always, but I wasn’t sure they really believed me. Which makes sense. When I was in their place, I wasn’t even sure I could finish the wretched thing, let alone finish and then forget about it. Perhaps if you find yourself in the thick of things, unable to see a clear path to completion, it may help to imagine that someday you may not even remember what it was called!

While I was still thinking about this diminishing importance of our theses over time, I read a post on The Thesis Whisperer from Ben from Literature Review HQ.  In this post, Ben reflects on his post-graduation case of Stockholm Syndrome. He knows he should be glad to have his thesis behind him—and, of course, is glad to have it behind him—but still feels a bit bereft. While that sense of loss is inevitable, Ben has the exact right response: he figures out what was good about the process that can now inform his new post-thesis working life. There is a great deal of intellectual struggle and psychological pain in the thesis writing process, but there is also a unique degree of freedom. That freedom can be an opportunity to learn about ourselves and how we can optimally organize our professional lives.

* If you hate this song, ask yourself if you really hate it or if you hate it the way the guys in the car hate it.

Recent links from @explorstyle on Twitter

From the Lingua Franca blog, Lucy Ferriss on the rhetorical impact of using ‘we’.

From @thesiswhisperer, using the Cornell Method to limit, analyze, and annotate your own notes to prepare for writing.

From @ThomsonPat, an explanation of the metacommentary we use to frame our own contributions to the conversation.

From @CShearson, helpful advice about using strong verbs in scientific writing.

From @ThomsonPat, an interesting breakdown of the many complex tasks involved in reviewing the literature.

From @ThomsonPat, a helpful way to think about writing a road map.

From @fishhookopeneye, a radical approach to breaking down the tasks of thesis supervision.

From Inside Higher Ed, the final instalment of Kerry Ann Rockquemore’s excellent series on academics and perfectionism.

From @MGrammar, a discussion of why it is so annoying when someone says “I don’t know, can you?”.

From @ThomsonPat, interesting reflections on the way blogging readily disrupts any dichotomy between work and leisure.

From @ProfessorIsIn, a post by @rogerwhitson on successful collaborative projects (with lots of helpful links).

Do you need another way to distract yourself from academic writing?

Can a humanities PhD be done in five years? Inside Higher Ed discusses a new proposal at Stanford.

From Inside Higher Ed, a helpful discussion of a commonly asked question: how to cite our own work at various stages of completion.

From @chronicle, Cassuto on possible futures for PhD education.

From the New York Times, a fun post on what life is really like for lexicographers: Lies! Murder! Lexicography!

Glad to be included in the @thesiswhisperer‘s November newsletter, along with lots of great stuff on doctoral study.

Mind the gap! @ProfessorIsIn on a characteristic and crucial weakness in academic proposals and theses.

Links: Finding Online Communities

This week, PhD2Published had a post on using Google+ by Daniel Spielmann. In this post, Spielmann argues for the value of Google+ as a way of creating an online professional community (or what some call a ‘personal learning environment’). I haven’t (yet) found a role for Google+ in my life; in fact, a quick check of my Google+ page shows that I have three in my circles and that I am in six circles belonging to other people. And I probably said that wrong because I don’t really understand how circles work. Spielmann makes a strong case for using Google+ as a way of structuring a space for professional communication, a space that falls between blogging and microblogging. In particular, he suggests that Google+ has real advantages over Twitter: no restrictions on length; a greater ability to track conversations; the wherewithal to include media and not just links; and, finally, integration into the broader suite of Google products allowing easy video conferencing and file sharing. He also provides a helpful list of steps to getting started with Google+. These suggestions are tailored to Google+, but also act as a good road map for getting started with any form of social media.

The particular type of social media that we ought to be using is well outside my expertise. I’m on Twitter because a critical mass of people interested in writing studies and doctoral education are there, not because I can make a sustained argument for its superiority. I use Facebook for fun and Twitter for work (although ‘fun’ and ‘work’ dovetail beautifully on Twitter), and I don’t feel an immediate need for anything else. But Spielmann’s account of why Google+ is useful works as a statement of why any social media can be useful for academics: social media is a place to learn and share without geographical or scheduling constraints. By allowing the creation of organic networks—both broad and narrow—where people can come together without structural barriers, social media can form a valuable part of the professional support we all need. Spielmann’s post stresses the value of Google+ but, in doing so, also ends up describing the overall value of finding the right online communities for you.

I’ll be back next week with my post-AcWriMo reflections, including an unflinching assessment of my dismal performance!

Recent links from @explorstyle on Twitter

From @PhD2Published, a writing productivity app for academics: ‘It tracks your writing journey in a way that suits you.’

More from Inside Higher Ed on perfectionism: How we may be ‘over-functioning’ in some areas to the detriment of others such as writing.

@ThomsonPat adds some nuance to the ‘just write’ advice.

From @thesiswhisperer, a fun post on how to practice academic writing.

From @ACW, the first post in a new series from @readywriting sharing her experience with the academic writing process.

From @ThomsonPat, the sixth in her series on literature reviews—a rare and valuable glimpse into other people’s research processes.

From @PhD2Published, a delightful discussion of how to plan a writing retreat. I wish I could go on one right now!

From @MeganJMcPherson, a great Storify of an Anthony Pare talk at RMIT University in Melbourne.

From @ProfessorIsIn, a lovely post on creativity and confidence.

From @qui_oui, a great post on how little we know about the optimal training for doctoral students.

From Inside Higher Ed, the third in their series on perfectionism in academia: how to write more productively.

From @StanCarey, a renewed call to abandon the confusing that/which distinction.

@3monththesis disagrees with the conventional wisdom on academic perfectionism; I’m intrigued but still unconvinced.

From @ThomsonPat, the next entry in her great series on doing a lit review: ‘Stepping back to focus in’.

From @DocwritingSIG, a discussion of the thesis genre as a form of hospitality to the reader.

The only thing better than @AcaCoachTaylor is @AcaCoachTaylor getting iterative.

A cartoon to remind us that nothing gets people’s attention like making a mistake in your writing.

Could a project management approach help you with your thesis? @GradHacker has some ideas about using these techniques.

Are graduate students facing greater expectations today than in past? Interesting reflections from @fishhookopeneye.

Links: Live-Tweeting and its Discontents

While it may be hard to say #twittergate with a straight face, this ongoing conversation about live-tweeting conference sessions is definitely the most interesting story of the week. To get a good sense of how the story developed, I suggest looking at the Storified version that Adeline Koh created. The issue was also summed up in an Inside Higher Ed piece, but this is one of those instances in which Twitter does a much better job of telling its own story. The inherent difficulty in detaching a tweet from its conversational context can make summaries of what was said on Twitter somewhat inadequate.

Wherever it is that you read about this story, you will definitely find some strongly held views. Everything from ‘it’s bad manners and shouldn’t be allowed’ to ‘if I can’t tweet, it’s not my revolution’; from ‘it’s crass self-promotion’ to ‘it’s a natural extension of taking notes’; from ‘it’s a violation of intellectual property’ to ‘it allows for a wider dissemination of new ideas—the whole point of an academic conference’. It’s fascinating to me the way that new modalities of academic discourse can cause such collective discomfort.

Despite this wide range of reactions, some degree of social media accompaniment to traditional academic activities is surely inevitable. But ineluctability can mean that people get swept up, which in turn can mean that clear norms are hard to establish. Luckily, lots of great things were written this week in response to #twittergate. Kathleen Fitzpatrick offers her guide to academic blogging and tweeting. Ernesto Priego gives some practical guidelines to respectful live-tweeting and some helpful resources. Melonie Fullick wrote a thoughtful and measured post on the tension between public and private in academic discourse and how social media might affect that tension. The people at ProfHacker created an open thread discussion of best practices for live-tweeting conferences. Finally, this post from the Easily Distracted blog offers a lighter take (and an entertaining  response to Brian Leiter). This blog is new to me, and I admit that I’m a little bit crushed to find that this blog name is taken!

Recent links from @explorstyle on Twitter

From @fishhookopeneye, a great post on the role—and habit—of accountability in graduate study: http://www.hookandeye.ca/2012/10/push-me-pull-you-supervising-graduate.html

Great advice from @ryancordell on crafting a professional online presence (read the Twitter conversation at the end): http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/creating-and-maintaining-a-professional-presence-online-a-roundup-and-reflection/43030

From @DocwritingSIG, a discussion of the perils of thinking of writing as a simple process of ‘writing up’: http://wp.me/p2rTj1-3y 

A hilarious column from William Germano: If ‘weblog’ gives us ‘blog’, what other b-words could we imagine? http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2012/10/01/the-b-word/

.@sinandsyntax talks about her ‘crush on verbs’: http://sinandsyntax.com/blog/my-crush-on-verbs/

From @GradHacker, how to deal with success in grad school without feeling ‘sucstress’: http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/gradhacker/sucstress-grad-school#.UGYP5-ZjLPs.twitter

I’m very much looking forward to reading @thesiswhisperer‘s new ebook! Read her not-shameless plug here: http://wp.me/pX3kK-17j 

From @CopyCurmudgeon, a great perspective on editing (even if you aren’t copyediting other people’s texts): http://wp.me/s1HQHZ-triage 

From @phdcomics, the official plan, the real plan, and the secret plan: THE PLANS: http://phdcomics.com/comics.php?f=1527

From @ThomsonPat, a great suggestion about availing ourselves of writing advice—because academic writing IS writing: http://wp.me/p1GJk8-gr 

From @qui_oui, a good roundup (with lots of links) about the recent ‘stale PhD’ conversation: http://is.gd/jNnJg5 

From @Professorisin, a discussion of the importance of prestige when selecting a university press:http://theprofessorisin.com/2012/09/21/does-the-status-of-the-press-matter/

From @DocwritingSIG, an insightful post on the difficulties in conceptualizing doctoral writing as a research task: http://wp.me/p2rTj1-3j 

From @ThomsonPat, a great post on the nature of academic reading and the task of grasping the shape of your field: http://wp.me/p1GJk8-gd 

Summary of the #acwri Twitter chat from Sept 20 on academic writing and the use of Twitter: http://storify.com/DrJeremySegrott/acwri-twitter-chat-20th-september-academic-tweetin

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.

Links: Attrition and Writing Support, Effective Job Talks, Understanding Journal Boycotts

Here is a recent piece from The University of Venus blog on graduate students and attrition. The author, Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, begins by allowing that some attrition is probably beneficial: some people will inevitably decide that graduate study isn’t right for them. But she argues that even those who are in the right place would benefit from additional support from sources outside their departments. She divides that support into two types of ‘services’: psychological support and research and writing advice. This notion of additional support is great, and Segesten provides a helpful list of suggestions for managing the writing process. But I think it is worth noting the implications of treating writing as a problem in need of a solution. In this framework, writing is treated as a problem—akin to other life or organizational problems—to be solved rather than as an activity at the heart of the academic enterprise. Treating writing difficulties as mere matters of organization (or approach or determination) can lead students to feel that their difficulties ought to be more manageable than they are. When writing is treated more as a life skill than an academic skill, a student can be left in a difficult position: their weakness is characterized as minor but their experience of that weakness can be extremely unpleasant. Being a weak writer is rarely a ‘minor’ problem for a graduate student, and the solution to such difficulties are rarely simple.

This post from The Professor Is In blog discusses delivering effective job talks. Kelsky’s post is full of great advice, all of which would be helpful to anyone preparing for an important talk. In particular, I wanted to highlight her discussion of the text necessary to support an effective talk. Her advice is ‘read but don’t read’, and most people can only achieve that apparent paradox with a well-designed written text. Nothing gives polish to a formal talk better than a prepared text: most speakers cannot achieve the necessary level of articulacy off the cuff (especially in a high-stakes situation when nerves are more likely to be an issue). At the same time, nothing weakens a talk more than seeing nothing but the top of the presenter’s head as a paper is read word-for-word from the page. As hard as it sounds, we all need to find a perfect blend of textual support (to avoid inarticulacy) and rehearsed confident delivery (that doesn’t appear to rely on a written text). Here is an earlier post that suggests some ways to create a text that will support a sophisticated and fluent talk without the appearance of reading.

We all know that we can’t read everything and that we can’t follow every story that comes along. When a story is new, we all make decisions about whether a story warrants immediate engagement or not. Sometimes, inevitably, we guess wrong and end up feeling as if we’ll never grasp all the nuances of a particular story. I thought (or maybe just hoped) that the boycott of Elsevier was one of those stories that I could ignore. Then, of course, it wasn’t! So I was very happy to find this helpful post from Barbara Fister writing at Inside Higher Ed. She starts at the beginning, documents the important steps along the way, and draws valuable conclusions. The comments on her post are also surprisingly constructive and interesting.

Every other week, this space is devoted to 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.