My prospects for writing a new post this week get dimmer by the second, so I thought I’d just write a quick hello! I hope you all had a great summer, full of productive time spent writing. And if you, like the rest of us, found that you didn’t get quite all you’d hoped for done, I hope that better writing days are in your immediate future. Once the initial excitement dies down, September is a great time to revisit your writing goals and see what you can do to make sure you meet them in the upcoming year. I found this post from The Thesis Whisperer very helpful; in this guest post, Narelle Lemon reflects on her experience participating in AcBoWriMo 2011 (an attempt to write as much as 50,000 words in a single month). The terms in which she discusses her experience can act as a handy prompt for reflection about our own writing preferences and potential stumbling blocks. Would public accountability help you? What sort of writing targets work well for you? Does social media play any role in your writing life? How do you structure the breaks that everyone needs from academic writing? How does the idea of binge writing sound to you? Would more sharing of your writing as you go be helpful to you? How do you manage your writing time, minute by minute and hour by hour? Do you reward yourself for writing? How do you react when life genuinely makes it impossible for you to meet your own goals? Do you wish you had a more robust writing community?
Reflecting on these sorts of questions can help you see a path towards your best writing strategies. There is so much advice out there; while it is generally thoughtful and well-meaning, much of it will inevitably be wrong for you. I suggest taking some time now—amidst these busy days of September—to think about the writing approach that would be right for you, so you can craft a strong plan to help you meet this year’s writing goals.
Here again—in case anyone missed it over the summer—is the link to the podcast interview that I did with GradHacker at the beginning of the summer. I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk about writing in a different manner than I do when teaching writing or when writing about writing. I hope some of you may find it helpful as you reflect on the writing you need to do this year. I also wanted to mention the recent series of crossover posts between GradHacker and ProfHacker on productivity, which are full of helpful approaches to managing our academic lives.
Finally, if you haven’t seen the Academic Coach Taylor tumblr, you really should. The fact that someone thought to bring together academic writing advice and Friday Night Lights makes me so very happy. Clear Thesis, Strong Analysis, Can’t Lose.
The blog address is now www.explorationsofstyle.com. If you go to the old URL (explorationsofstyle.wordpress.com), you should be redirected automatically. If you have any problems, please let me know. Thanks.
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.
Happy Solstice! As we enter into summer, everyone is thinking about how to write productively over the coming months. Here is a post from The Thesis Whisperer blog on productivity through peer pressure. In this post, the Thesis Whisperer herself (otherwise known as Dr. Inger Mewburn) tries out a strategy called “Shut Up and Write”. This approach has people meet up in public spaces to write, taking advantage of the pressure of working in groups and the value of getting out of our normal writing places. And here is a post from the Hook and Eye blog on a paid service that offers writers support and enhanced accountability. Both approaches speak to the difficulty of mastering writing challenges all by ourselves. Different writers will, of course, need different types of support, but it is worth spending some time now thinking about how you will work productively before you end up with that familiar end-of-summer regret that you didn’t get more written.
This piece from The Scholarly Kitchen discusses the idea of ‘the editorial fallacy’; in Joseph Esposito’s words, the editorial fallacy is the idea that “all of a publisher’s strategic problems can be solved by pursuing and publishing the finest books and articles.” While this may not seem directly relevant to the task of academic writers (i.e., to the task of actually writing the finest books and articles), I still think it is important. We can all benefit from Esposito’s awareness that editorial quality isn’t necessarily the most pressing issue facing scholarly publishers in a world with dramatically new technological and financial challenges.
Finally, here is an interesting account of a new direction in scholarly publishing: an article from Inside Higher Ed by Alexandra Juhasz about her creation of a ‘video-book’. Since this publishing endeavour was so innovative, Juhasz was operating with a certain amount of freedom. She used that freedom to engage in a very thoughtful consideration of the demands and obligations of scholarly publishing. Any writer could benefit from thinking about Juhasz’s list of publishing considerations: the ideal medium for a given project; the nature of the audience; the reading preferences of the target audience; the desired style of writing; the degree of commitment necessary from readers; the collaborative nature of publishing; the legal considerations; the question of authority; and the ongoing challenges of funding scholarly production.
Here is something from the Huffington Post on the difficulty of finding workable ‘rules’ for good writing. Robert Lane Greene provides a useful breakdown of types of rules for writing: rules that everyone knows; standard but tricky rules; obsolescent rules; disputed rules; non-rules; formality differences; regional differences; dialect differences; house style; and personal taste. His use of these ten different categories shows how difficult it is to rely on simple notions of right and wrong in our writing.
Here is something from Inside Higher Ed on writing for science graduate students. In this piece, Stephen C. Stearns, a senior scientist at Yale, offers his own take on proposal writing, thesis writing, and publishing.
Finally, here is something amusing from The Monkey Cage blog: a top ten list of excuses for inexcusable plagiarism. If you missed the reference to Clippy, count your blessings.
Explorations of Style will be taking next week off; I have to travel for a conference and, first, to make that travel worthwhile, have to write the paper I will be presenting at the conference. The presentation is on the role this blog plays in my classroom teaching, so don’t imagine the lack of posts means I’m not still thinking about the blog all the time. I will return with something new—or at least something adapted from my presentation on blogging and teaching—on June 1st. See you then! I will leave you with a few weekly links.
Here is a great piece from Slate on the best model for funding innovative scientific work. Tim Harford offers a fascinating discussion of the relationship between funding—both public and private—and scientific progress.
While I don’t know much about libraries, I am sure that those of us who benefit from university libraries ought to listen to what librarians have to say about the sustainability of the current model of managing collections. Here is something from Barbara Fister, writing at Inside Higher Ed. I particularly like the way she uses a food analogy, stressing the need to think about sustainability even in the face of apparent abundance.
Finally, from McSweeney’s, here is someone’s letter to his dissertation. This letter is part of their series of ‘Open letters to people or entities who are unlikely to respond’. I am obliged, of course, to say that you would be better off writing your dissertation than writing to your dissertation. But I found this line funny: “You probably sense that I am a little frustrated, the way that I spend time with you every day but it’s never quality time, the way you are always on my mind but we never seem to get anywhere.” (Thanks to The Thesis Whisperer for the link.) If you spend any time with your thesis over the weekend, I hope it is quality time.
Here is a great post from the Hook and Eye blog about the role of reviewers and editors in the writing process. I liked this post for two reasons. First, I appreciate the emphasis on the learning that can happen during the submission/rejection/revision/acceptance process. Throughout this process, there will be feedback on your writing; not all of it will be constructive and helpful, of course, but much of it will. Being open to learning from that feedback is crucial. Second, the post offers a valuable reminder that the writing we read—and desire to emulate—has been through so much polishing. Given how hard we all are on our own writing, we can’t have too many reminders about how much revision published work has been through.
Here is something from Inside Higher Ed on the singular moment of finishing a PhD: what is lost, what is gained, and what we should understand about ourselves as we prepare for the next step.
Finally, an old joke with a thought-provoking punch line from the Crooked Timber blog.
The blog PhD2Published recently ran a three-part series on journal article publishing: getting started; choosing a journal; and dealing with rejection. If you are thinking about publishing for the first time, it is a great idea to expose yourself to as many sources of information and opinion as you can; this blog has an extensive list of academic publishing resources. If you are working in the sciences, you may also be interested in this piece from Science on publishing in scientific journals.
This blog post from The Scholarly Kitchen discusses the new paywall at the New York Times. The author points out that the paywall allows the paper to charge organizations for access. While some individuals may get around the paywall by accessing Times’ stories through social media or blog readers, institutions will pay for subscriptions, giving the Times the financial support it both needs and deserves.
Lastly, here is something from The New Yorker Book Bench blog on the new additions to the OED. Ian Crouch has given an amusing account of the predictable outrage that attends any inclusion of novel coinage in an authoritative dictionary. In his words, the OED is a “far-reaching collection of English words, with an eye to history, which aims to be both prescriptive (these words and only these words are correct) and descriptive (these are the words that are used, as here’s how). When historians, linguists, and the generally curious want to know how people spoke in the twenty-first century, it will be useful to know about OMG and LOL, and how the phrases reflected usage that ranged from serious, to semi-serious, to full-on ironic.”