Tag Archives: Social media

2012 in Review

Happy New Year! I’ll be back with a new post next week, but in the meantime here is a quick overview of 2012. The nice people at WordPress gave me a very pretty year-in-review page that is probably of interest to me alone: how many people looked at various posts; how they got there; and where they were from. But you—especially if you are new to reading this blog—may be interested in a quick recap of what we talked about last year.

Last year started with a bunch of posts on comma use: commas to punctuate for lengthpairs of commas to signal unambiguously that the sentence is being interrupted; and commas in relative clauses, a perennial topic of writing consternation. Apparently these three posts really took it out of me; I have yet to return to the topic of commas, despite the fact that I had promised two additional posts on commas! I’ll have to revisit this issue in 2013.

As always, I talked a lot about the editing process: letting go of ‘perfectly good writing’; deciding what to do when you have deviated from your own best laid plans; managing the perils of local cohesion; satisfying the reader’s desire for a one-way trip through your writing; and engaging in rough editing to bridge the gap between drafting and editing.

I took a break from writing about writing to reflect on my very own blog; in light of an article about the benefit of multi-authored blogs, I argued for the value of a single-authored blog.

During the summer, I did a podcast interview with GradHacker, in which we touched upon a lot of the issues central to this blog.

Over the course of the year, I looked at lots of general writing issues: the value of the injunction to put it in your own words; the pernicious impact a fear of error can have on the writing process; the way a reverse outline can help to structure a literature review; and the strengths and weaknesses of building a text through cut-and-paste.

Academic Writing Month provided the opportunity for lots of great reflections on the writing process; once it was over, I wrote about my own experience and the importance of reflecting on our own writing practices.

At the end of the year, I was interested in how graduate students ought to orient themselves towards dominant writing practices. Is graduate writing self-expression or adherence to form? And how should graduate students orient themselves towards established style conventions? I’m fascinated by this topic, so I’m sure I’ll return to it over the coming year.

Finally, here are a few links posts that I thought touched on important issues: caring about writing without succumbing to peevishness; the balance between disciplinary and professional training for graduate students; the value of writing early; and avoiding the temptation to compare insides with outsides.

Thank you all for reading—I feel very lucky to have such a great audience.

Next week I’ll talk about how to structure and introduce an introduction.

AcWriMo Reflections

Before getting to my AcWriMo reflections, I’d like to say thanks and welcome to all my new subscribers and followers. November was the busiest month ever on the blog: there were nearly 5,000 views and we passed the 50,000 views mark overall. Thank you all for reading and commenting and linking and sharing!

 ♦

As anyone who reads this blog knows, November was AcWriMo, an exercise in public accountability and support for academic writing facilitated by the lovely people at PhD2Published. As I discussed in a post at the beginning of the month, I decided to participate as an experiment. Looking back over the guiding principles set out by PhD2Published, I see that I basically kept to them. I aimed relatively high; I certainly told everyone; I thought a lot about being strategic in my approach; I checked in over the course of the month; and I did work hard. What I didn’t do was meet the target I set for myself. I committed to writing a weekly blog post (five over the course of the month) and turning a conference paper into an article. I did do the former, although that was no more than I would have done anyway. I started working on the paper and even managed to create an initial draft. But by the middle of the month, I hit a wall: to finish the paper I needed to engage more deeply with the literature and didn’t have time to do that. So I carried on blogging and following the AcWriMo activities of others and using what extra time I had to plan the literature review I need to do. (I was assisted in this planning process by an amazing series of posts by Pat Thomson and Inger Mewburn (of The Thesis Whisperer) on Pat’s blog patter; in this series, they detail and reflect upon a work in progress. It is a rare and welcome thing to see people trying to give voice to how complicated and unruly the research process can be. For me, that was AcWriMo at its best: a public discussion of writing challenges in a manner designed to demystify the process.)

Engaging with AcWriMo confirmed one of my key assumptions about writing: we all need less how-to and more self-knowledge. The ‘right’ way to write is elusive, considerably more elusive than a lot of writing advice seems to grasp. To get a sense of the vastly different ways that we experience writing—brought into focus by the artificial pressure of an ‘academic writing month’—I recommend looking at some of the great post-AcWriMo reflections that have been written thus far. Here are a few that I’ve enjoyed: Raul Pacheco-Vega; Peter Webster; Liz Gloyn; Lyndsay Grant; Ellen Spaeth. And PhD2Published has begun the process of reflecting on AcWriMo through a series of Storify posts. If you read these posts, think about what resonates for you as a writer. What writing practices works for you? What holds you back? Can you distinguish between psychological and practical barriers to writing? Does technology help or just displace the problem? When has writing been best for you? Academic writing is hard enough—trying to do it according to the dictates of someone else’s process can make it even harder. Self-knowledge is key. In that spirit, I offer my own reflections. They are unlikely to be interesting in and of themselves, but I hope they serve as an example of how to develop a better understanding of oneself as a writer.

So what did I learn about my academic writing process from AcWriMo?

1. That concrete and demanding writing goals are essential. Writing is so easy not to do; I start many days wanting to write and having to do any number of other things. Anything I can do to move writing into the obligatory column is valuable. I have found it helpful to think about the imperative to write in two ways. First, I need to conceive of what writing means to me for professional satisfaction, development, and advancement. For most of us, writing is crucial, but I found it useful to identify its precise value to create more motivation. Second, with that sense of my broad priorities, I need to create a concrete writing schedule. Working backwards from a target means that I can see exactly how much needs to get done right now and prevents the sort of magical thinking that allows me to imagine I’ll pull off miraculous feats of writing in an unspecified future while remaining hopelessly unproductive now.

2. That committing to a certain amount of time spent writing works better than committing to a number of words/pages per day. In particular, short Pomodoro-style bursts work best for me. The 25-minute period, short enough for even my appallingly bad powers of concentration, helps balance writing with the rest of my life. I can be out of touch for 25 minutes, from my co-workers, from my kids’ school, and from social media. The five-minute break spent catching up on email and messages gives me the sense of connectedness that I love as well as the ability to stay on top of all the little things as I go along. Which leads me to my next observation.

3. That getting behind on everything else for the sake of writing makes me unhappy. My central professional commitment is teaching, which means class preparation, reading student writing, meeting with students, and—needless to say—lots of email. I need to get these things and any associated administrative work done in order to be comfortable writing. This prioritization is not something that always works well; if writing is put last, it will sometimes be left out. Taking AcWriMo as an opportunity be more aware of how I spend my time allowed me to see that my days fall into three basic types: days when I genuinely can’t write; days when I can and do; and then days when I could except that my inefficiency and inattentiveness mean that I’m unproductive. Accepting the first type as legitimate helps me to turn my attention to reducing the third type.

4. That making myself read is always my biggest challenge. Reading makes me impatient; the ideal pace for reading is slower than I like things to be and requires more intellectual flexibility than I naturally possess. Writing, on the other hand, allows me to be active and creative. Of course, good academic reading must be active and can be creative, but it’s still not an activity that comes easily to me. When AcWriMo begins in 2013, I’ll need to have a well-researched project in hand, ready for a month of intensive writing. In the meantime, I hope to turn my attention to solving this persistent weakness in my research process.

5. That my writing process is unduly hampered by pre-emptive anxiety. It doesn’t speak well of me, but I have come to accept how easily I am thrown off my game by potential problems. Current problems would be one thing: it is genuinely hard to write when you hit a conceptual roadblock. But I am dissuaded from writing by the mere possibility of problems in the future. What if I’ve chosen the wrong approach to this issue? What if my observations are completely trite? What if my argumentation doesn’t fit my desired conclusions? The sane reaction, obviously, is to keep writing until the potential problem becomes a real problem or fails to materialize. I’m working on getting better at blocking out the ‘whatifs’ when I write. Do you know that Shel Silverstein poem? It’s one of my favourite kids’ poems: Last night while I lay thinking here/Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear/And pranced and partied all night long/And sang their same old Whatif song:/Whatif I flunk that test?/Whatif green hair grows on my chest?/Whatif nobody likes me?/Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?… 

6. That blogging is a lot more than just writing. I was so struck this month how much time I spend preparing each post (beyond the time spent writing) and how much time I spend in general maintenance and social media engagement. This entire process is one that I love, but it is time spent and not exactly time spent writing. When thinking about how to allocate appropriate time to writing, I need to think about all the facilitation and administration that goes along with having a blog. (Pat Thomson had a very interesting post this week on blogging and social media participation as a complex form of academic labour that breaks down any simple dichotomy between work and leisure.)

7. That traditional academic writing can be restful after the immediacy of blogging. At the beginning of the month, I felt a little uncomfortable to be writing in other than a blogging or microblogging format. The lack of feedback felt strange; like when you put an actual letter in an actual mailbox and then wonder, six hours later, why you haven’t heard back yet. But once I got over the strangeness, I found it very restful. Once again, I could take advantage of the ‘nobody ever has to read this but me if it’s awful’ strategy that got me through my entire dissertation. That’s a hard strategy to employ in blog writing; knowing that I’ll be publishing in the coming days (or even hours) means that I have to be fairly committed to what I am writing at the moment of composition. It was lovely to write with a broader time frame in mind, knowing that I could finish the whole article with the luxury of returning to it with a critical eye later.

Overall, AcWriMo was a great chance to focus on what both writing and not writing look like for me right now. In particular, this month gave me a unique opportunity to reflect on the role of writing in this phase of my life: without the pressure to produce a dissertation, without the anxiety that accompanied my recent promotion process, and with the very different rhythm of maintaining a blog. I look forward to continuing to reflect upon the experience of academic writing amidst the wonderful online academic writing community; thank you to the people at PhD2Published and all the AcWriMo participants for the encouragement and all the engaging commentary. I hope you are all able to continue to, in the memorable words of an AcWriMo participant, ‘write like there’s no December’.

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.

Comparing Insides and Outsides

During AcWriMo, PhD2Published has been running a series of posts from Wendy Laura Belcher, offering tips on academic writing. The post of Belcher’s that I have found most helpful thus far discusses the notion of social support for writers. Writing is so intrinsically solitary that finding its valuable social dimension is legitimately a challenge. Charlotte Frost and Jesse Stommel also had some great advice this week about writing more publicly. While increased openness about writing and its struggles is essential, such openness can unfortunately leave some people feeling even worse about their progress. James Hayton from The Three Month Thesis wrote recently about his concern that a natural reporting bias would make the AcWriMo Twitter feed a sea of positivity. In other words, we might hear more from those for whom it was going well; those of us (ahem) who aren’t being quite so productive might be keeping a low profile. While lots of participants are clearly making an effort to report the unvarnished truth, the Twitter feed has been pretty upbeat. I’ve certainly noticed some people commenting that the productivity of others has made them feel worse about their own lack of productivity.

So what do we say to people who feel worse when they see others doing well? There’s no point in moralizing, and there’s certainly no benefit in halting the sharing. But there is another option: maybe we should take other people’s good news in stride because, chances are, there is way more to the story than they are telling us. One of the most consistent practices that I see in graduate students is the habit of making harmful comparisons between their own ‘insides’ and other people’s ‘outsides’. At the simplest level, this means comparing our own awful first drafts with other people’s polished final drafts. I always ask student how many genuine first drafts (other than their own) they have seen; the answer is often zero, and yet they still believe their first drafts are uniquely bad. After I make my usual, run-of-the-mill, banal observations about the struggles of academic writing, I often hear in reply ‘Thank you for saying that—I thought I was the only one who felt that way about my writing’. Clearly, we need more honesty about the normal struggles of writing, so people don’t feel isolated and so those normal levels of struggle aren’t allowed to turn into something more problematic. However, in the context of increased openness, we still need to remember that we shouldn’t draw simple comparisons between our own private experience and the public face presented by others.

While I was thinking about these topics this week, I encountered a few other posts that relate to how we conceive of ease and struggle in our writing lives. (With all the different writing schemes going on, November really is an awesome month to be a reader—I don’t know how I’m supposed to get any writing done!) The Thesis Whisperer had a thoughtful post this week on the way that happiness tends to be the exception against which the more interesting struggles of life are measured. Jo Van Every had an interesting post this week on dealing gracefully with the unexpected and undesirable. Finally, Kathleen Fitzpatrick had a poignant post on the role of stress in our lives. I was particularly taken with her formulation that “Stress has become the contemporary sign of our salvation.” According to Fitzpatrick, not only are many of us managing stress poorly, some of us are even seeking it out as proof of our worthiness.

Recent links from @explorstyle on Twitter

From @fishhookopeneye, helpful advice on crafting strong conference proposals.

From Inside Higher Ed, the second in their series on perfectionism in academia: concrete advice on ‘breaking the cycle’.

From @GradHacker, thoughtful suggestions for how graduate students might think about plagiarism in their own teaching.

From @ThomsonPat, wonderfully concrete advice on starting the literature review process. (Note: This post on literature reviews is the first in an ongoing series.)

From @fishhookopeneye, an interesting take on procrastination: a way of prolonging excitement or possibility.

From @DocwritingSIG, a call for precision without perfectionism and an awareness of how your discipline values style

From the New York Times, a fascinating discussion of note-taking. Is it fair to compare excessive note-taking to hoarding?

From @GradHacker, concrete suggestions for thinking about how to build the graduate school support networks that you need

From Inside Higher Ed, a thoughtful piece on the particular perils of perfectionism for academics.

A new guest post from @thesiswhisperer distinguishes between normal malaise and insurmountable misery in doctoral study.

From @mystudiouslife, a great elaboration of all she has done to keep the #AcWriMo spreadsheet functioning. Thanks!

Advice from @PhD2Published on committing to writing. Most important to me: Don’t wait for long blocks of time!

From @UVenus, a discussion of the way that #altac career paths may be different than graduate students picture them to be.

From @MGrammar, an interesting discussion of the costs and benefits of grammatical rules: ‘Rules aren’t free’.

From @ThomsonPat, an excellent post about the valuable ‘social existence’ our words could have if only they were shared.

From @AcaCoachTaylor, my kind of #AcWriMo motivation.

Between Drafting and Editing

Over the weekend, I went poking around in my own archives to look for posts that might be helpful for other people embroiled in AcWriMo. What I found was a lot of writing advice that presupposed the existence of some sort of draft. Some posts were explicitly geared towards the editing phase: committing to extensive revision; reverse outlines; and remembering to edit. Many other posts concerned the sorts of things that I wouldn’t recommend attending to during the initial writing phase: making effective transitions; crafting strong paragraphs; creating clear sentences with topic subjects and action verbs; working with problem sentences; letting go of passages we no longer need; reconciling our best laid plans with our actual drafts; and the perils of local cohesion.

I’m obviously not surprised that the bulk of my advice concerns working with drafts. I’m very hesitant to interfere with the beautiful mystery of getting words down on paper; I’ve got a healthy respect for the alchemy that allows us to turn thoughts into prose. Editing, on the other hand, is emphatically un-mysterious, requiring a hyper-rational attention to the principles of sound academic writing. So I began this blog with a recommendation to use writing to clarify thinking and then turned my attention to the more manageable process of revising our own work. The essentially ungovernable writing process has been left largely untouched. But in light of AcWriMo, I want to offer one piece of advice related to the early drafting process.

When we write as a way of clarifying our own thinking, we are often engaging in a somewhat chaotic process. We may not be writing to a specific plan, with a neat outline to guide us along the way. Instead, we may be trying things out and experimenting with different phrasings and switching course and just generally endeavouring—through trial and error—to find the best path. Later we can use various revision strategies to make sense of it all and turn it into something suitable for the reader. The value of separating writing and revising is clear: on the one hand, you get the full freedom of the writing process and, on the other, you get time to transform that text into something suited to its eventual audience. But this dichotomy between drafting and editing can be taken too far, so I want to talk about an intervening space: not quite editing, but beyond drafting.

Have you ever come back to a rough—emphasis on rough—draft and been unable to figure out what is going on? It’s great to free the writing process from the burdens of editing, but not if you are going to end up with a text that is ambiguous or opaque. Depending on your own writing processes and the demands of the particular project, the revision stage can be far removed from the writing stage. No matter how much we imagine that we’ll always remember what we know now,  we simply won’t. We all need to take steps to ensure that our future selves will understand what they are looking at. To this end, I suggest leaving a short block of time at the close of each writing session for rough editing.

This short block of time will allow you to do three things. First, you can clean up obvious errors so the text will make sense to you later. For example, during a recent round of rough editing, I found an errant ‘not’ in a sentence; it was obviously there because I had been experimenting with expressing the thought in a positive or negative way. I had chosen the positive expression but had failed to remove the ‘not’. Figuring this out took me very little time because I still remembered having struggled with this sentence. In a week or two, I might not remember and would have had to engage in a more complicated process to figure out what was going on. A quick read through—scrupulously resisting the urge to do any fine editing—can save you from great bafflement later. Second, you can take this limited time to record your quick reactions to the text so far. Switch to all-caps (or to a different font or colour) and comment on what you see. Have I done enough with this idea? Should this be here? Is the work of so-and-so relevant here? You may not have time to answer these questions right then, but you should have a system for capturing them. Third, the rough edit can be a great time to set yourself up to start your next session of writing. Whenever possible, leave yourself some sort of instructions that will greet you the next time you open the document. A concrete suggestion about the first thing you should do when you sit down to write will help you get underway and will make the prospect of returning to your text much more appealing.

I realize that this post is based on a particular assumption about AcWriMo. Judging from my Twitter feed (one Pomodoro, two Pomodoros, …), it sounds like lots of people are doing more drafting than editing this month. But that may or may not be true. I think the beauty—as I discussed last week—of the way AcWriMo has been framed this time is that anyone can use it as a way to spur productivity in whatever way they need. AcWriMo could be a month dedicated to intensive editing rather than drafting. However, since I do get the sense that lots of people are taking this month as a chance to embark on the initial writing of the texts they need to produce, I thought I would talk about the steps we can take to make sure that our eventual return to those texts isn’t too much of a shock. Happy writing, everyone!

Academic Writing Month

Yesterday was the first day of Academic Writing Month (AcWriMo), a month dedicated to academic productivity and public accountability. The full ‘rules’ can be found at the PhD2Published site, but here’s the short version: Aim high, tell everyone, be strategic, check in, work hard. Even if you don’t have the flexibility to devote the whole month to writing, this approach is inspiring for its can-do spirit and its commitment to making academic writing less lonely. If you need convincing, The Thesis Whisperer has a great post about why AcWriMo is a better idea than you might initially think. In a similar vein, Anna Tarrant has an interesting piece in The Guardian’s Higher Education Network blog on the way that an initiative like this can create a much-needed social space for a sustainable approach to academic writing.

I didn’t participate in this project last year. In part, I made that decision because it was explicitly geared towards writing an academic book (it was actually called AcBoWriMo), something that I was mercifully not trying to do. More generally, I was also aware that I didn’t need that sort of productivity burst. There have definitely been times in my life—during some parts of the dissertation writing process, for instance—when it would have been very helpful for me to alter my life to achieve drastic writing goals. At this point, however, I need a more systematic approach. I definitely want to be more productive and consistent as a writer, so I am approaching AcWriMo as an experiment: what can I do to give writing the prominence in my work life that I so wish it had?

My goals will thus be of two sorts. In the first place, I have set some targets for myself: Five blog posts (which is the number I would have tried to write this month anyway) and a draft of an article (which will grow out of a conference presentation, so I am not starting from scratch). Prompted by the AcWriMo spreadsheet, I have set a target of an hour of writing a day, five days a week (the numbering may shift, but I am currently number 234 in the Academic Writing Accountability spreadsheet). My second goal will be to understand how participation in this project affects me. Should I have set a word count instead of making a time commitment? Should I have aimed higher or lower? Will social media accountability be helpful? I look forward to reflecting on these questions in early December.

But those questions are just about me and my own productivity challenges. The truly interesting thing about AcWriMo is the notion of people around the world engaging in academic writing ‘out loud’. What can be so inward becomes a bit more outward, which means that the usual frustrations can be a matter of public acknowledgement rather than private self-castigation. The shared sense of the intrinsic pain of writing—and I say that as someone who loves to write—can be a source of humour and encouragement. The #AcWriMo hashtag is already inspiring, funny, and enlightening: small triumphs, inevitable setbacks, lots of jokes, and a myriad of approaches from which to learn. I will be updating my progress here and on Twitter (@explorstyle)—I hope you’ll follow along.

Recent links from @explorstyle on Twitter

From @SDMumford, a call to study what you love (in his case, philosophy).

From @DrJeremySegrott, thoughtful reflections on a year spent using Twitter for academic purposes.

From @Margin_Notes, a great post on the research into the role of teaching in tenure decisions.

From @ThomsonPat, an interesting discussion of different types of post-experience reflection.

From @cplong, a Storify version of his experience live tweeting his own talk on Plato.

It may not be the most influential of his 40+ books, but Barzun’s Simple and Direct is one of my favourite books on writing.

From @ThomsonPat, a great response to the writing too early question: Writing the thesis from day one is risky.

From @readywriting, interesting reflections on different types of academic blogs: Profiling the academic blogosphere.

From Inside Higher Ed, an honest account of being miserable in graduate school and deciding whether or not to finish.

I love this! Lucy Ferriss (in Lingua Franca) argues that ‘this’ sometimes needs more than just a referent.

From @byagoda in the NYT Draft blog, a delightful endorsement of the em-dash for its versatility and its vitality.

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

My Very Own Blog

I think it’s probably a bad sign when your own blogging delinquency becomes your subject matter for a post. As I’ve said before, I understand that neither apologies nor explanations of the worthiness of my non-blogging activities are of any interest. But I do actually have something to say about blogging and not blogging.

Patrick Dunleavy and Chris Gilson, in an interview in the Impact of Social Sciences blog, said recently that we ought to move past the idea of single-authored blogs. They make a good argument for the value of the multi-authored blog: the group blog benefits from the emphasis on collaboration and from the sharing of the responsibility among many writers. The collaborative approach, they suggest, also benefits the audience since a multi-authored blog is much more likely to be updated regularly. According to estimates that Dunleavy and Gilson mention, eighty per cent of single-author blogs are either inactive or rarely updated; they call these ‘desert blogs’, which is such a sad phrase (I tried to find out if this was their coinage or an established term, but all I found were a lot of gorgeous dessert blogs!). Reading their stark assessment of single-authored blogs made me want to defend my little solo project, but I was constrained by my awareness of the stale post that had been sitting on my site for over a month.

What does all this mean for my neglected single-author blog? I assume that nobody is wasting their time checking my blog for new content; you all have better things to do and anyone who cares to can receive some form of notification (all the notification options can be found in the left sidebar: email, RSS, Facebook, Twitter). Given the rhythms of my work life, I accept that this blog will need to be a some-times-more-than-other-times proposition. Despite the inevitable fallow times, I know that this blog benefits from having a single author.

A blog that offers an approach to writing needs authorial consistency to allow readers a chance to evaluate its value for them. I think you’d be crazy to show up here out of the blue and accept what I say. Taking the writing process seriously means not accepting one-size-fits-all ‘writing tips’. You need to find a source of writing insight that addresses your general writing situation and that resonates with your specific approach to writing. I’m not saying that a group blog on writing can’t be valuable, of course; the Lingua Franca blog is a great example of a blog that is consistently updated and consistently excellent. But the multi-author model doesn’t encourage the same sustained interaction between a single author and the audience. Given the nature of my project, that sustained interaction is important to me.

All of which is to say that I’m committed to this blogging format. But this ‘commitment’ raises an obvious question: why don’t I write here more often? The reason isn’t a lack of enjoyment—writing here is one of my very favourite things to do. And the enjoyment isn’t just derived from the creative process; I love knowing that the posts are read, shared, and used across a wide range of networks. The act of writing these posts is also very helpful to me as a teacher; crystallizing my thoughts about writing allows me to teach these topics more effectively in the classroom.

This rosy picture makes blogging sound like a winning proposition all around. But there is, unfortunately, a predictable impediment: this blog is all mine and thus I’m not responsible to anyone else for what happens here. Everything else in my professional life involves some degree of obligation to other people: preparing to teach; looking at student writing; handling administrative responsibilities; meeting with colleagues; making presentations. These are all things that I genuinely enjoy doing, but the manner in which I do them means that a failure to do so would negatively affect someone else. Blogging—or not blogging, as the case may be—is something that matters only to me. As such, it is the first thing to go when I am busy. Sound familiar? Where does writing fit into the have to/would really like to split in your own life?

The problem for many graduate students is that they have to write, but their lives end up organized in such a way that writing is neglected in favour of other things that feel more urgent. That sense of urgency is real, of course; the non-writing activities of graduate students aren’t just hobbies. Often those activities generate essential income or develop key professional competencies. But successful writers will find a way to place writing within the confines of their essential activities. I realize this sounds like a very self-serving conclusion: it’s okay if I can’t find time to blog, but it’s not okay if you don’t find time to write your thesis. Convenient, perhaps, but also true. The more you can think of writing as an obligation, the more progress you will make towards the goal of a completed thesis.

Finally, I know I said I wouldn’t bore you with what I’ve been doing while neglecting the blog, but I can’t resist sharing a few photos from my recent trip to Savannah. I was there for the International Writing Across the Curriculum conference, and the conference and the city were both delightful!

Fear of Error

Before the holidays, I wrote a brief post commenting on something Stan Carey had written in the Macmillan Dictionary blog about adopting a forgiving attitude towards mistakes. I concluded that post by saying that “Better writing will come not from the fear of error but from the appreciation of the power of great prose.” Although I now wish I had been a bit less pompous, that is an accurate reflection of how I feel. At least it is what I tell others they should feel. But I had an interesting moment of further reflection recently that made me wonder how well I practice what I preach. I was reading the Facebook comments on a Huffington Post article. Early on in the comments, someone pointed out two ‘errors’ in Lisa Belkin’s article (a misused hyphen and case of improper capitalization). Belkin graciously acknowledged both errors, thanked the person who had caught them, and tried to shift the conversation back to the topic at hand. But the allure of discussing editorial fallibility was too great. People began piling on and soon someone asked whether HuffPo was without editors (you can imagine the tone in which that question was asked). To her great credit, Belkin pointed out that they do indeed have editors and that they also have hundreds of extra editors, a system that worked pretty effectively in this case. Mistakes were made, mistakes were identified (by those elusive fresh eyes that editing demands and that are in such short supply), mistakes were eliminated. A happy ending, unless you believe that someone somewhere dies a little bit every time a mistake is seen by the public.

I was so impressed by the sanity of this response. Rather than wishing nobody had ever seen her mistakes, she was glad that someone caught them. I wish I could adopt such a sanguine attitude about the possibility of error in my own writing. I have to keep reminding myself that errors aren’t ultimately what matters; reception and engagement are what matters. If we are read by lots of people, there is more chance that our words will have an impact and more chance that those people will come back to us with interesting and challenging reactions. And there is more chance that at least one smarty pants will come along and happily point out our mistakes. In this vein, I love reading the New York Times’ After Deadline blog in which an editor discusses all the stuff that got past their editorial staff. I’m always amazed by how much their editorial staff care about all this and by the fact that this impressive commitment in no way prevents them from missing all sorts of problems. I think devoting a blog to the acknowledgement, correction, and dissection of those errors is a great way to handle them. This sort of treatment shows that mistakes are inevitable, fixable, and often very interesting.

I was hoping that this post was going to be about the use of commas in restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses, but that just didn’t happen. Maybe next week will be more conducive to thinking deeply about commas!

Links: Distraction, Typographical Fixity, Tweeting Your Thesis

This great article by John Plotz in the New York Times discusses the history of distraction. What I liked about the historical perspective—i.e., the evidence that people in monasteries and convents also suffered from acute distraction!—is that it emphasizes the need to accept and work through distraction. Our various devices obviously make procrastination easier, but they aren’t its sole cause. Solitary labours are difficult for most of us. When we go to Facebook (or wherever we go when the need for distraction hits) instead of working, we are often simply acting on a deep impulse for interaction and stimulation. I think if we treat distraction as inevitable rather than as failure, we are more likely to find ways to achieve a satisfying balance between contemplation and engagement.

Here is a discussion of the implications of the ebook format from Nicholas Carr writing in the Wall Street Journal. Carr’s interest is the potential for a lack of ‘typographical fixity’ (a phrase he borrows from Elizabeth Eisenstein) when a book is always up for revision. What are the proper boundaries of a book—what John Updike has called its ‘edges’—if there are no barriers to changing the text? In Carr’s words, we have shifted from ‘moveable type’ to ‘moveable text’. This shift may prompt us to ask ourselves a key question: if a book changes after you read it, have you still read it? For some readers, this question is bound to be perplexing and worthwhile; for others, it will sound like unnecessary hand wringing. Kent Anderson, writing in The Scholarly Kitchen blog, offers a critique of the hyperbole running through Carr’s piece. But I am still interested in what this ongoing malleability of text might mean for the psychological state of a writer. Carr’s article is called ‘Books That Are Never Done Being Written’. On the face of it, that’s not what most of us are looking for: an open-ended writing process in which revision never is, and can never be, complete!

As some of you will have seen, last week brought a flurry of activity under the #tweetyourthesis hashtag. I saw many beautiful but brief statements of research designed to be shared as widely as possible. I think brevity is a great thing in a context where length is the ultimate currency. (In the past, I have praised the Dissertation Haiku blog; its most recent entry is poignant as well as poetic.) Here is a discussion of how #tweetyourthesis came to be, and here is a somewhat critical response. Whenever someone says that good research cannot be summarized briefly, my heart always sinks a bit. Of course, good research cannot be completed without depth (and I would certainly concede that some scientific terminology may be truly incompatible with a limit of 140 characters ), but it seems terrible to say that you don’t have a good question if you can state it briefly.

Finally, Improbable Research identifies the best abstract ever. Go ahead and click the link—I guarantee you’ve got time to read it.

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.