Tag Archives: Technology

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: 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: 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.

The Faintest Ink

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.

Most of my links posts come from the range of links that I archive during my daily reading. But this one instead comes from something that came up in class and that was then reinforced by some comments in my Twitter feed. In my thesis writing course, we were recently talking about the perils of not writing ideas down when first they strike. In fact, I was stressing the importance of doing more than just jotting down an idea. In most cases, we need to elaborate on the idea so that it may be useful to us later; that is, we need to explain how that idea might play out or why it might ultimately matter or how it relates to our own work. It can be a pain to stop whatever else we are doing when inspiration strikes, but I have learned that finding an old idea without any elaboration is usually a baffling experience. It seems to be human nature to imagine that our future selves will have tremendous recall especially concerning matters that are clear to our current selves. Do you ever find these sort of cryptic notes in your files? ‘This connects to an earlier idea expressed by the second speaker in the fourth panel: it’s a dichotomy’. I made that up, obviously, but have a look at your own conference notes. Chances are, they are full of obscurity (this?), references requiring context (second speaker? fourth panel?) and words that fail to convey any enduring meaning (dichotomy?). It can be a painful experience to find one of these inexplicable notes. Imagine yourself triumphantly concluding ‘it’s a dichotomy!’ and obviously thinking that this was a valuable insight. And maybe it was, but now you’ll never know.

While I was reflecting on this issue, I saw a tweet from @RohanMaitzen that summed this phenomenon up nicely: “Now, if I could only remember why the word ‘superfluity’ seemed so important to my Eugenides review that I got out of bed to write it down.” She later tweeted that she had remembered the significance of superfluity, so her story has a happy ending. Shortly thereafter, I saw the following tweet from @thesiswhisperer: “I had 3 great ideas for my new workshop ‘If the CV is dead, what should I do?’ but was at gym and didn’t write it down. damn.” (I’m not sure how her story turned out, although I have every confidence that her CV workshop was great.) I even encountered a discussion of this phenomenon on Mad Men. In Season Three, there was an episode called ‘The Color Blue’ in which Paul woke up—hungover and still at the office—remembering that he had had a great idea for a campaign but with no memory of what it had been and, more significantly, with no written notes. Peggy encouraged him to tell Don the truth, and he reluctantly agreed, expecting a full measure of Draper scorn. But Don surprised him: he wasn’t scornful, he was sympathetic. The only explanation for this unexpected burst of human kindness is that even Don Draper understands that ideas get forgotten if they aren’t written down. The Chinese proverb that Paul quotes in despair is the perfect expression of this idea: ‘The faintest ink is better than the best memory.’

So, unless you have been granted a freakishly good memory, make it your basic assumption that you won’t remember later what seems obvious to you now. Write it all down with an eye to your future self: make sure that you note whatever you will need in order to work with this idea in a week or a month or however long it is likely to be before you’ll have a chance to return to this idea.

Finally, some related links. Here is a helpful blog post from The Thesis Whisperer with some guidance on how to use a notebook effectively during your graduate study. The ProfHacker blog recently addressed how to make notes on the go. If you are more likely to take notes on a computer or mobile device, here is an overview of Evernote, also from the ProfHacker blog. And if all else fails, maybe the post-it watch will help you when sudden inspiration strikes.

Links: Academic Blogging

First, before I forget: National Punctuation Day is coming up on Saturday. I confess, I was initially confused by this announcement because I was sure I had already mentioned this on the blog (and this blog didn’t exist last September). But I soon realized that I was confusing National Punctuation Day with National Grammar Day. Two totally different days. This blog probably isn’t the place to discuss how funny the ‘National [fill in the blank] Day’ phenomenon is, but I can’t resist. August 15th, for instance, is both National Relaxation Day and National Failure Day, a combination that sounds weird but actually makes sense in a mean, puritanical sort of way. It is also National Lemon Meringue Pie Day. Again, there is a certain logic: if you’ve ever made such a pie, you probably needed to relax afterwards and you may very well have failed. Here is a list of more of these special days (I was tired after reading just the month of January) and some discussion of the procedure for getting such a day recognized (just kidding, there is absolutely no procedure). But even though there are national days of many inconsequential things, this does not lessen the importance—the 365-days-a-year importance—of punctuation. I urge you to click here to learn more about its special day.

Now, on to today’s post. Since I have encountered a range of thought-provoking blogposts on academic blogging recently, I thought I would devote this post to that topic.

Here is a blogpost on the darker side of blogging by Jeffrey Cohen from the In the Middle blog. Cohen reflects on the challenges of maintaining an online presence; in particular, he does a good job articulating some of the hazards that arise when exposure exceeds accountability. Ultimately, he intends to continue to engage social media as part of his academic life, but he is clearly concerned that online negativity could eventually overwhelm the tremendous promise of online communities.

Here is a discussion in The Scholarly Kitchen on the state of blogging and how it is perceived. In this post, Kent Anderson discusses the lack of respect accorded to blogging. He provides a vigorous defense, concluding that the purported weaknesses of blogging may actually be strengths: “Like many disruptive technologies, a blog’s ‘weaknesses’—the quick-hit writing with links substituting for wordiness, the ability to generate content quickly, the ability to interact with an audience, the ability to write long or short, the embedded ability to link to and host multimedia, the participation of unexpected experts—are really its strengths.”

Finally, here is something on blogging from The Thesis Whisperer in which a guest author, Andy Coverdale, talks directly about the role of blogging in the life of a PhD student. In particular, Coverdale considers how blogging affects both his writing process and the potential professional reception of his work. This post is essential reading for any graduate students trying to evaluate the benefits and complications of adding blogging into their professional lives.

P.S. I just learned that today is National Pecan Cookie Day. Do with that information what you will—I know what I’m going to do!

Blogging as an Academic Activity

In my last post, I mentioned that I was taking a week off from this blog to attend a conference at which I would be making a presentation about this blog. Since I have been so preoccupied with thinking about blogging, I thought I would devote today’s post to a consideration of how blogging relates to other academic activities.

Five months into this blogging adventure, I realize that it is premature to draw any definitive conclusions. But having to make a presentation on this topic forced me to come up with some provisional conclusions about the difference between blogging and other academic pursuits. Here are four themes that seem to characterize the singularity of the blogging experience:

  1. The blog allows me to craft my ideas into a form that endures outside of a particular class setting (blogging as permanent).
  2. The blog allows me to reach a broad number of people with whom I might otherwise have no connection (blogging as public).
  3. The blog allows me to share my thoughts in short bits at frequent intervals (blogging as periodic).
  4. The blog allows me to express my ideas in whatever way I choose without going through anyone else’s editorial process (blogging as personal).

Looking at these four themes together, I think it is possible to think of academic blogging as the creation of a hybrid space that combines aspects of traditional publishing (because it is permanent and public) and aspects of teaching (because it is periodic and personal). This hybrid space seems to be well suited to meeting the needs of graduate students who want to improve their academic writing skills: because it is public, a blog can be accessed whenever readers need it; because it is periodic, a blog can provide readers with information in manageable bits; because it is permanent, a blog can give readers the opportunity to pursue an issue further through earlier posts on related topics; and, finally, because it is personal, a blog can adopt a clear authorial stance that allows readers to determine whether it suits their writing needs.

The conference itself was great. Thanks to all CASDW members for an interesting and congenial weekend in Fredericton!