a book from blog posts?

Maybe you have been harbouring secret thoughts about getting a book from those blog posts that you’ve been writing. I think about it too, occasionally, as patter is now several books worth of words.

Well, before you take the plunge, it’s worth just thinking about blogging and book writing. What do they have in common? How might they be different? What kind of book do you have in mind?

4950852061_35291ce2a9_b.jpg

Would Vance Packard have blogged if the technology had been available to him?

Some bloggers put together a set of their most popular posts to create quickie ebooks. Such ebooks are downloadable from their website, and are either completely free or sold at very low cost. In blog based publications, the bloggers may have tidied the posts up and ordered them – but in essence what you get is a set of short pieces some of which you may have already read.

But the collection is convenient. It saves you the trouble of searching and hunting through the blog and and ebook is something that you can save on your desktop or ereader and easily refer to. These quickie blog ebooks are generally intended for existing blog readers (and maybe their friends). The established blog reader downloads/buys the ebook, knowing what they will get. And because of that, they are generally happy campers.

These convenience ebooks are of course not the only books that academics want to produce, or that academic readers want to read. You may be wondering whether blog posts can support something other than the quickie convenience ebook.

If you’re thinking about blogging and book-ing, it’s worth spending a bit of time on the differences between your average academic blog, whether in ebook form or not, and the more mainstream academic monograph. Here’s a few key points of difference to start off with.

Your average academic blog Your average academic monograph
A post is its own mini-argument or narrative. It has its own rhetorical integrity. Your average academic book is a big argument or narrative made up of several mini arguments or narratives – moves – arranged in logical order.

There is a strong meta commentary which establishes continuity between each of the moves.

A blog post is usually shortish and focused on one idea. Niceties of argument may be acknowledged but are generally not able to be pursued in any depth or detail. A book chapter is usually 5k words or more. This length means that the writer has the space to deal with ideas in a nuanced way.

While a chapter usually addresses one overall point, it also has sub threads. Sub threads are not finished off in one chapter but carry on, possibly for the entire book.

Book chapters usually explore ideas in detail, offering various interpretations; they outline and deal with debates. Chapters can deal with complexity.

Most blog posts use hyperlinks in order to reference scholarly works but also to make connections with other online materials. Your average academic book, even in digital versions, uses a standard academic referencing system and reference list. These may have hyperlinks, but at present book publishing tends to lag behind the possibilities offered by blogs.
Many blog posts are written in a relatively  informal style. They use a vocabulary which sits somewhere between academese and everyday speech. Sentences tend to an active tense. They are on the shorter side. Blogs often use slang, memes, make more popular culture references and engage in more polemic than would be countenanced by academic book readers. Bloggers often address the reader directly – you. Academic prose tends to use more passive tense, nominalisation and longer sentences, than other forms of writing. Arguably, much of what counts as academic writing does rather more of this than is desirable. The mode of address tends to be more formal, eschews the second person pronoun (you), and uses the first (I, me, we) consciously and carefully. Some academic ‘styles’ forbid anything that might be seen as ‘vernacular’.
Seasoned bloggers tend to have a strong ‘voice’. They build up a blogger identity over time. They talk about themselves in order to make ‘human connections’ with readers. Some academic writers have a strong ‘voice’ and create a textual personal presence. Many however are a muted present in their text.
Blog posts often use images as a way to communicate additional information. Academic book publishers tend to restrict the use of images. Cost, they say.
Most successful bloggers know their readers. Their blog may not have initially been designed with specific people in mind, but over time, bloggers get a strong sense of who they are writing for. Academic book authors do have a sense of who they are writing for, but this is often quite diffuse.
Blogs often reach and help to create a community of interest which is not simply academic. Academic books are generally written for an academic readership, although there are a few academic books which cross over into the ‘popular’.
Blogs tend to be restricted in their design capacities – fonts, columns and so on. However, blogs are able to use moving image, sound, zoom, annotation and so on. These features create specific opportunities for bloggers. The printed page is capable of particular  layouts – the use of breakout boxes, multiple columns, footnotes, typographic variation, use of white space and so on. These design features create specific opportunities for writers.
Blogs are quick to write and can respond immediately to new ideas, events or conversations and debates. Books take a while to get together. While publishers can now print on demand, and the time from manuscript to press can be quite short, it usually isn’t. Books are also intended to have a longish shelf-life and do not date as quickly as something which is immediately responsive.
Blogs are usually free. Academic books cost. How they cost.
Some blogs have a lot of readers. Very few academic monographs sell a lot. (And some sales may now be not only via, but also because of, social media.)

This is not all there is of course. But these few differences do suggest that your average academic reader comes to an academic  book expecting something that is bound by convention and disciplinary traditions – the bottom line is that they think they will find a complex and well evidenced argument or narrative through which they are guided by an authoritative writer. A collection of blog posts won’t do this without quite a bit more  work being done on them.

Blog to book

So what kind of work might be needed to turn the one thing – the blog posts – into another – the book?

Well for starters, making isolated posts coherent and connected. The reader can’t be left to fill in the gaps between posts, these will have to be created.

And allowing for debate and complexity. The reader will probably want to see more nuance at the time they are reading something, rather than in another subsequent post.

Attending to the referencing. The blogger will have to do something with all of those hyperlink.

And how to write.. what kind of authorial voice and style do they want to adopt. Are those truisms, rants and slogans and trite sayings ( yes I confess Im guilty of all of these)  really OK in an academic book? And grammar – oh  grammar, my own experience of working blog posts into a book suggests a lot of attention to the grammatical niceties that I missed as I was cranking out posts. (My customary high speed writing and scanty editing of blog posts is, well, pretty obvious.)

Here’s three ways I think about the relationships between blogs and books.

Blog posts are the raw material that can be further worked on and worked over for a book. Barbara and my most recent book, Detox your writing, was just this. We took some ideas from patter, wrestled with them a lot, and added quite a bit more.

A blog can be a way to work through some ideas than end up in book form. My research blogs  often do just this.

A blog may be a way to extend a book that is already written. That is how this blog started, as a way to do bits and pieces of pedagogical writing that were too fragmented for another book, but which expanded on what was already in the books.

But blogs are not books in waiting

I’m very conscious of the fact that some people think that blogging is an inferior form of academic writing. Put simply and applied to me, this means that this blog is not as important as my academic books or journal articles.  And that I would be better off spending my time writing more books and articles.

I think this is sheer nonsense.

Blogs are their own form of writing. They don’t do the same thing as books. They don’t work the same way. They may be complementary to an academic book or article, but they are different.

A blog is not a place to dump things that didn’t make it into publication. A blog does not have to be a means to a more superior and prestigious monograph end. (This blog does not aspire to be a book even as I worry about it becoming too large for even me to remember what’s on it.)

At their best, blogs are more than useful, they are creative. They are their own little art form. A blog is a blog is a blog. Even academic blogs.

 

Image credit: Penn State. Vance Packard (seated) at a book signing.

 

 

Posted in academic book, academic writing, blog to book, blogging, monograph, research blogging | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

tightening up your sentences – cut the bloat

We all know what bloat is. If something is bloated it is swollen, puffed up, flabby, distended, enlarged. Right now, we probably associate bloat with eating too much over the festive season. But bloat also happens in academic writing.

A lot of academic writing is on the bloated side. You can pick up almost any academic journal and find papers where whole paragraphs are stuffed to the gills with excess phrases and words. Of course, academic writing is not the only kind of writing that suffers from word-inflation. Legal and bureaucratic writing over-indulges in the same wordy overkill as some academic writing.

And when a supervisor or reviewer suggests that academic writing needs to be tightened up, it’s likely that they are actually saying that they’ve noticed a lot of bloat. They’ve met a text that takes up too much space – and much more time than they wanted to spend.

You see, wordy prose puts readers off. Perhaps they simply can’t be bothered to wade through volumes of verbage and so they just give up. But even when they do read on, as supervisors and reviewers must, they find sentences that are blown up to balloon size. Such sentences are very hard to digest.

Over extended sentences need trimming back, deflating, shrinking. They need a good edit. They need to be cut back and cut short. Made sharp and shiny.

5604682724_8e6f51f36d_b.jpg

But what does that mean? What does tightening up the writing look like? Well, let me give you an example. Here are two sentences taken from a research report.

While some interviewees felt that YEI procurement processes had worked reasonably well, a notable theme was the length of time taken from launching calls for proposals to the signature of funding agreements. Many interviewees stated that this had significantly impacted on their delivery plans, and some providers mentioned that delays would lead to an underspend due to changes in the local match funding available in the time period concerned. 70 words

These seventy words contain a far bit of bloat. Here is my first prune.

Some interviewees felt that the YEI procurement processes had worked reasonably well. However, many interviewees stated it had taken too long to get from the launch of calls for proposals to funding agreements being signed and this had significantly impacted on their delivery plans. Some providers mentioned that delays meant decreases in local match funding and thus a potential underspend.  60 words

In this first edit, I attempted to clarify the meaning of the two sentences. As in: while some people thought something was OK (sentence one), a lot didn’t and they gave reasons (sentence two).

My second edit streamlined the second sentence reasons further.

Some interviewees felt that the YEI procurement processes had worked reasonably well. However, many were concerned that delays in finalising agreements would not only lead to delayed services for young people but also to decreases in local match funding. Thus  targets would be missed and projects underspent. 47 words

Now, of course I could go on finessing these sentences, perhaps by getting rid of that ‘not only but also’. I could keep pruning and refining, until the prose is trim, taught and terrific. But I’m sure I don’t need to – you get the point. There was a 23 word bloat in the original two sentences which wasn’t too hard to remove.

Here’s another example of tightening up aka eradicating bloat – the original text is from another government research report.

This qualitative fieldwork was carried out with individuals living across England and Scotland in order to obtain the views of research participants in different areas of the UK, as well as those representing a range of different organisations. It is important to point out that the views of the participants were not intended to be representative of wider populations. Nevertheless, the key themes across participants were resoundingly similar, providing a measure of confidence that findings would resonate across the wider population.  81 words

And here’s my first rewrite.

To obtain views from different areas of the UK, qualitative fieldwork was carried out with research participants who represented a range of different organisations in England and Scotland. Participants were not intended to be representative, but the resounding similarity of themes suggest that findings would resonate across the wider population. 49 words.

I changed the first sentence to clarify meaning – the point of the sentence goes at the start. The second and third sentences were combined in order to make clear that ‘this is the case but this is the case too’. A lot of words have been lost in this first edit – 32 in total. A 32 word bloat is quite a lot. And I could keep going on these two sentences, changing the first sentence from passive to active voice in order to produce some variety, and getting rid of the current clumsy read. But I’m sure you get the picture.

In both my examples, I’ve reduced words. A lot. With not much effort. I’ve got rid of at least some bloat and not lost what the writer was trying to say.

Why not give your readers a break too? Exercise your red pen. Remember – a first cut gets rid of bloat, and then the work is to refine the writing. 

Tighten up. No-one misses the bloat!

(And PS. There’s a difference between repetition for ‘voice’ – and bloat! Another post.)

Posted in academic writing, bloat, editing, tightening up | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

writing the thesis – work, moves and structure

Before you start to wrestle your material into a thesis structure, it’s helpful to consider the work that the thesis has to do, and the moves that ensure the work is done. Once you understand the work and the moves, you can think more strategically about the thesis structure.

The thesis work

The thesis, like any piece of academic writing, has work to do. The thesis has to convince the examiner that you have chosen a do-able and worthwhile research project. It has to satisfy the examiner that you can explain what you did and why. It has to assure the examiner that you know and have accomplished all of the technical research processes required.  It has to show the examiner the research results organised in a logical order. It has to persuade the examiner that you have made a contribution.

Just for a minute, consider the verbs that I’ve used above: convince, satisfy, assure, persuade, show. These verbs signal the kind of text that you are writing. An argument. The thesis is an argument – it persuades and convinces – and by offering sound evidence organised in a logical reasoned fashion it can assure and satisfy.

Your argument – the rhetorical work of the thesis – is made through four important moves.

7479741718_da52477bdd_b.jpg

The four thesis moves

The first move of the thesis is to establish the focus of the research and its warrant. The examiner must be convinced that the research you have done has not only been worth your effort, but is also likely to say something that is worth saying. This first move requires you to say what you want to research, and why it is important that the research be done. You have to tell the examiner what your research might add to scholarly knowledge, and possibly to policy and/or practice. You have to say why this matters, and to whom.

The second move in the thesis is to tell the examiner all of the things that they need to know about your research in order to fully understand its importance and conduct. This usually involves you

  • situating the study in time and/or place and/or culture
  • identifying the existing evidence, theories and debates that are relevant to your research, showing where your research will fit and what it builds on
  • demonstrating that your research design not only allows you to answer your questions/hypothesis, but is also soundly grounded in current state-of-the-art research practice
  • explaining any work you did to focus the research, pilot methods, find texts or conduct your analysis.

The third move in the thesis is the presentation of your research results. The most important bit of the thesis. What you did and ‘found’. Your results need to be presented so that they highlight your key points. You need to show your data and analysis, and also say what they mean. This might involve some heavy-duty theorisation, depending on your discipline. This third thesis move usually consists of three ‘internal’ steps – (1) how the data was produced ( the audit trail), (2) what the data actually looks as an analysed corpus, and (3) how it should be understood.

The fourth move is to make justifiable claims from your research – to state the contribution you have made. You’ll need to remind the examiner of your first move, why the research was needed and its importance, and to pick this up again. You’ll need to crisply state exactly what your results are. Now you spell out what knowing  your research results actually means for scholarly understandings and for policy/practice. These are often called the So What and Now What of the thesis.

 Thesis structures

 Now here’s the thing. These four moves can be expressed in and through a variety of structures. They can be mounted on different platforms, analog and digital. They can be made through different combinations of words, images and numbers.

So when you consider your thesis structure, it’s helpful to first of all organise your material into the four moves. ( You could do this through outlines and postits or mind maps.)

Then think about how best to present your very particular set of moves. Consider what is expected in your discipline but also what your material says to you.  Think about how you will create the overall narrative thread that allows the examiner to follow your argument.  Consider the pieces and sequences within the four moves, as well as what goes between them. How do these moves translate into chapters?

And just to note – while the IMRaD structure dominates the ways in which theses are generally written, it is not the only way to present the four moves in and as text. It may be acceptable in your discipline to play quite a bit with the thesis structure – if you want to and your supervisor agrees that it is a good idea. While most people exercise their textual creativity in the first and third moves, there is no absolute rule that says that there cannot be variation in moves two and four.

A thesis that is clear on its moves and choreographs the structure to fit them, whether it is IMRaD or not, is almost always a better read than one which isn’t clear on the moves and just follows the default structure as a substitute for clarity of argument.

Image credit: Diana Mehrez, Flickr Commons.

Posted in academic writing, academic writing as work, argument, four thesis moves, structure, thesis, thesis warrant | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

and now, a new year

I don’t make resolutions for new year. I do however always make myself a reminder about what’s important in an academic life. The reminder is usually a quotation that I’ve found during the year, something I want to think about and perhaps use later.

The quotes are on sticky notes I keep on my desk top. In the week between Christmas and New Year I review the year’s sticky notes. I find something that resonates, then I print it out and put it next to my computer.

A lot of my sticky note quotations are about writing and scholarly practice. But some, like this year’s choice, stem from the arts research that I do.  in 2018, my quote is from Gilles Deleuze writing on Nietzsche:

dance, laughter and play are affirmative powers of reflection and development. Dance affirms becoming and the being of becoming; laughter, roars of laughter, affirm multiplicity and the unity of multiplicity; play affirms chance and the necessity of chance. (p. 183)

In performative work environments and grim political times, maintaining a focus on the small, the here and now, the human and humane, seems very necessary.   This coming year I want to keep sight of the importance of being, being in the moment, being with other people, being open to and welcoming of the pleasure of the serendipitous.

2017-07-24 14.36.00_preview.jpeg

I’m also going to live up to this sketch that Linda Stupart made of me during 2017 TATE summer school.

Oh, and yes, patter is going to be posting just once a week for the foreseeable future. Monday mornings, 7 am, GMT.

Posted in academic writing, New Year | Tagged , | 2 Comments

eek, it’s nearly 2018

Patter has had a busy year, as a few basic stats will show. Patter started in July 2011. And this, dear reader, is the 705th post. Patter has published two posts a week for most of 2017, with a few more during Tate Summer School and one less during this seasonal extra-mini-break. As each post is about a thousand words and I write most of the posts, I guestimate that’s about 700,000 words in six and a half years. More than a book a year in blog posts.

My most popular post ever is on aims and objectives. The post that got the most views in one day was this year’s how an examiner reads a thesis, followed by avoiding the laundry list literature review. Other popular posts include how old are the sources, and writing the introduction to a journal article. As Patter’s purpose is to reveal some of the hidden rules and conventions of academic writing, then these stats are helpful “positive reinforcement”.

But by far the most rewarding feedback comes from those unexpected emails, encounters at conferences and copies of thesis introductions where I meet the people who have found some of what I’ve written helpful. Thankyou for bringing inanimate wordpress stats to life.

Patter is not actually my real job. It’s a labour of, well, weekends. During the week I’m your average jobbing senior (and elderly) prof who researches, teaches and publishes. 2017 has been a bumper year for my own publishing but also for a few other people. I’ve commissioned two book proposals for a book series I co-edit, with another couple on the way, and put in a proposal for a new co-edited book series.( Hope we hear soon, Helen.)

But this is all now in the past. As I edit this post, I am writing and scheduling blog posts for 2018, another edited book is in press and two more are in preparation. The next single-authored book is half-written but sadly won’t make its beginning of year deadline, again. A co-written methods text must be written this year and my co-authors and I already have writing dates in our diaries. Yay. Love those writing retreats. Those two half-written research bids must be finalised relatively soon. There are more doctors coming up too, with the next viva in sight and three more dissertations in various stages of draftiness. All good.

I said to someone the other day that a (permanently employed) academic life feels a bit analogous to being air traffic control. There’s always someone or something taking off, lots of stuff to keep going, and various publications and people coming in to land. (Whispers: I really could retire now, but there is still so much more fun to be had.)

But on a personal note, 2017 was the year that one of my beloved dogs died and a new granddaughter arrived. The remaining old dog is bereft, a very diminished presence in our house, and may not see the end of 2018. The granddaughter however is sassy, already walking and far too far away for my liking. So, while 2018 looks likely to be as busy as usual I’m going to take those holidays I never usually take and spend more time in Australia with family. This may be the year that Patter drops back to one post a week, something I’ve been thinking about for a while, but just quite can’t do.

But in the meantime, while I fret about blog frequency and content, thankyou for reading patter. And my very best wishes to you for your own writing and researching in the coming year. May our 2018 be one for writing with academic vigour, verve and style. Pleasure and productivity, here we come.

Posted in 2017 in review, academic writing, blogging, publications | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

exit via the gift shop

2147668225_86795bfeff_b

What do you give an academic during gift-giving season?  Well I can’t tell you what to do of course, but as a guide to the generous, here’s a list of a few writing-related books that I would put in someone’s back pocket.

For the new researcher: a classic that never fails to deliver, Howard Becker’s Writing for Social Scientists. How to Start and Finish your Thesis, Book or Article. Second Edition (1986)

For the rhetorically insecure: complete with explanations and models to follow: not new, but worth having, Graff and Birkenstein’s They Say, I Say. The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing. Third Edition (2014)

For the recently viva-ed PhD wanting to turn their thesis into a book: William Germano’s classic From Dissertation to Book. Second Edition (2013)

For the qualitative research beginner: Sally Campbell Galman’s The Good, the Bad and the Data: Shane the Lone Ethnographer’s Basic Guide to Qualitative Data Analysis (2013) – it’s in graphic novel form

For the qualitative research nerd: Melissa Freeman’s Modes of Thinking for Qualitative Data Analysis (2017)

For the researcher with the new phone camera: Mitchell, De Lange and Moletsane’s Participatory Visual Methodologies, Social Change, Community and Policy (2017)

For the researcher wishing to understand the skewed geographies of academic publishing Curry and Lillis’ Global Academic Publishing. Policies, Perspectives and Pedagogies. (2017)

For those who favour clear speech and a real book –  The Guardian stylebook. It is now online, but you can pick up a second-hand copy pretty cheaply and it’s miles more useful than Strunk and White IMHO.

And lastly, for someone who’d rather read fiction or something close to it, while thinking about the possibilities of academic writing:

Any of Patricia Leavy’s Social Fiction series

Pandian and Maclean’s edited collection Crumpled Paper Boat, Experiments in Ethnographic Writing (2017)

And, well, actually loads of the anthropological… just to start with… Michael Taussig’s Law in a Lawless Land (2003), Kirin Narayan’s My Family and Other Saints (2007), Kathleen Stewart’s Ordinary Affects (2007), Hugh Raffles’s Insectopedia (2010), Robert Desjarlais’s Counterplay (2011), Ruth Behar’s Traveling Heavy (2013), Renato Rosaldo’s The Day of Shelley’s Death (2013) and Paul Stoller’s Yaya’s Story (2014).

My favourite DIY graphic writing book, Lynda Barry’s What It Is: Do You Wish You Could Write? (2008)

I’ve spectacularly failed to promote my own books here – but you know how I feel about self-promotion… :0 And no, I get no kickback from any of these recommendations.

 

Patter is giving herself permission to have a day off next Monday but will be back for an EEK It’s nearly 2018 post on the weekend.

 

image credit: astrangegirl, Flickr The Commons

Posted in academic writing, book recommendations, books | Tagged , | 4 Comments

the viva and the supervisor

Last week I reached thirty two. Thirty two doctoral researchers who successfully defended their research. Thirty two Doctors let loose on the world.

And two things are now on my mind. Not thirty two. Just two.

33217472632_4a2e075fb2_k.jpg

The first thing I’m thinking about is how heavily the viva weighs on me as a supervisor – not nearly as much as it does the doctoral candidate for sure, but viva-time is still a pretty anxious period. This is not because professional doctorate and PhD ‘successes’ are now counted and audited in the university, although I dare say I could get worried about that if I chose to. No, the worry and anxiety comes from the long-term nature of the pedagogical relationship. I care about whether the doctoral candidate gets what they need and want from their investment of trust in me, as well as the time and money that they’ve spent. And just before the viva, I always experience nagging doubts about whether I could have done more, done something different, should have done this instead of that… so having two vivas on two consecutive days, as happened last week, meant a couple of pretty nervous nights for me, as well as the candidates. I’m sure I’m not the only supervisor who feels this kind of worry.

The second thing I’m thinking about is that, as a supervisor, I usually don’t have a clue what the examiners are going to ask. All of those generic questions that supposedly prepare for vivas – they really aren’t asked. Ever. Well, that’s my experience anyway, as the supervisor who sits in the room and listens. The examiners always come up with angles and issues that I just haven’t anticipated.

I think that this may be in part because at the end of the three to four-year engagement with a doctoral researcher and their work, it’s pretty tricky for me as supervisor to feel separate from the thesis, just as it is the doctoral researcher themselves. But it’s mainly because it’s well, you know, it’s peer review. And peers have their own takes on things – and unlike blind peer review, you’ve asked these examiners precisely for that reason. Examiners are interesting and generous scholars who will read the thesis through their eyes – not mine.

So, apart from knowing that there’s likely to be some questions about method and maybe analysis and ethics, and something about theory and something about contribution, I’ve largely given up trying to predict exactly what will be asked in a viva. “Just know your stuff, what you did and why” is now the best advice I can give to people before their viva. Expect the unexpected. Know what you’re good at. It’s a conversation.

And yes, the viva preparation task for me as supervisor is trying to read for the things that might be considered strong and weak points in the thesis, I can’t not do that. But it’s also being up front about the fact that I’m not able to predict with any accuracy what will happen. I’ll always be surprised by what examiners ask in the viva, just like the doctoral researcher.

32584917952_03ab8679b2_k.jpg

I’ve currently got one person waiting for their viva date, and three people getting prepared to hand in this academic year. So these thoughts are not going to go away.

But if anyone has a working crystal ball going cheap, that could certainly reduce the second of my worries – not knowing what will be asked – but never the first. I’ll always feel a mixture of concern and hope that viva events will turn out OK.

Image credit: Martin Snicer Photography, creative commons licensed.

Posted in academic writing, PhD, phd defence, supervision, supervisor, viva | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments