#co-editing – a manuscript to publication checklist

Your book/special issue proposal is accepted. A brief party.  YAY.  Now to get the manuscript together. Now for the Really Hard Work.

Questions about who does what, when and how, escalates as the actual book or journal issue is being written and revised. Authors have to be contacted, reminded  – and the occasional straggler reminded again. Papers have to be sent out to review and returned to authors. Chapters have to be read and potential revisions suggested. Perhaps bad news has to be given. Once again authors have to be contacted, reminded and reminded, and the occasional straggler chased and cajoled.

A special journal issue has to be read through to make sure the appropriate referencing and writing styles are adhered to – potential further chasing of contributors here too. Papers also have to be sequenced  – what comes first? And last? How does an argument or narrative get constructed through the chapters?  If an edited book, the chapters have to be sequenced – and then formatted. Gah. The dreary task of attending to fonts, referencing and footnoting to make the manuscript consistent has to be done, somehow. Maybe someone has some money to pay for this task, joy. No funds = it’s one of the editors. And the editorial has to be written. The order of editor names on the cover has to be finally decided. Then the issue or collection is ready to be sent off – by someone on the team.


But it’s still not done. With books there is often a last minute scramble to get copyright permissions signed off – not to mention the inevitable copy edit queries. Then it’s on to correcting proofs. Some editors don’t send proofs back to chapter authors at all, they DIY. Others do send the proofs back but then have to blend multiple corrections from multiple copies into one ‘master’ text to send back.

Oh, and you may want to get a foreword for the edited book and/or recommendations to go on the cover or website.  Who’s going to do that? And who will publicise the book or special issue when it comes out – and how? The editing never actually stops. It just goes on. And on.

Now, you can see the problem. There are lots of places in this chain of co-editing tasks where it’s possible for things to go wrong. And things going wrong generally lead to delays in publication, as well as potential acrimony among the team. Not to mention frustration for all of those people who have submitted their chapters and are wondering what’s going on.

As in the development of the proposal, the most usual problem in getting a co-edited issue/collection done and dusted is that either one person ends up doing the lion’s share of the work without this being formally decided and agreed, or one person doesn’t pull their weight or is just very tardy. A certain amount of give and take is always needed, you have to be kind to each other. But there’s a limit. At some point, the work just needs to get done.



You can see where this is going I’m sure. Head off potential problems. Don’t leave things until they go awry. It really helps to make an agreement early on in the proposal process about who will do what. It’s useful to revisit this agreement as the chapters are being written to make sure that the same division of labour is fair and acceptable. If key issues are not already agreed, sort it before you get too far into the job. Trust me, it’s critical to sort out who will read what and when, and how the introductory editorial will be written.

My own experience is that it really helps if one person takes overall responsibility for an issue or collection. If this happens, they are automatically first in the list of editors, and the others need to be grateful that the worst of the fiddly (boring) work is going to be done by someone else. But you might want something much more collaborative. There’s no right or wrong here. Whatever you decide together is likely to be fine.

So here’s a VERY BASIC check list of tasks to help make those agreements.


  • Overall responsibility – will one person act as a Managing Editor – M.E. – taking responsibility for sticking to timeline and final submission? If so, they will go first in Editor order. If no M.E., who will do what at each stage and what will that author order be?
  • Contacting authors to confirm publication. Is this a shared responsibility or M.E.?
  • Reminding and chasing authors. Is this shared or M.E.?
  • Book – reading and responding to chapters. Who? How? Should all editors read each chapter to ensure consistency or will one do? How collaborative is this part of the process?
  • Writing the editorial (This may extend to a last chapter too in edited collections). Who, how, when?
  • Organising the manuscript. Who decides the order of chapters/papers? If a book, how is the final manuscript to be prepared and by whom?
  • Handling queries about copy and proofing. Who and how?
  • Marketing issues – endorsements, forewords and so on – who, how when?

There’s still much more to say about co-editing.  I’ll post something about troubleshooting these technical co-editing processes very soon. But there’s other questions of power and knowledge that I need to address too. All to come. If you’re already curious, I’ve written before about two big hassles in editing a book.


Photo credit: Gareth Williams.



Posted in book proposal, co-editing, editing, editing a journal | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

#co-editing – getting the proposal together

I’ve had a look. it’s true. There is actually very little written about co-editing. So it’s not surprising that I’ve been asked to write something about it. Here goes.

It might be helpful to begin with a few important basics … starting from when you first think about doing the book or special issue together.

Co-editors usually get together over the proposal. Perhaps you already know one another. Or perhaps you have engaged in a bit of scholarly speed-dating at a conference or seminar. Or perhaps one of you has invited the others to join in an edited collection. Whatever the process, it’s helpful to make sure that there is intellectual chemistry among the group, as well as broad shared interests. You’re going to be together for a while. 

A collective commitment is pretty important in any edited book. You don’t want to start of the process with one of you being half hearted about it. You need to make sure everyone is equally enthusiastic and equally able to commit to the project. If one person is time-restricted then the rest of the editors – be they one or more – really need to know about this at the outset so that they can decide whether to go ahead in present company.

And developing the proposal is a fair litmus test of how the rest of the process is going to go. The proposal –  that’s the crucial publish-me text that goes to the book publisher or the journal – is high-stakes so it’s got to be good. If you start to squabble during the proposal process then it’s a pretty bad sign –  the longer-term editing process may well go just as badly.

Let me just recap what a proposal does. I know you know this but it doesn’t hurt to put it out there again.

  • The proposal has to offer a rationale for the issue/collection and an outline of contents in the form of a list of potential contributors and abstracts. In the case of a journal there are often a few papers already lined up plus a call for participation.
  • The proposal conventionally offers a jointly written editorial. This is where you and your co-editors sketch out the field that your collection addresses, locating the material in current debates and policy/practice/research context.
  • Edited book proposals additionally have to address the question of coherence – how the contributions will hang together. This you show this through introduction and the order of chapters, but you may extend your co-editorial steerage to sections and additional commentaries on chapters. Your process may even include a way for authors to get together at a conference or writing retreat.
  •  A timetable is integral to the proposal so, together, you have to set realistic dates for acceptance, review and revision, and submission for publication.

Preparing the proposal will involve you in lots of discussions with your co-editors. You may jointly have decided – perhaps in a conversation, maybe by email – who to include and how the contacts with authors will be dealt with and who will do it. One of you will probably assume responsibility for putting the proposal document together, dealing with all of the track changes, and sending the finished proposal off to the publisher/journal editors.

If one of the co-editors feels resentful during this process, feels left out, or feels written over or out, then that ain’t going to go away. Most of us don’t bother too much about sorting these things during the proposal stage.  I suspect that we probably ought to put more weight on sorting out potential issues at this point. After all, we are all in this publication together. Same boat and all that.


But you may not have formalised roles during the proposal process. But if you don’t sort out who is going to do what now, at this point, you may find that when you move on to the book or journal issue the early pattern hangs on. Oh dear. One person ends up doing most of the work without this being acknowledged. Or there’s an activity vacuum, where everyone is waiting for someone else to do the work. 

Delays are pretty common in academic writing and publishing  as we are all busy. Co-editing works best when there is a bit of give and take in the group, a bit of leniency and understanding about academic workloads. As long as it doesn’t go on too long.

And you may not have sorted out file sharing at the proposal stage. You may have managed on emails alone. But it is pretty useful to get the files stuff sorted now. Right now. There are now lots of tech solutions for keeping in touch with drafts and revisions. It helps to adopt a common file-saving and revising protocol too, and to make sure that nothing is ever erased, but simply saved as a new file.

I’m just going to say it again. It’s probably a good idea to discuss how the co-editing will go at the outset. Who is going to do what when it comes to the actual issue or book? You can start ahead of the game. You can sort out who is going to do what right at the start. Here’s a VERY BASIC check list of tasks to guide proposal co -editing.

There’s no right answer to any of these questions. It’s up to every team to sort out what suits them. It’s the discussion and agreements that will make the difference to co-editing.


  • The idea for the issue/collection– are you all committed and have the necessary time?
  • Overall responsibility – How is the proposal to be written – one drafts then others respond? Collective text? Who initially contacts publisher? Who submits proposal and who is ccd in?
  • Abstract for editorial – who writes? Editor order?
  • Contacting authors – who, when, how?
  • Dealing with suggested revisions – who, when, how?

What’s that last point? Oh yes. Proposals are always subject to review so there will be a further stage of responding to reviews. This can involve quite substantial revision to the initial proposal or maybe just minor changes. But someone has to take responsibility for getting back to the publisher after co-editors have discussed. Someone is the key contact point with the publisher even if everyone is copied in.

And – success. You’re on. You’re in. Now for the next bit of hard work together.

Segue to the next post later this week.

Note:  I’ve done something on why editing a book is a good idea, and I won’t repeat that argument now. I’ve linked to that post, just in case you aren’t convinced that editing might be a Good Thing.


Photo credit: Stephanie Hawkins.



Posted in book proposal, co-editing, editing, editing a journal, publisher, special issue | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

another year, another post

Patter is now six years old.

This is post 694. Yep, 694. Nearly seven hundred, but not quite. Dammit, that would have been neat. 694 is an untidy number.

I’ve been wondering for a few weeks now what to say about this sheer volume of words. An average of one hundred and nine posts per year… posting mostly twice a week. And at around 1000 words per post, give or take, this is a lot of writing. A significant quantum of bloggage. About ten books worth in fact. Of course, not all of it is All My Own Work, but most of it is.


Bloggery, as continued and regular writing, is of course remarkably close to what journalists do. It is perhaps no accident that I did play with print when I was at university, and subsequently engaged with regular radio production on a much more serious basis. My first career choice was journalism, but it didn’t happen. Long story which involves being female and Murdoch newspapers. Another time. I went in a different direction. But maybe journalism will out.

For me, writing a regular blog means …

  1. you have to get used to just cranking the words out.

Even if you don’t want to, a self-imposed blog schedule means sitting down and doing it, regardless of mood, energy or inspiration. A couple of thousand words a week means that you can’t really be too precious about any of them. Once you have an idea for a post it’s just a question of bashing it out, and then revisiting and revising a few times so that it doesn’t sound too dreadful.

Now this may not the way that you write other things. Some academic writing, like a book or thesis for instance, requires levels of planning, sequencing and ordering of ‘stuff’ that are quite different from a blog.

Blogging has changed my writing practices. I very occasionally start a journal article with free writing if I am not sure where to begin, but by inclination I’m a planner. Tiny texts are my friend, as are chunks and outlines. But blogging is very different and it’s mostly just pushing out the words. There’s not much pre-planning involved in writing a regular blog post – it’s a key point which is introduced, explained, expanded and crunched at the end.

Self-imposed posting time constraints mean that I can’t afford to do the proverbial crappy first draft. I have to produce something that isn’t too dreadful straight off. I’ve found I can generally do a rough-but-OK thousand words in an hour or so. If I don’t get the words right – blogger it – I do put the draft aside and come back to it. But not often. I don’t have a lot of unfinished posts hanging around. At present, there’s three and they’ll appear in the next few weeks – they just need an hour or so more on each one.

And I have noticed a notable spin off in my other academic writing. You know the ‘real’ stuff that gets counted. I’ve always been a fast writer. But my first drafts have actually improved quite a lot. I’m managing to think, talk in my head and write at the same time much more efficiently than I did six years ago. Blogging means I’ve got my ‘fast twitch’ writing muscle working pretty efficiently.

  1. you have to grow accustomed to the very idea of readers

Bloggers do have to sort out who they are writing for. They have to imagine an audience and have a clear kind of ‘mission’. This might be people like them with whom they want to share their experiences. It might be people who are interested in the same kinds of ideas. Or, as in my case, it might be a kind of ‘teaching’ blog.

Patter began with a very clear idea of its readers – doctoral and early career researchers and those who work with them. Patter is intended to be complementary to what is already available in books and in courses; it doesn’t replace supervision, live conversation or more extended argument and examples. It is also free, and is thus available to people who can’t afford to buy the books. And because I’m an educator, it is also underpinned by disciplinary understandings that

  • readers have agency. They can decide for themselves whether to keep reading and what to take up. And…
  • readers don’t need to be told what to do. Because patter readers are all well-educated, they don’t need ‘advice’. They need grounded (read this as research-based and theoretically informed) explanation for particular strategies. Or, as in the case of this post, they need something that acknowledges its grounding in personal experience.
  • not all readers are the same. Readers who are also writers and researchers need a ‘backpack’ of writing and research strategies and resources. Not only do different readers need different ‘stuff’, but different tasks undertaken by the same person often call for different approaches.

These pedagogical understandings position the ways in which I write. They are, if you like, my bloggerly disposition.

And a sense of the reader, who they are and how they respond to ‘stuff’ is not just the prerogative of blogs, but applies more generally to any academic writing. It’s a helpful perspective for your more general way of writing – although of course, see above, not mandatory!

  1. You have to accept the idea of being read.

I sometimes suspect that many academics don’t do a lot of thinking about the people who read their stuff. It’s scary when you do, not because of who they are but how few there are. The AHRC project on the future academic book suggests that your average humanities scholarly monograph sells about 350 copies. And most of these sales are to libraries, so we can assume that there are more readers than just 350. But really that’s not a lot. And any journal editor can tell you that a lot of papers that get written don’t get a lot of downloads, let alone citations.

Blogs can be just the same. Not many readers. A lot of blogs have quite small audiences, because they are specialised, or their writers are in a crowded space and writing much the same as other people. But sometimes the lack of readers is simply because blog writers haven’t played in the social media ecology enough to let people know their work is out there. Andy why is that, I wonder?

However, blogging potentially reaches people and places you don’t imagine. I certainly didn’t think that Patter would be as well read as it is, reach as many places, or be as well known. It just kind of happened. It just grew. Bloggerism rules my life.

Now, I’m not uncomfortable with the idea of putting something out there to unknown and ultimately unknowable audiences. But some people I talk with are a bit bemused by the notion that what they write is being read at all, and read by people that they will never know or meet. It’s as if they think of their academic writing as giving a very small invitational seminar. But being read now matters a lot to me.

I keep an eye on reader hits on the blog and on what seems to be popular and what gets most comments. The most popular posts are inevitably those that are about the hidden rules of the academy – how examiners read a thesis, what trips you up in the thesis, how journals really work… I can’t write those kinds of posts all the time I’m afraid, but I do try to do them relatively regularly. I want to cater to what readers want.

Blogging is inevitably public work. It is thinking, communicating and yes, even teaching in public. It is a newish public space that makes and changes conversation conventions. Readers answer back. They ask questions. They follow or they stop following. While they are unknown in particular, some general things about them are able to be understood.

A blog is, if you like, a very big seminar room. You can’t see the back row and a few rows forward. But your friends are at the front. So just as in the more usual seminar space, you have to stand up and say your piece. Writing regular posts can help to develop the scholarly capacity to speak up, speak out, say what you think. And to come to terms with being read.

And if like me, you are a regular blogger, then you are always on the lookout for things to write about. A bloggerist outlook becomes a part of everyday life. It’s all just bloggeration nation in my head.

Well, that’s my view. Now. On my sixth blog birthday. I could change my mind of course at any time.

So that’s the other thing about long-time, long-running bloggerism. A blog is an archive of activity and of thinking. A record of material over time. And that’s both good and bad. In my case, Patter is now an unruly mass of posts which really do need serious curatorial attention! I’ve forgotten what’s there, let alone readers. Even though I tag every post,  it’s not that easy to find things.

Once again, and I see I said this last birthday too, that’s my challenge for the next twelve months. How to knock all of these Patter words into more accessible shape… meanwhile there’s always next Monday’s post to think about.

And ICYMI, here’s another post from a couple of years ago on how blogging helps academic writing. 


Posted in academic blogging, blogging, blogging about blogging, sustaining blogging, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 5 Comments

#readingforwriting: being specific in qualitative research


Every now and then patter offers a close-up of research writing. This near-sighted exercise is intended to illustrate how ‘reading for the writing’ can be helpful.

This particular ‘reading for writing’ post looks at writing qualitative methods in a journal article. It speaks to last week’s post about the need to be specific, not woolly and imprecise. As a result of this post, I was asked by several people how qualitative researchers actually avoided vagueness. Did they too resort to numbers? This example is by way of a partial answer to that question.

The paper I’m examining here is: Lynn McAlpine & Margot McKinnon (2013) Supervision – the most variable of variables: student perspectives, Studies in Continuing Education, 35:3, 265-280.

The abstract begins by establishing the warrant for the paper (it addresses the existing knowledge base and what contribution this study will make), the purpose of the paper (the question it will answer) and some information about the research design.

The supervision literature often conceptualizes the supervisor as the primary person in doctoral students’ progress. Yet, there is growing evidence that the supervisor is but one of many resources that students draw on. Our study takes up this idea in answering the question: What is students’ experience of their supervisory relationships over time? Sixteen social science participants in two UK universities, at different points in their doctoral journeys, completed logs of a week’s activities for a number of months before being interviewed.

The researchers finish off their abstract with the claim that:

This distinct longitudinal approach provides a more nuanced understanding of students’ perceptions of the supervisory relationship, specifically, varied reasons for seeking supervisory help, distinct needs related to where students were in their progress, and diverse ways in which they negotiated and characterized the supervisory relationship.

On the  basis of this claim, readers would expect to see details of the research design in the paper. So what was actually said? (For purposes of annotation I have altered the original paragraphing slightly…)

text specifics
 Participants and location

The study, from 2007 to 2009, involved 6 male and 10 female social science doctoral students, recruited through email listservs from two UK universities. Nine were international students, nine experienced co-supervision; all but one had some form of scholarship funding. Participation varied from 5 to 18 months with the average being 10 months.


Students also varied in where they were in the doctoral journey (details given in accompanying figure in which each DR was given a pseudonym):

(1) five were early in their journeys defining their projects, doing transfer, beginning fieldwork/data collection

(2) five were in the middle principally engaged in fieldwork/data collection, but also some analysis and writing

(3) six were near the end principally analyzing, writing, and submitting.

When the study was undertaken

How many people were involved

How they were recruited

Their student status – country, income support, nature of supervision, general disciplinary background.


Stages in PhD were given in a figure in which each DR was given a pseudonym, and whole group details  given in the text.




Now, none of the researchers’ decisions are ‘wrong’ – all research does some things and not others – as readers we simply have to think about what the research can and cannot do. There is sufficient detail here for readers to consider key elements of the design – what does this size group allow the researchers to see and say? What does having people at different stages of the PhD mean for what can be said and not said?  We can consider the implications of the partiality of the design and, because of the details given, think about what the researchers are able to claim on the basis of their choices.

We can also assume from their description that when we get to results, we will see both some kind of numbers – how many of the group thought in a particular way or had common experiences – and also names, where individuals are the focus. And this allows us to see we can that being specific – using numbers where appropriate and useful – troubles a simplistic binary of quant v qual methods.

We might also still have some questions arising from this description of participants and location.

  • Does the fact that we don’t know anything about the discipline and universities mean that they didn’t make any difference, or that the researchers thought the participation group was too small to say anything meaningful about these particularities?
  • What kind of invitational notice was put out onto the listservs?
  • Why is there a variation in time of participation – was this just the stage of the participants’ PhD or did some just opt out?

But don’t be too critical of the writers  – bear in mind that what can be written in a journal article is inevitably brief. This  text is already more detailed than many you will see.

text specifics

We draw on a general social science view of narrative (Elliott 2005). The underlying premise is that narrative can integrate the permanence of an individual’s perception of him/herself combined with the sense of personal change rather than stability through time.

Participants provided accounts of their experiences in three ways: through biographic questionnaires at the beginning and end of the study, weekly activity logs requested approximately once a month (though sometimes responses were less frequent), and an interview.

The initial biographic questionnaire captured previous educational and work experience, the reasons for embarking on the Ph.D. as well as the intended career.

The structured log comprised questions aimed at capturing the activities, interactions, and perceptions of a particular week. (While providing a more fine-grained perspective than interviews, the logs still only capture at best one in four weeks.) The logs asked three questions specifically about supervision: whether the student had needed help, if so, why help was needed and if they received help or not.

Near the end of the study, a semi-structured interview explored the students’ overall experiences of doctoral work with part of the interview linked to what they had reported in the logs.

The biographic questionnaire at the end asked students to describe retrospectively key feelings or experiences in their journey.

Generally, the logs provided snapshots contemporaneous to the supervisory experience whereas the interviews (and other data) retrospective more extended perspectives.

These different data types were synthesized in researcher-constructed case narratives for each participant – short descriptive texts with minimal interpretation.

These narratives were developed through successive rereading of all data for each participant in order to capture a comprehensive, but reduced, account.

Each narrative (1) made connections between events, (2) represented the passage of time, and (3) showed the intentions of individuals (Coulter and Smith 2009).

The narratives were constructed by different team members with each case verified by at least one other person.

The narratives enabled us to preserve a focus on the individual while still looking for commonalities to examine in more depth (Stake 2006). Through this process, we came to see the value of a closer look at participant’s experiences of supervision which led to this analysis.

We chose four cases at random, and the research team (two of whom are the authors of this paper) read all the logs and interviews of these four cases. Through this process, a number of subquestions were refined (the first drawing on all data, the second and third largely on log data, the fourth and fifth on log and interview data):

(1) How were the individual’s supervisory interactions situated in a particular set of intentions, relationships, experiences, and time in the doctoral journey?

(2) What kinds of supervisory interactions were sought and negotiated?

(3) To what extent did positive and negative affect emerge in these interactions?

(4) To what extent did co-supervision influence the relationship and expectations?

(5) How did students characterize their relationships with their supervisors?

Then, the second author continued analyzing the data from the remaining participants with another member of the team verifying samples of the coding.

Finally, the first author reviewed the analysis in the light of her knowledge of the data and the literature.

From this analysis, new narratives were created focused principally on supervision. These provided a form of data display that enabled the interpretations emerging in this paper.

Thus, we had two ways of examining change over time: the first, change in individual experience over time and the second, change as regards where individuals were in the doctoral journey.

The researchers specify the tradition they are working in – narrative studies and the overall position of the family of narrative approaches.




The research tools are named.

Frequency of use is given, with a caveat about some variation in actual responses.

Details of data foci are given for each research tool.

Each tool generates data about specific aspects of the DR supervision experience.




The data generated was complementary and also allowed for some cross checking.


The analytic approach is outlined  – research reproduced synthetic case narratives.


The narrative  production process is outlined (re-reading.)



A consistent structure was used for the case narratives.



Trustworthiness of interpretation was through shared analysis.


The case narratives had particular affordances for cross case analysis.

The whole research team conducted a cross case analysis of four of the participants and revisited their original data sets


This led to refined questions to refine and amplify the initial research question.



The remaining data was analysed using these subquestions using a ‘rater reliability’ approach.








New cross case narratives of the doctoral ‘journey’ were created.

These were put into conversation with the individual narratives as a form of checking.


This section provides a very clear description of the stages of the research process and the techniques the researchers used to guard against singular idiosyncratic interpretation. I can even imagine, from the details given, the meetings during which the cases were discussed and questions refined.

There is less detail about what was involved in re-reading, it seems like a grounded theory approach. It doesn’t seem to be a structured reading for narrative elements in the data – plot type and construction for instance. I’m guessing from the subsequent research questions that the reading combined looking for themes and key critical points on a time-line.

And what’s not there? Discussion of pluses and minuses of having researcher-constructed case narratives – these are in the literatures and a knowledgeable reader can bring this prior knowledge to this text. Someone new to this tradition of research might wonder. And I remained curious about the issues the researchers encountered doing longitudinal research. This is another entire paper of course, so the authors have whetted my interest about that. I was also uncertain about the size of the research team – clearly more than the two who produced this paper. That’s probably not at all important, I was just intrigued.  

I’m sure that you could see other things when you read to see how much specific information had been provided. That’s good. But my point here is not about our various readings, it s a more obvious one.

Reading for writing – in this case, looking for what specifics are provided and what are not – can really help you to think about the decisions that you have to make in your own writing.  What will you say and not say about your own research design?


Image credit: ClarkMaxwell, flickr commons

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academic publishing in English

This week I was at a sociology of education summer school. As you might expect, I was there to talk about academic writing and publishing. In this context, I wanted to situate my usual topic in a wider context, and not simply offer strategies and advice.

DD-JMWyXYAEnBpi.jpgHere’s the abstract I wrote for the ‘lecture’:

Educational researchers generally want their research to make a difference to policy, practice and/or teaching.  ‘The difference’ is understood multiple ways –  the provision of new empirical evidence, innovative argument, penetrating problematisation, insightful analysis and so on. Regardless of what is understood as ‘making the difference’, the research has to be communicated to communities that want, need or would simply like to know about it. Enter academic publication.

Academic publication is not a neutral activity, not simply a matter of putting words on a page, meeting disciplinary conventions and then seeing the resulting papers and books in print. Academic publication is now irrevocably about geopolitics and political economies – who publishes what, where, in what language, in what medium and on what platform at what cost, and who has access to it. Furthermore, academic publishing is now the stuff of institutional audit and national league tables, performance management and promotion systems. Academic identities and their institutions are made in and through publication. Academic publication is a high stakes social practice.

The lecture will examine how early career researchers, now often members of an academic precariat, can engage with this publication topography.

As the summer school participants were in European countries where publishing in English is increasingly common,  I  wanted to say two things early on. I’m going to signpost these two points here to show the essence/pith/nutshell of what I said (I don’t have space or time here to do all the nuances and caveats). But these points might be of wider interest …

(1) The dominant English language genres of academic writing – argument, essay and report – are a cultural artefact. They are not the only, or the right way, to write.

Other academic traditions don’t place nearly so much emphasis on the kind of argumentative meta-commentary that is the norm in English scholarly papers – in this paper I’m going to, now I’ve done this, this shows that, so far I’ve argued that… they don’t expect to see the IMRAD structure as default. Some European cultural traditions of scholarship for example prefer a paper carried by the elegance of logic, taking an emergent form, offering cross textual philosophical discussion and/or the poetics of rhetoric. And many Indigenous scholars reject the genre of argument, the primary genre of English language scholarship – Russell Bishop, a Maori researcher, for example, proposes narrative traditions of knowing and writing.

In my academic writing workshops, mother-tongue English speakers are often surprised to learn that English language rhetoric and genre – with its predominant I will argue x repeated throughout the text in various forms – can be seen as infantilising the reader, a point Suresh Canagarajah makes very tellingly about his early experiences of taking a US doctorate home to Sri Lanka. 

And speaking English isn’t enough. You have to speak the ‘right’ English. Not only no vernacular please. Syntax policing by reviewers causes difficulties for many writers. Papers have to ‘sound’ right. Despite common usage, journals are very patchy in their acceptance of ‘World Englishes’

So, academic publishing in English, and this is what’s generally used for constructing global league tables and citation indices, is not culturally neutral. (Nor is teaching/advising people how to ‘do’ academic writing in English.)

(2) There are many concepts that are simply untranslatable into English. They just don’t carry across the cultural divide.

For example, in my own field of education, the term pedagogy is usually translated into English as something which is about process, methods of teaching. Yet its actual use in most other European contexts is a much more holistic one – it is about the ‘science’ of the overall work of a teacher. Pedagogy attends to everything related to the development, nurture and care of students, not simply to the processes of knowledge and skill building. Pedagogy (European version) is a far more inclusive and less instrumental concept in other languages than it is in English. Its translation into English has reduced its meaning, and its potential for informing educational practice.

During the summer school I had a fascinating conversation with Paolo Landri, an Italian academic, who described the difficulties he’d experienced in translating a chapter he’d written in English ‘back’ into Italian, his mother tongue. Converting concepts, adapting genre, changing context to meet local understandings and defining untranslatable terms … all of these things together made for a rewriting task rather than straightforward word substitution, Paolo told me. Translation actually required significant reinterpretation. (Professional translators and interpreters know this very well, the rest of us are learning.)

But it’s not all bad news – there are increasing examples of scholars who refuse to translate their key concepts into English; they use their own language, offering an explanation to readers while maintaining the terms. And there are emerging examples of PhDers submitting sections of their thesis in their own language in order to avoid the inevitable difficulties in translating across cultural, writing and epistemological traditions.

However, understanding the dimensions of cultural/language issues doesn’t come so easily to we native English speakers. We often just don’t see the problem. APA says no vernacular so that’s what we do… I suspect we may well need the equivalent of classroom ‘countering pedagogy’ (that’s when the ‘other’ speaks back) in academic publishing, to help we English speakers understand what writing in English actually means for everyone but us.

Now, these are only two of the many questions about the increasing dominance of academic publication in English. It’s important that someone like me, who runs writing workshops, blogs and writes books about writing, recognises them.

And of course this is not all that there is!! But a post is tiny and you/I can only say so much – so you might add more issues and constructive strategies in the comments.


This post connects with another by Helen Kara on challenging the dominance of English.

And to show you what I actually said at the workshop – or at least give you an idea of the shape of the lecture – here are my slides.

Posted in academic writing, argument, English language, publishing | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

you’re so vague…


It is important when writing about research to be specific. And by writing about research I mean writing about methods in a journal article, writing methods in a thesis or journal article, writing about research  design in a research bid. See what I did there? Specific, not vague.

Now I’m guessing you do know that examiners and peer reviewers always look to find the details in design and methods. They search for N = number of people, things and places, the times you are in your research location and the number of transcripts you are working on. If you don’t have these N details about the research, your chapter, paper or bid will fall down.

However, these are not the only places where it’s easy to be imprecise. You can also be vague and woolly in two other places – writing about what you want to do, and writing about your results. And, like not having N info, lack of attention to details here can cost you too.

  1. What you want to do

If you are doing an intervention study, design or action research, or a trial, you might find yourself using these words – improve, enhance, reduce, lessen, change. Problem. These are imprecise terms. The point of intervention studies is that you can see if you have achieved what you set out to do. So the words improve, enhance, reduce, lessen, change really don’t cut it.  You need to do more work on what these these terms mean.

Let’s take an example. 

If you wanted to improve something – say the ways in which doctoral researchers approach literature reviews – then you need to make improve much more explicit. Does improve mean that DRs

  • read more or less – and if so how much,
  • read more often – and if so how often,
  • read regularly – and is that everyday, every week, or what,
  • read differently – and if so how,
  • write about the literatures differently  – and if so how,
  • take better notes  – and what does better look like,
  • read out of their field  – and does that mean specific field or any fields and what do they do when they do this… 

and you can keep adding possibilities I’m sure. You get the point. You have to say what you mean in order to see if your intervention has ‘worked’.

  1. Your results

There are lots of places in reporting results where you can get very imprecise. Like saying lots of places. Words like lots, many, few, the minority, the majority, most, frequently, rarely, often, sometimes, are all classic instances where imprecision takes over. Problem. How is the reader to know what you mean? 

An example or two will help.

  • What do we mean by often if we say  “Doctoral researchers reported often feeling out of their depth.” What is often – once a day? more? every five minutes? Or is it only once a week? There is a significant difference between these versions of often, and yet the term applies equally to all of the options.
  • What do we mean when we say the minority – “A minority of doctoral researchers reported that they enjoyed the PhD process.” What is the minority – one less than 50%? A third, a quarter, only one or two? There is a significant difference between these versions of minority and yet the term applies equally to all of the options.

Examiners and reviewers almost always pick up vagueness (two or three might not care but the rest of us do). While examiners and reviewers might let you get away with one or two instances of opaque, unclear and unfocused writing in results, we/they’ll not accept much more. And we/they’ll just outright reject any muddiness and obscurity in research design.

And even though I’m a person who doesn’t like rules, there is a maxim here. When writing about design, objectives and goals, results and claims, don’t ‘make vague’.  Through a text darkly ain’t on. Clear the fog away and say exactly what you mean.


Image credit: Sandra Fauconnier

Posted in claims, research design, results, vagueness | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

making the familiar strange – two book recommendations

Today, as this post publishes, I’m giving a talk to postgraduate researchers. One of the things I will talk about is why it’s important for all researchers to practice seeing things differently.

We already have ways of describing this imperative in research literatures. We talk about reflexivity. We talk about criticality. We talk about challenging our taken for granted assumptions. We talk about making the familiar strange. 

We stress the need for seeing differently because it is integral to the creation of knowledge. If we are to make step changes in our understandings, then we can’t just reproduce and replicate our existing lines of thought.

I can’t imagine a research methods courses which doesn’t talk about ‘de-familiarisation’ as a necessary practice. However, we generally don’t spend a lot of time on discussing what this means, beyond keeping a researcher journal, or interrogating some of the language and definitions that we use. I understand this lack of indepth discussion – we university research methods teachers do have to get through a lot of stuff – philosophy, all those methods, the various permutations of research design.

But making the world a strange place is much more than keeping a journal and querying our language. It is about training ourselves – re- training  in fact – undoing some of the habitual ways that we think, see, listen, observe. This kind of re/unlearning takes time and – she whispers – probably a quite different set of resources from those that we most often see set as methods course texts.

I’m going to suggest to the postgrads I’m meeting today that they might engage with two books that offer ways to reorient their habituated practices of seeing and thinking. Both texts are by artists and both contain exercises that they/you can do by yourself, or in the company of like-minded companions.

The first book is one of Lynda Barry’s. It’s called What it is. Do you wish you could write?

Lynda Barry is an artist and teacher. She is best known for her underground comic Ernie Pook’s Comeek which ran for years in ‘alt’ newspapers. But she is also a teacher and now works as the Chazen Family Distinguished Chair in Art at U Wisconsin Madison. She’s published lots of books, but the one I’m suggesting today is a compilation of exercises that Barry uses to foster interdisciplinary creativity.

In this book, Barry asks us to consider deceptively simple words – image, memory, experience… She invites the reader to rethink these through a series of exercises. She also provides her own interpretation of the exercise in graphic novel form. You don’t of course have to do the exercise using cartoons, although you might find it fun to try.

The point of Barry’s exercises is to come back to things that we know, to revisit concepts, interpretations and explanations to see what else we can do with them. In re-viewing what we usually think and do, can we come up with new associations, different insights?


Lynda Barry also has a blog The Near Sighted Monkey. She often blogs her courses and you can audit what she and her students are doing by following the various posts. And you can of course do these exercises and see much more of her work. See also this archived material about her courses.

The second text is by Keri Smith. It’s called How to be an explorer of the world. Coincidentally I saw this book recommended at a conference just last week. I’m not alone in finding Smith’s approach very helpful for research.

Smith is an illustrator, author and blogger. She usually writes about creativity. Like Barry, she’s written several books but the one I’m suggesting is one in which she offers exercises which invite us to look, make patterns, make connections, observe movement, create conversations, use all of our senses …


The book begins by asking us to collect things – objects, experiences, observations. Smith instructs us to makes lists, make maps. She outlines activities designed to enhance the functions of our eyes and ears. She invites us to experiment with randomness.

Her exercises may seem a little strange art first but, as she notes at the beginning of the book, Everything is interesting. Look closer. Her activities are directed to a way of being in the world, a way of explicitly connecting with the world around us.


Now, it’s not really surprising that my recommendations are two books by artists. I hang around with artists a lot, I research the arts. But I do that for precisely the same reason that I’m suggesting that the postgrads I’m talking to today might engage with these texts too.

As Smith points out, at the start of her book, artists and scientists analyse the world in surprisingly similar ways. Without wanting to be too pretentious about it, artists and scientists (including social scientists) are all about looking, noticing, seeing things. Those of us who are trained to read, synthesise information, to interpret and to present an argument as our way of noticing can benefit from engagement with people who are not trained in the same way.  Putting our approaches together can be very helpful. They can help us to see things a new,  to see them differently.  Yes, to make the familiar strange.

Artists and (social) scientists can learn a lot by engaging in each other’s practices. As well, a bonus – we can have a bit of fun at the same time. And as we are learning how to see things differently we can bring this way of being, doing, seeing, feeling, thinking to our research.

And yes, if I was still running a research methods course, these books would certainly be two of my set texts.

Oh – and wait there’s more – a bonus live Lynda Barry exercise. It only takes four minutes. What do you notice?

Posted in creativity, defamiliarisation, reflexivity, research methods, the familiar | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments