publishing from the phd – make a publication plan

There are two ways to approach publishing from your PhD.

One is to write the first thing that interests you. Or the recent thing that you presented at a conference. Or write the thing that someone very important has invited you to put in an expensive edited collection.

All of that is fine of course. It’s good to write the things that you are interested in. And it might be very strategic to accept that invitation to be in a particular collection of writing.

But there are some risks when you just write all the things. One is that you confuse the writing and presentations that you did during the doctorate – those that helped you get your head around the work and finish the analysis – with the major contributions of your research. The second is that you write lots of stuff, but you don’t actually write the key results from the research, the results that constitute the contribution you sweated over for so long.

The thing about publishing from the PhD is that you want to get your key results out into the right places. You want to be known for a something substantial. You want to stake your claim to be someone you want to hear on a particular topic. You want your research to make a difference.

Now this means writing strategically – writing for those who need to read your work. And what you write will probably include journal articles, but it might also include professional or popular publications. This will certainly be the case if your research arises from practice or policy and you hope to have an influence. And it might be a book, although not all PhDs turn neatly into books.

So given this, you are better off opting for the second publishing option, not the first. And that second option is to plan. Having a publication plan means that you can sensibly respond to invitations, and you can decide when, where and what to write and in what order so you can maximise your contribution to the field.

So when do you plan? Well, when you are at the point where you know what your contributions are likely to be. When you know what your key messages are, then it’s time to spend some time thinking about how you’re going to publish, and where. Even if you’ve already published some things, there is a point in the thesis writing when you do know what you have to say.

If you’re at that point, and you’re ready to make a publishing plan, you might like to self-guide yourself through this set of workshop slides. Or perhaps do them with a peer and talk through your ideas.

Once you have an initial plan, it’s a very good idea to talk it through with your supervisor. They know your work well, and may also have some ideas about where and what you can write. They may well be able to help you with introductions to editors and publishers too.

Oh, and you might also want to look at some of these supplementary posts about publishing.

Writing a book – a collection of posts

A set of posts about writing a journal article

Posted in academic writing, PhD, publication plan, publishing, thesis to papers | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

quick lit – rapid evidence reviewing

This is one of a very occasional set of posts about some of my own academic work that you might find useful.

A colleague and I have just undertaken what is called in the (academic) trade a Rapid Evidence Review. Or, as I have come to think of it, Quick Lit.

An RER is a form of literature review which is popular with policymakers and with organisations seeking to design and/or commission research. It aims to establish what research is available about a defined topic, as well as key results and major gaps. RERs are usually done by academics who already know a field of research well, as was the case with my colleague and me. When researchers bring existing knowledge of the field to an RER it makes for speedier work.

In this post I’m going to describe our RER process.  I’ll use the term evidence throughout, even though you and I know that this is a highly contentious notion. It is however the terminology that is used when you are doing this type of literature work.

My goal in describing the RER is simply to make explicit one strategy for reviewing literature. It’s a strategy that you might want to use – and adapt – if you have to do a roughly similar task.

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Steps in the RER (Gough, Oliver and Thomas, 2013 p. 11)

Another message to take from this post is that there is not one way to do literatures work. The literatures strategy you use often depends on the kind of literature review you are doing, what you hope to get from it, and who you are doing it for.

Beginning a rapid review – what’s in and what’s out

The RER begins with one or more focus questions. You may have to define these yourself – in our case, these were already established. Our RER commissioner had six questions that they wanted us to address.

Next, the boundaries of the RER have to be set. In our case, these were negotiated with the commissioner. The decision is about what literatures will be included and excluded and what are the cut off dates. In our case, we were interested in UK literature only, literature published since 2007.

The search terms – key words using for searching – and sources – the data bases searched – are then determined. And in our case, the terms and sources were agreed with our RER commissioner.

Sorting out categories

The difference between the usual form of systematic review and a rapid evidence review is that a systematic review often excludes research of particular types. Because we had to ascertain what kinds of evidence there were on our topic, we had to take an inclusive approach –  our task included categorising research types.

We determined a numerical coding system for different types of research evidence.  We used a fairly standard system for categorising research approaches

1 a. systematic review b. meta-analysis

2 randomised control trials

3 a. longitudinal studies b panel series c cohort studies d. secondary data analysis e. other

4 case-control studies. b. case series c. case reports d. mixed methods e. survey f. interview-based study g. ethnographic study h. theoretical development i. other

5 expert opinion

6 any other (eg thesis)

While this list could be – and sometimes is – read as a hierarchy of research types, we and our commissioners were clear that different research questions often require different approaches.

With this list in hand we then used the two number classifications – research question, and type of research –  to construct a table. Our table also had four other columns. Six in total. See below. The first column was the bibliographic information to be used in referencing. The second was the country in which the research was conducted (where the data was from). The UK consists of four nations and it was of interest to see which countries the research addressed. The fifth column was further details about the research method – its sample, size scope etc. The sixth and largest column was for the key results. Anything we wrote in this column had to be short and pithy so that we could do the required task of identifying key results, debates and gaps.

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I must pause here for a caveat.  Our review was designed to meet our commissioners’ needs, but the codings can of course be varied. Different types of search might have different columns. At another time and in a different review we might, for example, look at the gender and race of the researchers. A further column could be added to look at key definitional terms. Or theoretical resources. The point is that using tables and coding categories allows you to do some counting and comparing. This may be useful.

Categorising and noting

It took us a few days to complete our first wave of searching. And when we had all of the relevant papers in hand, we went through them systematically, firstly recording their bibliographic information and country. Note, we didn’t search and note, search and note, search and note. We did one big search and then noted the corpus.

We didn’t sort our list of papers, reports and books alphabetically, but we could have, although in our case it wouldn’t have made things much easier. I would also advise using bibliographic software for this section of the task, importing papers and reports as PDFs with associated bibliographic information into a project library. Only some books are likely to need to be entered manually. But the software entries do need to be checked for accuracy.

We read the methods section of each paper in order to categorise the type of research used (as above, types 1-6). We then read as much of each paper as we had to, to ascertain which of the six pre-set research questions an individual item addressed. And then we sorted and summarised the key messages. Sometimes this meant we read the abstract, introduction and discussion/conclusion, often more.

Once we had all this information we were able to fill in the table we had constructed. Item by item.

We used a word document for this task, but we could alternatively have used an excel spreadsheet. However, as most of the items we found addressed more than one of our six key research questions, we would still have ended up doing a lot of counting by hand.

Looking for search omissions

We had to make sure that our initial search had located all of the literatures. So we added a few more terms just in case. In our RER we had two more waves of searching; the first to catch any recent literatures we had missed, and the second to pick up some key international literatures of research types 1-3. We looked outside the UK because we suspected, on the basis of our first wave search, that the field we were investigating had very little of type 1-3 type research at all, not just in the UK.

Sorting the master list

We eventually had a master list of publications. Every item completely categorised. We were then able to sort this master list into six sublists – each one addressed one of our specific six questions. These six lists then became the basis for a very critical evaluation – much discussion between us – and this led to a written summary of the literatures.

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Writing the report

Our written report began with a description of our approach to, and process of, undertaking the RER. We then described the overall body of evidence, giving numbers and types of research for each of the six questions. A summary of key results for each of the six questions was provided. We concluded with a description of the gaps in the research and strategic possibilities for further inquiry.

Our RER, done.

The RER approach forces you to be quick and succinct. It is obviously not a process you want to use if you are seeking to get deep into the literatures. Even the usual systematic review takes longer than an RER. However the RER approach can be adapted – for example, for an initial scoping exercise of a field.

Maybe this is a process you could use. But a little reminder, mainly for my sake, not yours.

The Rapid Evidence Review is not a process suitable for all literature reviewing, although there is a family resemblance between all types of literatures work. Pretty well all lit reviews aim to sort, classify and summarise patterns. Questions and tables are often key to how this work gets done. However, a quick lit approach may not be what you want or need. But it could be helpful to you at particular times and for very particular tasks.

Reference

Gough, D., Oliver, S., & Thomas, J. (2013). Learning from research: Systematic reviews for informing policy decisions: A quick guide. The Alliance for Useful Evidence, 1-38.

The entire website in which this OA report is located was down as I revised this post so I have temporarily linked to my copy  Alliance-FUE-reviews-booklet-3

Posted in academic writing, literature mapping, literature review, literature reviews, Rapid Evidence Review | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

writing and stuck? try a “ventilation file”

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I am sure that most of us have experienced that feeling of guilt and dread that comes from not getting down to a writing task. We find lots of other things to do instead. More important things. Like looming deadlines. Like people asking for our help. Like new and interesting writing. And when we do – finally – sit down to write, the words don’t come. Despite being determined to crack the nut, the writing just doesn’t happen.

Now I’m not talking here about a bit of trouble getting going. The faltering beginning and stuttering start… well, that happens a lot – and to all of us. Usually, eventually, after some false beginnings, perhaps some free writing or some brainstorming, the words begin to flow. At first, there aren’t many, and then the pace picks up. And then you are writing. I call this writing-your-way-into-writing – sitting down and working at what needs to be said till what has to be written becomes clear and possible.

Nope. That’s not what I mean. I’m talking about those times when you can’t actually even bear to start. When the project you were working on is stalled. It’s dead on the screen. Inert. Static. Going nowhere.

These are times when it might be useful to recognise your own resistance and try to figure out what’s going on. Rather than self-diagnose a block or some other writing syndrome, why not just work with the feelings of not-doing-it? Ask yourself – what is the logic behind this inactivity, this resistance? Why can’t you, and won’t you, just write?

David Sternberg had a solution for this kind of stuckness. Sternberg wrote one of the first books about doing a doctoral thesis – How to complete and survive a doctoral dissertation (1981). He suggested that thesis writers keep a ventilation file for those moments when they are bogged down.

The ventilation file is a place to write down every negative, angry, frustrated and  self-sabotaging thought that you have about the writing that won’t happen. The ventilation file is a place to say why you think this particular piece of writing is pointless, dull, useless, downright tedious, yawn-making, irritating and going nowhere. The ventilation file is a place to say why this piece of writing is scary, could cause you to be ridiculed by your colleagues, get you into all kinds of trouble with your supervisor and examiner, and make you a laughing stock if you don’t get it right.

Actually, Sternberg had a file for just about every aspect of the doctorate. He believed that one of the primary problems that dissertation writers face is organisation. Getting better organised ahead of time significantly increased the odds of completion, he argued. He advocated keeping a timetable file, a meetings with supervisor file, a contacts and arrangements for fieldwork file, a troubleshooting file, an inspiration file, a random serendipity ideas and thoughts file, a devil’s advocate anticipating thesis objections file, a “how am I doing” self-assessment file, a dissertation support group file and a master review of progress and audit reports file.

Among this panoply of files, the ventilation file had a particular purpose. According to Sternberg, venting about the writing you don’t want to do – or any other doctoral issue you can’t face – acknowledges the problem that you’ve got. You don’t pretend that it doesn’t exist, you don’t shovel it under the carpet – that pretence usually fails.  Sternberg says:

Whenever a strong dissertation emotion comes upon you— be it impatience with an adviser who is holding you up by reading your chapters at a maddeningly slow pace, anger with your husband (sic) who isn’t keeping up his commitment to take over the children and household chores to give you your full time in your office, outrage over how one of your fieldwork samples was treated by a superordinate that day, frustration with inability to find a satisfactory analytic statistic for a key section of your data— get it down. (p 68)

Venting helps you to come to terms with what’s not happening. You face up to life, the universe and/or writing. Writing about the troublesome chapter, or talking about it into a recorder (another one of Sternberg’s ventilation strategies), can be a way to work out what the problem actually is. Writing about the not-writing makes it seem more manageable because it is now tangible, Sternberg says, it’s something able to be written/talked about. Writing about the emotions attached to the not-writing may be a way of putting the resistance into perspective, making the feelings of anger, despair and anxiety seem less scary and utterly impossible to control. The problem has been domesticated, tamed. It’s now named.

Sternberg notes that there is no come-back from anyone if you let off steam or moan about your writing stuckness – no one is there to sanction or censor you. You are your only reader.

And because writing about doctoral stuck points and traumas can also lead to problem-solving, this means that it is possible to review your ventilation file or recordings if and when the next writing problem comes along. You can see that you got over it. You can examine what worked last time. Ventilation is a kind of self-help.

I suspect that Sternberg’s ventilation files won’t work for everyone. And I’m sure that they have limited use. They won’t work all of the time. They aren’t a magic bullet. But I also reckon that they might be one strategy to try out, one way to come to terms with some of the logics underpinning writing resistance. There are often pretty sound reasons for actions that first appear to be negative and self-defeating. Venting can help these surface.

So what’s not to like about the ventiliation file? What is there to lose but a few moments trying it out? If you have a piece of writing that you just can’t get going on, why not have a play with writing-talking-venting to see if it will help you get to grips with what’s really going on.

Photo by ibrahim kusuma on Unsplash.

Posted in academic writing, being stuck, David Sternberg, ventilation file, writing to get unstuck | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

academics behaving badly – calling out the Cleverclogs

Continuing the occasional series on bad academic behaviour. 

The Drs Cleverclog are well known in academic circles. A very large extended family of know-it-alls.

At least one of them makes their presence known at every conference, meeting and large academic gathering you go to. Even if you don’t recognise them by sight, you know them by their behaviour.

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That’s not Dr Cleverclog is it? Tell me he’s not coming over to our table.

The Cleverclogs have an opinion about everything. While you hesitate to proffer a view on things you don’t know about, the good Drs Cleverclog have, it seems, never found a topic they can’t speak about with great confidence. There is no field of inquiry that they don’t know something about, no matter of great social significance where they haven’t read the definitive text, no emerging area of interest that they haven’t already surveyed, no book that they haven’t read a critique of, no issue where they haven’t already done a significant piece of pilot work which paves the way for we lesser beings with our lesser research.

The Cleverclog family want to let you know what they know. What they know matters more than anything or anyone else. But they are not united in their approach to displaying their expertise. Some Cleverclogs aren’t particularly worried about whether other people learn what they know only too well. These Cleverclogs speak in arcane terms, acronyms and abbreviations, they litter their proclamations with obscure references and dates. No-one but them can actually understand what they are on about.  But other Cleverclogs want you to learn from them, so they become the very worst kind of teacher. They explain in painstaking detail –  spelling out principles that are routinely taken for granted, ideas that are in common use, and terminology that is self-evident. They go on and on and on, barely pausing for breath, leaving little opportunity for you to do anything but nod.

Cleverclogs don’t modify their behaviour for you, or anyone else. At a conference, regardless of whether they are talking to a doctoral researcher giving their first paper or to a more senior peer, they are first on their feet with a question which allows a lengthy display of their own superior knowledge. They then often get into conversation with the speaker, contesting interpretations and apparent ‘facts’ and preventing anyone else from getting a word in.

The venerable Drs Cleverclog specialise in monopolising available time and space. They often speak v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, repeating words and phrases in order to demonstrate the great portent of their contribution, and their singular authority. They take offence if it is suggested that they might speed up and get to the point. They brush off interruptions with “let me finish” making it clear that it is the impatient and ignorant that are at fault, rather than their behaviour.

Cleverclogs pride themselves on being in the know and knowing the right people. They regularly drop crony references into conversations – they were having dinner with this highly cited scholar, a school reunion with that Nobel prize winner, regular email exchanges with the latest academic book best seller. You can only gasp at someone so singularly well-connected.

Despite being a family, the Cleverclogs aren’t actually related. They share behaviour but not genes. And they  weren’t born like this. So where did these Cleverclogs come from? Perhaps they were all once simply clever children. Over time they were over-rewarded for their expertise, promoted for their willingness to speak up when no one else would, offered time and space because, well, someone has to do it.  It must be something like this, something systematic, something systemic, because the Cleverclogs show no sign of dying out. As soon as one Cleverclog retires, another is there in their place. They seem to not only survive but also thrive in the contemporary performative academy.

It’s way past time that the most grating and obnoxious Cleverclogs  left the building.  Their unabashed hubris is rarely well-intentioned. Members of the Cleverclog family who don’t quite understand the consequences of their behaviour might learn something if they see the senior members of their clan under pressure to sit down, be quiet, listen and give a bit of respect and time to their colleagues.

I’m minded to do this calling out more often. The danger is of course that in calling out, you become an inadvertent mirror of Cleverclog behaviour. You – shudder- join the family.

But there must be a way, surely. There just must.

Collect the other badly behaved academics:

Profzilla

Dr Oozing Confidence

Professors of the Academic Dark Arts

 Professors of the Poison Pen

Image credit: dacian dorca – street photography.  Flickr Commons.

Posted in academic dark arts, academic writing, badly behaved academic writers, conference, conference questions, Dr Cleverdick | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

bad writing advice

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There’s some very bad writing advice out there. Most of it is well-intentioned. Most doesn’t aim to make profit from anxious writers. But unfortunately readily available writing advice is not uniformly good.

Does this matter? Caveat emptor perhaps? Well, there’s a lot of research on writing, and on academic writing in particular. A lot. So every now and then I find myself wondering why people offering writing advice don’t consult the available evidence.

Academic writing is a multi-disciplinary research field. Let me give you a bit of a sketch – by no means complete, but enough to show some key components.

English, Writing, and Rhetoric and Communications Faculties host Language and Linguistics scholarship, and research on writers and on writing practices. Each of the three has distinctive traditions and its own corpus of publications. And each of the three is a field with its own sub-fields. Language and Linguistics for example includes what we might call Genre Studies, Discourse Studies, Corpus Linguistics, Systemic Functional Linguistics and New Literacy Studies. And then there are applied fields like Composition Studies, English as a Second/Foreign Language and English for Academic Purposes  – these not only draw on research from other language related fields, they also produce their own research.

Psychologists are interested in academic writing behaviours. Most of the advice that you see about writing habits – speed writing, daily writing, motivation  – originates in psychology research, although the connection sometimes gets lost in translation.

Anthropologists have long been concerned with writing, and related social science disciplines have taken an interest in writing too; this scholarship focuses in part on the ways in which writing produces particular, culturally/materially/socially situated knowledges.

And did I mention Education? There’s more writing researchers here, and we are most often interested in the teaching of writing. Some of us are located in special units devoted to researcher development while others, like me, are in education faculties. Education researchers interested in academic writing draw from a range of research conducted in other disciplines, as well as developing our own. For example, it is largely educators in graduate support services who have been researching writing groups, writing courses and boot camps. Educators often use “Creative Writing” (back to English) pedagogies too.

And this is by no means a definitive list of where research and scholarship on academic writing can be found. But it is perhaps enough to suggest that there is writing advice, and then there is research-informed writing advice. No surprises in what I prefer.

And I so completely understand the motivations of  Cheryl Ball and Drew Loewe who recently edited a book called – yes – Bad Ideas About Writing. (open access)

Bad Ideas About Writing  takes issue with some of the common tips and tricks routinely provided for undergraduate students. Some of what is said in the book also applies to doctoral writing, and to academic writing more generally.

 Bad Ideas About Writing is divided into six sections. These are: Bad ideas about what good writing is, Bad ideas about who good writers are, Bad ideas about style, usage and grammar, Bad ideas about writing techniques, Bad ideas about genres, Bad ideas about assessing writing, Bad ideas about writing and digital technology and Bad ideas about writing teachers. These titles give a flavour of what is in each section and this is made even more obvious in the titles of the various section contributions.

The section entitled “Bad Ideas about style use and grammar” contains nine pieces of about three to five pages each. And these writers have set their sights on: Strunk and White set the standard; Good writers always follow my rules; Writers must develop a strong original voice; Leave yourself out of your writing; Never use “I”; The passive voice should be avoided; Teaching grammar improves writing; Good writers must know grammatical terminology; and Grammar should be taught separately as rules to learn.

Each of these separate contributions draws on specific research. For example, Laura Lisabeth argues in the piece entitled “Strunk and White set the standard” that this most popular of texts has its roots in nineteenth century handbooks of conversation etiquette. This is an important connection, Lisabeth argues, as the

…kind of writing Strunk and White put forth as good writing is in fact a discourse that limits and excludes, not reflecting the valuable ways English is practiced in local and digital contexts and by a variety of writers from different language traditions. Insistence on the kind of English constructed by The Elements of Style is uninformed at best and … unethical and racist at worst. (p. 118)

Lisabeth shows that the language ‘standards’ espoused by Strunk and White have been contested ever since the first edition was published. She suggests that

One way to begin dismantling Strunk and White’s bad idea about writing is by understanding Standard Academic English as a historically formed, culturally specific language among many other languages. Reframe the notion of academic writing as a fixed, unchanging, and neutral discourse; think of it instead as a flexible toolkit of language practices that change with the user and the context. (p. 119)

Lisabeth sees writing as a socially situated practice not a neutral tool. Her argument accords with views widely held across the humanities and social sciences that texts are cultural constructions. This view doesn’t mean of course that Lisabeth is advocating that ‘anything goes’ in relation to writing. Like all of the contributors in the book she recognises that conventions exist and that they generally need to be followed. But she wants readers to resist using texts like Strunk and White as infallible laws, and instead to be open to cultural nuances and digital, popular and (what linguists call) World Englishes.

In the same section, Monique Dufours and Jennifer Ahern-Dodson tackle process advice rules. They argue that rule-driven approaches – always start writing with an outline, always use a sequence of steps to produce a paper, only write in short bursts, only work on one project at a time – can create problems if they are held as unwavering truths.

Rule-driven writing instruction, the pair suggest, actually undermines the very skills it is designed to foster (p. 123). Writers  hold onto rules even when they are clearly not working. Dufours and Ahern-Dodson propose that readers: (1) translate rules into suggestions and (2) ask questions about the use of rules. They illustrate these propositions with an example that is familiar to most of us:

Take, for example, the common advice to always begin … with a catchy hook. Catchy hooks such as apt, vivid anecdotes can be used to excellent effect, if they meet the needs of the text and the circumstances. A writer can try it (this tactic) out and see what happens. What effect does it have on the text? Does it meet the audience’s and context’s needs (i.e., the rhetorical situation)? Does it contribute to expressing what the writer is trying to say? How do real readers respond? In this way, writers can experiment with techniques, deliberate about their implications, and make judgments about the best course of action among their options. And, most importantly, writers focus their goals and purposes, rather than on the rote adherence to rules, which is more meaningful… (p. 124).

Dufours and Hern-Dodson’s stance – which focuses on the writer’s capacity to diagnose and choose for themselves – is  taken by all of the book contributors. Advice is just that, they say, advice. If we understand writing problems to be the norm rather than the exception, then we also understand that to become a better writer means building a repertoire of process tools and techniques. We writers don’t need prescriptions, they urge. Rather, we can approach each writing task thinking about that problems we might, and are facing, in the particular piece. We then think about what resources we might draw on to address them. We try them out. We see what works better for us in that specific situation.

All of the chapters in Bad Ideas About Writing offer further reading.  Most of the authors refer to key texts and research; some also point to the advice books and blogs that use research.

Regardless of your/my experience with academic writing, most of us would benefit from reading bits of this book. Those of us who research and teach academic writing are likely to find some new reading matter. Those relatively new to academic writing will not only find a wealth of texts to explore, but also some useful insights. We mightn’t agree with all of it, but we can debate it… and as in any scholarly debate it helps if we are well informed.

And the material in the book will help readers to develop writing advice crap detectors, useful to discriminate between the proliferation of writing advice – some bad, some not so bad, some good.

Image by Frame Harirak on Unsplash.

Posted in academic writing, advice, poor advice, research, writing research | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

for the reader – citations, reference lists, tables of contents and indexes

2017-07-04 17.02.46.jpgMost of us understand that citation is about locating our work in the field.

We cite to show that we understand the field, that we know who counts and we understand what previous studies are important.

We cite to show the “borrowed stuff” we have used to build our own project and what has informed our interpretation and argument.

We cite to show what aspects of the scholarly conversation we contribute to.

But there are other ways to think about citation.

One approach is to see citation as performative. It is not unusual for people to cite simply to indicate that they’ve have done their homework. This is thinking of citation as a kind of peacock display – look how much I’ve read and isn’t it impressive. Another kind of performative thinking is when people assume that they have to cite from the journal that they are submitting to because it’s required. If I don’t quote from the journal they reject me. This performative citation is really a covert form of flattery – if I don’t suck up to the Editors I’m in trouble. And citation is sometimes talked about very instrumentally – mainly by publishers – as a way to get the journal impact factors up.

Another, and more principled, way to approach citations is to see them as academic politics – to understand that who cites who is not a neutral game. There’s no doubt that if you take the time to examine who gets cited and who doesn’t, you can get very depressed. Citation isn’t equitable. Some people hardly get cited at all despite doing really interesting but unfashionable work – they take particular critical, raced, classed, gendered, abled perspectives for instance. The inequitable politics of citation have led to some women in academia forming ‘cite club’; this is a collective tactic to address the invisibility of women’s scholarship in particular fields and reference lists.

A third way to approach citations is to see them as a service to the reader. Here citations sit alongside footnotes, reference lists, tables of content, and indexes – these are all avenues for writers to help their readers enter new scholarly worlds. Sounds silly? Well, just think about how most of us actually read an academic text.

I’m a pretty typical academic reader. When I read a paper, I choose to do so because I have an interest in the topic. And I generally don’t want to just stop with the paper that I’m currently in/on. I’ll want to read some related papers. So, where better to get some clues about where to go next than from the texts the writer has referred to?

I almost always find a few new things to read when I follow up in-text citations. Sometimes this is the citation, or it might be an informative footnote. A footnote gives me one or more references and some additional information. At the time, rather than being distracted from the gist of the reading, I’ll generally make a note of the reference or point. Or – ideally – if the note or reference is hyperlinked, I’ll follow it up straight away and either book mark it, clip the reference or even download it so I can engage with it later.

I much do the same hunting around with books. If I’m reading a book for a particular purpose I almost always, early on, turn to the index to see where a particular topic or perhaps a writer is discussed. I sometimes even check the index for the particular topic or person I’m interested in before I do a lot of reading in the book. The index is my guide to what interests me. The table of contents acts in much the same way – it steers me to the bits I’m interested in.

Citations, footnotes, reference lists, lists of content and indexes are good avenues for getting deep into a topic. By using these handy little adjunct texts you can amass a set of relevant reading relatively quickly. These lead you to various complexities, permutations, and debates. And if you like reading out of your field, or reading texts written in other locations, these side texts can be very helpful indeed; the references that writers use are often culturally and geographically as well as discipline specific.

Supervisors often tell doctoral researchers that one way to build an understanding of the field is to pay attention to the citations in their reading. Reading a few papers and seeing who always gets cited is an important signpost to the key players and texts in a field. When you see the same people referred to over and over again, you get the message that you’d better read these too as they seem to be part of the ‘lingua franca’ of the particular scholarly conversation. (And of course, if you then find out that these people are from a particular elite, then you might want to address and/or challenge their dominance.)

So, given how readers use these aspects of a text, it is worth thinking beyond what they do for you. Switch the perspective. What can you do for your readers?

Taking care with citations, references, foot notes, lists of content and indexes can be of considerable service. Careful little listicles can make the reading that you have done available to other people. These textual adjuncts can become, if you like, part of the gift that your writing can make. Your writing can include an entree into your particular scholarly library.

Citations, references, foot notes and indexes are a window on your academic world.

If that’s the case, it’s well worth taking a little time and care about what citations, references, footnotes, lists of content and indexes that we offer to other colleagues. They are part of the contribution that we make – not a tiresome necessity or an unnecessary imposition.

Posted in academic writing, citation, footnote, index, reference, reference list | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

live blogging academic writing – an un-conference

rucksack-magazine-192573-unsplash.jpgThis week I am running an academic writing course at The University of Iceland. Ive been running academic writing courses here for some years but usually I just do a week long programme about writing a journal article. This time however I’ve returned to the first part of the course which is about writing a conference paper. This week is intended to provide the basis for the second half of the course – revising, polishing and submitting the paper to a journal.

I decided to switch the course up a little this time – well you know I think about how to do things differently a lot – and run it as an un-conference, using a blog to publish the various texts that we will produce during the week. We will be publishing everyday so there will be continued updates. You might like to follow along with us – the site is called hiunconference.

This is the description of the course as it appears in the university handbook:

Academic Writing I

Course Description:

The overall aim of the course is to improve doctoral students’ skills in preparing academic conference presentations and other academic writing in English. The emphasis will be on such practical considerations as: choosing a conference; understanding the call; writing the abstract; designing a symposium; writing a symposium abstract; writing the proposal for conference funding; pre-conference networking; and pre-planning the publication of a paper. Practical issues will be emphasized related to academic writing, keeping in mind the needs of the audience, academic readers. In addition, writing a synopsis will be covered.

The course is based on peer review in which students acquire skills in reviewing each other’s’ texts.

Learning Outcomes:

At the end of the course, students will have improved their skills in

  • choosing a conference and understand the call
  • writing a conference abstract
  • designing a symposium and writing an abstract
  • writing a proposal for conference funding
  • pre-planning the publication of a paper
  • preparing a synopsis
  • reviewing the texts of others.

Im working with an  Icelandic colleague Randi Stebbins who works in the university Writing Centre. You’ll meet her tomorrow if you visit the hiunconference site.

Posted in academic writing, conference, conference abstract, Conference blog, unconference | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments