you don’t own me- authorship and other problems

A guest post from Megan, Maximum and Dulcie McPherson. Megan, a practising artist,  has just completed her PhD – yay and congratulations – and is looking for work in Melbourne and beyond.


During the week I was approached by a researcher to have a chat about doing some work for her research project.

All well and good I thought. I’d just handed in my thesis last month. I’m in the weird waiting space in-between hand in and getting the results back. I could do with some extra work; my savings are starting to look a bit sad and my 10 week research administration support contract is just about to finish.

During the conversation with the researcher a series of alarm bells rang out. The time allowance was for a day a week for 12 weeks (around 85 hours). There was no scope of the work involved or timeline to get to this arbitrary 12 days. When I asked for further elaboration, such as was there a research report that I was to write from, it came out that she wanted the data to be re-analysed. I would have to do an analysis in NVivo.

Then I asked if she had sorted the literature that she wanted to use. No. (Bell ringing chorus). There was a broad theory or paradigm to link to, but no key literature to work with. Ok, I’m thinking, this is getting out of proportion to the hours she had stipulated.

She then started to say that she was writing the first paper and she wanted me to “help” with the second paper.

Actually, she meant WRITE the second paper. Write the second paper for the research team she was a member of without authorship attribution, no mention of my contribution.

My response, when I caught my breath, was quite simple.

I told her that she needed to look at her university’s research authorship policy*. I said that there was a research integrity issue with her proposal. I suggested that I didn’t necessarily have to be first author, but I expected to be on the author list. I discussed my expectations about receiving authorship attribution and how this was decided with other projects I have been employed on.

I then explained that as I did not have an academic job I did not have research hours to give away to other projects. I was by then thinking about the next person that was approached and who might not necessarily be ready to say that the work proposal lacked research integrity. I have had a range of experiences in research in the last 10 years where my contribution has been acknowledged and sometimes it has not. I have had other academics speak up for me and my contribution.  I know it is important to speak not just for me but for others.

After the meeting videocall, I posted my reaction to Facebook. My academic friends were both angry for me and apologized that I had had this experience. The number of comments surprised me. This was not just my experience, authorship and exploitation of casual research staff is a problem.

The very least that researchers can do when employing others to do research is to estimate the job properly. Don’t expect the prospective researcher to scope your job for free. Pay for the research support with realistic hours. And ACKNOWLEDGE authorship in the publication!

I remember a few years ago an older professor explaining to a room of academics that research is not research until it is published. As an early career researcher, the research I do has to have outcomes that I can use. I need to have outcomes that are published and that contributed to my research profile. I was thinking about my “Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence (ROPE)” section in my most recent funding application. With this 12 day job, there would be no publication attribution, even if I wanted to add it.

I do not have the luxury of knocking back jobs, and like everyone I need to pay my rent and buy food and the rest of my expenses. I knocked back this job back.

Have you had an experience like this? How did you respond? How can we let more experienced researchers know this is really not OK?


In recognition of the excellent support and co-research over the last months, I acknowledge the listening labour** and kinship of Maximum McPherson and Dulcie McPherson, after Susan Naomi NordstromAmelie Nordstrom, and Coonan Nordstrom’s in Guilty of Loving You: A Multispecies Narrative (2018) published recently in Qualitive Inquiry. This article is a brilliant and beautiful example of co-researcher authorship attribution both situated in theory and ethical considerations.

*Australian University authorship policy is guided by the Vancouver Protocol 

** And yes, I read what I write to my cats.

Image: Net, gathering (blue) by Megan McPherson

Posted in academic writing, authorship, early career researchers | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

writing regularly – matching time and task.


You’ve all heard the advice that it’s good to write regularly. Perhaps it was phrased this way – productive writers write a lot because they write regularly. You’ve been told that you can get a lot done if you just write every day. That it’s no good hanging around waiting for the next big gap in your diary to magically appear because that may never happen.

But hang on. Perhaps you’ve also heard that not everyone who publishes a lot does regular writing and they manage to carve out big slabs of time when they write all the things at once. Some productive writers don’t follow the  maxim, yet they seem to organise themselves to write a lot anyway.

And I dare say you’ve probably heard that many people vary the amount of time they spend writing, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, depending on how much time they actually have available. Regular writers they might be, but they write for varying times, regularly.

But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that none of this is you. Yet. You think you want to write regularly and are not quite sure what to do other than sort out the time in your  life – each morning or night you’ll set aside time to write something. Anything.

Well not quite anything. And here’s the thing. A little -or a lot – of writing time can be highly productive. But that productivity depends on you knowing how to use whatever time you actually have wisely. You can get a lot done – or not much at all – in little bits of time, or in lots. You can waste regular time just as much as you can use it to be productive.

The thing is that you have to do a bit more than simply set aside time, sit down at the keyboard and write. You really don’t want to spend a lot of precious time, in big or little chunks  – however much time you have, a little or a lot – getting nowhere. Trying to sort out what to do, making several false starts and generally not going anywhere fast. You have to make the most of whatever time is available.

You need to match the task to the time.

Matching task and time requires a little bit of thinking ahead. It means a little bit of thinking about ALL of the tasks that go into a particular piece of writing, Writing is not simply sitting down and tapping away. Writing is also thinking, making notes, reading, sorting out references, selecting data, working out who to cite and not cite… there’s a lot of different types of work that add up to academic writing

And of course you can make that thinking ahead the first writing task that you do.

The easiest way to explain what I mean is to give you a hypothetical example.

Let’s say I want to write a paper about the ways in which a writing task can be organised. So there are a range of tasks that I have to do in order to make the paper happen.

I start a paper master file.

An early task which can be done in bite sized pieces – search the literatures. I can easily search and then store the results in one short sitting, then proceed in small steps to check out promising papers and flag them. I can read the title abstract introduction and conclusion as a way of building a short list. I don’t have to do that all in one sitting. As I find useful texts, I can capture them and their bibliographic details using my bibliographic software.

I can also amass empirical data that I need. Again this can be done in smaller bursts or in one larger block of time. I store cut and paste selections of data in a separate doc in the master file.

I might then want to develop my ideas. I might first of all want to use  some prompts and do some speed writing. For example I can finish these sentences…

My paper is about… the reason I am writing is to influence/inform/challenge/etc …  who/what ….. so that… . The paper is needed because…

In order for the paper to work I need to argue… I need to provide evidence that…

But I could also brain storm or write some chunks of stuff.

I could then write a tiny text abstract for the paper. And at the same time, before or after I could sort out a title which sums up the major message that the paper is going to give – the point I want to make.

Once I have a tiny text, it acts as a kind of road map for the first draft of the paper. I can then write it piece by piece, in big and larger gobbets and slabs of time.

By having matched time and task I can keep in touch with my paper no matter how little or much time I happen to have available. The paper is not left sitting until I have a day to do the literature search or three days to write the first draft. I  can manage a little something or a larger something or a very substantive something and keep at it.

I can chip away at essential bits of the paper and keep the momentum going as long as I am working at a task that is useful to the writing.

Regular writing is good if you know how to use your time to advantage. If you have thought through all of the various things that you have to do as part of writing. If you recognise that actually putting hand to mouse is dependent on associated tasks of reading, noting, brainstorming, organising.

Matching time and task is an important part of making a regular writing habit work for you.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Posted in academic writing, time, Tiny Text, writing regularly | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

you expect what? hyper performativity and academic life

This is a guest post from Dr Julie Rowlands, Deakin University, Australia. Julie is concerned about problems created by institutional demands for academic hyper-performativity. Perhaps you are too. 


Recently my university’s central research office promoted a workshop for PhD students seeking an academic career and at early career academics. It was called something like ‘managing expectations about teaching and research’. The workshop organisers claimed it was aimed at encouraging participants to develop reasonable expectations of both teaching and research performance and workloads – not aiming too high and not aiming too low.

On the face of it, this is a good thing. However, positioned immediately below the workshop description was the presenter’s bio. In ten short years, and on a full teaching and research load, this academic had published more than 70 peer reviewed papers (that’s 10 per year), supervised multiple PhD students to completion and won many funded grants. It’s hard to imagine doing this in the kind of balanced work and home life that the workshop was promoting.

The potential effects of this curated synopsis represented by the presenter’s bio are significant. Early career academics I spoke to felt that the list of achievements carried the hidden message that this is what we should all be achieving and if we are not then we are either not doing enough or are failing. This is completely at odds with what the workshop proclaimed as its intent. It also overlooks the decontextualized nature of the bio. We don’t immediately know what discipline the presenter is from and the effect of this on the nature and form of their academic work. For example, in some disciplines such as the sciences, the tradition of shorter multi-authored papers means that a long list of publications is more likely than, say, in the humanities and the social sciences where long, single authored papers are still common. The availability of grants and PhD students vary significantly by discipline. Gender, race and social class also have significant differential effects.

Institutionalised demands for academic hyper-performativity can also be part of formal academic workload models. Last week another Australian university announced cash incentives for highly cited papers and even larger cash incentives for papers published in certain highly prestigious journals. Such incentives, either in the form of cash or via other means, are intended to inspire success but the pressure is intense. This is reinforced when academics who can’t sustain the desired level of research output are encouraged to take up teaching only appointments so that they do not impact on research assessment outcomes.

In highlighting these examples I don’t wish to single out two particular universities unfairly. These practices are widespread in many nation states. The point is that promotion by universities of idealised lists of research outputs can easily, if inadvertently, become an institutionalised demand for academic hyperperformativity. What is being promoted here is a sustained level of research output that many (even most) academics cannot hope to achieve. It is especially insidious because such demands typically cover four dimensions simultaneously: quality, quantity, speed and duration. That is, the research output must be of very high quality, produced very quickly, there must be a lot of it, and it needs to be ongoing.

Institutionalised demands for academic hyper performativity, even if inadvertent, are problematic for many reasons. Such demands give the impression that everyone on the academic playing field has access to the same opportunities and benefits – when this is clearly not the case. And that careers and outputs are directly comparable across disciplines, when they are not. They also give the impression that success occurs in a smooth upward trajectory when this is rare in academia.

As a scholar of higher education systems I understand that status accrued through research excellence is one of the most valuable assets for many universities. However those who produce this research are people, with all the vulnerabilities and foibles that this entails. Messages that suggest on the one hand that we should care about such vulnerabilities whilst on the other promote levels of performance that are unrealistic for most are highly problematic, especially, but not only, for early career researchers. I think it’s time we talked about this more often.

Do you have anything to add? Use the comments…

Photo by Dennis Olsen on Unsplash

Posted in academic life, academic writing, career, early career researchers, hyper performativity, Julie Rowlands | Tagged , , , , | 20 Comments

five clues – choosing the right journal

Journal editors often report that the major reason for desk rejecting papers – that is they send the papers back to the author rather than send them out to reviewers – is that the paper doesn’t fit their journal. The rejected paper is about something that the journal just isn’t interested in.

So what does this ‘fit’ actually mean? And how can someone new to academic publishing make sure that they choose a journal that will be interested in what they have to say?

Well, here’s the beginning of an answer to these important questions.

It helps first to think about how journals start, how they come to be. Journals are usually set up by an academic network of people who feel that their mutual interest is not currently covered in sufficient depth by any other journal. Their shared scholarly interest may be in an emerging field of inquiry, around a new theoretical or methodological development, and/or on a particular position on and in an established field. Some journals originate in just this way from learned societies and from special interest groups in conferences. Some journals are also now set up in opposition to paywalled cousins: these do not necessarily cover new content, they aim to make existing scholarship more widely available.

Having a journal is a key strategy for extending a field of knowledge or consolidating an emerging one. Key debates and literatures are mapped, developed and interrogated. Some academics also come to prominence through their continued contributions to particular journals, and the references made to their work by other contributors.

Editors and Editorial Boards aim to build up papers, issues and volumes which, together and over time, come to be a significant body of work. Journals can thus be understood as knowledge-building communities. These communities are engaged in an ongoing set of inter-related conversations about shared interests.

Understanding the journal as an artefact of a specific scholarly community, and as a conversation has a number of implications, including how any paper must join a relevant ongoing journal conversation. But the implication I’m concerned with here is that some papers will fit in the journal community and its knowledge building goals – and some won’t.

And the second thing. Journal communities police their borders, norms, shared assumptions and ‘truths’ more or less vigorously. Some journals are more open to new ideas and newcomers than others. But one of the journal editor’s jobs is to sort out the interlopers, those people who have no apparent hope of joining in the conversation. Editors make a decision about whether an author is going to contribute to building knowledge, or not. Desk rejections by an editor are essentially gate-keeping activities which maintain the knowledge aims and claims of the journal community.

So how does the new arrival to publishing ever get to know about the hidden rules, conventions, interests and idiosyncrasies of a journal? This is a real issue as usually no one tells you. And journal mission statements often aren’t much help as they are written by and for those already in the know, in the community.

Well, here’s five things to consider, five things that can help unlock the codes around journal publication. I’ve used the word code quite deliberately as I want to signal that choosing a journal is a decoding exercise, a looking-for-clues process.


  • Ask yourself what journal communities you are already part of

While you may not yet have published anything, it is likely to be the case that you have already found particular journals useful. These are journals that cover subjects relevant to your research, they use methods that are of interest to you, they offer theoretical or empirical resources that you have used. In taking up what’s on offer in these journals, you have joined in a conversation. You are not yet speaking, but you are also not simply sitting and listening. You are actively connecting your work with that of the knowledge community in the journal. And without really thinking about it you have probably learnt some of the key debates, literatures, ways of writing and key figures from that community. These journals are probably the ones where your work will fit most easily.

  • Check out the Editors and Editorial Boards

Editors and Editorial Boards are key figures in a journal community. If you select a likely journal, but then find you haven’t heard of any of the editors or board members then this is probably not an easy place for you to put your work. You aren’t in the conversation. You can, of course, make yourself familiar with at least some of these people and their work and thus get a bit of a handle on how this journal community works. But you may not want to do that at the start of your publishing career. You may want to choose a journal where you already have a bit of an idea what’s going on.

  • Get expert advice

Ask someone more experienced, someone you trust in your field, to tell you about the particular interests of your journal short list. You see, journals that appear on the surface to address the same topic won’t necessarily be the same. For instance, if there are several journals all of which have sociology in their titles, it doesn’t mean that they all cover the same topics in the same way. There may be very significant differences in the types of sociological topics and methods that they cover. You need to know these academic journal politics – and people who have been around the field for some time can tell you, if you ask. You may even luck out and find a journal paper which analyses the journals in your field – a great cheat sheet if you can get it. If you can’t find someone to help, look at short listed journals for yourself, searching for the differences between them.

You can:

  • Investigate the journal community

Look at the publisher’s website for any interviews with Editors to hear them talk about the purposes of their journal. Look for any youtube clips of authors talking about and talking up their papers. Ask yourself who reads this journal. What disciplines are the regular readers and writers who will be your reviewers? Where are they based? What scholarly traditions do they come from? What do they write about? What theoretical approaches do they use? What methods do they use? What don’t they do? How is your work like their’s?

  • Decode the journal conversation

Look at the topics, titles and abstracts of issues of the journal for the last two to four years. What topics do they address? Do there seem to be particular angles that they take? Try to see any patterns that might be important. See the journal as data and bring an analytic headset to the task. Can you discern any particular lexicon or particular epistemologies used? What type of research is most common? What kinds of literatures are cited most often?

These five strategies will start to help you understand journal ‘fit’.

Now, someone – Dr Deluded perhaps – is probably thinking that my approach to choosing a journal is pretty time-consuming. Yes. It is. At the start. But it’s no more time-consuming than sending your paper in, waiting for ages, and then having your work desk rejected.

And the time required to decode journals diminishes with experience. As you become more familiar with your field, you get much better at choosing the right journal for your work. You get to understand the field that you are in and the journals that fit your work. It becomes a kind of second nature to know where to send something – and this is of course why choosing the right journal is hard for less experienced writers. They haven’t yet learnt the journals game.

Experienced academics just seem to ‘know’ which journals work for them. But this is only because they have, over time, done versions of all of five strategies above, and probably engaged in a bit of trial and error as well.

Unfortunately, there is no magic pill to learn about all of the potential journals, journal communities and conversations that you might engage with. But it doesn’t take that long to find at least one or two journals where you can place your work. And that’s all you need at the start. Just one or two of the right journals to set you on your way.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Posted in academic writing, choosing the right journal, journal, journal article, journal publication, publishing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

introducing dr deluded

Meet Dr Deluded. Dr Deluded is angry. Very angry.

marina-khrapova-670759-unsplash.jpgDr Deluded just can’t get published.

It’s not that he doesn’t try. Dr Deluded writes a lot and submits to journals. In fact, he is so keen to get his work out into the world that he sends his manuscripts off as soon as he is finished with them. But he is consistently bothered and bewildered by the number that are desk rejected. He is convinced that Editors are out to get him.

Dr Deluded is making a few key mistakes which are contributing to his continued lack of publication success. Here’s five of the most important. He:

  1. doesn’t research the journal he is submitting to

Continued desk rejects suggest that Dr Deluded is not doing his journal homework. Dr Deluded assumes that if the title and mission statement of the journal have some synergy with his topic that means he will automatically get accepted. But journals are quite particular knowledge communities and they have different expectations about what they will accept. They each have their own implicit rules and conventions too. As the first line of decision-making about “fit”, Editors usually look to see whether the paper sits neatly within the journal, and meets expectations. If it doesn’t, well, it’s curtains for you Deluded. Editors regularly report that the major reason for desk rejection is that the paper has been sent to the wrong journal, but Dr Deluded hasn’t read that advice. Poor chap, he just hasn’t worked out that he is writing for a different reader than the readers of the journals he’s chosen.

2.  thinks that a written paper is a done paper

Dr Deluded suffers from premature satisfaction syndrome. Revise?  It ain’t me babe. He believes that it’s best to get the paper off to the journal to get reviewer feedback which will help him do the revisions. He doesn’t let a paper sit for a few weeks so that he can come back to it with fresh eyes. He doesn’t have any particular strategies for revision. In fact, he doesn’t think about revision at all, he thinks it’s all just a matter of a teensy bit of editing – correct a few typos and sentences and that’s it. Dr Deluded would certainly never consider giving a paper to a colleague to get their response. No, if it’s written, that’s good enough.

3. writes everything in his own inimitable way

Dr Deluded has a strong critique of academic journals. He thinks that they are stuffy, pompous and hard to read. Well, he may well be right. But that doesn’t mean that his writing will have an easy ride. It doesn’t mean that book publishers will fall over themselves to publish his PhD and journal reviewers will love his eccentric syntax. Dr Deluded either needs to find academic outlets that will accept his particular approach to writing, or tone down what he does just enough to make it through the reviewing process. Or get together with a group of like-minded others and start his own open access publication.

4. wants to write all of the things

Dr Deluded is very flattered by requests to contribute. He says yes to every special issue, every book chapter and every op-ed piece, regardless of whether they are directly in his field or not. He is afraid of missing out on something – that conference that his best friend keeps talking about but is really out of his field? Why not, it’s just a paper. He seriously overcommits – that edited book that brings this year’s chapter total to ten? Ooh go on then. Dr Deluded knows that he can write fast, so hell to the yes.

5. likes turning a project into shed loads of papers

Dr Deluded thinks that it is more than OK to write fifteen articles from one small piece of research, each taking a slightly different angle. His papers often make the same argument over and over again and use the exact same set of references. Sometimes he even cuts and pastes from one paper to another. Dr Deluded hasn’t quite cottoned on. He doesn’t get that a significant contribution to knowledge is not an emaciated one. And that, in reality, he is better served in the long run by fewer and more substantial papers than a lot of rather meagre ones.

Dr Deluded has a quality problem.

Dr Deluded doesn’t know how to ensure that his work is as good as it can be. And he also doesn’t do the work that means readers will see the quality in, and of, his research and writing. He may occasionally luck out and get a paper through the reviewing process. But he is actually wasting a lot of his own and other people’s time by not doing his homework, rushing things and salami slicing his work.

Less haste more speed, and all that means, might help Dr Deluded quite a lot.

Other posts that might be of interest:

Revision not editing

Tactics for proof reading

Creative revision

Image: Marina Khrapova on Unsplash


Posted in academic writing, conference papers, journal, publishing, revision, revision strategy | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

not letting go of the text


A couple of weeks ago I was asked if I had any advice for someone who struggled to let go of their writing – they wrote but then it was really difficult to send the writing off to their supervisor. And clearly, this was an issue. Sending the stuff off is part and parcel of doing the doctorate, and part and parcel of any subsequent scholarly work too.

So I’ve been mulling over this not-wanting-to-part-with-the-words feeling.

And I must confess, letting go of a text wasn’t an issue I had thought about much. So I did what I always do when in doubt, I googled to see what might already be out there.

Well, there was nothing particularly appropriate. A lot of stuff about giving up on relationships. But I wondered whether this angle had anything to offer.

The giving up on relationships advice largely seemed to focus on sorting yourself out: checking that your expectations are realistic, understanding that you can’t control other people, avoiding getting fixated on particular outcomes, being open to change, not being afraid of negative emotions, doing what works for you and so on… Well, all very well, and I am sure that some of this is very good advice.

And I am sure that letting go of the words could be to do with negative emotions like fear, and worry about being scrutinised. But you know, I’m a social scientist and I know that emotions and behaviours are formed over time, and they are generally also relational and structural. Feelings come from somewhere and that somewhere often matters a great deal.

Thinking more about the social aspects of academic writing, I began to jot down some alternative lines of thinking about reluctance to part with writing:

In general, writing is high stakes academic work. We are judged on the apparent quality of our writing by examiners, referees and our institutions. So being concerned about how our writing will be seen has a firm and rational basis in the realities of academic life.

And just as important is the nature of supervision. Pedagogical relationships, particularly those in supervision, are evaluative. The job of the PhD supervisor is to offer constructive critique which will help the PhDer achieve their floppy cap and gown. But this relationship can, depending on the person and their individual life experiences, feel a lot less than supportive. For example –

  • If you are used to getting the equivalent of all gold stars then getting the supervisory track changes treatment can feel a lot more like never being good enough.
  • If you are used to being critiqued, then it’s just more of the same and maybe you just wish it might be different.
  • If you haven’t experienced this kind of evaluative pedagogical practice before, or for a long time, then it might feel like an unwanted belittling of what you know and who you are.
  • Or maybe you just want the text to be so perfect nothing can be said about it – and that really isn’t going to be the case, ever.

And of course, supervisors can be more or less skilful, and more or less patient, in what they do.

All those possibilities suggest an open conversation, between PhDer and supervisor, about the best way to deal with critique. This might be needed sooner rather than later in the supervision relationship – and certainly if things are going wrong. But conversation is often easier said and done because of the power relationship embedded in supervision. However, discussing the issue of not wanting to let the writing go might be easier than discussing critique per se. And worst might come to worst – it may be that it’s just not possible to change interaction patterns and you have to find ways – preferably in the company of other PhDers – to deal with the process of critique.

But maybe there is something else going on – some other combination of history and relational-structural issues that I can’t quite imagine in the not wanting to send off the writing feeling.

And it does seem that whatever I imagine might be going on ultimately still needs the reluctant text writer to do something themselves. Ultimately it appears that the PhDer who hangs on to the text has to decide to do something. (Yes, all very 12 steppish!)

So what might there be other than just sucking it up?

Well, I do wonder if finding a writing partner mightn’t be a useful thing to do. Get someone you trust to read through what you have to send off, before you decide to step away from the send button. Or perhaps you could set up some kind of reward system for yourself when you send off the text when you don’t want to.

But I confess, I really don’t have a lot of advice that is helpful for this problem. So, in the classic social media move, I now want to say – maybe some of you reading this post, might have things to add. If you have experienced not-wanting-to-send-off-the-writing, what worked for you? What did you do – or do you do- in order to deal with this problem?

Related posts:

Finished your first draft? Now it’s cut and come again

On not writing from the PhD.

Image credit: Jakob Owen on unsplash.

Posted in academic writing, critique, supervision, text, text work/identity work | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

why​ is writing a literature review such hard work? part two

Yes, some examiners do ask doctoral researchers to change their literature review to show how they are “located” in the text.

OK, let’s pretend this is you. What do those pesky examiners mean exactly?

At one level this is a simple task. You are being asked to say

What key concepts and interpretations you have taken from the literature to inform the design of the study. Because no one does a project entirely from scratch – we all use other people’s work as building blocks – we have to specify exactly what we have borrowed. And you are also being asked to show how you have used concepts, approaches and/or interpretations. (This may well mean for instance that you have to refer back to the literatures when the methods are being explained. For instance, surveys almost always use literatures that have been introduced and explained earlier.)

What key concepts and interpretations from the literatures you will use to  analyse your data. A deductive analysis – working from a general theory to the particular – and an abductive analysis – putting the general and the specific together to form an explanation – require extensive use of literatures.  The concepts and/or approaches that are used in analysis must appear first in the literatures review, may then be taken up in the methods chapter, when the analytic approach is outlined, and are referred to again in the chapters which report the analysis. Inductive analysis – working from the data – also uses literatures, and these also appear first in the literatures chapter and then again during the analysis report and discussion. Even if you read “stuff” after you finished your preliminary analysis, you generally still introduce them earlier. The exception to this rule is if you are writing a chronological thesis, as you might if you are doing action research.

What general approach to the topic that you have taken and where your work sits within the field. Maybe your work sits neatly within an established area. You just need to explain this. You might want to situate yourself in opposition to work which addresses the same topic, but takes a different approach. Both of these options –  work that is like yours, and work that is not – situate your study in the field and show where your contribution will be made. Your research will add something to work that is like yours, and say something to the work that is not. But some research brings multiple strands of research together, so you need to explain what strands you are using and how they fit together. And then you need to locate that in your field alongside the research that yours seeks to inform.

This ‘situating’ work is not easy. If you were to assume that the literature review is a summary or synthesis, then you will have trouble doing this locational work. The problem comes from thinking that the literatures review is simply about saying what is already known about the topic.  But it’s not…

If you think of the entire locational exercise as an argument, you get that the writing is about reasoning. About making a case. Not reporting. Not describing. You use the literatures to argue why your work has been designed as it has and why it is conducted in a particular way. You  use the literatures to help you make the case for your research.

So when you locate, you must move through the review reporting as you go how your work connects with the literatures – or summarise at the end of each chunk how the literatures inform your research.

UnknownSome scholars refer to this kind of intellectual work as the transformation of knowledge. You shift from simply restating other people’s knowledge to presenting your own version of the “stuff”. Joseph Harris describes transforming knowledge as making four integrated moves:

(1) coming to terms with the substantive content, ideas and arguments in the literatures

(2) forwarding – using the literatures to support your argument

(3) countering – thinking against any particular argument that might be made against yours

(4) taking an approach – using the same approach as another scholar (or group) as a stepping stone to somewhere new.

When you take your own perspective on the literatures, and use it to make your case, you can be said to have transformed knowledge. In sum then. Literatures work is a process of locating your work – situating it in the field, and showing what you build on and talk with – and this means that you have been, and are transforming knowledge to position and explain your own study.

51rBglFYB7L.jpgBut wait there’s even more to locational work than this.

Locating your work also requires you to imagine yourself and your work on an equal footing with that of others. You have to have the chutzpah to use the work of others, who are more experienced and expert, to make your own. You can’t be in awe of the literatures. Equally, you don’t need to cut other people’s work into ribbons. You simply have to use it critically and appreciatively. After all, that’s why the literatures exist – to inform and to support further knowledge building.

And thats sometimes easier said than done. There is scholarly-identity work going on when you locate your own work in relation to that of other scholars. Locational literatures work require you to adopt the rhetorical position of a fully-fledged scholar able to hold their own in a scholarly conversation. In transformational and locational literatures work, you are asserting and explaining your selection and interpretation of other people’s work, and laying claim to using their ideas in particular ways for your own ends. It’s all about you, not them. Barbara and I call this text work/identity work.

It is this complex combination of sophisticated argument and authoritative writer that is so hard to do. You are simultaneously transforming knowledge – using the literatures as a resource from which you make the argument for your study – while also establishing yourself as a bona fide researcher able to make a worthwhile and worthy contribution to the literatures.

Posted in academic writing, Joseph Harris, literature review, text work/identity work, transforming knowledge | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments