my academic writing pipeline

I’ve been asked a lot of questions lately about my own writing practices, so I’m going to post a bit about them over the next week or so. The first question is a common one and it’s about how I organise myself to write more than one or two things a year.

I think of writing like a pipeline and not like a series of separate tasks. There are things that are nearly ready and things that are in the middle and things that are just starting. So I generally have quite a lot of writing on the go. I don’t do one thing at once, I always have abstracts, drafts, book manuscripts in various stages. I put this pipeline system down to being/having been both a headteacher and a parent, both jobs require juggling multiple tasks!

The writing on the go generally falls into four broad categories:

(1) stuff I have to write because it’s associated with research projects. This ranges from the mandatory final report to funders, to project blog posts. I usually have some kind of publishing plan in mind for each research project – this will include a couple of conference papers which then need to be turned into journal articles. Sometimes there is a book proposal and book manuscript which come out of projects. If I am working with co-researchers and/or research associates then the plan always involves all of us getting a go at first authoring.

(2) stuff I get asked to write. See last week’s post on how I decide what to do and not do. This is also a way to get out stuff I have to write – so trying to make the invite fit my existing projects is an economical thing to do.

(3) stuff that’s tied to supervision. I generally offer to co-write at least one paper with doctoral researchers – they don’t always take me up on it and sometimes we find it hard to get it together, but I do do this quite a bit. It’s always a pleasure to get the first doc research paper out there!

(4) Stuff I want to write. Sometimes this is the above things – part of the stuff I have to write and/or stuff I get asked to write or part of supervision. But there are often things that I have a bit of an idea about. I’ve been thinking about them off and on for a seriously long time and I finally get a clue about how to pull an actual paper together. Quite often the idea ‘arrives’ in my mind in the form of a title and an argument. These kinds of slow cooked papers don’t get written to order. They just sit there as kind of niggle in my mind and eventually some of them pop up to the top of my consciousness, not fully formed, but certainly in good enough shape to support a tiny text abstract and a plan.

Sometimes these kinds of ‘I want’ papers also crystallise pretty quickly in response to a conversation or to a call for contributions to a book or journal. I didn’t know I wanted to write something but then it seems I do, and I have an idea! These ‘instant ideas’ usually disrupt my nice well-ordered publication plan and insist on being written before anything else. Sometimes I write them as an extended abstract and then they stay quiet long enough for me to do some of the things that can’t wait.

Here is what my writing list for this year looks like.


The non-highlighted list at the top is four things that were mostly finished last year but proofed and published in 2014. The yellow list is six things that were done this year and are either in press or in an editor’s hands. Some of them will be published this year, some next. They might come back for a bit more attention but it won’t be much. The blue list is of six things I am currently in the middle of. These are next year’s publications. There are two books in there. The grey list is what I still have to do. This year the grey list includes a lot of conference papers and three chapters. The conference papers will be turned into potential journal articles next year and will probably make it into print in 2016 – 2017. The green list is two things I haven’t yet scheduled but need to be done – they are books to write in 2015 for 2016. A lot of these things are co-writing so it’s not quite as much as it first appears.

You can see that making a list like this means I have to really think about how to organise my time and how to handle invitations! There’s also a built-in self-satisfaction process here as things get moved up to the top section – Yes!!!!! It’s done.

You might notice that patter blogging isn’t in there at all. That’s because this blog is just ongoing, it’s part of everyday activity, a bit like brushing your teeth but taking a bit more time. The research reports (pink) are on a separate page and I couldn’t fit them in here… but all of these things including research reports and patter are also programmed into my diary and as pop-up electronic reminders.

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
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2 Responses to my academic writing pipeline

  1. Haitham Al-Sheeshany says:

    Thanks a lot for the post. It is helpful indeed.

    I am glad I found this space of yours, it comes highly recommended 🙂

    I am going to read the earlier post about this issue.

    Thanks again,


  2. Pingback: How to run a blog for 8 years and not go insane | The Thesis Whisperer

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