Perhaps you are one of those people who writes a conference paper and then sends it off almost immediately to a journal. But perhaps not. Maybe you have rather more conference papers stockpiled than you’d like – conference papers that never seem to make the transition from conference to journal article. If so, then you are probably a conference paper hoarder.
One of the most common problems I see in my writing workshops is conference paper hoarding. I rarely see people who don’t write anything, who are just “unproductive”, as their line managers might put it. No. It’s not that people aren’t writing. Far from it. They are writing papers. And often they are writing a lot of papers. But these are conference papers, not publications. Not papers published in conference proceedings, just papers given at the conference to the random group of people who turned up in the session. It’s not that people aren’t getting their stuff out there and talking about it. Far from it. They are engaged in scholarly conversations with others – just at conferences.
The problem for the hoarder is that it’s almost inevitable that they become overwhelmed about the prospect of doing anything with all of their hard written words.
If this is you, then you really need to make a plan about how to tackle the pile.
You need to make a list of all of those conference papers.
Then you need to decide if there are any that you’re not going to work on. At all. Ever.You need to cull these, put them in a separate folder and say goodbye.
Maybe there are one or two or more papers that were just about getting feedback or were interim workings of some research data, and you’ve now moved on from them. Maybe there are one or two papers that just didn’t work. Or one or two that say the same thing. Or one or two that you’re just over… You need to put these aside too.
Now consider those that are left. Put the remaining papers in priority order.
Here are some things you might consider when prioritising:
- Are there any papers where the data could get a bit past its use-by-date – do you need to get this stuff out fairly smartly? If so, these papers are higher up the list.
- Are there any papers here that speak to a ‘hot topic’? Near the top then.
- Are there any papers which are more hefty in their contribution than others? If you are trying to build up a cv then it is important to work on those- but this may take a while.Perhaps this is work that is concurrent with more easy to manage papers. Put these tough papers close to the top.
- Are there any papers that will help potential funders or employers understand you have track record in a particular field? If funding or job getting is an urgent issue, get those papers at the very top of the list.
- Are there papers from your PhD that really ought to see the light of day? These papers not only represent three or more years of your life, but the stuff has also already been judged by senior colleagues as a ‘contribution to knowledge’. Get them done, dusted, out the door, unless you really can’t bear them any more, in which case, set them aside.
Once you have an ordered priority list, you can begin to think about who you really want to read the papers and thus where they might go. You need to make a list of possible journals for each paper. Then go check the journals out to help you to make your final decision. Write the name of the target journal next to each paper.
Your list should now be numbered 1 to end (however many you actually have ) – and I have seen people have up to 15 or 16 on their list. Each numbered paper has a journal name next to it. It’s a good idea at this point to transfer all of this information to a table, but that’s not necessary if you don’t like tables. Column one is the number, column two the name of the paper, column three the name of the target journal, and column four is…
Yes, the next task is to decide on very realistic completion dates. You must bring your list into contact with your calendar. Sad to say, this is often the really confronting part of this exercise. You have to decide – how many papers can you realistically get done in a year? And then you can see how long it is going to take to get all of those conference papers converted. Too many? Too long? So maybe it’s time to be more ruthless and cull again.
Each of us has our own answer to the time question and there are no hard and fast rules, institutional audit requirements notwithstanding. The number of papers you can do in a year is in part about:
- the nature of the paper that you are writing – some papers are just easier and quicker than others
- your experience in writing papers- it does get relatively more manageable, most of the time, the more you write papers
- whether you are co-writing or single authoring
- how you are accustomed to write
- the available time that you have.
One thing that holds many people back from making headway on their conference paper hoard is the mismatch between their time and the way in which they are accustomed to write. A full time PhD sets people up to write in large slabs of uninterrupted time. A full time doctoral researcher is trained – over several years – to write most days and for longish periods. Unfortunately, this kind of time is not available post PhD for the vast majority of academics, whether in full time positions or in precarious work. There is often a clear choice – eat into your family and non-job related time in order to get the long periods of time writing, or learn how to write in much shorter and more frequent chunks.
If you have decided to (learn how to) write in chunks, then it’s not a bad idea to use the first paper on your priority conference paper list to re-orient your writing habits. This may mean you don’t start first with the most ambitious and toughest paper. Instead, work on one you already feel pretty confident about, and where there is a decent, good-enough journal in your sights.
Next week I’ll talk about the task of converting a conference paper to a journal article and then in the third post in this little series, I’ll come back to the question of writing in small chunks.
GiF credit; Brooklynbookgirl via Giphy.