if only …

This is a confession. One I know I shouldn’t be making in public. But I am.

I need to explain, before I let you in on my guilty secret, that I am a fanatical reader. I read every day and have done for as long as I can remember. I was one of those kids who read well before they went to school. Growing up I read anything and everything – books, cereal boxes, magazines, lists of instructions – it didn’t matter what the words were about, I just read them. I read everywhere too – at the table, on the bus, in bed. And I still read every night, usually for about an hour before turning off the light.

It’s a family thing. I learnt the book habit from my parents. My mother allegedly started a house-fire when she was small by reading a book under her bed by candle light. I have no idea if this is true, but I certainly never knew her not to have a book on the go. We made a weekly trip to the library and we each always took out the maximum number of books we could borrow. Often the librarian would have new books set by for us. What a treat.

I still get over-excited about new books. Things I haven’t yet read. That’s something to really look forward to. I love not knowing what a book is going to offer. I enjoy the anticipation – the book is ready, waiting for me be done at the end of the day.

And yes, I feel this way about academic books too. I love a new monograph. I love an edited collection. It can be a topic that is tangential to my own work, but which just looks interesting. I’ve learnt that nearly all the academic books I choose to borrow or buy, no matter how apparently unrelated to my immediate interests, have something to say to me. They are generally worth putting time – and quite often effort – into.

But here’s the thing. This is the confession. I don’t feel this way about journals. Ironic isn’t it, since journals are apparently the gold standard of scholarly publishing. Of course there are loads of journal articles that I find interesting and useful. There are journals I read regularly. But I don’t actually look forward to getting a new issue of a journal. I don’t carry a journal or two with me on the train, on holiday. I don’t love journals like I do books. Somehow journals are work, and often dull work at that.

My relative indifference to journals is in part because of their relentless same-ness. The papers are roughly the same length. Written in much the same structure. And overwhelmingly in the same kind of author voice. Well yes, I know there are exceptions to this rule and the occasional journal does publish more varied papers in different genres. But these exceptions are not enough to change my general attitude.

Journals are work. Journal articles need to be recorded and noted and categorised – knowledge of The Literatures is never static, it is always growing and expanding. Journal articles inform current and future work in utilitarian ways. Reading and keeping up with what’s in the journals in your field – it’s mandatory.

Yes, I know this attitude is silly. Yes. I do. I know that work and pleasure are not mutually exclusive. This is why I like academic books just as much as I like fiction. Yes, I know that journal ennui is irrational. But we all have secret foolishness, don’t we? We just don’t talk about them that much. Its not a very scholarly thing to do. (Neither is writing non-serious blog posts😏)

But I’ve done it now. You know my guilty secret. I don’t much like academic journals and papers. Ironic for someone who spends a lot of time teaching other people how to play the journal game. Ironic for someone who is a journal editor.

And…  well, here’s the thing. This is what I’d like to read the next time I open an academic journal. On the very first page. Before I get to anything else.


You will always be surprised when you read this journal.

You will read about people, places and events you didn’t know you wanted to. You will agree with things you didn’t know you thought. You will take pleasure in insights that you didn’t know you needed to know.

You will be delighted by our authors. They have spent time polishing their craft, honing their prose, structuring their narratives in ways that are pleasing to your ear, heart and mind.

You will encounter strangers who keep company with our authors. You will feel compelled to follow them up. You will find wondrous connections and rewarding resonances with your own work.

You will want to write for us. Not because we are rated or ranked or reviewed well. But because our journal is born from scholarly care and affection, produced with profound respect for the material. And because we are imaginative, creative and take delight in the written word just as you do.

You will leave each issue sad that there is not more. You will eagerly wait for the next one. It will arrive in your inbox as a welcome gift.

The next time you read us, we will be even better than before. You are our reason for being. We seek your pleasure, not your use.


About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
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11 Responses to if only …

  1. KK says:

    I agree. Journal articles are so restricted by academic protocol, they end up often saying so little and rehash so much. Books, however offer a richer world and invite the imagination, the chance to dream, and read more, and then read more again. The arrival of a journal does not carry the same anticipation of a brown package from Book Depository- ah yes!. My confession is that only once, I made myself finish reading all the books I owned before I bought any more. Rather than satisfying, it felt awful to not have a pile or 2 of books waiting for me


  2. Tuluiga says:

    Thank you for sharing its good to know and understands about various academic writing that also makes me wonder how do I feel about reading journal articles. As sometimes I do not really like reading them for some reason. Thanks again.


  3. Lovely piece, thank you. Will it go into the journal(s) you edit?!


  4. Douglas Taylor says:

    Well said! As a (dreadful euphamism) “mature” student now finally completing his PhD I am doing much more academic reading than I’ve ever done before – and it is so dreary. It’s also so unreadable. I have done research on the readability of companies’ annual financial reports and noted that, as the results detriorate, so does the readability – largely to obfuscate the truth. I am hoping to find the time to do the same research on all the four star journals – with the hypothesis that the Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level will be about 25, requiring at least two PhD’s to understand the abstract. Yes, that is too cynical, but I really cannot see why academics have to describe something as a sugary syrup containing pectin and elements of diced citrus fruit when Marmalade would do.
    I have just been recommended to your blog and have found much of use going through your archives. Thank you.


  5. Brigitte says:

    To the horror of our PhD students I yesterday expressed what I now know to call ‘journal ennui’ (it was a lecture on blogging – and of course I expressed no ‘blogging ennui’!). Loved the last sentence of your blog post: ‘We seek your pleasure, not your use.’ That will become increasingly difficult… just saw something a new ‘knowledge exchange framework’…. Pleasure has no place, it seems, in ‘knowledge exchange’ and ‘transfer’…..


  6. I’ve just started reading a very uplifting book – an anthology (a genre that may not count for promotion audits, but one that, as a PhD reader, I absolutely cherish) that promises to ‘animate’ and restore ‘humanism’ to scholarly writing …

    It’s called “The Future of Scholarly Writing”: http://www.palgrave.com/us/book/9781137520463

    … not finished it, but get the feeling I will have by tomorrow!


  7. Beverly L. Bragg says:

    You’ve just reminded me what a gift reading is. Thank you for sharing.


  8. It looks like Your dream journall is Visions for Sustainability!


  9. westville22 says:

    I’m thinking your confession is more an expression of preference … Many of the things you hope for in journals exist, but not consistently and that surely pertains to fiction, edited collections, etc., too. What your post did for me was to bring my own sense of difference within academia (and I suppose it’s a confession) into perspective: I grew up in a household without books, disliked reading and have simply come to accept that I must read – mostly instrumentally. Occasionally I find myself drawn in, but it has nothing to do with the format, but rather the talent of the writer.


  10. Hell to the YES! If only the journal format could be opened up to creativity, purpose, and inspiration. No surprise I’m pursuing a qualitative doctorate 🙂


  11. prior.. says:

    “We seek your pleasure, not your use.”
    what a nice ending…
    and much to ponder here – thanks for sharing


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