academic writing – from Tiny Text to road map

But wait ! There’s more. In the last post I showed the usual way I develop a piece of writing from tables through graphic design to a Tiny Text.  This post completes the picture. Here I’m using a Tiny Text as a way to plot out a piece of writing The usual caveats apply. This only one strategy. You do you. You don’t have to do me.

The Tiny Text is a structured abstract form that supports the writer – in this case me – to develop the argument and contribution to the point where I can write large. The easiest way for me to explain this is to use an example. So here is an abstract of a real paper co written with my colleague Chris Hall. ( Apologies it’s paywalled, but maybe on research gate…)

The papers in the journal are no more than 6k words – we also had images so we had to write a little less. I wrote the first draft so I got to make some early decisions about the text.

And here it is organised as a Tiny Text.

Now, here is how that Tiny Text turns into the road map for the paper. Yes, in some cases there may be bits that need to be added to get from TT to road map, the Tiny Text doesn’t do everything. But in this example, the Tiny Text works a treat. It covers all that I am going to write. My Tiny Text provides the structure and the order of stuff for the paper.

My next step is to add approximate word counts to each of the sections.  You can see in the example that I have decided that the most words have to be spent – on the results and what they mean. That’s the basis for our contribution. The next biggest word count is allocated to explaining where the research fits with existing literatures and what theoretical resource we will draw on to make sense of the materials we generated. This completes the stuff from which we argue the specific contribution and its implications – the So What and Now What.

And then I do an additional task. Which I won’t bore you with in detail. Once i have my sections and word budget sorted, I go to my diary and find where I have no teaching and meetings and research visits. I then put each section of the paper into a diary slot – I make the time to write the introduction, methods, literature and theory etc. I know from my word budget roughly how much time I will need to write each one. (I could even do these sessions as a pomodoro if I wanted to – but I don’t.)

And I usually add additional time at the start for preparation work. This is when I get the various materials I need for each section together. During the preparation I often turn the Tiny Text into an extended outline – I add in key points as bullets as well as quotes and bits of analysed data. Ive got quite a bit of stuff already assembled. Alternatively I sometimes don’t do pre preparation, but begin the writing for each section with getting the material together. Then I have to allow additional time for each writing slot. They may be two slots each rather than one. 

This process means that when I come to the allocated time to write each section, I have a starting point and most of what I need already to hand. I also diary some follow-on times for revising and a target submission date. 

As important, marking out the times needed for writing each section in my electronic diary means I have planned how to get the paper done. But it also means that nobody else can put a meeting in at those times. And I know if I want to put replace a writing slot in my diary with something else, I have to go back and change all of the remaining slots so that I get the paper written. 

And a final thing. Occasionally I’m not this organised. Sometimes I can just sit down and write a paper because it already seems to be formed in my head. But this is rare. Mostly I use the process outlined here and in the last post to work through the stuff.

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in outline, Tiny Text, word budget and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to academic writing – from Tiny Text to road map

  1. Sara Cotterall says:

    This is SUCH a helpful illustration of how Tiny Texts work for you Pat. I have been reading about your Tiny Texts for years, and find the general idea really useful, but this “paint by numbers” demonstration is priceless.

    Thank you for sharing.


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