2019 was…

… the year of the book series. So I thought a little end of year discussion about book series might be in order.

Book series require a very particular kind of editorial work.

Editors have to have a good analysis of the field, they need to know what is and what isn’t already covered. And this field analysis is not just at the start when series editor wanna-bes convince a publisher that their idea is good. You have to keep up to date with what is being published. You also have to have a view of where the field might go – and where it should go. “We need less of that and more of this”, thinks the series editor.

Series editors have to understand what their series will do. Series need a purpose and a point of view. Some series are knowledge building – usually through monographs and edited collections. Knowledge building books not the same as trade books or text books; these are designed to support readers to understand and do something- think of methods or advice books, these are ‘trade’.

Series editors need to know their potential readers. This not only means who they are (researchers, students and/or professionals in a particular area ) but also where they are located. Once you know the who, what and where, the series editor can make sure that books will connect, ring true, appeal. Ideally, the series editor also wants to get authors from the range of target locations.

Book series editors have to have good networks. They need to know, or know how to get to, potential writers. Of course, sometimes series editors are approached by keen authors with ideas for a book. Occasionally the publisher will also get a proposal that they think will fit in the series. But mostly, series editors hustle. They get out and invite people to write. They hear someone present at a conference and talk to them about a possible book. They approach people they know and ask them what book they’d like to write. They suggest topics. They match-make co-authors.

It’s these things – place in the field, mission, readers and potential authors – that any book series proposal has to cover. A publisher must be convinced there is a need for the series, a market, a credible set of authors and enough ideas to make up an actual series, not just a couple of volumes.

So to my year.

I have one long standing knowledge-building series which I edit with two colleagues. Our series is not a huge seller, it’s quite niche – critical leadership studies in education. We don’t publish a lot, only one or two books a year as we don’t think there is the market for more. So series editing isn’t a particularly onerous task. As I write this post, there is one book in press (2020), two being written (2021) and another proposal nearing completion (2022). So there is a slow stream of books.

This year we had to have a bit of a think about whether we would, should, could continue with the series. A stocktake. Where were we up to and was it still worth continuing. Since we started, another publisher has begun a similar series. A competitor or companion? We had to ask ourselves whether there was there room for two of us. Would we just be duplicating effort? But it seems we still have ideas for potential writers and topics. So we decided to persevere for a bit longer. This series is not yet at its use-by-date.

Fanfare at this point. This year was the year I also said no. Well kind of. More accurately, I gave up on a new series. A publisher had suggested the possibility of an arts education series and I had asked two colleagues if they were interested. We had a couple of meetings (not easy as we live in three different countries) but I think none of us were really up for the work involved. So at this point this series is a no go.

9781138339149But letting go was not simply about that series. No, it was also because 2019 was the year when a new (advice) book series really kicked into gear.

The Insider Guides to Success in Academia.  Helen Kara and I collaboratively edit this series. As the series title suggests, it’s designed for doctoral and early researchers. We’ve commissioned eight books already – and the first one is now published, hooray, two are in press and another two are being read before being revised. We expect to have five books published by this time next year. And there are another three already under contract and several proposals on the way. (Cross fingers they all turn up, you know who you are and you know we’ll chase you up).

This series is more work than the first. For starters, there are just more books. But our editorial process is also pretty hands on. Helen and I hunt out authors and topics and look at proposals, as you’d expect. But we have also introduced a “beta reader” stage where three people read a penultimate draft and give feedback. And we feedback too. Because beta-reading isn’t a process usually done by our publisher (although it is by others) Helen and I have to manage it. We find the readers, get the manuscript out and back in. And then we give the combined feedback to authors. But beta-reading is not like a reviewing process, it’s more informal, and everyone knows who has written the book and who has commented.

9781138362598Helen and I are in relatively frequent contact about book series issues. We talk largely by skype, even though we live only a few train stops away from each other in the Midlands. It may seem silly for us not to meet face to face, but we are both busy women. We do occasionally manage to meet halfway, and we also meet with our publisher once a year.

Helen and I are both really pleased with this series. It’s our great pleasure to help these new books into the world. They are, like most of this series, new approaches and/or on important topics much less well travelled.

And I guess that’s ultimately why we do this series editing stuff. It’s certainly not for the money – like all academic books the royalties for series editing in no way take account of the amount of time we spend. But there is something very satisfying about shaping a series. It’s a creative process – a kind of curation of a collection which together makes a more substantive contribution than any one book could do on its own.

A good series does have an identity. It stands for, and as, a particular point of view on a field. So in its own distinctive way, editing a book series is another way to contribute to the wider scholarly conversation.

Roll on 2020 and all those new titles!

Posted in academic writing, book series, co-editing, editing, Helen Kara | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

a festive gift from patter – a checklist for revising methods chapters

2photo-pots-X1RQ3b6ZhUs-unsplash.jpg

PhDers sometimes find writing the thesis methods chapter a pretty tedious business. But the methods chapter is a key part of the examination process – it shows that the researcher knows how to research. You see, examiners make their decision – yes or no, this person can be Dr – on the back of this chapter. It’s not all that matters for sure, but get this chapter wrongish, and doubts arise, questions are asked, corrections loom.

Examiners are looking for the evidence in the text, and any accompanying appendices, that will allow them to tick the box that says the researcher can DO research.

And when examiners decide on methods, they are acting as stand-ins. They speak for both the discipline and the wider scholarly community. When they bring their knowledge of ‘standards’ to their evaluation of a doctoral text and viva, they aren’t reading and deciding as an individual, but as a gatekeeper.

So examiners read the methods chapter very carefully.

It is helpful therefore for doctoral researchers to understand some of the concerns that examiners bring to their reading. Understanding what examiners are interested in can guide the revision of the thesis. PhDers can make sure that all bases are covered before handing in.

So here are some of the key things that examiners look for.

The Researcher:

  • Is the researcher’s positionality made clear? (This may not be expected in some disciplines)

Research Design:

  • METHODOLOGY

Why was this methodology chosen? What does it have to offer? What claims does this methodology allow and disallow?

  • METHODS

What methods were chosen? What data are to be generated and how will these help answer the research question? Given that data are partial and particular, how are the inevitable blank spots acknowledged?

  • SETTING

Is the choice of setting explained? How does this context connect with the research question? Does the rationale for choice recognise the limits as well as the benefits of this context?

  • SAMPLE

Why was this sample selected? Was a particular approach used to make this choice?How was this done? If it is necessary for the reader to understand particular details about the sample, are these details provided and clearly signposted?

  • DATA GENERATION

What is the data? Are there important implications arising from inclusions and exclusions? When, where, and how was data generated? Was a theoretical or conceptual framework used and is this explained – or referred back to if it is presented earlier? Are the tools used available to the reader? Is a clear audit trail provided?? Were there any particular considerations or issues involved?

  • ETHICS

What approach is taken to ethical concerns – is this explained? What approach to anonymity and confidentiality has been taken? Were there any particular ethical concerns that arose during the research and how were these addressed?

Analysis:

  • APPROACH

In what tradition is the data analysis? What are the implications of using this approach?

  • PROCESS

How was sense made of the data? Is this made clear? Is (some of) the working available to the reader? Are the workings defensible/accurate?

  • TRUSTWORTHINESS

What steps were taken to ensure rigour? Is it clear how the full range of data is to be brought together? How has theory or conceptual framing informed the data work?

Now these don’t make a complete list. Nope. Sorry, there’s more. Specific disciplines and research approaches will add their own criteria. Supervisors know these and can add them in.

But these are at least a head start – and maybe a heads up.

 

You might also find these older posts helpful:

the audit trail 

methodology isn’t methods

three key things about methods chapters

 

Photo by 2Photo Pots on Unsplash

Posted in academic writing, data, data analysis, methodology, methods, methods chapter, research methods, revision, revision strategy, thesis revision | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

writing a second edition is much harder than I realised

This is a guest post from Mark Carrigan. Mark is a sociologist in the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge. His research explores how the proliferation of digital platforms is reshaping education systems, with a particular focus on knowledge production within universities. He is the author of Social Media for Academics, the second edition of which was published in October 2019.

thumbnail_prateek-katyal-xv7-GlvBLFw-unsplash.jpg

It all seemed like it would be so simple. I was delighted when Sage asked me in 2017 if I would produce a second edition of Social Media for Academics. It was only a year since the first edition had been released and it felt like a resounding vote of confidence in what I’d done and how people reacted to it. I imagined it would be a straightforward process which would only take a few months. How wrong I was.

The idea of a second edition sounds more simple than it is. There are things which will need to be added. There are things which will need to be removed. The challenge is to decide what to add and what to remove. I went through this with the lovely James and Diana from the Education team at Sage, feeling by the end of our meeting that we had cracked the list of new material: a range of topics which I realised had been missing from the first edition, some new developments which hadn’t emerged at the time of writing and extensions of the features like ‘potential pitfalls’ which I had included throughout the original text. I came away with a sense that this would be a vastly easier undertaking than writing a new edition. Somewhat bigger than writing a paper but far less than writing a book.

Since the first edition I’d been routinely producing short blog posts tagged as ‘Social Media for Academics’ which identified developments, shared ideas and reflected on issues which had occurred to me since the first edition. After I committed to the second edition, I began to supplement this with a Scrivener project in which I collected short pieces of writing (500-1000) words elaborating on what I was reading and thinking about. I’d also done countless talks and workshops since the first edition, preparing my thoughts on piles of artefact cards which now littered my office, containing new thinking but in inevitably overlapping and disorganised ways. I tried to neatly pile them up but simply placing them together did nothing to help me process the thought contained on them.

It was extremely gratifying for the first edition to have received such uniformly positive reviews. The reception left me with a sense that the book had worked, people understood what I was trying to do it and I could in some sense be proud of the work. This should have led me to think more about the structure of the book when it came to revision.

After much deliberation when proposing the first edition, I had decided to focus on four practice based chapters (publicising, networking, curating, engaging) and three problem based chapters (managing identity, communicating effectively, time management). These were placed between an introductory chapter which provided an overview of social media and a concluding chapter which mapped out trends likely to shape the future. My hope was this structure would enable the book to be more about practices than platforms. Social media changes so fast that a preoccupation with platforms risks becoming out of date extremely quickly. The challenges are enduring but the substance of them changes as the underlying technology does. I was confident I’d produced a book which spoke to the experience of these challenges, largely by structuring it around them and ensuring the chapters weren’t over saturated with detail about specific platforms to the exclusion of more general guidance.

This became a problem once I found myself with 50,000 words of new material. Much of it overlapped because of the chaotic and uneven undertaking my daily writing routine had devolved into. In retrospect I realise it had become too‘efficient’… I would dive into it each day, quickly completing my assignment, before forgetting about it for the rest of the day. After years of trying I had managed to perfect an odd sort of free writing in which I could invariably knock out 500 high quality words or more in twenty minutes or so. But the fact I was doing it so quickly left the process as a whole increasingly thoughtless, taking what had once been the most reflective activity I engage in and making it something I’d rush through before getting on with the rest of my day. The fact the results were usually good, at least in their own terms, obscured the much bigger problem that was emerging. I’ve always been a chaotic writer, only figuring out what I want to say by trying to say it. But this began to spiral out of control with the second edition. Unfortunately I only realised it when the deadline began to approach and I was faced with the challenge of trying to incorporate this vast mass of new material into an existing book which had a tight and effective structure.

There were other things which got in the way that were unrelated to my writing. I was beginning to think about leaving the job I’d been in since the end of my PhD, while I’d also started a new job the year before which involved getting to know a university and department which were radically different from the ones I had been in for my academic career up until that point. In subtle ways the circumstances of my life were conspiring against the careful engagement which was needed to salvage the project, even as the regularity of my output meant that it felt to me as if my writing practice was flourishing. But the main problem was still the quantity of material I was producing, compounded by my failure to order it in any way.

When the first deadline felt as if it was sneaking up on me, I began to try and force each of these snippets of writing into the text. However without any ordering of them, I soon reproduced the repetitions in the text. In the process I managed to destroy the carefully calibrated structure of the first book, as chapters ballooned in size and their internal rhythm vanished under the weight of new material. It felt like the foundations of the first book had collapsed, leading the roof to cave in and forcing me to scrabble around in the rubble in the hope of bringing some order to what had once functioned so well.

I initially fixated on two writing retreats, convincing myself that all it would take would be a few uninterrupted days. But the first one was preceded by a massive argument with my partner immediately before hand, leaving me distracted and off balance for what was intended to be a week of deep focus. The second was just weird, as I discovered that ‘shut up and write’ really doesn’t work for me, particularly when editing is the pressing task at hand, leaving me awkwardly staring at the page for hours at a time in a way that left me with a lingering hangover of negativity and frustration even after the retreat.

The allure of the writing retreat was that the problems I was becoming cognisant of could be fixed ‘efficiently’ by blocking out a few days. But this drive to be efficient about my writing was the source of the problem in the first place! It had allowed a thoughtlessness to creep into what had always been a profoundly thoughtful activity and I couldn’t fix the second edition without accepting the scale of the task at hand. I had to lose myself in the text, giving the project as long as it needed, as opposed to fitting it into convenient windows in my life.

In the end I eventually rewrote the second edition from scratch. I went through it line by line, changing it as I went, in order to impose order on the remarkable mess I had made in the course of writing. This meant cutting liberally. I suspect I cut around 30,000 words from a text which still came out much longer than the first edition. It meant failing to include all the topics I had planned to, being realistic in the face of things which I simply couldn’t fit into the book’s structure. It meant remixing the existing content in ways I couldn’t have anticipated, moving sections around within chapters and moving material between chapters to better match the new structure which was emerging.

Most of all it meant a LOT of editing work. Much more than I’ve engaged in for any other project. In retrospect this is what a second edition involves. It needs thoughtful, careful and creative editing rather than the (overly)energetic production of new material. I’m really proud of the second edition because it’s turned out to be something much more like a new book than I could have imagined at the outset. But I’m still so shell shocked from quite how much work it took to produce that it’s going to be a long time before I attempt something like this again.

 

Posted in academic writing, book writing, editing, Mark Carrigan, social media | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

keeping up with the literatures – preliminary sorting is key

This post is in response to a question about how to keep on top of what is being published

sophie-elvis-BiZ-_6kNjbI-unsplash.jpg

I found out early on that academic work required finding ways to deal with a load of information. My undergraduate honours class, taken in addition to regular courses, required novice scholars to read three to four primary sources and then five or six papers each week. Whew. We all had to find ways to read efficiently or go under. So we looked for key points and evidence. We were also steered away from summarizing what we’d read towards evaluating the credibility of often contrary arguments. So I learnt, without being necessarily aware that I was doing so, that dealing with a hefty reading load meant being selective and critical.

When I started my PhD I set myself a similar kind of reading target. I decided that I would read at least one book and a minimum of ten journal articles each week – I would skim more, but would engage with ten papers in detail.  As it turned out, this wasn’t such a huge task and I often read more than this. And I not only got through lots of material, but I also cemented in a pattern of looking at the journals regularly.

And I’ve kept this up. I used to get alerts from journals but now I just use the app Browzine (which I’ve talked about before). Each week I look at forty or so new papers from thirty core journals in my areas of interest.

My first task is to decide if the paper is of interest. If so, I then save it.

I have a set of Browzine folders for articles which relate to my current projects. My first organising task was to sort out the types of papers I was going to keep and then to title the folder so I could easily see what each one contained. My titles are relatively separate, they cover a number of topics. But it would be possible to set up folders related to particular subsets of one topic. So if you were collecting papers about the doctorate for instance you could divide these into, say, experience, supervision, writing and so on.

Now, Browzine is meshed with bibliographic software ( Zotero, Mendeley, Endnote) so it exports papers and their details. As I’m saving a paper, I usually add a keyword and phrase so I know why Ive saved it. And just as I did all those very many years ago, I only identify The Point that the paper is making. I skim read the paper – title, abstract, introduction and conclusion and work out what the key message is.

An example – a recent paper that I saved on doctoral education – that’s one of my topic folders – focused on collegiality among doctoral candidates.The writer identified four types of collegiality among doctoral researchers – professional, intellectual, social and emotional – and argued that universities could do much more to cultivate collegiality. So The Point, as I have it saved on Endnote, is exactly this sentence – There are four types of collegiality among doctoral researchers – professional, intellectual, social and emotional – universities could do much more to cultivate collegiality.

I have saved this paper just in case, I may want to use it at some point in the future. I could for example, call on this paper to help justify a piece of research of my own about collegiality, or I could cite it in a more general paper about doctoral education – what we do and don’t do.

Of course, I haven’t read the paper in entirety yet, but I do already know enough about it to be able to go back to it, if or when I need to. I may decide, depending on whether the paper is central to my own work or not, to eventually read the paper thoroughly. I will always do a more general search when I have a specific research or writing task in mind, but I can get a head start in my stored Browzine folders and in Endnote.

You will have gathered that I have not printed the paper out. I have not highlighted it. No stationery or printer ink involved at all. I have not taken extensive notes. However I do know what the paper is about and I have it stored so that I can find it again.

The processes of selection – choosing which papers to keep and their potential connection with your own work – are a key to managing the volume of literature that is potentially useful to you. If you engage in detail with every paper you come across, you end up reading a lot of dross. And you also have difficulty sorting out key points from which you can construct an argument for your own research- there’s just too much minutiae.

Having a systematic way to record and store information is vital. There are many ways to do this, and we all develop systems of our own. You will have gathered that I am more minimalist than many people. That’s just me. I’m economical with my time and only read in detail when something is relevant or it piques my interest. But I do absolutely spend enough time on the selection and information retrieval side of things to make sure I can go back and find things when I want to. And you’ll find your own ways to select and store I’m sure.

 

Photo by Sophie Elvis on Unsplash

Posted in academic writing, Browzine, literature review, reading | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

blog as teach-in/teach-out

http---prod.static9.net.au-_-media-tv-l-love-child-season-3-ep-07-moratorium-160725_lc_moratoriam.jpg

During my protest-filled undergraduate years, there were regular sit -ins – where university offices were occupied – and teach-ins – where alternative interpretations of current events and their histories were explored. University staff and students collaboratively developed a radical curriculum and organised reading lists, lectures and tutorials. Held off campus in cheap and usually ramshackle premises, teach-ins morphed into ongoing study groups and topic-based collectives. They became loosely networked cooperatives, which could re- assemble into one formal teach-in around specific issues. Such groups were often ‘institutionalised’ – as a bookshop selling alternative books and magazines and/or a food cooperative and/or a learning exchange.

These kinds of cooperative alternative organisations existed in many parts of the world. They didn’t really last that long. People had to get jobs, their lives became filled with other commitments. Groups moved out of communal houses and into mortgaged premises of their own. But the legacy of these kinds of organisations can still be seen in many places – there is an alternative bookshop which has just such a history in Nottingham, where I now live.

I first learnt about Australian Aboriginal peoples’ struggles for land rights through teach-ins. Teach-ins were also my first encounter, via home-grown translations, with the big French social theorists. And teach-ins were where I first understood alternative education, not as a middle class choice for a bohemian few, but as a small space where different experiences and knowledges might be shared. Decades on, I am still interested in the  possibilities of alternative spaces for sharing knowledge, ideas and interpretations, and where we might find contemporary equivalents of the teach-in.

Alternative spaces are often temporary. Vulnerable. Sometimes they are ambivalent, more than one thing at the same time. Nevertheless they are a place where analysis combined with guarded optimism can generate and sustain life-lines of thinking and acting differently. While I can now muster fancy theory to explain the existence of ‘counter time-spaces’ and their necessity, it is still their potential that interests me most.

Like many others, I once saw possibilities in social media for support and nurturing of diverse alternative communities.

As a miniscule contribution to that goal, I set up this blog with the teach-in – or teach out, as these things are called today – in mind. Rather than write more books, or simply teach a few people at my own university or run a few workshops, I was interested in whether a blog could be free ‘teaching’, available anywhere, anytime, to anyone who had a web connection.

So how is that idea going then? Well, my answer to that question has changed over time. At first I was pretty optimistic.

When I set up this blog (not my first one but certainly the most long lasting) I took a lead and some heart from colleagues who seemed to use their blogs in the spirit of the teach-in/out. Like them, I opted for a non-institutional web host, paid for my own domain name, and wrote posts on the weekend. In return, my institution steadfastly refused/refuses to recognise the blog as workload and also saw/sees it as un-auditable for impact.

I’m not too upset about employer neglect. It’s a helpful indicator that my blog is something different from my regular paid work. Just as I’d hoped. And I can also refuse any advertising for the blog, and regularly do, and I can also ignore companies offering to write generic guest posts. I’ve so far managed to keep the essay mills out of the comments too.

But the environment has changed dramatically. As has my view of social media.

Most universities were pretty slow off the social media mark. But these days universities are very conscious of social media and employ staff who take care of their twitter accounts and blogs. We academics are offered workshops in how to “do” social media and, while it is not yet compulsory, are generally expected to engage. Academic colleagues once didn’t see social media as a place to do more institutional performative work – advertise publications, build profile, big up research funding and results. But perhaps in response to institutional urging, they/we now do so in increasing numbers. Mark Carrigan discusses these changes and the ways in which academic work is framed and reframed in his book Social Media for Academics (now second edition) – I won’t attempt to repeat his analysis here; borrow or buy the book.

Suffice it to say that my idealistic goals about social media have come under serious pressure.

Twitter is now so frequently used as a vehicle for academic self-promotion that it may be pretty difficult for my few weekly tweets about new blog posts to be anything other than profile-building. Depressing. But what’s worse is that, as part of a hyper-linked hyped-up ecology any blog, including mine, can seem less like a teach-in and more like just another part of an individualised competitive academic economy.

Oh yes, and I am also now seen by my institution as an academic social media “influencer” and invited to support university promotion campaigns organised through the marketing department. I’ll leave it to you to work out how I feel about that.

However.

The current UCU strike #digitalpicketline has seen a decline in the volume of self-marketing and it is a reminder of the more positive aspects of social media. The respite from me, me and more me signals how productive it would be to think again about ‘good’ academic uses of social media.

Do ‘we’ still see any possibilities in social media for different and alternative conversations, for the development of digital teach-ins?

Is the socmed space now so resolutely framed as a scholarly bazaar that anything we might try to do other-wise morphs inevitably into retailing ourselves, hawking our publication wares, elevating our egos?

Or is it simply that social media is now, like any other alternative space, temporary and ambivalent – and to want more is simply being hopelessly utopian?

Posted in academic life, academic writing, blogging, blogging about blogging, social media, teach-in | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

what is meta-text?

ian-robinson-YsJkVNMH_Q4-unsplash.jpg

This post is a response to question – yes I do answer them if and when I can.

It’s not uncommon for doctoral researchers to find supervisors have written this feedback on a text – “You need more signposting here”. Occasionally they might say, “There is too much signposting here.”

So what is this signposting?

Signposting is a term used to describe a meta-text. A meta text is a kind of Greek chorus or internal narrator that speaks about the main action that is taking place. The word meta-text simply means a secondary text that talks about a main text.

When supervisors write about signposting, they are usually referring to three kinds of meta-text – the preview, review and overview.

In a nutshell:

  • Preview

A preview is when you say what your main text is about to do. Just like the preview of a television programmes, the written preview shows key highlights of what is to come. In academic writing, highlights are often either the major moves in the argument or the most important themes or chunks of content. Previews anticipate, look forward, fore-warn – and they must if possible generate interest as well as inform.

This chapter proceeds in three steps, 1,2,3. …

The next section will

  • Review

The review is where you take a look back and sum up where the text has got to. Reviews are often used at the end of a chapter to summarise the major message or the major points that the reader needs to remember before moving on. Sometimes reviews come in the middle of a paper or chapter. Midway reviews may be needed when the argument is complex and the writer wants to keep the reader on track. Reviews essentially say this is where we’ve been. Reviews synthesise, summarise, repeat and refer back.

This chapter has argued that…

So far the paper has established that 123…

It is important to pause at this point to consider the evidence that has been presented, 123…

In sum

  • Overview

An overview takes a look at a whole text rather than a section of it. An overview often combines a review with a preview. The first chapter in a thesis or the introduction to an edited book often even has a section called overview. This section typically summarises what has been said at the very start of the text, and then outlines all that is to come.

The overview can be thought of as a survey, a road map to the whole text, the future reading.

The thesis will argue that… Chapter One has established that…. Chapter Two… Chapter Three …etc.

By the end of this book the reader will… The steps in this argument are  x ( Chapter 1) y  (Chapter 2) etc…

In this report we show that … the first section… the second section…

So now you know what meta text is, here’s a couple more things to consider.

It can also be helpful to learn the three terms and their meanings. Talking about preview, review and overview might help you to ask more specific questions of your supervisor. So you can ask not only where more signposting is needed, but also what kind of signposting  there should be and whether there is the right amount of each.

It can also be useful when drafting to use more preview, review and overview than you want or need, as it can help to keep you on track. The process of refining your text then includes time considering what meta-text you really need, and then removing what’s surplus to requirements.

It’s not easy to get the balance of meta-text and text right. Clearly you don’t want to spend more words and time talking about the text than you give to the text itself! Meta-text is all a bit Goldilocks – not too much, not too little, it has to be just right. And feedback can actually help to find the balance, as friendly readers can tell you whether you have so much meta-text that they find reading your work a bit like listening to someone clearing their throat for a very long time. Or a reader can tell you if they just got hopelessly lost in the argument.

Balancing meta-text and text proper is also related to disciplines – some use more than others, social sciences typically use quite a bit. Balance is also related to cultural traditions – academic writing in English uses a lot more meta-text than in some other languages, where writing previews, reviews and overviews can even be seen as infantilising the reader.

Hope that’s helped. 

Photo by Ian Robinson on Unsplash

Posted in academic writing, meta-text, overview, preview, signposts | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

planning a paper

Last week I was in Norway running a three part workshop on planning a journal article.

The workshop was based around a Tiny Text abstract.   As a planner myself, I use Tiny Texts for sorting out the contribution argument of a paper as well as developing a writing schedule.

In case this approach is of interest to you, here are the slides.

The workshop was based on Pat Thomson and Barbara Kamler (2012) Writing for Peer Reviewed Journals: Strategies for Getting Published. Routledge

Of course you don’t get all of the chatter and banter and questions from these slides, but maybe it is still interesting to see what this approach can do.

And the books that I mentioned during the workshop were these:

On writing plainly  – Howard Becker (1986). Writing for social scientists: How to start and finish your thesis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

On not front and back loading your paper – Patrick Dunleavy (2003). Authoring a PhD: How to plan, draft, write and finish a doctoral dissertation or thesis. London: Palgrave.

On staying in touch with your writing – Jenson, Joli (2017) Write no matter what. Advice for academics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

On writing non-nouns prose  – Helen Sword ( 2012) Stylish academic writing. Boston: Harvard University Press

On daily writing or not – Helen Sword  (2017) Air & light & time & space: How successful academics write. Boston: Harvard University Press

Posted in academic writing, argument, contribution, journal article, planning, planning a paper, Tiny Text | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments