writing more than​ one thing at the same time – part one, connecting


When people like me offer writing advice to doctoral researchers, they/we often focus on separate kinds of writing – the thesis, the conference paper, the journal article. However, the reality may well be that, just like their supervisors, doctoral researchers are writing several things at once.

Even if they/you are writing a big book thesis, doctoral researchers usually want to present at key conferences, and may well be keen to get their work out there in journals ahead of graduating.

But, these days there are also all kinds of pressures on doctoral researchers to publish alongside the thesis, not least of which is the need to have some publications to present in the job/postdoc stage. The press to publish early is not necessarily a good thing for the work, let alone for the researcher, and publish-early is clearly a situation which favours some people and types of research over others.

In writing about multiple writing projects, I’m not condoning this kind of expectation, nor am I suggesting that everyone who does a doctorate should continue in higher education.

But if doctoral researchers do decide, for whatever reason, to engage in multiple writing tasks at the same time then there are a few issues to consider. These go to both understanding and managing the process of multi-writings.

There are three big issues related to creating some coherence* between the many things that are written at the same time. These are (1) connecting, (2) authoring and (3) managing. This post deals with the first of these.


It is helpful – but not always possible – to be able to make links between the various things that you are writing. If possible, it’s great to be able to make one piece of writing help another.

Making connections between projects can be quite tricky for researchers who have been working on multiple projects for a long period of time – they may find themselves writing a book about one project, generating papers from a second, and writing work-in-progress conference papers about their latest and third project. It may not be possible to make these texts all talk to each other, although it’s clearly a bit of a bonus if they can. (I’ve currently got four funded arts research projects, a policy book and a few chapters on leadership on the go – and these don’t all talk together. Sigh.)

Doctoral researchers are much more likely to have only one big project that they are working on. The question of connections between writings is therefore highly relevant and possible.

Connecting means thinking past the cv dimensions of writing and publishing – writing multiple texts is not just about putting it out there, making links with like-minded others and getting some early feedback. These are all likely and fine reasons to write things alongside the big book. But there are other good reasons to think about why multi-writing alongside the thesis might be good for the thesis itself.

Let’s go back to big funded research projects for a moment. Here, writing and publishing are often done during the project. The researcher, or research team, don’t wait till the end to write. Yes, well sometimes they do, of course; when the writing happens depends on the nature of the research itself. But quite often, a working paper, conference paper or journal article on part of the project – or several of these types of texts – are written to develop the take on literature, the theoretical framework and/or the analysis. This mid-way writing precedes the final research report and any summative papers/book.

But it’s not that helpful if the mid-way writing is a major distraction from the end product. That’s what supervisors are often worried about, they advise doctoral researchers not to write anything but their thesis. Get it done first, then write, they say.

Nor is it helpful if a doctoral researcher tries to publish something that is premature, underbaked, not just ready to see the light of day.

But… The writing that happens during a research project can be very formative. It helps shape the work to come. Writing conference papers and journal articles before a project finishes can be extremely helpful in determining the overall direction that the analysis does or does not take.

So what kind of formative writing might be useful for a thesis?

Well, one kind of paper that can be very productive and help the wider work is to try something on for size.

It’s very possible to use a conference paper or journal article to develop an in-depth analysis of an aspect of the research – something about method or partial results for example. It may be relatively easy to take a piece of the data and test out an analytic or theoretical approach and see how it goes and what it does. There may be a theme or early morsel that is worth developing ahead of the whole.

This trying-it-out is probably the most common way to approach multiple writing from a project. The writing that is done about a part of the work advances thinking about the whole.

The mid-way text may well be different from the final summative text and may even ask different things of the writer and writing (I’ll talk about this in the next post), but the connection with the whole project is very strong. The intellectual contribution is what makes formative writing connective  – and good to do.

Another reason for multi-writing is to build a foundation for the wider work.

Sometimes a concept or idea that is important for the overall work may be written early. Why? Well, perhaps it may take too many words out of the total allowed for the final text. What to do?  Write it first.

It’s sometimes helpful in a big summative text to be able to refer back to a publication in which a particular idea was explored. You can then summarise succinctly, and use the idea to advance your argument. You can save thesis words by writing a key foundational idea first.

My arts education colleagues and I have just done this. We’ve written a book chapter which develops a particular idea and argument, a literature-based paper which proposes one line of thinking about the purposes of arts education. Having written the book chapter, we are now able to refer back to it other publications and the final report. We can summarise the chapter contents without having to do all of the nuancing and finessing. We made the case elsewhere, now we can just state it.

Thinking about connections and the work that writing before completing the big paper might do can also create the conditions under which you can say no to out-of-scope opportunities and tempting invitations. You may not want to always say no of course, and that’s a different discussion. But it is very useful to ask yourself when that conference information, call for papers or invitation to write a book chapter comes along:

  • How will this new piece of writing help my overall thinking?
  • What can I try on for size?
  • Is there an opportunity here to build a foundational concept for my overall argument?
  • How does this writing connect with the whole?

And if there is a positive answer to one of these questions, then maybe the additional writing will be worth doing.

And more on all this next week – I look at authoring issues when writing more than one thing at the same time.

*I’ll write about the incoherent or barely coherent writing agenda at a later date.

Image credit: Tomas Sobek on Unsplash.

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looping – a free writing strategy​ for generating ideas


Free writing is probably the most common and talked up strategy for getting your writing going.

Free writing is when you write continuously without stopping. It is often used in conjunction with a timer – the pomodoro.

Free writing is used to generate ideas, to unstick a problem, to discover new perspectives. But free writing is often advocated for hesitant writers who feel anxious – at the start of a project, in the middle and at the end. Free writing produces a great deal of material in a very short space of time and the unexpected quantity of stuff helps the nervous writer to get over the I have nothing to say or I can’t write anything feelings.

However the strength of free writing – you can write loads of stuff in very little time – can also be a problem. That’s because once you have generated all that material you then need to read it and sort out the point you want to make. You need to sift for the useful and the interesting, and then jettison the unusable words. You have to climb the daunting post-pomodoro word mountain.

But you may not want, at the end of a session of generative free writing, to then turn around and revise. What then?

One solution is to use the looping technique. Looping? Yes.

Looping alternates free writing with periods of reflection and analysis. It’s a write -reflect- write – reflect pattern of activity. And the term looping is used because each new pomodoro moves you forward.  You write after you have done some reflection and analysis.

So how does it work? Well it’s pretty simple and it goes like this.

Loop One:

Establish what you are going to write about – a broad theme or topic.

Write:  Free write for five to fifteen minutes on your chosen topic.

Reflect. Read what you have written. Analyse. Look for the key idea, the most interesting thought, the richest detail, the most intriguing or compelling issue. Your goal is to identify the ‘core’ in the text you have generated. Write a sentence that sums up this core  – it might be in the form of a question that demands an answer. Make this summary a pithy statement, succinct and punchy, perhaps even crunchy.

Loop Two:

Write. Use your summary sentence as your starting point.

Reflect. Read what you have written. Analyse. Look for the key idea, the most interesting thought, the richest detail, the most intriguing or compelling issue. Your goal is to identify the core in the text you have generated. Write a sentence that sums up this core  – it might be in the form of a question that demands an answer. Make this summary a pith and nut statement, succinct and punchy, perhaps even crunchy.

Loop Three:

As above.

Rinse and repeat until you’ve had enough, until you’ve got enough words to be going on with.

If you have the energy, you may like to conclude your looping session by reading through all of the loops again and marking any ideas that you didn’t explore that are still worthy of following through. Note – this is not a concluding comprehensive revision, but a quick sorting out of where you might start with another free writing stint.

Looping does not lead neatly to a first draft, but it does systematise and progress your thinking through free writing. It is important to see looping as a process of invention. It’s not about producing grammatically correct or elegant prose. Looping is a process for discovering what you think and what it might be possible to say.

Looping can lead to surprising insights, images, fragments of phrases and terms that you can then develop further. Looping doesn’t pre-determine where the writing will go, but it does produce a line of thinking and writing that might form the basis of a more considered exploration.

And – bonus – it’s pretty easy to match time and task here – you can fit a loop into a little bit of time, and come back to the next loop using your statement sentence when you have the next moment.

Photo by Tine Ivanič on Unsplash

My understanding of looping is adapted from Lisa Ede’s 1989 book Work in progress. A guide to academic writing and revising.

Posted in academic writing, free-writing, ideas clarification, looping, time | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

you don’t own me- authorship and other problems

A guest post from Megan, Maximum and Dulcie McPherson. Megan, a practising artist,  has just completed her PhD – yay and congratulations – and is looking for work in Melbourne and beyond.


During the week I was approached by a researcher to have a chat about doing some work for her research project.

All well and good I thought. I’d just handed in my thesis last month. I’m in the weird waiting space in-between hand in and getting the results back. I could do with some extra work; my savings are starting to look a bit sad and my 10 week research administration support contract is just about to finish.

During the conversation with the researcher a series of alarm bells rang out. The time allowance was for a day a week for 12 weeks (around 85 hours). There was no scope of the work involved or timeline to get to this arbitrary 12 days. When I asked for further elaboration, such as was there a research report that I was to write from, it came out that she wanted the data to be re-analysed. I would have to do an analysis in NVivo.

Then I asked if she had sorted the literature that she wanted to use. No. (Bell ringing chorus). There was a broad theory or paradigm to link to, but no key literature to work with. Ok, I’m thinking, this is getting out of proportion to the hours she had stipulated.

She then started to say that she was writing the first paper and she wanted me to “help” with the second paper.

Actually, she meant WRITE the second paper. Write the second paper for the research team she was a member of without authorship attribution, no mention of my contribution.

My response, when I caught my breath, was quite simple.

I told her that she needed to look at her university’s research authorship policy*. I said that there was a research integrity issue with her proposal. I suggested that I didn’t necessarily have to be first author, but I expected to be on the author list. I discussed my expectations about receiving authorship attribution and how this was decided with other projects I have been employed on.

I then explained that as I did not have an academic job I did not have research hours to give away to other projects. I was by then thinking about the next person that was approached and who might not necessarily be ready to say that the work proposal lacked research integrity. I have had a range of experiences in research in the last 10 years where my contribution has been acknowledged and sometimes it has not. I have had other academics speak up for me and my contribution.  I know it is important to speak not just for me but for others.

After the meeting videocall, I posted my reaction to Facebook. My academic friends were both angry for me and apologized that I had had this experience. The number of comments surprised me. This was not just my experience, authorship and exploitation of casual research staff is a problem.

The very least that researchers can do when employing others to do research is to estimate the job properly. Don’t expect the prospective researcher to scope your job for free. Pay for the research support with realistic hours. And ACKNOWLEDGE authorship in the publication!

I remember a few years ago an older professor explaining to a room of academics that research is not research until it is published. As an early career researcher, the research I do has to have outcomes that I can use. I need to have outcomes that are published and that contributed to my research profile. I was thinking about my “Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence (ROPE)” section in my most recent funding application. With this 12 day job, there would be no publication attribution, even if I wanted to add it.

I do not have the luxury of knocking back jobs, and like everyone I need to pay my rent and buy food and the rest of my expenses. I knocked back this job back.

Have you had an experience like this? How did you respond? How can we let more experienced researchers know this is really not OK?


In recognition of the excellent support and co-research over the last months, I acknowledge the listening labour** and kinship of Maximum McPherson and Dulcie McPherson, after Susan Naomi NordstromAmelie Nordstrom, and Coonan Nordstrom’s in Guilty of Loving You: A Multispecies Narrative (2018) published recently in Qualitive Inquiry. This article is a brilliant and beautiful example of co-researcher authorship attribution both situated in theory and ethical considerations.

*Australian University authorship policy is guided by the Vancouver Protocol 

** And yes, I read what I write to my cats.

Image: Net, gathering (blue) by Megan McPherson

Posted in academic writing, authorship, early career researchers | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

writing regularly – matching time and task.


You’ve all heard the advice that it’s good to write regularly. Perhaps it was phrased this way – productive writers write a lot because they write regularly. You’ve been told that you can get a lot done if you just write every day. That it’s no good hanging around waiting for the next big gap in your diary to magically appear because that may never happen.

But hang on. Perhaps you’ve also heard that not everyone who publishes a lot does regular writing and they manage to carve out big slabs of time when they write all the things at once. Some productive writers don’t follow the  maxim, yet they seem to organise themselves to write a lot anyway.

And I dare say you’ve probably heard that many people vary the amount of time they spend writing, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, depending on how much time they actually have available. Regular writers they might be, but they write for varying times, regularly.

But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that none of this is you. Yet. You think you want to write regularly and are not quite sure what to do other than sort out the time in your  life – each morning or night you’ll set aside time to write something. Anything.

Well not quite anything. And here’s the thing. A little -or a lot – of writing time can be highly productive. But that productivity depends on you knowing how to use whatever time you actually have wisely. You can get a lot done – or not much at all – in little bits of time, or in lots. You can waste regular time just as much as you can use it to be productive.

The thing is that you have to do a bit more than simply set aside time, sit down at the keyboard and write. You really don’t want to spend a lot of precious time, in big or little chunks  – however much time you have, a little or a lot – getting nowhere. Trying to sort out what to do, making several false starts and generally not going anywhere fast. You have to make the most of whatever time is available.

You need to match the task to the time.

Matching task and time requires a little bit of thinking ahead. It means a little bit of thinking about ALL of the tasks that go into a particular piece of writing, Writing is not simply sitting down and tapping away. Writing is also thinking, making notes, reading, sorting out references, selecting data, working out who to cite and not cite… there’s a lot of different types of work that add up to academic writing

And of course you can make that thinking ahead the first writing task that you do.

The easiest way to explain what I mean is to give you a hypothetical example.

Let’s say I want to write a paper about the ways in which a writing task can be organised. So there are a range of tasks that I have to do in order to make the paper happen.

I start a paper master file.

An early task which can be done in bite sized pieces – search the literatures. I can easily search and then store the results in one short sitting, then proceed in small steps to check out promising papers and flag them. I can read the title abstract introduction and conclusion as a way of building a short list. I don’t have to do that all in one sitting. As I find useful texts, I can capture them and their bibliographic details using my bibliographic software.

I can also amass empirical data that I need. Again this can be done in smaller bursts or in one larger block of time. I store cut and paste selections of data in a separate doc in the master file.

I might then want to develop my ideas. I might first of all want to use  some prompts and do some speed writing. For example I can finish these sentences…

My paper is about… the reason I am writing is to influence/inform/challenge/etc …  who/what ….. so that… . The paper is needed because…

In order for the paper to work I need to argue… I need to provide evidence that…

But I could also brain storm or write some chunks of stuff.

I could then write a tiny text abstract for the paper. And at the same time, before or after I could sort out a title which sums up the major message that the paper is going to give – the point I want to make.

Once I have a tiny text, it acts as a kind of road map for the first draft of the paper. I can then write it piece by piece, in big and larger gobbets and slabs of time.

By having matched time and task I can keep in touch with my paper no matter how little or much time I happen to have available. The paper is not left sitting until I have a day to do the literature search or three days to write the first draft. I  can manage a little something or a larger something or a very substantive something and keep at it.

I can chip away at essential bits of the paper and keep the momentum going as long as I am working at a task that is useful to the writing.

Regular writing is good if you know how to use your time to advantage. If you have thought through all of the various things that you have to do as part of writing. If you recognise that actually putting hand to mouse is dependent on associated tasks of reading, noting, brainstorming, organising.

Matching time and task is an important part of making a regular writing habit work for you.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Posted in academic writing, time, Tiny Text, writing regularly | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

you expect what? hyper performativity and academic life

This is a guest post from Dr Julie Rowlands, Deakin University, Australia. Julie is concerned about problems created by institutional demands for academic hyper-performativity. Perhaps you are too. 


Recently my university’s central research office promoted a workshop for PhD students seeking an academic career and at early career academics. It was called something like ‘managing expectations about teaching and research’. The workshop organisers claimed it was aimed at encouraging participants to develop reasonable expectations of both teaching and research performance and workloads – not aiming too high and not aiming too low.

On the face of it, this is a good thing. However, positioned immediately below the workshop description was the presenter’s bio. In ten short years, and on a full teaching and research load, this academic had published more than 70 peer reviewed papers (that’s 10 per year), supervised multiple PhD students to completion and won many funded grants. It’s hard to imagine doing this in the kind of balanced work and home life that the workshop was promoting.

The potential effects of this curated synopsis represented by the presenter’s bio are significant. Early career academics I spoke to felt that the list of achievements carried the hidden message that this is what we should all be achieving and if we are not then we are either not doing enough or are failing. This is completely at odds with what the workshop proclaimed as its intent. It also overlooks the decontextualized nature of the bio. We don’t immediately know what discipline the presenter is from and the effect of this on the nature and form of their academic work. For example, in some disciplines such as the sciences, the tradition of shorter multi-authored papers means that a long list of publications is more likely than, say, in the humanities and the social sciences where long, single authored papers are still common. The availability of grants and PhD students vary significantly by discipline. Gender, race and social class also have significant differential effects.

Institutionalised demands for academic hyper-performativity can also be part of formal academic workload models. Last week another Australian university announced cash incentives for highly cited papers and even larger cash incentives for papers published in certain highly prestigious journals. Such incentives, either in the form of cash or via other means, are intended to inspire success but the pressure is intense. This is reinforced when academics who can’t sustain the desired level of research output are encouraged to take up teaching only appointments so that they do not impact on research assessment outcomes.

In highlighting these examples I don’t wish to single out two particular universities unfairly. These practices are widespread in many nation states. The point is that promotion by universities of idealised lists of research outputs can easily, if inadvertently, become an institutionalised demand for academic hyperperformativity. What is being promoted here is a sustained level of research output that many (even most) academics cannot hope to achieve. It is especially insidious because such demands typically cover four dimensions simultaneously: quality, quantity, speed and duration. That is, the research output must be of very high quality, produced very quickly, there must be a lot of it, and it needs to be ongoing.

Institutionalised demands for academic hyper performativity, even if inadvertent, are problematic for many reasons. Such demands give the impression that everyone on the academic playing field has access to the same opportunities and benefits – when this is clearly not the case. And that careers and outputs are directly comparable across disciplines, when they are not. They also give the impression that success occurs in a smooth upward trajectory when this is rare in academia.

As a scholar of higher education systems I understand that status accrued through research excellence is one of the most valuable assets for many universities. However those who produce this research are people, with all the vulnerabilities and foibles that this entails. Messages that suggest on the one hand that we should care about such vulnerabilities whilst on the other promote levels of performance that are unrealistic for most are highly problematic, especially, but not only, for early career researchers. I think it’s time we talked about this more often.

Do you have anything to add? Use the comments…

Photo by Dennis Olsen on Unsplash

Posted in academic life, academic writing, career, early career researchers, hyper performativity, Julie Rowlands | Tagged , , , , | 22 Comments

five clues – choosing the right journal

Journal editors often report that the major reason for desk rejecting papers – that is they send the papers back to the author rather than send them out to reviewers – is that the paper doesn’t fit their journal. The rejected paper is about something that the journal just isn’t interested in.

So what does this ‘fit’ actually mean? And how can someone new to academic publishing make sure that they choose a journal that will be interested in what they have to say?

Well, here’s the beginning of an answer to these important questions.

It helps first to think about how journals start, how they come to be. Journals are usually set up by an academic network of people who feel that their mutual interest is not currently covered in sufficient depth by any other journal. Their shared scholarly interest may be in an emerging field of inquiry, around a new theoretical or methodological development, and/or on a particular position on and in an established field. Some journals originate in just this way from learned societies and from special interest groups in conferences. Some journals are also now set up in opposition to paywalled cousins: these do not necessarily cover new content, they aim to make existing scholarship more widely available.

Having a journal is a key strategy for extending a field of knowledge or consolidating an emerging one. Key debates and literatures are mapped, developed and interrogated. Some academics also come to prominence through their continued contributions to particular journals, and the references made to their work by other contributors.

Editors and Editorial Boards aim to build up papers, issues and volumes which, together and over time, come to be a significant body of work. Journals can thus be understood as knowledge-building communities. These communities are engaged in an ongoing set of inter-related conversations about shared interests.

Understanding the journal as an artefact of a specific scholarly community, and as a conversation has a number of implications, including how any paper must join a relevant ongoing journal conversation. But the implication I’m concerned with here is that some papers will fit in the journal community and its knowledge building goals – and some won’t.

And the second thing. Journal communities police their borders, norms, shared assumptions and ‘truths’ more or less vigorously. Some journals are more open to new ideas and newcomers than others. But one of the journal editor’s jobs is to sort out the interlopers, those people who have no apparent hope of joining in the conversation. Editors make a decision about whether an author is going to contribute to building knowledge, or not. Desk rejections by an editor are essentially gate-keeping activities which maintain the knowledge aims and claims of the journal community.

So how does the new arrival to publishing ever get to know about the hidden rules, conventions, interests and idiosyncrasies of a journal? This is a real issue as usually no one tells you. And journal mission statements often aren’t much help as they are written by and for those already in the know, in the community.

Well, here’s five things to consider, five things that can help unlock the codes around journal publication. I’ve used the word code quite deliberately as I want to signal that choosing a journal is a decoding exercise, a looking-for-clues process.


  • Ask yourself what journal communities you are already part of

While you may not yet have published anything, it is likely to be the case that you have already found particular journals useful. These are journals that cover subjects relevant to your research, they use methods that are of interest to you, they offer theoretical or empirical resources that you have used. In taking up what’s on offer in these journals, you have joined in a conversation. You are not yet speaking, but you are also not simply sitting and listening. You are actively connecting your work with that of the knowledge community in the journal. And without really thinking about it you have probably learnt some of the key debates, literatures, ways of writing and key figures from that community. These journals are probably the ones where your work will fit most easily.

  • Check out the Editors and Editorial Boards

Editors and Editorial Boards are key figures in a journal community. If you select a likely journal, but then find you haven’t heard of any of the editors or board members then this is probably not an easy place for you to put your work. You aren’t in the conversation. You can, of course, make yourself familiar with at least some of these people and their work and thus get a bit of a handle on how this journal community works. But you may not want to do that at the start of your publishing career. You may want to choose a journal where you already have a bit of an idea what’s going on.

  • Get expert advice

Ask someone more experienced, someone you trust in your field, to tell you about the particular interests of your journal short list. You see, journals that appear on the surface to address the same topic won’t necessarily be the same. For instance, if there are several journals all of which have sociology in their titles, it doesn’t mean that they all cover the same topics in the same way. There may be very significant differences in the types of sociological topics and methods that they cover. You need to know these academic journal politics – and people who have been around the field for some time can tell you, if you ask. You may even luck out and find a journal paper which analyses the journals in your field – a great cheat sheet if you can get it. If you can’t find someone to help, look at short listed journals for yourself, searching for the differences between them.

You can:

  • Investigate the journal community

Look at the publisher’s website for any interviews with Editors to hear them talk about the purposes of their journal. Look for any youtube clips of authors talking about and talking up their papers. Ask yourself who reads this journal. What disciplines are the regular readers and writers who will be your reviewers? Where are they based? What scholarly traditions do they come from? What do they write about? What theoretical approaches do they use? What methods do they use? What don’t they do? How is your work like their’s?

  • Decode the journal conversation

Look at the topics, titles and abstracts of issues of the journal for the last two to four years. What topics do they address? Do there seem to be particular angles that they take? Try to see any patterns that might be important. See the journal as data and bring an analytic headset to the task. Can you discern any particular lexicon or particular epistemologies used? What type of research is most common? What kinds of literatures are cited most often?

These five strategies will start to help you understand journal ‘fit’.

Now, someone – Dr Deluded perhaps – is probably thinking that my approach to choosing a journal is pretty time-consuming. Yes. It is. At the start. But it’s no more time-consuming than sending your paper in, waiting for ages, and then having your work desk rejected.

And the time required to decode journals diminishes with experience. As you become more familiar with your field, you get much better at choosing the right journal for your work. You get to understand the field that you are in and the journals that fit your work. It becomes a kind of second nature to know where to send something – and this is of course why choosing the right journal is hard for less experienced writers. They haven’t yet learnt the journals game.

Experienced academics just seem to ‘know’ which journals work for them. But this is only because they have, over time, done versions of all of five strategies above, and probably engaged in a bit of trial and error as well.

Unfortunately, there is no magic pill to learn about all of the potential journals, journal communities and conversations that you might engage with. But it doesn’t take that long to find at least one or two journals where you can place your work. And that’s all you need at the start. Just one or two of the right journals to set you on your way.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Posted in academic writing, choosing the right journal, journal, journal article, journal publication, publishing | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

introducing dr deluded

Meet Dr Deluded. Dr Deluded is angry. Very angry.

marina-khrapova-670759-unsplash.jpgDr Deluded just can’t get published.

It’s not that he doesn’t try. Dr Deluded writes a lot and submits to journals. In fact, he is so keen to get his work out into the world that he sends his manuscripts off as soon as he is finished with them. But he is consistently bothered and bewildered by the number that are desk rejected. He is convinced that Editors are out to get him.

Dr Deluded is making a few key mistakes which are contributing to his continued lack of publication success. Here’s five of the most important. He:

  1. doesn’t research the journal he is submitting to

Continued desk rejects suggest that Dr Deluded is not doing his journal homework. Dr Deluded assumes that if the title and mission statement of the journal have some synergy with his topic that means he will automatically get accepted. But journals are quite particular knowledge communities and they have different expectations about what they will accept. They each have their own implicit rules and conventions too. As the first line of decision-making about “fit”, Editors usually look to see whether the paper sits neatly within the journal, and meets expectations. If it doesn’t, well, it’s curtains for you Deluded. Editors regularly report that the major reason for desk rejection is that the paper has been sent to the wrong journal, but Dr Deluded hasn’t read that advice. Poor chap, he just hasn’t worked out that he is writing for a different reader than the readers of the journals he’s chosen.

2.  thinks that a written paper is a done paper

Dr Deluded suffers from premature satisfaction syndrome. Revise?  It ain’t me babe. He believes that it’s best to get the paper off to the journal to get reviewer feedback which will help him do the revisions. He doesn’t let a paper sit for a few weeks so that he can come back to it with fresh eyes. He doesn’t have any particular strategies for revision. In fact, he doesn’t think about revision at all, he thinks it’s all just a matter of a teensy bit of editing – correct a few typos and sentences and that’s it. Dr Deluded would certainly never consider giving a paper to a colleague to get their response. No, if it’s written, that’s good enough.

3. writes everything in his own inimitable way

Dr Deluded has a strong critique of academic journals. He thinks that they are stuffy, pompous and hard to read. Well, he may well be right. But that doesn’t mean that his writing will have an easy ride. It doesn’t mean that book publishers will fall over themselves to publish his PhD and journal reviewers will love his eccentric syntax. Dr Deluded either needs to find academic outlets that will accept his particular approach to writing, or tone down what he does just enough to make it through the reviewing process. Or get together with a group of like-minded others and start his own open access publication.

4. wants to write all of the things

Dr Deluded is very flattered by requests to contribute. He says yes to every special issue, every book chapter and every op-ed piece, regardless of whether they are directly in his field or not. He is afraid of missing out on something – that conference that his best friend keeps talking about but is really out of his field? Why not, it’s just a paper. He seriously overcommits – that edited book that brings this year’s chapter total to ten? Ooh go on then. Dr Deluded knows that he can write fast, so hell to the yes.

5. likes turning a project into shed loads of papers

Dr Deluded thinks that it is more than OK to write fifteen articles from one small piece of research, each taking a slightly different angle. His papers often make the same argument over and over again and use the exact same set of references. Sometimes he even cuts and pastes from one paper to another. Dr Deluded hasn’t quite cottoned on. He doesn’t get that a significant contribution to knowledge is not an emaciated one. And that, in reality, he is better served in the long run by fewer and more substantial papers than a lot of rather meagre ones.

Dr Deluded has a quality problem.

Dr Deluded doesn’t know how to ensure that his work is as good as it can be. And he also doesn’t do the work that means readers will see the quality in, and of, his research and writing. He may occasionally luck out and get a paper through the reviewing process. But he is actually wasting a lot of his own and other people’s time by not doing his homework, rushing things and salami slicing his work.

Less haste more speed, and all that means, might help Dr Deluded quite a lot.

Other posts that might be of interest:

Revision not editing

Tactics for proof reading

Creative revision

Image: Marina Khrapova on Unsplash


Posted in academic writing, conference papers, journal, publishing, revision, revision strategy | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments