writing more than one thing at the same time – part three, managing


Writing several things at once is often called multi-tasking. This is a term I try to avoid, as it focuses on an action – ‘tasking’. Tasking has two problems – first of all, it doesn’t really highlight the thinking involved in managing multiple academic activities. And the focus on action leads very easily to considering techniques. Like scheduling. And planning.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to scheduling and planning. They are important and it would be silly of me to suggest that they aren’t. But there is more scheduling and planning involved in writing several things at once. There’s a lot of intellectual work.  Multi-writing is equally – and at the same time as tasking – multi-thinking.

Thinking is always involved in academic writing. Writing is a process of making sense and communicating that sense-making. Writing is sorting out and crafting the thinking – honing ideas, sharpening argument. This thinking-writing is tricky at the best of times but becomes even trickier when it involves the production of diverse and concurrent texts.

The good news is that the work of writing-thinking in multiples can be supported through the use of a reflective tool.

A little caveat before I go on. This post is, like the previous two, particularly directed to doctoral researchers who are writing alongside their big book thesis – or the selected papers that will form their thesis. It’s important to understand that PhD by papers, like the big book, needs to be thought of as a thesis, a coherent whole right from the start. Not atomised papers, but an entire text. But that’s another story – suffice it to say that here, when I say thesis, I also mean PhD by papers.

As I’ve suggested, it’s very helpful to write things that are going to support your thesis. Things that assist your argument, test out your analysis, allow you to take a few risks with the writing itself.

And when you are writing these alongside thesis texts, you can also make what I think of as a ‘Running Writing Record’. A Running Writing Record might be a single document, a digital or analogue journal or a sequence of files, with one for each new alongside text. A Running Writing Record is a tool, yes, and one that supports the thinking process.

A thinking reflecting tool – the Running Writing Record

If you understand writing alongside the thesis as connecting – testing out and strengthening – the thesis analysis and argument, then your Running Writing Record is the place to answer the following questions:

  • What ideas from this additional writing are going to be useful for the thesis?
  • What data/ analysis /argument do these ideas appear to work best with?
  • What ideas in the additional writing appear to be interesting but perhaps now best left aside?
  • What more work do I need to do in order to bring these ideas/analysis/argument into the thesis?
  • What other interesting possibilities came to mind while I was writing this additional text?

If you also understand the writing alongside the thesis as supporting the development of authority and voice then your Running Writing Record will contain answers to these questions:

  • How does this genre of writing differ from the thesis?
  • What new things did I have to learn to do in this alongside writing?
  • What writing experiments did I undertake? How ‘successful’ were these and what did I learn from them?
  • What signs are there of my emerging academic writer identity and voice in the additional writing? What are they? Are these useful for the thesis? How might I develop these further?
  • What other kinds of writing might be helpful for me now?

Keeping a Running Writing Record does take some time of course. Not a lot and it is something that can be done in short bursts. A Running Writing Record is a form of reflection amenable to prompted free writing and could therefore easily be done at irregular intervals during and after thesis writing and reading.

There, that’s it. That’s what I have to say about managing writing several things at the same time. Well, perhaps not quite all.

I probably do have to conclude this little series by saying something about time. You’d feel cheated if I didn’t, if I just referred you to Raul Pachego Vega’s everything notebook or Thesis Whisperer’s time-management software reviews. I’m not going to duplicate what they’ve already said – but yes, I do have one little tip of my own. And it’s less of a tool and much more about the mindset that underpins managing your time well.

Keep In Touch

It is very important when managing multiple writing tasks to Keep In Touch with all of them. When you have to focus primarily on one bit of writing, it becomes easy to lose track of where you are with others. The result can be that when you then finish your alongside writing, you return to a thesis that you last saw and thought about a few weeks or days ago.

You might wonder where on earth to start. What were you up to? What were you thinking? It can take some time to remember where you were, to retrace your thesis steps and pick up your trail of activity and thought. You can avoid this time-wasting catching up by avoiding serial writing, producing one thing after another.  You can maintain work on multiple tasks – most experienced academics do and it is possible.

Writing more than one thing at once doesn’t mean devoting equal time to everything. It may simply mean doing a bit of daily reading for a thesis chapter or paper while writing a conference paper. It may mean doing a little bit of data analysis everyday while writing a book chapter. It may mean doing a bit of free writing about potential approaches to your discussion while revising a journal article. Doing something each day keeps you in touch with the thesis. It means you don’t forget where you were up to.

The Keep In Touch approach does, of course, mean that you have to think of each day, week and month as consisting of ongoing strands of activity. There is the reading, analysis and writing for the thesis, and there is reading, analysis and writing for other texts. Sometimes there will just be thesis work, and at other times the thesis work will shrink to make way for the other writing.

And the thesis activities don’t go away. They continue, albeit in smaller time slots. You keep working at the thesis and you always know where you are with it. (And of course there are other regular activities to fit in too, but I’m sure you get what I’m saying here.)

So – to sum up – it’s important to get your KIT strategy together as it is a key to keeping all of the various strands in play. And under control.

And now there it is – my two bits worth on the time and tools questions of writing multiple things at once – keep a Running Record to support reflection about connecting and learning, and developed your Keep in Touch strategy to manage writing more than one thing and the one time.

Image credit: Flickr Commons *hb19 (R.I.P)

Posted in academic writing, academic writing voice, authority in writing, reflection, reflection on learning, time, writing and thinking, writing more then one thing at once, writing regularly | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

writing more than one thing at the same time – part two, authoring


There are good reasons for writing alongside the thesis. Besides contributing to the work (see first post) and your cv, there are authoring benefits. These include:

  • the chance to learn more about academic writing
  • the opportunity to develop a scholarly writing identity and voice

I’m going to talk about each of these separately, although they clearly overlap.

Learning more about academic writing

If you are writing a Big Book thesis, then you have to get to know that form of academic writing because you want to “pass”. However, there are many other forms of writing that academics do. You might want to learn about them – and help your thesis at the same time.

Write a conference paper perhaps. Not just academics attend conferences, but we certainly do. So knowing how to write a conference paper won’t be a waste of time. Well, more than just a paper.

Going to a conference means that you have to write a proposal, usually an abstract written to a predetermined formula. Your abstract is tailored for the particular scholarly community that hosts and attends your chosen conference – and the subset of community members who referee abstracts, the bids for conference participation. You may, as part of the proposal process, also have to write a plain language summary for the conference programme. Once your proposal is accepted you then need to produce the paper, anticipating the audience you’d like (and can reasonably expect) to attend. You’ll also need to prepare a presentation, usually a slideshow, and perhaps a handout. Or instead of a paper there may be a poster.

Conference texts not only take different forms, but also ask different things of you as a writer. Each follows their own particular writing conventions – even though they are making the same argument, using exactly the same data and analysis. See how many ways you can present the same argument!

Writing a journal article (perhaps from the conference paper) means learning even more writing practices. First of all, you need to carefully choose your journal and research it to make sure that you understand the kinds of readers – referees and ultimately the wider journal community – that you are writing for. You’ll need to understand the ongoing conversation that you are entering. You’ll need to adhere to the genre and writing conventions expected in the journal.

And you’ll get a different kind of feedback from reviewers than you are used to – feedback that is usually not as pedagogically oriented as the comments you get from your supervisor. But while reviewer responses can be confronting, the experience does allow you to understand the kinds of critical interchanges that happen in scholarly communities and the language through which critique is given.

You can see from these two examples that there is much more to academic writing than the Big Book thesis, where you write particularly for your supervisors and then examiners. But when you write more widely you encounter other readers, other conversations and conventions.

And the more you understand the variety, framings and hidden rules about academic writing, the better positioned you are to make informed choices about what you want to write – and how. Which segues neatly into:

 Developing a scholarly writing identity and voice

 For many doctoral researchers, the thesis is the first opportunity to step away from essays and to establish themselves as an authority. As the expert in their particular topic.

This authority doesn’t come straight away to most people. The struggle to find the way to write academically can often be read on the page in sentences that are too long and contain too many large abstract words jammed together. A less confident academic writer often cites and quotes a lot more than a more authoritative scholar too.

But good news. Simply writing more and more often – particularly if it is in more relaxed genres like op-ed pieces, professional publications and blogs – can be an extremely helpful way to get more used to the process of putting yourself and your ideas out there. And that plays out as you write your thesis. You stop writing tentatively.

What’s more, writing outside the thesis may also provide an opportunity for you to experiment with different styles of writing. How much description is possible? Where, how and how much can you use what participants say?  Is it possible to use images and multi-media and to write more artistically? How inventive can you be with the ways in which you summarise and categorise? Is it OK to vary the structure of an argument? Is it better for you to write a lot in the first person, or not? These are the kinds of questions that you can find some beginning answers to through different kinds of writing.

Conferences, for instance, are often really good places to try out new approaches to writing. You can ask for and get feedback, you can see your audience reaction to your controlled textual experiment. Book chapters are often much less convention-bound than journals and you can do more with the structure as well as the style of the text.

While none of the text trials that you make may end up in the thesis – although they very well might – trying things out requires you to become more explicit about the writing choices that you make. Choosing helps you to develop voice and authority.

In focusing on the type of text you are producing and its possible variations, you not only become more accustomed to writing per se. You also think of yourself as a writer, making conscious choices about how you want to present yourself and your work. You make decisions about – and through – the crafting of your writing. You can be this kind of writer and scholar – or that. Your attention shifts – you go from fretting about your writing to focusing on finding the most satisfying ways to say what you want how you want.

So when you get that conference information, call for papers or invitation to write a book chapter comes along, it’s helpful to ask yourself:

  • Will this writing help me to understand more about academic writing? Does the invitation mean I will write for new readers, enter new conversations and use new conventions?
  • Will this writing help me to build my scholarly identity and voice? What opportunities are there here for trying out new writing possibilities? What new writing choices does this option open up for me as an author?

And if the answers are affirmative, maybe this is an academic writing opportunity to take up.

But of course, all of this writing-more-than-one-thing-at-the-same-time has to be managed. So in the third and last part of this mini-series, next week I’ll talk a bit about time and tools.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash


Posted in academic writing, academic writing voice, authority in writing, authorship, crafting writing, genre, good academic writing, writing more then one thing at once | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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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

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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

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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