To help fight off the January blues and to further inspire a productive year ahead, we have coordinated a series of posts on academic writing. To kick-start the series, here are some general tips from Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega on what to do when the words just aren’t flowing. From conceptual maps to short walks, here are some practical ways to tackle the blank page. #AcWri2016.
Next in our #AcWri2016 series is a reflection on conversational writing and academic thought. Academic discussion typically appears as clustered conversations. Davina Cooper focuses on the dilemma posed by prefigurative contributions, where academics respond to a discussion as if it is taking place, treating it as if it were the one that ought to be taking place, even though speakers know the actual conversation is otherwise. What do prefigurative contributions actually contribute?
Writing the introduction to a journal article: Say what the reader is going to encounter and why it is important
An introduction has a lot of work to do in few words. Pat Thomson clarifies the core components of a journal article introduction and argues it should be thought of as a kind of mini-thesis statement, with the what, why and how of the argument spelled out in advance of the extended version. Writing a good introduction typically means “straightforward” writing and generally lays out a kind of road-map for the paper to come.
When researchers reach the point of actually writing up their analyses, the writing can often centre around the data itself. Howard Aldrich argues this kind of “data first” strategy to writing goes against the spirit of disciplined inquiry and also severely limits creativity and imagination. Literature reviews and conceptual planning phases in particular would benefit if researchers explored the range of ideas associated with their study, rather than the constraining reality of data limitations.
Academic work may have impact in a variety of ways, depending on purpose, audience and field, but this is most likely to happen when your work resonates in meaningful ways with people. Ninna Meier encourages a more systematic investigation of the role of writing in achieving impact. Impact through writing means getting your readers to understand and remember your message and leave the reading experience changed. The challenge is to make what you write resonate with an audience’s reservoir of experiential knowledge. If the words do not connect to anything tangible, interest can be quickly lost.
From vaccinations to climate change, getting science wrong has very real consequences. But journal articles, a primary way science is communicated in academia, are a different format to newspaper articles or blogs and require a level of skill and undoubtedly a greater amount of patience. Here Jennifer Raff has prepared a helpful guide for non-scientists on how to read a scientific paper. These steps and tips will be useful to anyone interested in the presentation of scientific findings and raise important points for scientists to consider with their own writing practice.
Katie Collins proposes that we shift our thinking about academic writing from building metaphors – the language of frameworks, foundations and buttresses – to stitching, sewing and piecing. Needlecraft metaphors offer another way of thinking about the creative and generative practice of academic writing as decentred, able to accommodate multiple sources and with greater space for the feminine voice.
Writing about your research is one thing but knowing how to write an article for publication in a peer reviewed journal is quite another. From his perspective as a journal editor, Hugh McLaughlin offers some helpful tips and insights, ranging from demonstrating your familiarity with your chosen journal and what it has published to the importance of paying attention to the ‘heavy lifting’.
Engaging with the process of writing can connect researcher and reader and foster real innovation and impact
A new project aims to open academic writing practice to reflections and experiments with the actual process of writing, with a view to creating new, open research products that have an impact on peers, public and policymakers. Ninna Meier and Charlotte Wegener outline their vision for the Open Writing project, its importance, and why Open Science must be about more than merely free access to academic research.
Submitting to a journal commits you to it for six weeks to six months (or longer) – so choose your journal carefully
There is plenty to consider when making a decision about which journal to submit your paper to; ranging from basic questions over the journal’s scope, through its review process and open access offerings, all the way to the likelihood your work will be widely read and cited. Patrick Dunleavy has compiled a comprehensive list of these considerations, complete with tips on what you should be looking out for.