Five benefits of a writing ‘system’

Chris Smith is co-founder of Prolifiko and interested in using behavioural science, neuroscience and positive persuasive technology to unlock human potential.

He’s also a consultant to academic publishers and higher education advising on marketing and digital strategy, design thinking and the future of edtech.

Chris is a former founder of Swarm, a content and digital marketing agency, and a former lecturer in social psychology, continental philosophy and aesthetics.

Prolifiko tweets from @beprolifiko.


Working hands (photo by madamepsychosis on flickr) | www.flickr.com/photos/belljar

Working hands (photo by madamepsychosis on flickr) | http://www.flickr.com/photos/belljar

In July, I wrote about Prolifiko’s survey of scholarly writing practice, and our early objectives for that study. We teamed up with two academics and a data insight expert to design a large-scale study into academic writing practice.

So far, the study has gathered responses from 510 academics from over 40 countries and the interim findings build an intriguing picture of how academics write.

The data reveals the highs and lows of the scholarly writing process across a career: when satisfaction (and dissatisfaction) is at its highest, where the blocks come and when external pressure is experienced most acutely.

So far, the role of writing systems seems key.

According to the interim findings, the academics who have developed some kind of ‘system’ to help them write and publish seem far happier and more productive than those who have not. But what is it about having a ‘system’ that helps you get down to work and keep publishing – and how can you develop one of your own? Read more of this post

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Should we really write daily?

Chris Smith is a co-founder of Prolifiko who’s interested in using behavioural science, neuroscience and positive persuasive technology to unlock human potential.

Chris is a former founder of Swarm, a content and digital marketing agency with a background working for consultancy firms.

He’s also a London Short Film Festival award-winning script writer and a former lecturer in social psychology, continental philosophy and aesthetics at Staffordshire University.

Prolifiko tweets from @beprolifiko.


The most cited work in the field of ‘academic writing productivity’ is that of Robert Boice from the 1990s. Is it that because there’s been no further research in this area or has nobody bettered his findings?

Photo by NeONBRAND | unsplash.com

Photo by NeONBRAND | unsplash.com

We’ve just launched our own study into academic writing practice. It’s research that we hope will give anyone who needs to write, evidence-based guidance on how to develop a writing system that works for them. It builds on Boice’s work and we’re using startup principles and tools to do it.

Boice’s research was innovative at the time but boiled down, it amounted to one simple scholarly nugget: whatever type of writer you are and whatever type of writing you do, do it daily.

His work has helped thousands to develop an effective practice. It has informed academic writing workshops the world over and made its way into more mainstream productivity advice on all aspects of human habit formation.

Does daily do it?

We’ve worked with and talked to thousands of writers in our work and Boice’s research has always been an inspiration to us. That said, his ‘do it daily’ mantra doesn’t always ring true. It can feel a little outdated in today’s busy world.

For example, our latest (thoroughly non-academic) poll amongst our community found 41% self-identifying as ‘binge writers’ (Boice would seriously not approve!) with just 20% saying they could manage a daily habit.

A regular, daily writing practice might be the gold standard but is it realistic? We decided to find out. Read more of this post

Slaying Zombie Papers

jonathan downie - 200pxDr Jonathan Downie is a practising conference interpreter with a PhD in stakeholder expectations of interpreters from Heriot-Watt University (2016).

His first book, Being a Successful Interpreter: Adding Value and Delivering Excellence, was published by Routledge in 2016. He is also a columnist on research issues for two industry magazines and a regular speaker on the academic and translation & interpreting conference circuits.

He tweets at @jonathanddownie (personal/academic) and @integlangsbiz (interpreting/business).


We all have them. Somewhere in a desk drawer or a forgotten folder lies the zombie paper, waiting. For a year or more, they have lain dormant. They took your brains and now they are asking for more.

How does this tale of the zombie paper end?

Will you victoriously dispatch it to a grateful editor?

Will you release it (and you) from its misery by scrapping the whole idea?

Or will you leave it to lie dormant, ignoring its groans every time you clean your desk?

Zombie medical lab assistant

Melbourne Zombie Shuffle 173, by Fernando de Sousa, on Flickr.

I may have over-dramatised (just a bit) but perhaps not as much as you think. Recently, I returned to a paper I had first started drafting nearly two years ago. I began writing it in that strange space between the acceptance of my thesis and my actual graduation. Given that it is a paper on a key finding from my thesis, most of the ideas in it trace back nearly three years. That’s a lot of time from start to finish. Read more of this post

Goal-setting with a group: The Monthly Weeklies

Jonathan Williams is co-editor of Queer Out Here, writer of blog posts at In Which I, walker of long distances and organiser of things.

In his day job, he wrangles a school database. He completed his PhD on trans cinema at the University of Melbourne in 2011 and has avoided academia ever since.

Jonathan currently lives in East Sussex, UK. You can find him on Twitter: @jonathanworking.


What are you working on? What do you want to achieve by the end of the month? And what do you need to do this week to reach those goals?

Many people are familiar with this approach to time and project management.

But sorting out what you need to do is one thing, while actually following through is quite another!

Photo by Cliff Johnson | unsplash.com

Photo by Cliff Johnson | unsplash.com

This can be especially difficult if you operate in a more solitary environment, as do many writers, artists, researchers, and people involved in projects outside of their paid job or formal study. Without the everyday structure of collaboration deadlines, team meetings, and so on it’s pretty easy to let the weeks slip by, to transfer an item from one to-do list to the next, to de-prioritise your own goals in favour of things that other people want from you. It can be hard to hold yourself accountable.

I started The Monthly Weeklies online goal-setting group with this in mind. My aim was to create a structure that would help me think seriously about short and medium term goals, a place to record those goals and my progress, and a team of people who could help keep each other focussed and celebrate each other’s successes. Read more of this post

The gift of record-keeping: A tool for future promotion

Dr Bronwyn Eager works as a Lecturer, Entrepreneurship at Swinburne Business School, Swinburne University of Technology.

Her research focuses on stress, coping and time-orientation in entrepreneurs and integrating entrepreneurship education into STEM domains.

She tweets as @bronwyn_eager, and is always up for a coffee and interesting conversations.


Photo by Max Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash.com

I was recently asked by a colleague to help edit her application for a Professorial role.

As a recently minted PhD, and academic Level B (i.e. the bottom of the academic food chain), I was honoured. The process of reviewing her application gave me some insight into academic promotion, which I want to share with you below. Namely, the importance of record-keeping and a gift of a simple spreadsheet to help you capture your data now, so it will be on hand for when you need it in the future.

Reading my colleague’s application, I felt exhausted. Not from the editing process (which was minimal – she is a brilliant writer), but from living vicariously through the vast number of publications, supervision roles, teaching activities, grants, and engagements that were laid out in her documents.

I looked up more than once from my screen and wondered how she’d had time to sleep since completing her PhD. Read more of this post

Ways researchers can be better, different writers

After leaving the academy to pursue her dream of helping others achieve their writing goals, Kellye McBride started her own freelance editorial business in 2015 and has never looked back.

She is enthusiastic about helping graduate students, researchers, and scholars improve their writing and developing their skill sets when it comes to articles, book proposals, and dissertations.

Kellye lives in Portland, OR in the United States, and blogs at kellyemcbrideediting.comShe regularly posts about academic writing and scholarly publishing.


Photo by Juliette Leufke | unsplash.com

Photo by Juliette Leufke | unsplash.com

As academics, we often emphasise the importance of research, networking with others in our respective fields, and building a profile when it comes to professional opportunities. Though these are important topics worthy of consideration, the most crucial aspect of our jobs is often overlooked when we are so focused on advancing our academic careers: writing.

Not only is the average scholar is expected to have a number of professional publications in peer-reviewed journals, many disciplines also want them to publish a book to establish themselves early on in their career. Additionally, if scholars want to secure the right amount of funding, they must also become effective grant writers. The list of required written documents for early career researchers can be endless and, frankly, overwhelming.

Training and support for these kinds of writing are practically non-existent. Even if a scholar has an effective advisor and is well practiced as an academic writer, they might still run into trouble when it comes to grant writing, crafting text for a teaching portfolio, or writing for the public. This is not the fault of the academic. It’s like being a talented oil painter who is asked to learn watercolor overnight for a particular commission. Scholars are often poorly trained when it comes to being adept at the types of writing that will help ensure their success. Read more of this post

A confession about working weekends

I came back to academia after being in a professional role for over three years with a promise to myself: I will not work across weekends.

As I mentioned in a recent post, some people derided my promise. Many more laughed in disbelief, or were encouraging in their words but exuded an air of ‘that promise is doomed, doomed!’. Having been in a professional job where I found it extremely easy to maintain the boundaries between work and non-work time, I was very used to having weekends in my life. I assumed that transitioning (again) into an academic role while keeping weekends free would be relatively easy. It was the status quo for me at the time, after all.

Two and a half years after returning to academia, then, how is my promise of ‘not working on weekends’ going for me?

Terribly, I have to say.

And I acknowledge this with some shame.

I know a lot about academic overworkpeer pressure dictating how many hours we spend at our jobs (sometimes pushing scholars to quit careers), and the dominance of ‘administrivia’ in our working lives.

I’ve read heaps on work/life balance in academia (from many sources including Tenure, She Wrote, Raul Pacheco-Vega, and various scholarly studies [like this one by Osbaldiston and Cannizzo]), and how overwork is not necessary for success. I constantly advocate for self-care and regeneration time for researchers. I loved Dani Barrington’s post in RW and cheered her declaration that “although research will never ‘just’ be a job, it is, in fact, a job” (Escaping the ivory tower).

And yet…I have a confession to make. Read more of this post