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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Saving space

References, listed without any gaps between them.

My least favourite way to save space – turn the reference list into a solid block of text.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you had all the space that you needed to explain your research carefully and completely to the funding agency?

Wouldn’t it be lovely if there was space for nuance and complexity?

Wouldn’t it be terrific if your application fitted within the stupid page limit and you didn’t have to delete another half a page…it’s already midnight and you just want to go to bed.

Much as I feel for your sleep-deprived editing self, it wouldn’t actually be very pretty at all. I’ve seen people provide thirty pages when they were asked for two. I’ve had researchers complain that they can’t attach their 50-page CV to an application. I know what it is like to have 130 pages of application to review and comment on, with just a couple of hours to do it. I know that there is never enough space to write what you want, in the way that you want.

I also know that there is never enough time to read what is submitted, with the attention that it deserves. Read more of this post

Residential writing retreats: three wishes for academic output

BronwynEager-150pxDr 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. To learn more about her writing retreats, visit Academic Writing Retreats


Photo of writing retreat by Narelle Lemon

Photo of writing retreat by Narelle Lemon

If academia was a Disney film and I was a street rat (early career researcher) living on the sandy backstreets of Agrabah, who happened to summon a genie, my three top-of-my-head wishes would be: publications, grant money, and a pipeline of non-traditional research outputs.

But after the wishes were granted and I was flying away on my magic carpet, I’d realise my error (besides the fact that I’d forgotten to wish for world peace).

I should have asked for ‘time’ and ‘space’ and ‘someone to cook my meals’ so I could get on with what I actually love: reading, asking questions, collaborating with other academics, discovering answers, writing, editing prose, and disseminating my findings.

Outputs are by-products. If they were instantly granted through genie magic, then the joy of the journey would evaporate quicker than you can say “How’s your research going?”

Yet when you are under pressure to publish (just to keep, let alone advance, your career), have demanding teaching loads, a never-ending cycle of meetings, and deadlines, what you need is time. Time away from distractions. Time that you can dedicate to research. Mostly, that means time for writing.

Which is why, as the kind of person who walks through a weekend craft market thinking “I could make that!”, I decided to start running residential writing retreats.

Read more of this post

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

When peer review goes well – and when it doesn’t

Dr Jodie Goldney is a qualitative researcher with extensive experience working in the community services sector.

Her PhD is a critique of the scientist-practitioner, or Boulder model of pedagogy that underpins the training of psychologists in most of the Western World. Drawing on that work, Jodie created the attributional approach to recruitment and training, which screens for reflexivity and capacity to learn from experience over a static knowledge-base.

Jodie recently launched Qualitate (www.qualitate.com.au; on Twitter: @Qualitate01), which applies qualitative methodologies to the problems of industry.

She is both adjunct and sessional academic with Charles Sturt University. Jodie tweets from @jgoldn01.


Photo by eatsmilesleep | www.flickr.com/photos/45378259@N05 (Shared via CC license 2.0 - creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Photo by eatsmilesleep | http://www.flickr.com/photos/45378259@N05 (Shared via CC license 2.0 – creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

In the academic world, getting published is serious business, it can mean the difference between getting a job, and not even getting an interview.

For new PhD graduates, this need is particularly strong, with the catchphrase “publish or perish” whispered in hushed tones, as people unpack why one colleague seems able to carve out a professional path, with greater permanency than multiple sessional (and very part-time) roles across several institutions!

There is also an arguably ethical component to this expectation to publish and share one’s work. Those who’ve undertaken a doctorate have had heavy investments (in the form of time, mentorship, and financial support) from their respective academic institutions, supervisors, research participants, associated communities, and schools of study. Giving back in some way is only right.

I recently completed my PhD and, in keeping with publishing expectations, I have worked consistently to translate my thesis into scholarly, peer-reviewed articles over the last five months (among other work and family commitments). The results of this process for me so far are eight pieces at various stages of the publication process:  two in press, two in the review cycle, and four are in preparation.

Reflecting on my experiences thus far, I have been amazed by the diversity of ways that a prospective author can be treated by journals and their editors, how differently the peer-review process can occur, and what is considered as constituting academic substance. Read more of this post