Creating a Writing Productivity Pipeline

Associate Professor of Education Erin Marie Furtak shares her advice on creating a writing pipeline to stay productive from conception to publication (Chronicle of Higher Education).

A common bit of wisdom I’ve heard shared among academics is the 2-2-2 rule: Always have two manuscripts in preparation, two under review, and two in press. While that captures the need to have manuscripts in various stages at all times, there are many more categories than those three.

A few year ago, lamenting the challenges of this juggling act, senior scholars in my department advised me to start thinking about my manuscripts as occupying different places in a pipeline, with proposals on one end and published articles at the other. The goal: Keep your papers distributed along that pipeline, and flowing through.


Good Advice on Writing a Book Proposal

I’ve two sources of quick but effective advice on writing academic book proposals to recommend.

For a successful former faculty member and continuing mentor’s point of view, Karen Kelsky’s columns from The Professor Is In at Chronicle Vitae offer focused advice to humanities and social sciences writers on strategizing and writing a book proposal:

Top Five Tips for Turning Your Dissertation Into a Book

How to Write a Book Proposal

For a former academic book editor’s point of view, Rachel Toor’s columns in The Chronicle of Higher Education provide some common sense food-for-thought about marketing the work:

The Reality of Writing a Good Book Proposal

How to Write a Good Book Proposal, the Sequel

On Revising the Dissertation

Rachel Herrmann shares her experience in revising the dissertation into publications in this Chronicle article. She revised her chapters into articles and submitted the articles to top-tier journals in order to get detailed feedback for revision. She carefully guarded her time as she revised the whole into a book manuscript. The practical and disciplined strategies she used will be helpful to many early-career academic writers. Read the full article here:

Revising the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Dissertation

Science Papers with Simple Abstracts Cited More Frequently

A new study funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and published in the Journal of Infometrics has found that science papers with simple abstracts have a citation advantage.

The study, conducted by Adrian Letchford, Tobias Preis, and Helen Susannah Moat found that abstracts that used the same words more frequently, used more frequently used words, were shorter, and used shorter words (under 5 letters) received more citations.

The authors’ conclusion? “Overall, our results suggest that the style in which a paper’s abstract is written may relate to the number of times the paper is cited.”

Retraction Watch provides a useful summary of the open-source paper (linked above.

Steven Pinker on Writing

The literary scholars Mark Turner and Francis-Noël Thomas have identified the stance that our best essayists and writers implicitly adopt, and that is a combination of vision and conversation. When you write you should pretend that you, the writer, see something in the world that’s interesting, that you are directing the attention of your reader to that thing in the world, and that you are doing so by means of conversation.

That may sound obvious. But it’s amazing how many of the bad habits of academese and legalese and so on come from flouting that model. Bad writers don’t point to something in the world but are self-conscious about not seeming naïve about the pitfalls of their own enterprise. Their goal is not to show something to the reader but to prove that they are not a bad lawyer or a bad scientist or a bad academic. And so bad writing is cluttered with apologies and hedges and “somewhats” and reviews of the past activity of people in the same line of work as the writer, as opposed to concentrating on something in the world that the writer is trying to get someone else to see with their own eyes.

…Another bit of psychology that can make anyone a better writer is to be aware of a phenomenon sometimes called The Curse of Knowledge. It goes by many names, and many psychologists have rediscovered versions of it, including defective Theory of Mind, egocentrism, hindsight bias, and false consensus. They’re all versions of an infirmity afflicting every member of our species, namely that it’s hard to imagine what it’s like not to know something that you do know.

…We as writers often use technical terms, abbreviations, assumptions about typical experimental methods, assumptions about what questions we ask in our research, that our readers have no way of knowing because they haven’t been through the same training that we have. Overcoming the curse of knowledge may be the single most important requirement in becoming a clear writer.


Writing Environments

In this Inside Higher Ed article, Nate Kreuter gives thoughtful advice to academic writers about how to curate their physical and social writing environments to enhance productivity.

Writing is an inherently social activity — we write for others — that we most often undertake in solitude. This is one of writing’s great contradictions. We write for an audience, even if that audience is a private note to our future selves. Academic writing, though, whether it is scholarly writing or the functional writing of service obligations that keeps the university running, is always intended for far less abstract audiences. This writing too, is most often undertaken in isolation, at least initially. For this reason, not only the physical environment where we write matters, but also the social environment within which we write.

How Not to Write a Ph.D. Thesis

The way to relax an examiner is to feature a sentence in the first paragraph of a PhD abstract that begins: “My original contribution to knowledge is…” If students cannot compress their argument and research findings into a single statement, then it can signify flabbiness in their method, theory or structure. It is an awful moment for examiners when they – desperately – try to find an original contribution to knowledge through a shapeless methods chapter or loose literature review. If examiners cannot pinpoint the original contribution, they have no choice but to award the script an MPhil…The key is to make it easy for examiners.

“How Not to Write a Ph.D. Thesis” by Tara Brabazon (Professor of Education, Charles Sturt University, Australia) offers a doctoral advisor’s inside look into what makes a doctoral thesis successful–or not. Many of the insights are transferable across fields, including the signal importance of the bibliography. (Times Higher Education, 28 January 2010).