8 [MORE!] Academic writing blogs you should be following

Are you ready for more great academic writing blogs to follow?! blog logoThe original, 8 Academic writing blogs you should be following, was so popular (and continues to be) it seemed fitting to bring you a second addition—not to mention the fact that the blogs below are worthy of being followed! In no particular order, here are eight academic writing blogs that offer superb advice on everything academic writing and publishing related, plus life as an academic: [Read more…]

The most useful textbook & academic writing posts of the week: April 3, 2015

Can you believe it is already April"Write 1000 wrods a day, five days a week, before you do anything else. If you do it first thing in the morning, then you won't get distracted by all the things that tempt you not to write." -Lisa See and Easter is already this Sunday?! I love the warmer weather and the ability to sit on my deck and write. This week’s most useful posts have two sort of unintentional themes: peer reviews and productivity. There is also a sprinkling of other posts worthy of your time. One of my favorite posts this week is, 7 Habits of Highly Effective Writers, Courtesy of Alexis Landau.

Speaking of productivity, do you like to write first thing in the morning before anything else so you don’t get distracted but rather get things accomplished as Lisa See suggests in the quote I choose for this week? If you could give one tip for being productive, what would it be? Share it with me in the comments below.

Happy writing! [Read more…]

Register for TAA’s September Dissertators United Chapter Virtual Writing Boot Camp

bootcampGain access to resources, accountability check-ins, and support and encouragement as you work to complete your dissertation by joining us for TAA’s September Virtual Dissertation Writing Boot Camp. This second boot camp in a series of 9, will be held September 20-21. It will feature a 30-minute webinar presented by Margarita Huerta, Assistant Professor of English Language Learning/Early Childhood Education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, entitled, “Writing With POWER”. [Read more…]

6 Reasons to participate in a writing boot camp

Nothing Worth Doing is Ever EasyAshley Sanders, a doctoral candidate at Michigan State University and leader of TAA’s Dissertators United Chapter Writing Boot Camps, (the second boot camp, “Writing With POWER”, will be held Sept. 20-21. Register today) shares these six reasons to participate in a writing boot camp:

(1) Create space and time in our schedules to make significant progress on our writing goals
(2) Develop goal-setting skills
(3) Increase the writers’ awareness of their own process through writing logs
(4) Share writing resources
(5) Determine sustainable writing habits
(6) Offer both camaraderie and accountability

Read Ashley’s article about writing boot camps on Inside Higher Ed [Read more…]

8 Academic writing blogs you should be following

BlogsWhen trying to find relevant articles to share on our Twitter feed I seem to always go back to the same blogs. These blogs (below) offer stellar advice for academic writing, from dissertations to journal articles, to book proposals and productivity. Here is my list of eight academic writing blogs you should be following:

The Thesis Whisperer—Developed ‘Shut up and Write!’ which “turns writing from a solitary, to a social experience.” You can either start a group near you or find a group in your area using their interactive map.

patter—Pat Thomson covers everything from thesis writing to journal etiquette and rejections, to how to get started on the page. I especially like Pat’s posts on writing for journals.

PhD2Published—This blog is packed with tips, so many that I’m not even sure where to start. You’ll just have to check it out for yourself.
[Read more…]

How to identify yourself as an academic writer

Identify yourself as a writerDoctoral study involves a transition from student to researcher; a key aspect of that transition is becoming an academic writer. This is not to say that most new PhDs would readily describe themselves as academic writers. But that level of accomplishment requires the development of a set of academic writing skills that were likely not present at the outset of doctoral study. It’s also likely the case that the development of those crucial skills was a significant challenge.

Why is doctoral writing such a challenge? This question is a vital one given the centrality of writing to all that we do as academics. It’s common for new graduate students to feel as though their writing skills have suddenly become worse, as though the adequate writing skills honed over their undergraduate years have abandoned them just when they need them the most. A linear trajectory that would naturally make us better writers with each passing year may seem a reasonable expectation, but the reality is more complicated than that. Understanding this reality can help novice academic writers start to approach writing in a more confident and efficient manner. [Read more…]

Promoting outstanding writing: An interview with Patricia Goodson, Ph.D.

Patricia Goodson

Patricia Goodson

Becoming An Academic WriterPatricia Goodson is Professor of Health Education at Texas A&M University, and Director of the College of Education and Human Development’s Writing Initiative (P.O.W.E.R. Services), a college-wide writing support service for graduate students. P.O.W.E.R. is grounded in the model described in her book, Becoming an Academic Writer.

Here Goodson talks to TAA about her approach to writing and about managing a successful writing support service for graduate students. [Read more…]

When writing your dissertation, look at it from several perspectives

The project is not the subject. The project is not the thesis. Whether you are writing your dissertation, a journal article, or a book, the project is not simply the thesis. When I ask people about their projects the answer I get is always (or almost always) the subject of the project. Sometimes I ask specific questions like “what kind of project? Is it a dissertation? A thesis?” And still the answer I get is the subject of the project. But your project is not just about a subject; it has a certain form. It is a journal article, a dissertation, a book. It has a certain intention—to share a discovery, to support a position, to instruct others. It is aimed at a certain audience—peers, or students, or educated lay people.

If you can see that form, and understand how that form relates to the work you’re trying to accomplish, then the writing process becomes much easier: it’s less a shot in the dark, and more a purposeful action.

Of course, form is uncertain in some ways–we cannot be certain that what we think will be good will be thought a good dissertation by a professor, a reviewer or an editor–but it is still useful to have some image of the complete project. If we have an idea of the complete project, we can judge when we need to do more work, and when we can move on to another section or chapter. We can judge what is good enough and what still needs work. Without having some guiding image of what we’re trying to accomplish, it’s hard to know when we’ve reached our goal. If you don’t have an idea of the complete work–an outline, an estimate of length–then you can more easily vacillate about what should be included. Even if you’ve thought out an outline and have many details of the plan down, it can help to do things like estimate intended page length.

Intention and Audience

It’s difficult to separate these two: part of intention is to reach a certain audience. Having a clear intention is important—again it helps one focus and keep an eye on what should and should not be included. The same thesis would be expressed differently if the intention were to instruct or the intention were simply to present an argument.

Understanding your audience is crucial. By understanding the audience, you can tailor your language, structure and examples appropriately. Writing to peers is different from writing to students. Again, the same thesis will be expressed differently for a different audience. By clarifying your intention and audience, you help shape the form and expression of your thesis.

Sometimes it can help to think about writing to two audiences. One is immediate, the other distant and idealized. The immediate audience is your professor, reviewer or editor. You want them to accept and approve. The other is the audience that you idealized: whom the work is trying to reach if it can get past the gatekeeper. In the case of a peer-reviewed journal, these are approximately the same. But again, thinking of the audiences helps focus on how the thesis is to be expressed.

There’s a general point: there are several perspectives from which one might approach a work. One of these perspectives is the perspective of trying to prove a point or make an argument. But that’s only one perspective that is relevant to an author. By understanding more than one, you gain additional insight into the project, and this additional insight can play a major role in helping you use your energy efficiently.

Dave Harris, Ph.D., academic writing coach and editor, helps writers rework their writing process, fine-tune their final drafts, and everything in between (www.thoughtclearing.com; dave@thoughtclearing.com).
Copyright © 2007, Dave Harris. All rights reserved

Punctuation, other stylistic rules: obstacle or opportunity?

Punctuation, and other stylistic rules, with all their exceptions and apparently arbitrary forms, can seem like a massive obstacle to writing. If you’re unsure of punctuation (which is reasonable, given all the conflicting opinions on punctuation), the rules are more than a nuisance; they conspire to break into the writerly flow with their demands for figuring out, for example, where to put a comma. Punctuation and other rules are enemies to many writers. Certainly most of us don’t enjoy reading Strunk and White or the massive style manuals that define proper writing style in many academic fields.

Dave Harris

Dave Harris

But if you think of writing differently—not from the perspective of getting it all down on paper, but from the perspective of reaching interested readers—then these take on a different appearance; punctuation affects meaning and interpretation; to a lesser extent other stylistic elements do, too. And the meaning that the reader can gather is one of a writer’s main concerns.

Rules are not simply some crazy editor’s fetish, nor are they just a tactic to maintain power and class differences (though they may serve that purpose); stylistic guidelines serve a practical purpose in helping readers use the work presented in the most effective way.

Most important of all is punctuation. A naive view of writing is that the words convey the meaning. But, realistically, punctuation plays a key role in determining meaning. Minor punctuation changes can result in major changes in meaning. Placement of a comma, for example, can alter meaning significantly. There is no question but that finding the punctuation that suits the idea is difficult, and this contributes to treating stylistic rules as obstacles. But we don’t struggle only with obstacles. We struggle with our tools, too; whether hammer or computer, tools require skill and effort to use, but we don’t typically view them as obstacles. Punctuation and other stylistic guidelines are tools.

There may be regulations that seem arbitrary; some regulations may serve no obvious purpose, may seem to derive from archaic practices, or may seem to derive from false ideas of usage (e.g., “different should only be followed by from and never by to or than“, which, according to Fowler’s Modern English Usage,” is not supportable in the face of past and present evidence or of logic.”). But the fact that we may not see a reason for a rule does not mean there is none. And, while the absence of a reason for a rule may be reason to disregard it, it’s worth knowing the rule and being able to understand why it doesn’t serve.

Though I have talked mostly about punctuation, I suggest this as a perspective from which to view stylistic rules and guidelines more generally, especially style manuals, which can be intimidating. These manuals are meant to help bring consistency to presentation styles thus easing readers’ tasks. Mostly what style manuals talk about are punctuation and reference citation—about half of the APA manual, for example, is dedicated to just these two things. It’s a lot of details, many of which you’ll never use.

We do not each need to become master of every nuance of our written language, but the greater our mastery, the greater the ease with which we can wield our stylistic tools, the greater our ability to write both well and quickly, two things to be desired by any academic. It all starts with viewing stylistic rules as tools, or, to use the metaphor I opened with, they provide opportunities to make your work more readable.

Dave Harris, Ph.D., academic writing coach and editor, helps writers rework their writing process, fine-tune their final drafts, and everything in between (www.thoughtclearing.com; dave@thoughtclearing.com).
Copyright © 2007, Dave Harris. All rights reserved