Write with purpose, publish for impact
This post was originally published on SAGE MethodSpace and has been republished with permission.
When we put our thoughts into writing and publish them, we tell the world something about who we are. We move beyond circles of people who know us — colleagues and friends– to reach readers we will never meet. They learn about us from the choices reflected in our writing. What messages do you want to convey to your readers?
Attentive readers learn something about our priorities and the values we consider to be important—for our respective fields and the world at large. What questions do we ask in our research, and whose voices do we bring forward? To what extent do we focus on the same questions over multiple studies and publications, digging deeper and building new knowledge in a specific disciplinary area? And to what extent do we stretch and change, asking new questions and looking to connect proverbial dots across disciplines and sectors?
As the publication list grows, readers can discern our publication strategy by looking at the types of work we generate. Do we focus on results, or methods and process? Do we build a list of articles published exclusively in scholarly journals or books? Does our publication list include practical how-to guides, manuals, or other types of work that offer guidance for applying what we have learned in improved policies or practices? Do our outputs include podcasts, media, visualizations or visual representations, comics, or other materials that might creatively present research findings?
Think about the messages you want to convey with your published writings. Publications can help open new doors and build new networks— so it is important to think about which doors and networks you hope to discover. This collection, originally posted on SAGE MethodSpace and the Textbook and Academic Authors Association blog Abstract, can help you reflect on the best options and move forward. The material is organized to correspond to writing stages:
- Imagining the Writing Project
- Organizing and Planning the Process
- Focusing and Being Productive
- Sharing Work in Progress
- Publishing & Presenting
Use them to develop the writings and publications that reach your desired audience, and create the impact you hope to achieve.
Imagining the Writing Project
Our priorities are reflected in our sense of professional identity. Are you an academic or a writer? Are you an instructor/researcher/research supervisor/committee member/conference presentation planner (not to mention parent, community volunteer and…) who is compelled to write in order to get, keep, or advance in a desired career? Do you see yourself as a writer who uses what you learn from your life and work to inspire others? Or are you looking for the right balance?
By Davina Cooper
Academic writing can seem freighted with agendas other than communicating sense, even as academics split over whether inaccessible writing conveys brilliance or simply that ideas and readings have not been fully digested.
Increasingly, I incline towards the latter. Or at least I know that is what causes me to write in overly-referential, condensed ways, drawing in and dragging on others’ words as I gesture towards meanings glimpsed but not quite reached. 8 months into my PhD, my supervisor said I was writing like a bad translation of Poulantzas, or it could have been Althusser; I was reading both at the time. I don’t think I was offended. But I do remember being struck by the idea that one could and should write differently – that academic prose wasn’t simply about rearranging a limited set of technical words and phrases.
You write about your ideas, research, and findings. But sometimes you also need to present your research. Presentations might include conferences or meetings of professional societies, in face-to-face or online settings. How can you approach such presentations with confidence, and communicate successfully?
Do any of these complaints sound familiar?(Use the comment area to add your own!)
- I can’t remember where I wanted to go with this article!
- My literature is out of date! I don’t have library access so I can’t get new articles!
- I’ve changed my career goals, and now I don’t want to work on a journal article!
- It will take too much time to complete this project!
Has this happened to you? You have brilliant insights and are raring to go on the new writing project, then life happens. The project slips to the bottom of the pile, then you move it off your desk altogether. One day something happens that triggers your memory: oh yeah, I was writing on that topic…where is that file?
We can find endless reasons to set aside a piece of writing. Perhaps we are distracted by another priority or opportunity, We hit a writers’ block of some kind, and move on to something else. The forces of inertia might hold you back. Or, if we are to be candid, we might just be sick of it! But as time goes on, we might see some benefit from revisiting a piece of work we left for dead.
This graphic from SAGE sets out handy tips on how to get published. Standards are high and getting published is not easy, but there are certain things to think about to improve your success rate at getting an article published.
Organizing and Planning the Process
I am in that singular stage of insanity called finishing a book. My mind is full of details and questions such as, “did I already cover this in Chapter 1” or “do I have too many diagrams in this chapter”? At the same time, I can’t help but think about my reader.
I hope that my reader will hungrily devour the book from start to finish, stopping only to make notes about how she will put my ideas to use. I hope it will be dogeared, full of notes and highlights my reader will return to time and again. But seriously, how can we plan for the realities that will occur when masterpiece is in someone else’s hands? Here are some of my apprehensions, and the strategies I’m using to address them.
When the paper, article, proposal, case study, or book manuscript I am reviewing needs revisions (or is rejected), organizational issues are typically at the heart of the problem. I get lost because central thesis or argument is vague or missing. Sentences run on; paragraphs are disconnected from a clearly stated focus. In an effort to sound like a scholar, the writer obscures important points behind wordy explanations. Motivated to demonstrate knowledge of the literature, writers insert strings of citations or veer off into tangents that don’t support the main points. Perhaps changes are made to one section, but not consistently carried out through the entire piece of writing.
My academic writing primarily involves longer projects, namely books. Over the years I’ve tried a variety of strategies in the hope that I could use time to productively focus on writing, rather than wasting time trying to keep track of drafts and versions. In this post I will share my choices, and look forward to hearing about yours.
Here are some open access resources from SAGE Publications and respected writing centers or bloggers to help you set priorities and meet writing goals.
Getting started can be a challenge. We have to think through key questions about potential readers’ needs and interests and clarify the purpose of the article or post, chapter or book. We need to be honest with ourselves about writing skills and habits– and look for ways to improve. If the writing project involves a manuscript that has been languishing in the nether reaches of a back-up drive, we must re-imagine the contributions the finished piece might make and re-discover our enthusiasm. Here are some articles, chapters, and media pieces that might help.
Does the organization of the textbook relate to pedagogical approaches used to teach with it? What pedagogical perspectives are represented by the organizational style we choose for a book and its chapters? These questions percolated through my work on a recently completed book manuscript. When thinking about the organization of the book, I reflected on ways people read books today and how they use them to learn.
By Lydia Hooper
Researchers across academic disciplines are well trained in using writing to develop and convey their insights, but only some learn how visuals can help them organize and communicate their ideas.
It’s well worth learning what you can, because visuals have the unique ability to help us:
- Develop ideas and understand experiences that language can not yet describe
- Gather and analyze complex and/or abstract ideas in simple, immediate ways
- Communicate across language, knowledge, ideological, and other barriers
- Impact decision-making, which largely happens in our pre-lingual, pre-rational brains.
Focusing and Being Productive
Integration of research and writing is differentiates academic and other types of writing. We analyze, critique, and build on others’ published research; we report on our own findings. Some might think that given this empirical, scientific basis for our writing, we don’t need a muse. I readily confess that I do! I don’t know how else to explain the fact that sometimes the writing just flows, but sadly, at other times it does not. I may have a perfectly clear block of time and a quiet office, but I can’t quite craft words into an interesting, insightful piece of writing. You may call this a lack of focus, and say I need to use my right brain to set writing goals, and force my typing fingers to meet them. I just don’t think it works that way, at least not entirely.
“I don’t have enough time to write!” That is the complaint I hear most frequently from frustrated would-be writers. Most frequently writing is not our only responsibility, so we have to carve out time and space from competing demands of work, school, family and community. Is challenging as this may be, I’d argue becoming a productive writer is more complicated than simply learning time management.
By Chris Smith
Today, many academics feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. They’re under huge pressure to write and publish but an ever-growing mountain of teaching and admin is stopping them doing just that. Our research finds that whilst nobody is immune to these pressures, some academics cope better than others – and that’s because over the years, they’ve developed personal “systems” to help them write.
Writing a book or an article is a demanding process in the best of circumstances. We must balance a number of internal and external factors. We must figure out how to convey our insights and experiences, research and analysis, in writing. At the same time, we must interface with the external world: schedules and deadlines, editors and publishers, and ultimately with our readers. We add another set of factors when we work with co-authors. How can we navigate all of these dimensions in ways that allow us to collectively produce our best work?
This post by Steven E. Wallis, PhD and Bernadette Wright, PhD describes lessons learned from their co-authoring a book. Practical Mapping for Applied Research and Program Evaluation to be published by SAGE: We are currently writing a new research textbook for SAGE focused on accelerating the practical benefits of research through knowledge mapping.
Steven E. Wallis and Bernadette Wright introduce a Knowledge Mapping approach. There has been a vast explosion in the number of academic publications – journals, articles, posts, and books of all kinds. So much so, that no individual can keep up with any but the most narrow of fields. It is much easier to read a map – than to try to quickly make sense of pages of text!
Are you thinking about editing a book? Why? What type? How will you contribute—and what will you expect from contributors? How will you engage with contributors, taking what roles? In this series of posts, we will explore these and other considerations for prospective editors. Please use the comment area to contribute any insights you think might be valuable to researchers who are considering this type of publication.
Editing a book is quite different from authoring one. I have written books as a sole author, and I have edited (and co-edited) books. I’d like to share some lessons learned, as well as my thoughts about how to craft a prospective book.
You have a concept for an edited book, now what? What steps are needed to move the project forward? One important step involves agreeing to a book contract with a publisher, another involves finding contributors. The sequence of those steps is not consistent from one publisher to the next. In this post I will share lessons learned from two books I edited.
Chapters by different authors define the edited book. Once you have selected the chapters to include, you will need to think about how you will work with contributing authors to make sure that the book project proceeds as planned.
An edited collection is a book-length compilation of chapters by different authors. To pull together this kind of book you need to find contributing authors, and select suitable chapter proposals. You also need to consider what role to take as the book’s editor, and who else you might need to help carry out tasks essential to the completion of the book.
Sharing Work in Progress
The academic writing and publishing process used to look like this: .
First, we completed the research and finalized the manuscript. Next, our work went through peer review (or if we were students, review by our faculty members or doctoral committee.) Finally, the work was published, and at that point we would present it at conferences and talk about it publicly.
Now, the connected internet means we have new opportunities to share our work in process and make needed improvements.
How can researchers provide information about their studies in ways that would be useful and interesting to prospective and current research participants? With that question in my mind, I began to explore the potential for blogs to recruit and inform participants. As with almost any online exploration, I discovered a much broader potential for blogs in the academic world.
Like research and writing, creating images requires thoughtful process. I highly recommend that anyone and everyone use a design thinking process. This includes thinking about who your audience is and gathering information about them before developing ideas, and then using sketches or prototypes to test ideas over and over. Something else to consider, whether you are a quantitative or qualitative researcher, is what type of visual serves your goal best.
Academics share the ups and downs of the research experience, build networks, and link to findings or other online resources with social media. You might have discovered this post through a link on a social networking site! Some academics embrace social media, while others are trying to decide whether and how to proceed.
Dr. Katie Linder observes, “I’ve found that sharing out my progress on social media really helps to hold me accountable to regular writing, especially during multi-day retreats. Sharing my writing progress with a larger community has also had the added benefit of creating a record of my writing process that I can go back and review for inspiration and affirmation when I’m struggling with my writing.”
Publishing & Presenting
Carrying out scholarly research is a challenge, whether you are conducting an empirical study, reviewing literature, or developing a new theory. But research is only part of the process. When you formulated the design, you thought about a need for improved understanding about people in a certain situation or better approaches to resolving an intractable problem. In whose hands should your findings be placed in order to achieve the kind of impact you had in mind? Scholars who can build on your work, test your theories, or explore subsequent questions with new populations or contexts? Academics who can teach your work to the next generation? Or, should your results be available to mayors or managers, teachers or parents– those who can use what you learned to improve the lives of individuals, organizations, and communities? If you see practical application as important, what steps should you take to translate academese into down-to-earth recommendations? Depending on your thoughts about these and other considerations, you’ll want to ponder the options for getting your research to those who can use it. At the same time, you will want to think about your own role: what can you do advance in the direction you envision, and what does all of it mean for your career?
The APA Publication Manual tells us:
The prime objective of scientific reporting is clear communication. You can achieve this by presenting ideas in an orderly manner and by expressing yourself smoothly and precisely. Establishing a tone that conveys the essential points of your study in an interesting manner will engage readers and communicate your ideas more effectively. … In describing your research, present the ideas and findings directly, but aim for an interesting and compelling style and a tone that reflects your involvement with the problem. (VandenBos, 2010, pp. 65-66)
The APA Manual and other guides can instruct us on the mechanics of academic style, but how do we learn to develop a tone and compelling style that is acceptable to editors and professors yet retains our original stamp?
Social media or social web? I posed that question last year in a guest blog for the British site, Discover Society. Given recent scandals involving hacking and profile misuse on commercial social media sites, I’d like to revisit this question as it pertains to academic and textbook authors. To what extent should we post original writings on social media sites?
News about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica comes on top of increasing unease with online privacy, hacking and tracking. What are the implications for academics and writers?
Tufekci observed that when social media platforms emerged in the mid-2000s the “networked public sphere–the burgeoning civic space online that had been developed mostly through blogs–expanded greatly, but with a simultaneous shift to commercial spaces.” Many academics have made significant efforts to move into those commercial social media spaces, in an effort to connect with colleagues and readers. Are we now in a time when we should rethink about where and how to focus our online presence? Is it time to re-imagine a social web, with less dependence on social media?
Janet Salmons is an independent scholar and writer through Vision2Lead. She is the Methods Guru for SAGE Publications blog community, Methodspace, and the author of six textbooks. Current books are the forthcoming Learning to Collaborate, Collaborating to Learn from Stylus, and Doing Qualitative Research Online (2016) from SAGE.