The most useful textbook & academic posts of the week: November 9, 2018
John Rogers said, “You can’t think yourself out of a writing block; you have to write yourself out of a thinking block.” The ways in which we approach our academic writing impact the mindset that drives progress and success. In this week’s collection of articles from around the web, we have found several suggestions of ways to improve your writing practice that may just get you through your next “thinking block”.
First, we found examples of habits leading to writing productivity and satisfaction, and a connection between teaching, research, and writing. Next we explore the fundamental element of the paragraph, and honesty and originality in academic writing. We then found discussions on collaboration and unity of the scholarly community at large, ways to get involved as an academic, and a poll on the time commitment of a dissertation effort. Finally, our collection includes industry topics of open access, academic freedom, ethics and data breaches.
If you find yourself facing challenges in your writing efforts this week, we hope you take the advice of John Rogers. Realize that your block is not a writing block, but a thinking block, and write yourself out. Happy writing!
Six things we’ve learned about academic writing productivity (and satisfaction)
For the ambitious academic, focus fixed on producing world-changing research, feeling happy about your writing process might only be a secondary concern, at best. But the interim findings of our survey questioning the writing “habits” of academics – now with 510 responses from over 40 countries – indicate that writing satisfaction is strongly linked to publishing productivity and, potentially, career success.
Many students nearing the end of their dissertation will explore areas of professional life beyond research and writing, including teaching their own classes, either at their home institutions or elsewhere. Part-time lecturing offers invaluable experience and provides supplementary income, but it also takes a lot of time at a point in life when time is in short supply. This seems like a hardy introduction to the rough-and-tumble relationship between research and teaching graduate students often hear about. But is there something more to be learned about the research-teaching relationship beyond that there are only so many hours in a day?
Getting to grips with ‘the paragraph’
Paragraphs sit way below my consciousness a lot of the time. But paragraph awareness rises to the surface when I am reading something where the writer doesn’t appear know what the paragraph is. I pay attention to paragraphs when I expect to see them and they aren’t there. I notice their absence rather than their presence.
Honesty and originality in academic writing
First, let’s address a fundamental issue: if our academic writing is based on flawed research or we are representing work as our own that is not, we can’t accomplish our goals. We can’t make an authentic contribution to our fields, or make the world a better place. Once the truth comes out, ethical shortcomings make the news and reflect badly on the academy, scholarly research and publications.
Scholarly communications — like the wider world — is increasingly divided. The rhetoric around non-profit versus commercial organizations, open versus subscription models, publishers versus librarians, is often presented in a very black and white, good versus bad way. Yet we all have the same ultimate goal – to support research and researchers. So why don’t we collaborate more (like our researchers do), and argue less (like our much mistrusted politicians)? Why don’t we focus more on what we have in common, and less on where we differ? Why don’t we define ourselves more as “we” and less as “them and us”? Why don’t we put more effort into being better together?
Beyond the factors I’ve outlined above, new Ph.D. graduates and other academics are often also uncertain about how to get started, particularly those at teaching institutions and community colleges. So, based on my conversations with early-career and community college sociologists, I will offer some suggestions for getting involved — with the caveat that individual effort won’t necessarily overcome structural factors — though even those academics who recognize structural problems and have often been the victims of them have a real desire to get involved.
Time for writing a dissertation
Some PhD students wait until the very end of their studies to spend three (miserable?) months writing their thesis. Others work in a more gradual way. I spent about 1,5 years on writing (while still finishing up research tasks as well). To have an idea of which method is most common, I ran a poll on Twitter on this topic. You can find the wake of this poll here.
Open access, academic freedom, and the spectrum of coercive power
I’m on the record as having suggested that institutional, funder-imposed, and governmental open access (OA) mandates have troubling implications for academic freedom, given that academic freedom includes — according to the statement promulgated by the American Association of University Professors — “full freedom… in publication.”* You can’t simultaneously enjoy “full freedom in publication” and operate under a regime that requires you to publish in very specific ways — especially when those modes of publication require you to give up important rights granted to you by law.
Ethics in an age of data breaches
I’m concerned that, if breach data is not formally included in the remit of Institutional Review Boards and Human Research Ethics Committees, it will eventually occur to unethical researchers that they can just pay hackers to obtain the data they want, and release it to the public. This is important because there is a growing swag of breached data out there.