10 Steps to becoming a prolific scholar
Last week, Tara Gray, author of Publish & Flourish: Become a Prolific Scholar, shared insight on scholarly productivity and publishing in a series of articles on our blog. Gray also shared her experience and wisdom in a two-part TAA webinar series in March where she outlined a 10-step approach to drafting and revising scholarly manuscripts – quickly and well.
1) Write 15–30 minutes daily
According to Gray, “Inspiration follows a daily writing habit, it doesn’t precede it.” She advises writing daily and making your writing a priority by scheduling it first in your workday – even if you are between projects.
2) Record Your Minutes Spent Writing—Share Records Daily
Gray argues that it is not enough simply to develop a habit of writing daily, but that it is important to share your results with someone who can hold you accountable. She says, “Hold yourself accountable to a writing coach the way athletes do. Be accountable for writing daily.” Even a quick email with just two digits in the subject line – your minutes spent writing – can serve as accountability communication with your coach. A good coach will be invested in your writing, so Gray suggests selecting someone who cares about your success and whose opinion you care deeply about.
3) Write informally from the first day of your research project
Writing freely without trying to revise your paragraphs as you write is a tactic that Gray says may seem pointless but leads you to more focused, purposeful writing. She also states that our time spent reading should be focused on reading to write, not on reading to learn.
4) Outline based on an exemplar – an excellent paper, grant proposal, thesis, etc. on a subject as close to your research as possible
“Writing becomes easier when working with an outline because you are filling in blanks”, states Gray. By starting with an exemplar, you can outline the topics covered in the model and further outline what you will do in your paper to parallel the original work.
5) Identify key sentences
“Key sentences represent the point of the paragraph, are often found early in the paragraph, and cover everything in the paragraph – but no more”, says Gray. Once identified, the key sentences are used to organize paragraphs by transition, topic, and support or evidence.
6) Make a list of key sentences – an after the fact outline or “reverse outline” to help organize between paragraphs
With the reverse outline, Gray advises reading the key sentences both backwards and forwards. First, read them backwards to check for purpose and remove ones that don’t serve the purpose of the paper. Next, read them forward to check for organization, reordering as necessary. Finally, re-read your changes and repeat the process as needed.
7) Seek informal feedback before formal review
There are two key types of informal reviewers that Gray suggests seeking before the formal review – non-experts and Capital-E experts. Non-experts may be outside your discipline – even family and friends, whereas the Capital-E experts are those you cite most in your work. Gray says that with either audience it is important to ask pointed questions. For non-experts, ask “In what two places is my paper 1) least clear, 2) least organized, and 3) least persuasive?” When approaching the Capital-E experts, she adds “explain how their work informed yours, ask specific questions, ask for a ‘quick read’, ask ‘where to send the manuscript’, and volunteer to read for them” for a greater response rate.
8) Respond effectively to feedback
The goal of review and feedback is improvement, but in order to improve you must be open to and act upon the feedback received. Gray makes two suggestions for responding effectively to feedback. First, “listen without judgement, keep your readers talking or writing, and realize that when it comes to clarity the reader is always right.” Second, “respond thoroughly and quickly by doing something with each feedback item.”
9) Read your manuscript out loud
Reading out loud just before sending to press allows you to “see your manuscript through a new lens and make your prose more conversational”, says Gray. To slow the process down, she suggests reading paragraph by paragraph backwards. Where you find wordy sentences, break them apart. To untangle sentences, she adds, “put the subject and verb together within the first seven words of the sentence.”
10) Kick it out the door and make them say No!
At this point, Gray says only three obstacles remain – pride, perfectionism, and fear of rejection. Offering advice on how to overcome all three, she concludes, “Your job is to write it and submit it. Your reviewer’s job is to tell you if it will embarrass you publicly, so kick it out the door and make them say yes.”