How to extract articles from your dissertation

When I finally got around to writing my dissertation (that’s another story), I realized that its organization easily fell into several relatively self-contained chapters. Once I defended, I needed to convert as much of the dissertation to publishable articles as I could, for the “hound of tenure” was fast on my heels.

I realized that I had written each chapter with a possible article based on it already in mind. In philosophy one often takes on positions articulated by others, and seeks to attack them in a way that makes one’s own view more plausible and defended against those who would, or should, attack it. So, I “carved” the dissertation into three chunks and wrote them up as independent articles. I sent them to the same journals that had published the articles I was attacking, and they were accepted (usually subject to some revisions). Hence, my first three publications, followed by a fourth when one of my attackees sought to defend himself in print. Those, plus a couple of short pieces, secured a tenured appointment.

The most important writing tool

Hello. It’s me again, Ken. Dr. B. says that anyone who has polluted the journals as much as I have should have at least one more tip to offer, so here goes…..

Twenty acres, a tractor, and a toolbox, that’s all we had and all we needed. When the old John Deere broke down, we just grabbed the toolbox and put it right. Writing’s no different. Just keep a few tools…and know how to use them.

Turn bad editing into good writing

Whether soliciting advice from friends, family, or colleagues, on the receiving end of letters and track changes from journal editors, all authors have received bad editing. Bad editing is part of the writing game. Not everyone who is an editor is an excellent writer, in fact many are not. Although we’d like to think that our manuscripts are read by people with an interest or specialization in the material our articles or books cover, that’s not always the case. Readers can have bad days. Professors can be bogged down by exams; student editors may be more concerned with tests.

When writing, focus on your strengths

There’s a world of knowledge out there and it all intertwines. The study of any one subject begins to touch on the boundaries of others, motivating study into the new subject. When reading and when writing, we learn new things, which could lead to feelings of treading on unfamiliar ground.

I’ve met some brilliant and hard-working people in my life in academia. I’ve met people who read articles by the bushel and books by the shelf, but I’ve never met one who had read everything worth reading. There’s too much knowledge out there for any one person to know everything there is to know and to read everything that has been written. And, of course, we recognize this; it is the motivation behind the specialization all around us. Nonetheless, it is not unusual to become paralyzed by the sense that we don’t know enough.

How to get the most out of peer reviews

Rather than seeing the peer review process as negative, veteran academic authors William Stallings and Francine McKenzie encourage authors to see it as a valuable opportunity to improve their work.

McKenzie, an associate professor at the University of Western Ontario, said authors should see peer reviews as part of a process of improving a piece and one’s writing skills in general. “Think of peer review as more an intellectual exchange than a judgment,” she said. “With this mindset, authors can approach peer review with enthusiasm instead of apprehension.”