Writing stalled? Send yourself a letter

Letter to yourselfWhen I scanned the mail the other day, one letter caught my eye. I couldn’t quite place the handwriting and tore open the letter. To my shock, I saw I’d written it to myself.

Maybe I should have recognized my own handwriting, but it was like seeing yourself reflected in a window. Even though certain aspects look familiar, we often don’t have a clear picture of what we look like—or write like.

Three weeks earlier, I’d received a rejection for a particularly important writing project. After I poured out my despondency to a friend, she suggested writing a letter to myself venting my frustrations, extolling my virtues, and declaring my writing goals and mailing the letter without a second glance or draft. It should be postal mail, she emphasized—email wasn’t quite the same. I thought this idea a little hokey, but desperate followed her advice. [Read more…]

Polishing your scholarly manuscript–and letting it go

man writingIn this post, the fifth in a series of five, you will learn how to polish your prose by reading it out loud “backwards”—and then letting it go.

Before submitting your manuscript, read the manuscript out loud read it out loud s-l-o-w-l-y (Goodson, 2017, p. 36). To force yourself to read slowly, try reading your prose paragraph by paragraph backwards. That is, start with the last paragraph in your manuscript and move backward paragraph by paragraph until you reach the first paragraph. You will read more slowly because reading backwards is somewhat jarring. You will focus on each paragraph so you see problems that were previously invisible to you. You will read as though you were reading for the first time. You will divorce yourself from your prose and gain some distance from—and perspective about—your writing. You will see your manuscript through a new lens because what you were thinking at the time that you wrote and what you actually wrote can be different. [Read more…]

Solicit and use informal feedback before formal peer review

woman writerThis post, the fourth in a series of five, shows you how to seek informal feedback before formal review, which will increase your chances for getting manuscripts accepted and grants funded. After peer review, journal articles improve on 33 out of 34 measures (Goodman et al., 1994). There is no reason to believe that this is any different for informal reviews. You can seek informal feedback effectively by asking the right readers for the right kind of feedback—and then listening avidly and responding quickly and thoroughly.

Seek informal feedback before seeking formal peer review because it is the eyes of our readers that really “count”—we are not (supposed to be) communicating primarily with ourselves. [Read more…]

Organizing scholarly manuscripts—briskly and well

woman writingWant to publish in better journals and get more grants? Organization is the skeleton of a manuscript, its very structure. Get it right and the manuscript works. Get it wrong and it doesn’t. In this post, the third in a series of five, you will learn how to organize paragraphs around key or topic sentences, list those sentences in a “reverse” outline, and examine the list for clarity and organization. More than 90 scholars who tried these strategies were studied and 95 percent reported that their writing was clearer, better organized, and more compelling (Gray et al., 2018).

Identify—or write—a topic or key sentence for each manuscript and paragraph. A topic sentence may announce only the topic, but a key sentence also announces the point. So a topic sentence might say, “Next, we discuss the nutritional value of apples and oranges.” [Read more…]

Drafting scholarly manuscripts—briskly and well

man writingThis post, the second in a series of five, offers strategies that can help you learn to draft briskly and well. Draft your manuscript without revising as you draft and outline your manuscript based on an exemplar or an excellent publication, thesis, or grant proposal.

Writing informally is helpful for your very first draft—or anytime you are drafting a new paragraph or section. Writing informally can mean freewriting—or freely dictating—continuously without stopping and without revising your work. As you freewrite, conduct a conversation with yourself about whatever you are reading, whoever you are surveying or whatever is happening in your experiment. Converse with yourself to keep a written record of your thoughts as you research, however crude, so that you can read them later, revise them, and rachet up your thinking to the next level. [Read more…]

Triple your scholarly productivity by writing daily

typing on keyboardSome scholars astonish others in terms of their numbers of papers accepted and grants funded. Why do some flourish while others flounder? Even when you can’t work harder, there are important ways to work smarter. This post, the first in a series of five, offers strategies that can help you learn to draft manuscripts quickly and well by writing daily and by holding yourself accountable to someone else for doing so.

Scholars have found these strategies triple productivity. In one study (Gray et al., 2018), more than 90 faculty members and graduate students followed these strategies by writing for 30 minutes daily and holding themselves accountable to others for doing so. The participants increased their annual rate of finishing manuscripts from two to nearly six (Gray et al., 2018). Participants accomplished this by writing for only 30 minutes per day, four days per week. [Read more…]

Textbook pedagogy helps students review and retain subject matter

Sullivan Precalculus 11eMy field, mathematics, is a discipline in which the complexity of the subject increases with each course and each course requires a certain amount of recall from prior courses. While some students do quite well in transitioning to the next mathematical challenge, there are many who don’t bridge easily to the new content. Furthermore, students are prone to forget material learned earlier in the current course that they now need.

As a professor of mathematics, having taught for over 35 years, I am well acquainted with the reluctance of students to review material when their recall of it is imperfect. When I faced up to this issue a while back in revising my four-book Precalculus series, now in the 11th edition, I decided to confront the problem head-on. [Read more…]

2020 Textbook award-winning insight (Part 5): Longevity

McGuffey Longevity Award WinnerWe recently reached out to winners of the 2020 TAA Textbook Awards and asked them to answer some questions about why they made the decision to write their textbook, strategies they used for successful writing, advice on contracts, editing, marketing, co-authoring, and more. We will be sharing their answers in a series of posts over the next few weeks.

This final installment of the five-part series focuses on achieving long-term success for a manuscript. [Read more…]

Are you a linear or circular writer?

typing on keyboardSome writers feel comfortable and can be productive following the sage advice of the King in Alice in Wonderland to the White Rabbit: “Begin at the beginning . . . and go on till you come to the end.” Other writers, though, wail internally or aloud, “But I don’t know where/how to begin!” Trying to follow that command only increases their angst and intensifies creative paralysis.

No Beginning

When I coach doctoral candidates as they begin writing, I often advise them not to start at the beginning, that is, with Chapter 1. They sometimes think I’m nuts, but, a heretic in the King’s court, I’ve got sound reasons. In the first chapter of a dissertation or introduction in an article, the writer must present a thorough and concise overview of the problem investigated or reported on. This presentation requires (a) great familiarity with the breadth of the topic and (b) greater familiarity with previous studies of the subject. [Read more…]

2020 Textbook award-winning insight (Part 4): Co-authoring

Textbook Excellence Award WinnerWe recently reached out to winners of the 2020 TAA Textbook Awards and asked them to answer some questions about why they made the decision to write their textbook, strategies they used for successful writing, advice on contracts, editing, marketing, co-authoring, and more. We will be sharing their answers in a series of posts over the next few weeks.

This fourth installment of the five-part series focuses on working with co-authors. [Read more…]