Questioning ‘productivity’

The last two posts from me have been about writing productivity apps and how they can help to keep up a regular writing practice. While I see the value in using them (and I have been using one for two weeks now), I find the focus on ‘productivity’ unsettling.   This may seem at odds with an academic life where producing texts is seen to be core business but I know that if I focus on ‘outputs’, I almost always end up writing-paralysed.  Yet, if I focus on the message, who I want to reach, and just keep the writing process going, the product happens anyway but with less stress and angst. This morning, I listened to a podcast on this issue (see below) and although Lorsung is not talking about academic writing specifically, what she says makes so much sense to me.  One final caveat:  we all write differently.  While the focus on productivity makes me want to hide in bed, it may energise you.
Éireann Lorsung — ‘Productivity’ and ‘Failure’ for Writers
Wed, 16 Jul 2014 11:33:14 -0500


Over and over I hear my students, my peers, and my own interior voice talk about failure as writers. Often this is linked to an idea of ‘productivity’, and in particular to a perception of others as ‘more productive’. As publication online increases the speed at which writing can appear in public, the distance between writing as a process and writing as a product closes. Consequently, the concept of productivity is measured more and more in terms of visible, finished objects, muddling the relation of publication to the act/process of writing. I’ll question the usefulness of these ideas—failure and productivity—for writing, and suggest ways of reframing our writing processes to accommodate work that ‘fails’ or is not visibly ‘productive’. In addition to talking about how what seems like ‘failure’ is an integral part of making writing that’s worthwhile, I’ll offer strategies and concepts—the multiple, the telescope—that help me keep writing despite unhappiness with my work or the feeling that others are ‘better writers’ (meaning ‘more productive’) than I am.

Tracking research


There seems to be a theme emerging in the blog- and Twitter-shpere on tracking writing productivity. Read this blog for more…

DoctoralWriting SIG

Dr Abigail Winter is a transdisciplinary independent scholar, whose day job is working at the Information Coordinator in QUT’s Reporting and Analysis section. Her research interests vary broadly around the higher education sector, including organisational change management, journalism, student employability, research methods, and teaching and learning. She is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (UK) and can be contacted at Susan Gasson is the Manager of the Research Students’ Centre at QUT. She writes on research methods and HDR issues, including student mobility and internationalisation, and is currently planning her own doctoral research project. In this post they write about their use of Excel to track research writing and reading.

By Abigail Winter and Susan Gasson

I began 2016, as so many previous years, with the intention of becoming more productive. As a bibliophile since the age of about 4 years old, my first place to go was…

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What makes a successful writing group?


Here is a different take on motivating yourself to write – using some of the apps available to writers.

The Research Whisperer

angeladobele02-smallDr Angela Dobele is an academic at RMIT University in Melbourne. Her teaching and research practices seek to make vital contributions to resolving the social, environmental and wicked problems of our times.

In her scholarly practice, Angela aims to be grounded in real-world problems, critical in theoretical and marketing orientation, and andragogical in her approach to student performance.

Her thesis topic and subsequent research considers word-of-mouth (at the intersection of relationship marketing and communication theories), both online (viral) and traditional referrals. Her other research topics concern academic workloads and research on student performance. Angela can be found on Twitter at @AngelaDobele.

Photo by Mark Asthoff | unsplash.comPhoto by Mark Asthoff |

An Organiser’s Perspective of Writing Groups: Dr Angela Dobele (@AngelaDobele)

It’s really hard in a crowded academic life to make time for your own research writing and spend time with your colleagues.

To create a great foundation for doing both, I introduced a writing program at my…

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Where to get my books


Thank you to all of you who comment, follow this blog and subscribe to my videos.  I really appreciate hearing that they help you.  Many of you have asked where you can get my books.  This is a tricky question since they were published in South Africa and are not on Amazon.  However, the publishers have assured me that international buyers can get my books from Adams Books.

As far as I know, you can get both hard copies and the online versions from this bookseller.


Apps that help writing productivity


These days just about everyone has a FitBit or a walking app to count how many steps they take in a day.  Well, if you look here,  and here you’ll find blog posts that list a number of online apps that can help you keep on track with your writing.  They range from helping you to keep focused, counting words written to blocking distractions.  I haven’t tried any of them myself but I think I will.

Mmmm, I wonder if there are apps I can use on my phone…

coping with writing anxiety – or – learn to stroke your spider


Here’s a blog by Pat Thomson on writing and anxiety that I thought you might enjoy.


Desensitisation is a psychological term. It is used to describe a process through which a very anxious – perhaps even phobic – person gradually becomes used to the object or situation which makes them afraid. Professional support is often required for effective desensitisation.

Desensitisation usually consists of three steps – developing a fear hierarchy, relaxation training and then something called reciprocal inhibition. Let me explain these steps in a touch more detail.

The fear hierarchy – well this requires making a list. You make a list about the thing you are anxious about, going from the least terrifying version to the absolutely most awful. (In clinical practice this list-making is done with a therapist and there might be discussions about where these fears came from. ) My favorite example of a possible fear hierarchy is this –


  • Think about a spider
  • Look at a photo of a spider
  • Look at a real spider in…

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five ways to structure a literature review


Here’s a blog on writing literature reviews. I particularly liked the idea of the wheel structure.


You’ve read. And read. And read.You’ve noted. And noted. And how. You’ve written summaries and memos.You’ve made groupings and mind-maps of the reading.But you’re still a bit away from actually writing about the literatures. You’re still not sure how to wrestle all of that material into a compliant text.You know the purposes of the literature review. But that doesn’t tell you what structure will work for your particular project.

Before you put pen to paper – or hand to mouse – it might help you to now think about the ways in which literature chapters, if you decide to have one, are most often structured. You can then see if one of the usual ways will work for you.

So here’s a set of five possibilities.


  • A chronology

As the name suggests, this is an historical map of the field. In writing historically, your intention is to show how…

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Writing processes


Although I firmly believe that writing is a social practice (we write to be read and in response to contextual conditions), a good portion of our writing time is often done alone.  Many of you will know that I’m very interested in ‘procrastination’ in academic writing and what this means.  Often procrastination is touted as a lack fo self-disicpline and I honestly think that poor self-disicpline is not a characteristic of most graduate students.  The graduate students I see are, in addition to studying, working, looking after families, volunteering on student and other committees, and generally leading exceptionally busy lives. I think procrastination has less to do with individual personality traits and more to do with the nature of academic writing.  I’ve made this argument several times – in my book “Productive Writing” and in various presentations.

Recently, I’ve become interested in what individual writing processes look like and what this can tell us about procrastination.  By chance, I came across this YouTube video made by a student on his writing processes.  It has made me think about the way I write:  when do I pause?  how often do I edit? when does writing flow? Have a look and see what you think.




A life in review: Writing tasks that academics do that we don’t talk about


Here’s a blog post on review genres in academic work. How do we learn how to review?

DoctoralWriting SIG

This guest post is from Sue Starfield, professor in the School of Education and the Director of the Learning Centre at UNSW Australia. Sue’s interests include tertiary academic literacies, doctoral writing, writing for publication and identity in academic writing. If you enjoy this, you may like these related posts.

It struck me recently that I spend large amounts of my everyday academic life carrying out reviews of various sorts. Besides the ongoing feedback I provide to my doctoral students on their writing, usually through ‘track changes’, I do many other kinds of reviews. Quite a number of these are quite high stakes such as examining a doctoral thesis or reviewing a book proposal for a publisher for example. Yet it is difficult, if not impossible, to gain access to exemplars of these kinds of texts.

Hyland and Diani (2009, p. 1) noted that “what academics mainly do is evaluate”. As…

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