Tag Archives: academic publishing

Slow scholarship


Here’s a superb blog post about writing productivity, the neo-liberal academic subject and why the slow scholarship movement is growing. Definitely worth a read.

“How to Become a Prolific Academic Writer”

Katrine Smiet

 Or: How to Become a Model Neoliberal Academic Subject.

If you’ve met me recently, online or offline, you’ll know that I’m in the middle of finishing my PhD dissertation. That’s to say: I’m in the middle of finishing a manuscript, a book, the largest piece of writing I’ve ever written. Some 90.000 words, excluding bibliography.

So it should not come as a surprise that writing and everything related to it have been on my mind these past months. How to reduce procrastination time and be more effective in my time management? How to overcome writer’s blocks and deal with the anxiety that comes with trying to finish up a project like this? How to edit your own text and how to be satisfied with what you’ve written?

Because I’m nerdy like that, I also love reading, thinking, talking and even writing about writing. Yeah, that’s some ‘meta’ stuff! The genre of…

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The ‘so what?’ question


I came across an article by Selwyn (2014) who raises the question of relevance when writing a peer-review journal article.  The ‘so-what?’ question is a hypothetical question that a reader will ask if they can’t see why your research and this paper is important.  The reader is really asking: Why should I read on? Why should I care ?

Often when working on a project and writing it into being, we become myopic about the details.  Because we think the topic is important, we assume that others will automatically understand and agree. Selwyn (2014) writes from his capacity on the editorial board of Learning, Media and Technology and he states how important the so-what? question is to journal editors.  He writes: “Just because we have published three papers on the topic of Twitter is not an indication in itself that we are happy to publish more.  What we are keen to publish are articles that add to understandings of the social complexities of digital technology and media use in education.  This is what the ‘So What? question means to us” (p. 3).  He goes on to unpack  the so-what? :

  1. What is the relevance of the article to practice in the field or any other aspect of the ‘real world’?
  2. What is the relevance of the article to policy?
  3. What is the relevance of the article to other academic research?
  4. What is the relevance of the article to theory?

You won’t need to address all these so-what? questions in one paper – you’ll probably  focus on one or two but the questions will help you to orient your paper towards your readers.

I hope this will help you think about the relevance of your research to your audience the next time you write a paper.

(Obviously, these questions can be applied to a thesis as well.)

Here’s the reference:

Selwyn, N. (2014). ‘So What?’…a question that every journal article needs to answer.  Learning, Media and Technology, 39 (1), 1-5.



Finding my voice again


As I’ve mentioned before, our family has been dealing with a long-term significant health issue (hopefully we’re on the other side of it now).  The stress of that, coupled with the day-to-day frantic world of teaching, supervising, running workshops and meeting existing research commitments has its consequences.  I find myself rushing through papers, not enjoying the process and just focusing on deadlines and outputs. What I want to say, and what I want to contribute has gone by the wayside because there is simply no time to think or to work that out. In addition to all of this is the tenure-track pressure to be ‘the good academic citizen’, someone who fits in and conforms.

Marlene Schiwy, in a book called A voice of her own (1986), talks about her own experience as a PhD student:

“…after many years of rigorous academic work, my own writing voice – the voice that had known its truth and confidently written stories at ten – had been silenced. In its place was my best attempt to sound authoritative and erudite, dispassionate and elegant. Academic writing, I found, required me to leave out precisely what I cared about most in a work of literature – ironic, since I always wrote out of a passionate affinity with a particular author or work. Where my younger voice had been spontaneous and unselfconscious, my academic voice was anxious and unsure, forever second-guessing itself in the attempt to leave no nuance unexplored, no counterargument unrefuted, no reference uncited. In the final year of writing my thesis, I promised myself that as soon as it was finished, I would get back to ‘my own writing,’ to my own voice. Then I would write to please myself…But – lo, and behold – it was not that simple. My voice had not been just waiting patiently for an invitation to return, and hadn’t gone unaltered by my years in the academic world. Suddenly I wasn’t sure what my voice was, anymore, or even whether it was still there”  (p.29-30).

How do we recognise our own voice among the many voices we have internalised over the years?  How do we develop a voice that is no longer governed by the language of the collective but is also not just created in opposition? These are Schiwy’s questions.  Her solution is in writing in a journal to “let the tongue try itself out” (p. 304). Write about what you really think about your research?  What you really want to say? Write without restrictions, without conforming and then see what can be transferred, used, and shaped into your paper/chapter.  The journal could be an old-fashioned book or a desktop document, but it’s private and it’s yours, and it’s here that you will find your meaningful voices because, of course, there will be many voices to try out.

The papers I have enjoyed writing the most and the ones where I have good responses have been the papers where my voice is unmistakable because I feel strongly about what I am saying.  This does not mean I write my feelings into the paper or that my papers are very subjective, it means that I write less passively, more actively constructing my writing around a message rather than writing just to get it done, to get it finished and to have a product that will satisfy the external demands. Writing (even academic papers/chapters) becomes satisfying when we attach meaning to it and when we’re able to weave it into our evolving life stories.

Then it’s not just about getting the writing job done but an experience of discovery about who we are.