Tag Archives: research writing

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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Data visualisation


Have any of you seen the utterly fabulous Dear Data by Giorgia Lupi and Stephanie Posavec?  These two data designers undertook a project of collecting weekly data on aspects of their lives (how many times they became irritated with their spouse, for example).  Each week they converted that data into a visual form and sent a postcard of it to each other.  On the cover is the visual data and on the back was an explanation of the thought process that went into it.  Have a look at their story:

I think this is such a fabulous idea to teach students how to see data, how to think about collect it and how to visualise ways to represent the data.  For me, it combines the best aspects of research: interesting stuff to collect and creativity.  Visit their site here, if you want more.  (I’ve begun collecting data on how many times I give my dog some loving.  The data reveals what she has indicated all along: Not enough!)

Qualitative data

Today I came across this blog on qualitative data visualisation.  In the blog, author Jennifer Lyons begins with this: “Visualizing qualitative data is like making homemade risotto. You are standing over the stove (aka hunkered down with your computer), waiting patiently for the magic to happen. It’s slow and sweaty, but in the end SO worth it. There is a reason you can’t order risotto at McDonalds, and there is a reason you can’t display your qualitative findings in a nice neat dot plot. I am going to share some resources and ideas that will help give your audience a taste of your rich qualitative findings.” Qualitative researchers, are you salivating yet?  Go and read the blog!  She has a whole crayon box full of ideas.

Making time for writing


Finding time to write is always a struggle.  The question of time is the No. 1 issue that comes up in workshops and classes:  “I just don’t have time to write!”  I’m sympathetic because I don’t have time either.  Yesterday, I had email notifications popping up so quickly and what should have been the occasional ‘ping’ sounded like a continuous (ear-jarring) symphony. I’m teaching, collecting data, writing a major grant proposal, supervising many masters and doctoral students, chairing comittees… Just listing all this makes me feel exhausted.  But alongside the busyness, I have a growing frustration about not being able to engage with writing as much as I would like to.  So finding time to write is a ongoing struggle. I’m sure you can relate to this litany of woes.  So what to do?

I mentioned in my book Productive Writing that in research we conducted with research-writing workshop participants, three groups of writers emerged.  The first group were those people who identified as writers. These were faculty and graduate students who saw themselves as writers. They kept regular journals, wrote poetry, research articles, blogs, published on teaching, and generally wrote about anything.  These writers would prioritize writing because they saw the world through writing.  The second group were scholar-writers. These were writers who only wrote to publish and communicate their research.  For these writers, research was the focus and writing the mechanism.  This group also prioritised writing since it was a way to access further grants and to be part of the scholarly conversation in their areas.  For both these groups, they used the tools provided in the workshops to springboard them out of whatever stuck place they found themselves in.

The third group we called the ‘I have no time‘ writers.  These writers wanted to write but could not and lack of time became the reason.  I was fascinated by this group (having been there myself at one point) and have my own theories about procrastination and writing in academic contexts. If you identify with this group, you can read my views and possible strategies here and here.  Here’s a video as well.

Of course, these identities are not fixed – people change – and there may well be other identities but I think it’s useful to think of your writing identity, then to think about time and what you value in the time that you have. The point is not to beat yourself up about it (“I’m the worst person on earth because I can’t find time to write”) but to think about where you can make time to write if it really is important to you. And if you can’t, perhaps other things are more important at this point in your life, and that’s ok.

If you do want to make time to write, listen to the podcast below.  I found it helpful and encouraging – she has sensible, do-able and kind ideas (no bootcamps here!):

Mary Allen — Harnessing Time: The Key to Writing podcast

Article on publishing in peer reviewed journals


Here’s an article a colleague and I have just published on writing and publishing in peer-review journals: http://www.preprints.org/manuscript/201607.0035/1

This is the open access article before peer review.  The final article will be published in the journal Publications. The reviewers gave substantial feedback so the final version is a much better one.

Here’s the final verson:  PDF Version: http://www.mdpi.com/2304-6775/4/3/24/pdf

We hope you enjoy it and would love to hear your thoughts.


Two new papers to share


Hi everyone

Just a quick note to post these two papers.

Both of them will be published soon by Brill in an edited collection that I co-edited with Cally Guerin from the University of Adelaide.  I thoroughly enjoyed working with Cally and we were able to form a friendship through Skype and emails while working on this manuscript.

This process highlights what I enjoy most about academic work.  All the authors were collegial, helpful and committed to the book.  Everyone worked together really well.  The editorial review and production process also went smoothly and was conducted very professionally with both the editors and the publishers doing all they could to help us along.   (This is proof that academic writing and review work doesn’t have to be painful!)

Anyway – here are the two papers.  The first is the introduction to the book where we use memes as an entry point.The second is a paper from a project on graduate research writing that I’ve been working on with colleagues and it’s about using visual tools (mind-maps, sketching) as a way of thinking through research before writing.

Brill I.1_BadenhorstGuerin_completed

Brill V.1_Badenhorst_completed


Learning the dance steps in academic/research writing


The people who conduct research on academic writing refer to consistent patterns in writing as ‘genre moves’.  These are really like steps in a dance.  Everyone does them in a particular order and that forms the pattern.  Joseph Harris (2006) wrote a book called ‘Rewriting: How to do things with texts’ where he outlines four common moves/steps in academic writing. To me, just knowing that there are patterns or moves helps me to see what I’m doing in my writing.  It gives me an element of control.  The four moves are

  • forwarding
  • countering
  • coming to terms
  • taking an approach

Over the next four blog posts, I’ll take you through his four moves, step by step.  While these moves are not always the same in every piece of writing (unlike dance steps in a set dance), they will help you to analyse your own writing and to see if you are stuck in one move.  Harris’ moves are widely known and there is a fair amount of literature on them if you are interested in researching this further.

Harris, J. (2006). Rewriting: How to do things with texts. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

Carnegie African Diaspora Fellow


This year I will be traveling to South Africa as a Carnegie African Diaspora Fellow.  The purpose is to conduct workshops with academic staff and postgraduate students at the University of Johannesburg on research writing.  I’ll be using this blog as a space for communicating and for posting resources so that workshop participants can access the material before and after the workshops. Today I’ve added notes, examples and a video presentation on developing a problem purpose statement here. (This is not an official Carnegie African Diaspora site).

Hello again!


The past eight months have passed in a blur – not only because of teaching and research commitments but because our family has been dealing with a significant health issue. My teaching semesters are over for a while and I’ve had time to take a break. This respite allowed me to realise how much I’ve been in coping mode trying to meet obligations and do my job. I haven’t consciously been living. I do think living consciously or mindfully helps writing productivity. What this means is stopping, taking a breath and consciously making decisions about what you want to do in this moment. For example, if I’m in coping mode and I have a deadline for a paper, I have a goal (to finish the paper) but my mind is on the deadline and who will be reading it once it’s finished. I push myself through the process of putting the paper together because that’s what I’m trained to do. But the practice is fraught with anxiety and is energy-draining.   If I take a mindful approach, then I’m noticing which aspects of the paper excite me and I might begin with those sections. Perhaps my energy is low, so I notice that the easy bits of the paper such as the methodology or describing the context would be the best bits to work on now. Instead of rushing through, focussing on the goal of finishing, I might stop to listen to how the paper sounds if I read it out loud. I might even think about the words I’m using and change words like ‘dissemination’, often used mindlessly despite it’s gender-heavy connotations to something like ‘distributing knowledge’. If I’m consciously in the moment, I might also notice that I’m feeling rushed, anxious and pulled in a million different directions and then take the time to practice self compassion and ask ‘What can I achieve today?’ Not what should I be achieving today? Or what ought I be achieving today? But what is possible given my energy levels and my time? Perhaps all that is achievable is a very bad first draft. A first draft full of notes to yourself about what should go in sections, possibly some quotes and names of authors, some extremely poorly written parts, and some bullets points. No matter how badly written, it will be the beginnings of an argument, a sketch of the story you want to tell in this paper, an outline of your thinking around the message you want to convey. Papers often develop in the writing and a bad draft is a good beginning. It’s much easier to rework a draft than it is to get the initial thoughts down. So in your writing today, stop, listen, notice and question.


You might be interested in watching Kristen Neff’s TED talk on self-compassion:

Writing with a bad attitude


Life has been fairly tumultuous in my house lately, and quite unpredictable.  I have found myself grousing that I have no routine, no solid ground, so how can I sit down at my desk and work on a paper?  Even once the cause for the disruption has passed, I find myself holding onto it. 

Donald Murray, in an article called ‘One writer’s secrets’ (1986, College Composition and Communication, 37(2), 146-153) writes about attitudes that allow writing.  He suggests that many of us love to complain about writing.  That we go about writing as if we are performing a penance.  I do enjoy writing – most of the time.  I love the satisfaction of seeing a paper published.  I relish the puzzle of pulling the paper together into a coherent form.  But there are times when publishing in peer-reviewed journals gets me down and I feel tired at the thought of having my paper undergo backroom surgery at the hands of a reviewer.  Just recently, for example, I received a review back on a paper where the reviewer had made minor but valid points which I was quite happy to revisit and rework.  But the comments were written so sarcastically and scornfully that I couldn’t help but feel somewhat diminished.  My satisfaction in publishing this paper now feels tainted because my ears will forever ring with that sarcasm.  I’m guessing that this is not an attitude that enables writing!

So what would constitute an attitude that facilitates writing?  One that would make academic writing enjoyable?  Well, I guess we need emotional intelligence.  As I’ve been saying in previous blogs, our emotions play a huge role in our writing.  Eric Maisel, another of my favourite authors, suggests that as writers we need the full range of emotions.  Any writing is lifeless if we extract every ounce of emotion – even academic writing. But, he says, that doesn’t mean we need to be slaves to our emotions.  Emotional intelligence is deciding not to give in to a negative emotion.  This doesn’t mean that we can’t experience frustration, rage or despair.  It means we choose not to become fixed on the emotion that it dominates our actions.  In his book, A Writer’s Space, he writes: “an emotionally intelligent, emotionally mature person does not strive to avoid feeling and does not hope against hope that unwanted feelings stop arising.  Rather, he monitors and masters them by embracing the ones he wants and discarding the ones he doesn’t.  This isn’t an easy practice, it is an invaluable one.” 

There is no solid ground in writing as in life.  Things constantly change.  Who we were while writing our previous paper is not the same as who we are now while writing this one.  In the face of this instability, it is easy to let our emotions swamp us and drag us off to non-writing activities.  So, what can you do?  Maisel suggests taking a moment to calm yourself through slow, deep breathing.  Then observe the emotions you’re experiencing and make conscious decisions about what to keep (and use) and what to let go.  Or you can do what I did this morning. As I stomped outside to collect the mail, I saw a spider’s web dotted with sliver drops of dew.  I chose to enjoy the exquisite beauty of that one moment, to hold onto that feeling while I wrote, and to let go of grumpy reviewers…

Here’s hoping you have a great writing day!

Writing, rejection and ‘procrastination’



Writing is an emotional activity.  We like to pretend, in academic contexts, that when we write formally, we also write with some objective distance.  Yet anyone who has received a rejection letter from a journal or feedback from a thesis supervisor will know how painful it can be.  Our reactions are not objective at all.  Things tend to get a bit mixed up in academic writing.  Our self-esteem, notions of intelligence, standing in the community, pride, and confidence all become intermingled in our writing.  So if our writing gets critiqued, so do all these other aspects of our selves – at least in our minds.  Rejection of our writing becomes equated with rejection of who we are, evidence of our lack of intelligence now exposed for the world to see, and proof that we are not really academic enough to belong in this world.  As you are reading this, you are aware of how ludicrous this all is but in the moment when you receive a rejection of your writing, all these thoughts pass through your head.


You only need to receive one set of negative feedback on your writing to experience painful emotions.  In a lifetime of writing at school and then university, we experience many, many negative emotions around writing.  It is not surprising, then, that your body, your entire being, will want to get up from your writing desk and find something comfortable to do rather than write.  Getting a doughnut (instead of writing) will make you feel satisfied and content.  Cleaning the floor/walls/etc (instead of writing) will make you feel in control, virtuous and worthy.


If the writing is high stakes – something we feel strongly about or if we write for an important audience – the more we anticipate the adverse response and negative emotions we feel we are likely to experience.  In these cases, it becomes much harder to get the writing done and much easier to find something else to do.


Sometimes we experience positive emotions when we receive a good review or our thesis supervisor is happy with our work.  But often we rationalise these positive emotions as ‘once off’ or ‘lucky’ and we put it down to the exception rather than the rule.  The more positive experiences we have, the more we are likely to persevere when we experience rejection.  That’s why more experienced academic writers get to a point where they don’t mind journal reviewers’ comments because they can see the value in them and feel the ultimate satisfaction when the paper is finally published.


The reason why I’m harping on about negative emotions and writing is because many people stop writing and move into non-writing careers after experiencing a painful rejection.  Others try to persevere but suffer from ‘procrastination’ or writer’s block.  Still others leave the rejected paper/chapter, no matter how important it is, and don’t re-write or resubmit.  They move onto safer topics.  This is the real danger of negative emotions from writing – that it shifts us away from what we want to write about in the way we want to write about it.


What can you do?  Write about your experiences of receiving a rejection.  Share your experiences with others.  There’s nothing like hearing someone else’s story to put yours into perspective especially if there is humour involved.  Think about critical incidences in your writing career. Have there been moments/incidents that caused you to shift from your original path? Draw (scribble) your emotions when it comes to writing.  Write ‘I feel…’ paragraphs about aspects of writing such as getting negative feedback.  The more you recognise what you are experiencing, the more you will be able to deal the urge to get up and do something else.