Tag Archives: writing productivity

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.

Reflection, identity and writing productivity


I have just returned from South Africa where I ran several workshops both at Wits and UJ.  I always find the questions from participants to be thought-provoking and this time was no exception.  When I’m in the midst of a workshop, I’m focused on the points I want to get across, but on the drive home, the next morning and at odd moments after that, I find myself thinking about a question someone asked. 

I always begin a workshop on research writing by stating that in academic contexts when we write we always convey an argument (rather than a ‘truth’) and that argument becomes more ‘truth-like’ when the evidence convinces the audience and more opinion-like when it doesn’t.  Some arguments are very subtle and embedded while others are upfront and obvious.  We, as academic writers, make the choice based on the discourses we work in.  I always urge researchers to be cognisant of what they are arguing even if they decide to downplay the argument in writing. Otherwise one writes an argument into the paper without even knowing it.  One workshop participant asked me: “But if you know what you are arguing, doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the research?”  The ‘simple’ answer is that (for me) all research is ideological, so any researcher carries a worldview into the research, in the way s/he sets up the research project or frames the questions.  That worldview carries an implicit argument.  You can still be open to contrary results but only if you are aware of your position/argument.  Sometimes worldviews are so deeply part of who we are that it is difficult to pull it away and hold it up for scrutiny.

The more complex answer to the participant’s question is that when a researcher connects worldview, identity as a scholar and research interests, research becomes meaningful and writing that research becomes an imperative rather than a chore.  The only way to make these connections is through reflection – reflection through writing, I would argue.  I keep a journal on my desktop, for my eyes only, and in there, I reflect on what I believe, argue, and what I take for granted.  When I’m writing a paper, I jot thoughts down in the journal on what I’m trying to say.  Some of those thoughts go into the paper, others don’t.

Stephen John Quaye (reference below) has written a lovely paper, well worth reading, about exactly why it is so important to ask yourself questions like:  What is my role in this research?  Why does my identity matter when I’m constructing interview questions?  Whose interests does this research serve?  How does this research serve my interests?  Somewhere, underlying these kinds of questions is the tangle of our worldview and identity as researchers and our implicit views of this research project – which often appears as our argument.

Well, I hope this has generated some food for thought and I would love to hear your comments.



Quaye, S.J. (2007). Voice of the researcher: Extending the limits of what counts as research.  Journal of Research Practice, 3(1). ArticleM3. http://jrp.icaap.org/index.php/jrp/article/view/60/81