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Psychology

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Write that Journal Article
(in seven days)
Dr Inger Mewburn
Director of Research Training
Australian National University
This slide deck is released under a Creative Commons license

Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Plotters like to plan and then write line by perfect line. They take a long time, but don’t have to do a lot of editing later.
Pantsers like to just jump in, with minimal preparation. They make a mess and then clean it up. The cleaning up can take a long time.
Ideally you can switch between these modes.

‘... file cabinets are full of unborn articles. I know many researchers who have a shameful backlog of data; some have unpublished data from the 80’ s that they “hope to publish someday”. Sure they will.’ Silva, 2007.

Warning: Don’t try to do this from a cold start...
Writing a journal article is like cooking a stew. You need ingredients. If you have to keep running to the shops it will slow you down.
Check whether you have some or all of the following in your academic cupboard:




Data, Ideas and/or artifacts
Knowledge of at least some relevant literature
Results, analyses and or theorisations

Day Zero:
What sort of academic are you?

Academia used to be mostly about speaking

Image of an early viva from William Clark “academic charisma and the origins of the research university.

Now we know each other through writing

“Text work is identity work”
Kamler and Thomson, 2006

Where you publish matters because it positions you within your academic ‘tribe’

Ask yourself:
Where do people I like to read publish?
Which of these journals are the most popular? Are the editors going to be sympathetic?
Will this journal make it easy to circulate my work widely?
Do I agree with the ethics of this publisher?

Day one:
Choose your genre.

Rugg and Petre (2010) claim that there are 7 types of academic paper:
Data-driven papers
Methods papers
Theoretical papers
Consciousness-raising papers
Agenda- setting papers
Position papers

Let’s take a closer look at each one.

Data driven papers...
Talk about the results of empirical studies.
They present and discuss the data, publicise the study and its findings and provide sufficient information for replication and critique.

Based on this description, what headings would you expect to see in such a paper?

Data driven papers can report on findings from:
Experimental results, Metastudies, Artefacts, Surveys,
Benchmarking exercises,
Observations, Interviews, Focus groups, Evaluations, Case studies and Work in progress.

Methods papers
Describe a new method, technique, algorithm or process, explain how to use it, suggest what situations or use cases it’s good for, outline any constraints. Rugg and Petre say there are three basic types:





Method introductions (the justification)
Tutorial papers (‘how to’ - harder to publish)
Method-mongering (often ‘transplanting’ it)
Demonstration of concept (shows it is feasible, useful and interesting)

Theory papers
Introduces a new theory or sheds light on someone else’s theory. Refines, extends, critiques or debunks a theory. Offers a map or way towards a new theory.
Often very influential.
What sort of person in your discipline or area tends to write these kinds of papers?

Consciousness raising / Agenda Setting
Raise awareness of issues which have not had a lot of attention before.
Aims to change the viewpoint or perspective of other researchers.
Agenda setting papers also point out new directions and avenues for people to explore.
(think about a really good PhD: that’s the standard here.)

Review papers
“Every 10 years or so, someone in a given field will decide that the time is right for a paper surveying the key research in the field since the last review paper was written. They then survey all the main papers, and many of the minor papers written over that period. This is a very substantial undertaking and can easily involve reading and assessing hundreds of papers and books, in addition to identifying and summarising the main themes within that work” Rugg and Petre.

Who is this person?

Deciding what to write.
Thinking about papers as genres helps you find the
‘adjacent possible’ - papers you might have thought you could write.
Which papers you decide to write in the time you have is a strategic, career decision.
Think about the possible future impact: what will most useful to others (this is not always the most interesting to you).

Day Two:
The ‘tiny text’

Write a pretend abstract
Kamler and Thomson in ‘Helping doctoral students write’ suggest there are 4 moves you must make in any abstract:
LOCATE your work
FOCUS for your reader
REPORT what happened and
ARGUE for the ‘so what’ and ‘what now’?

A tiny text for this presentation would look like this:
Many doctoral students feel pressured to write journal articles before they finish their PhD, but feel unprepared for the task.
While there is a lot of advice in books and on the internet, it can be hard to follow because it is not put in context with the daily activities of a professional academic writer (Kamler and
Thomson, 2006). This presentation collects the best part of this advice and puts them in a temporal framework based on days of the week. This helps PhD students see writing journal articles as a purposeful, step-wise process, rather than a list of
“do’s and don’ts”, increasing student confidence.

Start by answering some, or all, of the following questions: 1.

What did you do and what happened? or What are you proposing and why? (max 50 words)

2.

What do the results mean? or What are the main features of your proposition? (max 50 words)

3.

What bigger problem or issue are you trying to address? (50 words)

4.

Why should someone read this paper? (max 50 words) Now try re-writing these sentences into a tiny text using the 4 moves formula: focus, locate, report, argue.

Use the title to decide on the direction of your paper
Thesis Whisperer Jnr (aged 14) wants to write a paper to convince me to let him play more computer games. According to White (2010) he could write different papers depending how how he phrased the title:
As a question: “Is Kerbal Space Program more educational than Team Fortress?”
As an exploration: “Educational outcomes of kids who play Kerbal Space Program”
As a statement: “Kids gaming: the benefits for parents”
As an investigation: ”Steam now: which games are kids are playing most?”
As a hypothesis: “If kids game they will get better grades”
As a thesis: “Kids learn more from gaming than from their teachers”

The title is important...
Your paper is competing with many others for attention. No one really knows how many academic journal articles there are, but some estimate there are more than 50 million.
According to Duncan Hull this is:
One paper for every base-pair in human chromosome Y
One paper per tweet at twitter on an average day in 2010
One paper for each year that modern mammals have been roaming the earth
One paper per resident of England (more than 2 for every Australian)

Most academic papers are never cited.
A significant number are never downloaded more than twice.

And Google is changing everything in academia too...
“... not only does Google Scholar have a known effect on discovery and citation of articles, it could have an unknown effect on the writing by authors since articles are increasingly ranked and evaluated on their titles and abstracts first.”
Max Kenman “Standing on the shoulders of the Google
Giant

The 12 types of title (Hartley, 2007)
Announcing the general subject (“The effect of playing Kerbal Space Program on teenager’s grade point average”)
A specific theme following a general heading (“Teenage gamers: the relation between hours spent gaming and grades at school”)
Indicates a controlling question (“Is gaming a waste of time?”)
Indicates an answer will be revealed (“Playing computer games increases teenagers’ grade point average”)
Indicates the position the author will take (“Gaming is good for teenagers’ mental health”)
Indicates the methodology used (“Teenage gaming: a survey of the literature”)
Suggests guidelines or comparisons (“19 ways that playing computer games boost teenager grade point averages”)
Bids for attention - startling or unusual statement (“It’s educational Mum!”: an analysis of negotiations between teenage gamers and their carers”)
Bids for attention - alliteration (“PVP, PVE and perpetually perplexed parents”)
Bids for attention - using literary or biblical allusions (“To raid or not to raid? An analysis of teenage gamer friendships”)
Bids for attention - puns (“I'll be your player 1 if you'll be my player 2: teenage gamers and dating”)
Mystifying or confusing titles (“Whiskey Foxtrot Tango”)

Day Three:
The ‘spew draft’

Strategically ignoring the reader.
“The fourth rule was to ignore thoughts about the end product and how the end product would be perceived. I could too easily find myself inhabiting a fantasy world in which my thesis led to fame and renown… My fantasies made the reality of my barely begun thesis look so shabby I didn’t want to have anything to do with it… I refused to dwell on actually finishing my work and concentrated instead on just doing it”
“Learning to Work” Victoria Valian, 1977

Generative writing
Most of us are taught at school to plan and then write. Becker (1986) suggests that writing is more a process of making a mess, then cleaning it up.
The first draft should be just for you. Call it:
The spew draft
The vomit draft
The zero-th draft
The pancake draft
Or whatever you want. Don’t show it to anyone.

Free writing
Write as fast as you can, not as well as you can, for just five minutes. Start by writing about why people should read your paper, but let your fingers and brain wander and generate new ideas. If you are stuck for a word, use another/better/different word and keep on going. If you are not sure about an idea insert (?) and keep going. If you are stuck for ideas, write yourself a question and then try to answer it.

Cleaning up the mess.
Spend 2 or 3 minutes reading over what you generated in your free writing time.
Underline anything that is useful or interesting - it might be just a way the sentence sounds. Write notes about which ideas might be good to pursue (or not).
Take my 5 minutes a day challenge!
Try doing free writing everyday for at least two weeks and write to me about the effects on your working habits. Day Four:
The scratch outline

The recipe outline
After you have done some free writing, try writing a recipe of how to finish the paper. This is a way to structure an argument.
Here’s the recipe for this presentation so far:
Explain the text work / identity work concept
Introduce the different paper genres
Discuss writing as a strategic decision game
Introduce the idea of the ‘tiny text’
Dissect abstract structures
Use prompts to help people begin writing a tiny text.
Introduce the title construction as a diagnostic tool
Discuss importance of titles and the different types
Introduce the idea of the spew draft
Use free writing to demonstrate how spew drafting might work

The snowflake outline
1.
2.
3.
4.

5.
6.
7.

Take your provisional title and put it at the top of the page.
Paste in the tiny text that you wrote.
Put spaces between each sentence of the tiny text.
Underneath each sentence start making lists, in no particular order, of: notes to yourself; definitions; inferences; knowledge claims; references to other work; evidence and examples; counter-arguments and limitations.
Re-arrange the lists to help the story emerge.
Pick a place, anywhere in your outline, to start doing some generative writing.
When you get stuck, pick another area of your snowflake to work on.

Words getting in the way? Try a spider diagram

Day Five:
Take a breath

A little less of this...

… and a little more of this:

Ask yourself:
Do I need to read more before I attempt this?
Am I making valid knowledge claims, or just speculating? Do I have enough evidence for what I am saying?
Would this make a better blog post / youtube video / set of teaching materials?
Is this really original and thought provoking, or am I doing this just to be seen to do it?

Day Six:
Murder your darlings

“Kill your darlings. Kill your darlings. Even if it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings”
Steven King.

Squeeze out excess words using this technique from
Zinsser (1976)

All writers (will have to) edit their prose, but (the) great writers edit (it) viciously, always trying to eliminate (words which are) ‘fuzz’ – (excess) words (which are not adding anything of value). Zinsser compares (the process of editing out) ‘fuzz’ to fighting weeds – you will always be slightly behind (because they creep in when you aren't looking for them). Scan
(through) your text (and look) for opportunities to (get rid of) words (places) where two words (can become one), or three words (can become) two… (or where you can get rid of some words altogether?)

Let’s try that again:
All writers edit their prose, but great writers edit viciously. The point of editing is to eliminate ‘fuzz’, or excess words which don't add value. Zinsser compares removing ‘fuzz’ to fighting weeds – you will always be slightly behind. Scan your text for opportunities to shed words - where can two words become one? or three words two?

Common editing problems:
Missing sentence subjects
Overuse of adverbs (especially ‘also)
Lack of attention to verb use
Using ‘because’ too much (because is a marketing word)
Scared to use ‘I’
Confusion about ‘that’ and ‘which’
Other commonly misused words
Past or present tense?
Conjunctive adverbs
It will take you a lifetime to become a great writer.

Day Seven...

… rejection.

It often feels like this.

Sometimes like this.

Or like this.

Or just... meh.
Business as usual*
* professional academics feel like this most of the time.

The most rejected writers are the most prolific
“You’ll write better if you expect rejection, because you’ll mute the need to avoid failure. Writers motivated by failure avoidance write papers that sound defensive, wishy washy and uncertain. Instead of trying to look good, they try not to look bad. Readers can feel the fear” (Silva, 2007)

Types of rejection
1. Acceptance with minor editorial changes
2. Revise and resubmit (if changes will take a lot of effort the editor probably doesn’t want it very much and may reject on a second attempt).
3. Get out of here. A classic sign is if the editor suggests another journal. Just don’t bother.

Congratulations! You’ve been published. What next?

Market your paper
Most academic papers aren’t read because authors think it’s enough to just get it out in print. It’s not. Here’s a niche marketing plan:
1. Email the finished paper to some of the key people in your reference list with a fangirl/fanboy greeting.
2. Share it on social media (especially Twitter)
3. Share it on specialist mailing lists
4. Write a blog post about the findings
5. Make a Youtube video
6. Put it in your institutional repository
7. Put it on Orcid, Researchgate, Linkedin and Academia.edu

Here’s the references. You can support the Thesis
Whisperer by buying through the link provided.
Becker, H. (2007) Writing for social scientists: how to start and finish your thesis, book or article,
Chicago University Press, Chicago.
Boise, R. (2003) Professors as writers: a self help guide for productive writing, New Forum Press,
New York.
Hartley, J (2007) There’s more to the title than meets the eye: exploring the possibilities, Technical writing and communication, 37(1): 95 - 101.
Kamler, B. and Thomson, P. (2006) Helping doctoral students write, Routledge, New York. (also see
Pat’s excellent blog)
Rugg, G. and Petre, M. (2010) The unwritten rules of PhD research, Open University Press,
Maidenhead.
Silva, P. (2007) How to write a lot: a practical guide to productive academic writing, American
Psychology Association, Washington D.C.
White, B. (2011) Mapping your Thesis, ACER Press, Camberwell.
Zinsser, W. (1976) On writing well, Pan Macmillan, New York.

Good luck!
For more writing tips, visit The Thesis Whisperer Blog
Or buy my (cheap!) ebook ‘How to Tame your PhD’

This slide deck is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution, noncommercial share alike license.

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