A Quick 30 Writing Tips for the Start of an Academic Career
| Wednesday, January 31, 2007
|My friend, Dr. Hye Yoon Jung, from Florida State University, just sent me an email asking for writing tips. She got her degree from West Virginia University (where I used to teach back in the stone age) roughly a year ago and so now she is starting to focus on publication opportunities. Her question is a common one--I get this questions every month from one of my doctoral students, one of my former students, or someone outside of IU. As a result, I thought that I might summarize some of the ten quick ideas or suggestions I gave her today and put these in my blog as well as ten additional ones that I thought of while writing this up and then 10 more later on. It is now are 30 ideas! (30 ideas--originally I had 10 but the list kept expanding and then 13 and then 20 and then 25 and now 30; who knows, perhaps we can get to 100! I guess when you get to 30 that they are not that "quick" anymore...). Perhaps more people can benefit from it or add to these ideas.
OK, time for "A Quick 30 Writing Tips for the Start of an Academic Career" by Curt Bonk, Indiana University (some of these have personal stories attached to them to make a point).
- Edit your papers a lot (but, in truth, better to be a Combiner than a Mozartian or Beethovenian): A well written paper is half the battle. If you are not sure about your writing (grammar, style, content, etc.), have someone read through it. Perhaps 2 people (I come back to this issue in the next point). But edit and edit and edit some more. Sculpt a finely crafted work! I feel fortunate that I have become a pretty good editor--perhaps as a result of editing 2 huge book projects, including my recent Handbook of Blended Learning. 6-10 edits is not unusual for me. My most recent paper that was accepted for publication went through 17 rounds of edits over a 2 year span and one that a colleague and I submitted yesterday had about 9-10 revisions (so you might label me a Beethovenians; see below). If the paper reads well, then you have tackled a major hurdle. Writing research in the area of keystroke mapping (which allows you to replay back papers long after they are completed) from Lillian Bridwell and her colleagues at the University of Minnesota that was published about 20 years ago indicates that there are Mozartian writers who plan their writing in advance and can write in just one or two sittings very elegant text. They can compose complete sentences, paragraphs, and entire papers in their heads. And then there are Beethovenian writers who tinker at the point of utterance. Beethovenians obsess over every little word or phrase and edit and edit and edit some more. Combiners do both. Some of you are more like a Mozartian and pace back and forth before writing and then let it all go with your coherent plans and organizational schemes to create a lovely melody. And others are more like Beethovenian (and like me) who continue to edit and polish the text for long time. But as a young scholar in academia, it is best to be a combiner and do some of both; plan out your papers and write as much as you can at that first sitting and then, as the points below indicates, you can share it and tinker with it. Still at some point you must send it in for review. You will not get tenure with many nearly completed papers. I can testify to that! My best friend since my first week in graduate school at Wisconsin in January 1986, my #1 colleague, and one of the most wonderful people on the planet, Dr. Tom Reynolds, worked with me to verify some of this in our similar dissertation projects back in 1989 which was later published a mere 7 years later in this article: Reynolds, T. H., & Bonk, C. J. (1996). Creating computerized writing partner and keystroke recording tools with macro-driven prompts. Educational Technology Research and Development (ETR&D), 44(3), 83-97. See also http://www.springerlink.com/content/e7748hm5w74m6215/. Tom says his brother Ralph is a Mozartian, while Tom is perhaps a Combiner. Anyway, do a good job in editing your document before you turn it in (Side note: many of students who find it interesting that I have listed a point related to editing first.)
- Get feedback: Sometimes you can get feedback from colleagues and experts on a topic as well as new graduate students and other people before sending it in. This helps to sharpen the focus of the paper. It is a test of the coherence or creativity of the ideas in the paper.
- Stay Current: For instance, read current news related to your field and save it. You never know where you might be able to use it. I get a weekly list of current issues in e-learning, educational technology, technology, and simulations and gaming from Judy Brown at the Academic ADL (Advanced Distributed Learning) Lab at the University of Wisconsin. This gives me tons of new ideas for keynote talks, workshops, and papers. But it is a struggle trying to read through it all the time. I also get many articles from the USA today and from papers in foreign countries when I travel. I have an online PowerPoint file that I expand each week wherein I scan headlines and cool pictures and findings in hopes that those visuals might be used later in the year. Last year I accumulated over 500 slides of current topics. It helped with writing a book that I did in the fall.
- Be part explorer: Explore new journals and resources when you can. Part of this keeping current is to occasionally walk through the current journal issues in your library and see what is being published. Also, take time to explore an educational Web site that you read about in an article or that someone sends to you. We are all explorers when we write. Personally, I am forced to read more when I write than before I write (see points on being a reader below). If you are not an explorer, you will not likely be a good academic writer; or at least one whom I would want to read from. Roger von Oech, creativity consultant, in his books, A Whack in the Side of the Head, and A Kick in the Seats of the Pants, indicates that this explorer stage is perhaps the most vital one in the creative process and the one many of us too often disregard; especially since we are so-called "to busy." Please do not be "busy"--instead, make a contribution to life. Kindergarten kids are busy; you are not. Now go off and explore a bit.
- Be part bumblebee in gathering ideas from different places (and later part butterfly, moth, or bird): In addition to an explorer, you might also be a bumblebee and get ideas from different sources. For instance, at conferences, you might walk from room to room (stand in the back) and see what other researchers are talking about. This assumes that you can do this without being disruptive to the speaker (e.g., when it is standing room only and you are standing in the back of the room with the door open or in a large keynote session in the back). Normally, most speakers at conferences are boring. But if you listen to someone for 5-8 minutes, you can get some useful things from them in terms of what is current and what might be publishable down the road. In one hour, you might visit 4-5 different sessions. Take notes and compare them. Stephen Downes noted in his Old Dialy blog that this is being discourteous to the speaker. He is right. Still, he failed to note the following advice I had included: However, try not to be too disruptive to those sitting in for the entire session. Be courteous if you are to try to be a bumblebee. Bumblebees can also serve a purpose in cross pollinating ideas and move from room to room. Being a bumblebee also helps your social networks and gives you freedom to explore. Those looking for depth in a topic or discipline might shy away from being a bumblebee and sit in the entire session. You can read more about bumblebees in Harrison Owen's 1997 book called Open Space Technology. He also talks about butterflies. Butterflies who do not attend any conference session but attract attention and additional discussions. They are the conference within the conference. Sitting outside the door of sessions or in the pub most of the time. Junior faculty are more likely better off as bumblebees than butterflies, moths or some type oof bird (soaring above the rest) until they become experts in an area. Again, this strategy may not work for all people or all situations. The point, however, it is find many places or spokes from which to gather information.
- Be a voracious reader (and ponderer): Reading is the most important aspect of an academic writing plan. Alvin Toffler, who wrote the book Future Shock (1970), The Third Wave (1980) , Power Shift: Knowledge, Wealth, Violence at the edge of the 21st Century (1990), and now Revolutionary Wealth (2006), says he simultaneously reads like 7 books and compares them in way to get novel writing ideas. You can do the same thing--read different articles from multiple journals. See what new connections you make. People make discoveries at the intersection of different disciplines. For example, the most recent article I submitted with Dr. Hee-Young Kim from SUNY Cortland incorporates a model from another field that we use to help explain instructional immediacy. Hee-Young found this article and made the creative linkage. Last Friday, one of my research teams presented a comparison chart of Randy Garrison's Cognitive Presence/Critical Thinking in Collaborative Critical Inquiry model and a scaffolding model from the Creative Waves project at the University of New South Wales which we were researching. They explored online discussion using each model using steps of the creative process and found some insites. It was just what we needed to start on the road to publication. If they had not read Garrison's work on critical thinking as well as the work on creative thinking, they would not have made the connection. Read! And also reflect or ponder and take notes on what you have read.
- Persist like an ant: Did you ever watch an ant at work as a kid or as an adult. It is fascinating to watch them navigate around things in their pathways and still get their job completed. When I was around 6 or 7 years old, I used to make it difficult for those ants by putting up water barriers, rocks, and mud in their way, and, I hate to admit it, but I smashed a few with my basketball as well. I have some bad karma to repay yet. Anyway, they still completed their task. They were task focused. Now as a young scholar trying to publish, so must you be. There will be many things standing in your way to make if difficult for you. Higher education is replete with hoops and hurdles. Somebody above likes to make it difficult for us (i.e., the dean and academic provost and your colleagues and so on with all their forms and criteria, but they also want you to succeed or they would not have hired you or admitted you into graduate school and invested in you). So what can you do to persist? First of all, when you get feedback on a manuscript, make the changes recommended and send it back in even if it looks doubtful. And send them a list of what you have changed and addressed from their points. Hec, get to know the editor personally a bit and build rapport with him or her. Rich Lehrer, a former mentor at Wisconsin who is now at Venderbilt, once told me that every paper he worked on and address the reviewer comments was accepted for publication. My first 5-6 years after graduate school, I did not do this and it almost cost me tenure. Instead, I used to run from conference to conference and never really complete the conference paper in a format accepted for a journal but now I do. This tactic nearly cost me tenure. Watch out--do not go to too many conferences as a new person in a field unless you turn most of them into journal articles, book chapters, and perhaps even books. It is rare for me now to not have a paper get published but 10 years ago, it definitely was NOT the case. Persist! Be optimistic. And address those reviewer comments! Abide by most, if not all, of the journal guidelines (sometimes a paper can be longer than they state in the guidelines). And get things back fairly promptly. If your paper is close to being accepted, the editor may already be thinking about the issue in which he or she will publish it in once you get it back. So get it back!
- Be creative in your figures, models, frameworks, charts, and graphs! This was not in my original list of 10 ideas but is too important to pass up mentioning (it also links to the story in #6 above). I find that papers which have a unique model, graph, chart, or figure tend to get published much more often than papers without such all-emcompassing and creative visuals. Spend some time thinking about what makes your paper or proposal unique. Sit in a closet if you have to and brainstorm all the possible ways. Lets say you want to publish 4-5 things a year. Well, all you have to do is sit in that closet 4-5 times a year and think really hard. Or brainstorm with colleagues and students. Conference lunches and dinners are great times for this!
- Try to publish the paper or as a chapter before presenting at a conference (but after your conference proposal is sent in and accepted--i.e., do not scramble to write your conference paper at the last minute): Do not write up your research just for a conference paper. Once you submit your proposal to a conference and it is accepted, try to publish it. That way, you will have the paper done long before the conference arrives and you will not have to stay up all night writing the paper for the conference. (I am NOT saying to submit to a conference stuff that is already accepted--that would be unethical.) I have been lucky in this regard during the past few years; especially with AERA (American Educational Research Conference) papers. We have had papers published before the past 4 AERAs or our entire symposium panels have been asked to published our ideas in a special issue of a journal after it. It does pay off to be on panels with well connected people and with journal editors.
- Maintain a list and network of potential research and writing collaborators: Take a moment and write down a list of all your potential reseach and writing collaborators. If you are a graduate student, be sure to list a least one graduate student colleague. These people will be your support group long after your mentors and advisors have retired and departed. And they will be good people to room with at conferences and to run research ideas by. You never know when you are going to need their support. I got a call from my graduate student colleague, Dr. Veronica Acosta Deprez at Cal State Long Beach this morning. Appropriate for this point, Veronica helped me with an important research and writing question that I had and then I helped her think about a study she might conduct on blended learning in public health. It works both ways. Once you have a list, update that list at least once per year. You will see that you likely have colleagues and contacts all over the world (this links to #15 below). This is the lovely part about being a faculty member in higher education today. A recent list of my 7-8 research teams on my office door indicated that. For instance, my blended learning study in five countries (Taiwan, China, Korea, the UK, and the USA), has people working on it from 5 different places and it is expanding to additional locales. With the Web, your colleagues can be anywhere!
- Share your publication efforts: Share your writing and publications with people in your network (not blatantly like look at me but in a kind and courteous manner and when appropriate). Even this blog post, I contemplated who to share it with as well as who not to. We all have egos in higher education and have survived many rounds of competition so we can be prone to self-promotion. And there is a often a fine line between self-promotion and sharing knowledge. One solution is to have a place wherein your articles (those wherein you have permission) are made available to others and people can come and get them if they want. For instance, I have PublicationShare wherein people can find some of my articles and give me feedback (see http://www.publicationshare.com/). When you do that, then the network of potential collaborators grows some more!!!
- Find emerging areas to research that you are passionate about or at least interested in: Take a moment and think about what the hot topics are in your field today and what might they be in 2, 5, or 10 years. Stephen Downes, in his Old Daily blog criticizes this point since he argues that one should be passionate in one's research and writing and not just explore hot topics since they are publishable. I agree with his point here. Be passionate about something--do not just enter it because you can. But if you are passionnate about a topic just slightly ahead of most, you will find yourself in a great situation for publishing. Now for me it is Wikibooks and synchronous learning, among other things. Wikibooks also offer me an opportunity to revisit my collaborative writing research and sociocultural research from 20 years ago while in graduate school and shortly after it. Wikibooks offer a goldmine of research possibilities. During a revision to this post I noticed that on Feb 1, 2007, and Penguin Books announces a Wiki novel, "A Million Penguins," (see www.amillionpenguins.com) and the day before MIT and Wharton School of Business announced a Wiki textbook they are doing with Pearson Publishing called We Are Smarter Than Me and have invited 1,000 authors to help out. As the rock group Buffalo Springfield (with Neil Young and Stephen Stills) noted back in the late 1960s, "There is something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear." So much happening in this Wiki space to look at social negotiation, collaboration, communities of practices, legitimate peripheral participation, idea generation, cultural revolutions, etc. Wow! What will be the place for your revolution, goldmine, or exciting vein of research and writing? There are many opportunities out there waiting for you to find them. Always be on the lookout for cool and exciting new areas of research. So many things we can do! As I said before, be optimistic, and, of course, like a good ant, work hard and be passionate!
- Think ahead about the publishing potential of each project: and Think about the journals wherein it might go before you start, while you collect data, and when you are done. Publishing should always be on your mind. Sure, things just come up and you go with them (for instance, right now Grace Lin from the University of Houston, and I are writing up some of our Wikibook research data for a book chapter opening that just presented itself). But you need a publication plan--i.e., what journal or book might it appear in. See my listing of e-learning and educational technology journals at http://www.trainingshare.com/resources/ and http://www.trainingshare.com/resources/distance_ed_journals_and_online_learning_books__Oct.htm
- Treat graduate students as colleagues: I accept students for doctoral committees who already are or who can be my colleagues. My students are my colleagues. If you want to publish, working with really smart people helps. Of course, one could work with faculty colleagues. But I prefer to work with doctoral students over faculty for myriad reasons. Most faculty, for instance, have their own agendas and schedules. Many of the others have cycled through their the extent of the creative ideas that they have and no longer publish much; those that have not, are focused on their own stuff. In contrast, most doc students are hungry to research and publish with anyone. And, more importantly, students are usually nicer to work with than faculty members. (smile). I do continue to work with them after they have graduated. They do not typically become mean after the granting of a Ph.D. But for some reason, faculty members who are productive, kind, and fun to work with in one's own institution can be difficult to find. Don't get me wrong, I love my faculty colleagues (most of them). But they are usually working with their graduate students and research focuses. As my experience showed at WVU, some of the less productive and, not surprisingly, underpaid ones, work for Amway on the side. The most productive ones work 14 hour days 7 days a week and may not have time to collaborate with someone else. As the next point below indicates, when I work with faculty members on research and writing, they tend to be ones at other universities. For the most part, stick with smart graduate students and newly minted Ph.D.s. Even work with people who were not your graduate students but who others recommend to you. Consider post-docs who have funding and similar interests. And if you decide to work on a grant or research project with a faculty member at your own institution, be sure you are passionate about it and that you will gain something from it. Do not get suckered into someone else's research agenda. This happened to me at WVU and later on nearly cost me tenure. If you do not have graduate students, see post below.
- Find international and national colleagues to work with: Your writing and research colleagues do not have to be at your own institution (links to #10 above). Most likely, they will not be even though your deans and administrators would prefer that all your research grant money stay in house. I have many fantastic and creative international colleagues with high energy. Go to international (and national) conferences and meet them! Exchange business cards and take them to lunch or dinner to find out more about their work. Create collaborations between institutions. Write this partership up! This makes life fun. And there are a growing number of international journals to publish in. You can also enter into interesting cross-institutional teaching ideas which may later be publishable.
- Schedule time for writing: Xmas break and summer are huge times for this. I no longer teach in summers but when I did, I taught intensive courses so as to have time to write in the summer. I also tried to teach in bulk and put both of my graduate classes or both undergraduate on the same day back to back to save time for writing. This item (#16) may be the most impt thing other than #17. You just have time to write. Do not commit to too many other people and their projects. Do what inspires you not what inspires someone else. Right?
- Have a plan or direction for the next few years and beyond--Goals are critical: What are you going to accomplish this year, next year, and the year after? Write it down. Have a goal or set of goals. We all need goals! Humans are goal oriented creatures. If you have a goal and only get to 25 percent of it, it is better than having a goal and getting to none of it. Perhaps see what you have accomplished each year when you do your annual reports and map it out. Compare your personal growth over time. See if you meet your goals each year. Perhaps reward yourself when you do with an ice cream cone or a night out. In 2006, I got lucky and reached my long-term goal of 30 articles published or in press. Of course, 14 of those were conference proceedings but I made my goal. I think I ended up with 24 things published, 6 in press, and 7 other things in review (including a book). But I am the same person who used to published very little back when I started. In comparison, when I graduated in 1989 until 6 years later in 1995 or 1996 when I was preparing my tenure and promotion files, I had experienced many difficulties getting things accepted. In fact, during the 1990s I averaged about 5 publications per year and during the 2000s I have averaged nearly 18 per year (of course, this counts conference proceedings). What changed? I am still that same dumb midwest kid who my elementary teachers used to say could not read and write well (perhaps mainly since they could not read my handwriting). I pinch the skin on my hands to see if anything has changed but indeed I am the same person. Perhaps it was more persistence like an ant and more interesting research as well. Certainly, there are more colleagues. Also, having tenure and being able to say no to some silly committees. And I am better organized. And I think reputation and growing networks help. You will also grow your reputation and networks. Now in 2007 I can cut back. I just changed my writing goals a few months ago. I am going to write more books and help people with their research. Right now my 1-3 year plan is to write a few books, become a tad better known, and be paid to travel all over to keynote conferences and continue to write more books. Then I will perhaps leave IU and live in Florida, California, Arizona, Colorado, or somewhere warm! Today it is 0-10 degrees Farenheit and tomorrow it will be colder still so it sounds like a good plan to me.
- Read a paper on how to create a writing plan: My best advice for a writing plan is to see the homepage of my friend from grad school, Dr. Cecil Smith fom Northern Illinois University, and his AERA article from 3 years ago on creating a writing plan. His article is listed below. Read this before doing anything else.
Smith, M C. (2004, April). Advice for new faculty members: Getting your writing program started.Discussion presented as part of Division C New Faculty Mentoring session at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego. (ok, here is another article): Charles C. Fischer (2004). Managing Your Research Writing for Success: Passing the "Gate Keepers." http://www.westga.edu/~bquest/2004/gatekeepers.htm. It has about 15 more points that I do not mention here that are pretty good.
- Organization: Cecil mentions things like organization--that is implied in some of the other points above. But this is a critical point so I must emphasize it--without organization, you are academically dead in the water and unlikely to get tenure. You must map out your publications by year, have identified stacks of papers and chapters to help with your writing, and put time in your planner to write. Maybe you write best in the morning. Maybe in the afternoon. Maybe at night. You decide what works for you. I just changed from a late night person to a morning person (somewhat) in order to wake up early with family and see my daughter off to school (she is old enough to drive herself). You mght need a power nap during the day. That is ok if it helps with your publication and writing stamina (though I am not a medical doctor). Cecil also mentions things you can do to help write such as writing at home, closing your door at work, forwarding your phone, finding times when you are most alert, trying not to teach every day, and responding to email just at 2-3 designated times per day.
- Use presentations as starter material: A conference presentation, colloquium, workshop, or class presentation may be a great way to organize your ideas for a future paper. Take advantage of that when you are designing your presentation--always think about how this might flow in a publishable paper. When you end up doing the same presentation over and over, it is definitely time to think about publishing your ideas. I have a book chapter I am working on today (on Wikibooks), in fact, wherein I am using notes I presented with at the University of Oxford a few weeks back. I had to read some new research on Wikipedia for that talk and now I am using the ideas gained from that for my paper. I am also using some of the feedback from the audience to guide my writing. Presentation audience reactions are critical for new areas of research. Use them! Take people to lunch or dinner after your talks and ask for their opinions as to what they liked and what they think is publishable. Hec, they might even join your growing research team.
- Get paid to write and research: He also notes that some writing projects are funded. For example, I have worked for the military as a research fellow and was paid to find and read papers and then write up technical reports. For instance, this recent report on the potential research related to Massive Multiplayer Online Gaming was commissioned by the Department of Defense wherein I was a research fellow: Bonk, C. J., & Dennen, V. P. (2005). Massive multiplayer online gaming: A research framework for military education and training. (Technical Report # 2005-1). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Defense (DUSD/R): Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative. Can download from: http://mypage.iu.edu/~cjbonk/GameReport_Bonk_final.pdf or from the ADL lab: http://www.adlnet.org/downloads/189.cfm. Also, as Cecil notes, some grant funding expects papers from it and so you can buy out some teaching time for research and writing. That is a good feeling. And the Spencer Foundation has post-doctoral fellowships that pay one to do research. See http://www.naeducation.org/NAEd_Spencer_Postdoctoral_Fellowship.html (see here for other Spencer information: http://www.spencer.org/programs/fellows/nae_postdoctoral.htm). Currently, they are paying $55,000 for a year of research and $27,500 for a half year. You can only get these within five years of your dissertation defense. So plan early and write a great proposal! This is a prestigious one. Other small pots of money may exist in your institution or university for writing grants and technical reports. Sometimes corporations hire people for evaluation project which can also be published--this is win-win--you get paid to conduct the evaluation and also a chance to publish it. Now you also have to think about the ethics of that--please do not publish faulty data to make the company look good.
- Find professional balance: Cecil, in his article, discusses finding balance between service and teaching and your writing and publishing efforts. He is right. Most Buddhists will agree on this need for balance! Back in 1970, theBritish rock group, the Moody Blues, noted that all like is just "A Question of Balance" (see lyrics and album picture below: http://www.webwriter.f2s.com/moody/lyrics/aqob.htm). But now I am aging myself. Anyway, if you accept too much service and committee work as I was forced to do at West Virginia University (WVU) my first 3 years out of graduate school (20 committees in 3 years and most of them were teacher education reform which I was definitely not interested in), you will not likely get tenure. In addition to service, teaching can also consume you. If you spend a day prepping a course and a day teaching it and you teach 2-5 courses, you are sunk when looking for time to write. Think deeply about how much time you spend in service, teaching, and research and think of ways (e.g., not teaching in summer or joining that next grant proposal team or travel committee), that will free you up to write more. End of year reports can help in that regard.
- Find personal balance: Finding balance in life not only includes professional balance but also in your personal life. Of course, if you work 100+ hours a week like I sometimes do, the personal life is not going to be in balance. Here, I need to take this advice as well! Smile! I try to maintain balance by running and working out. Take a break from all that writing when you can! Catch a movie or a play. Try eating in a different restaurant or sit outside and meditate. Do something outside of writing and teaching and service at your college or university or you WILL go Bonkers (pun intended) or, at the very least, get carpel tunnel syndrome. And, if you find some balance, your friends and family will appreciate you more.
- Do not design too many new courses: Some new faculty are caught in the trap of teaching new course after new course or being stuck with the courses that no one wants to teach. Ug! That will not work. I think at WVU I taught 7 different courses in my 3 years there (perhaps more). And most of these involved the design of a totally new course that had not been done before. Yikes! Do not do that to yourself. One new course per year or perhaps 2 your first year is ok. After that, do not design too many new courses. You need time to write. Writing will get you tenure. Teaching may at some places, but writing and publishing is typically more important. I say this as one who got tenure for teaching, so I do emphasize teaching myself.
- Find a niche or direction for your research and drill down: Finding an area to explore or direction for your research and build a career around is vital. At first, you will be reading from the giants in the field. After a while, you will finding a unique research project or 2. And only after a few years in the field, will you be able to direct it a bit. Still later, you will be able to reflect on the direction of it and provide an overarching framework for it. Find your niche! Find something exciting and novel to research and explore and write about. As I said earlier, find your passion! If you create a model or framework for your course, as in #8 above, you will have more opportunities to conduct a series of studies and lead the field ahead.
- Write all the time: You can be writing anywhere you feel you are comfortable and productive as a writer. This includes church, department meetings, Thanksgiving vacations with the relatives, spring break, on a plane to spring break or in the airport while you wait, in a doctors waiting room, etc. Some of these will not work for you. I find that church (before it starts not during) is a good place to write notes for an article on a small piece of paper or kleenex that I have in my pocket. I always try to have a pen and small piece of paper to write on in my pocket. Find an approach that works for you. I find airports and airplanes to be good places to write as well as in the car while I let my son, Alex, drive somewhere (e.g., soccer games, my moms, etc.). Imagine how much you can write in 1-2 hours while you let someone else drive. Recently I started taking a limo to the airport for some trips and either get some sleep or write. You have limited time--find ways to free some time up to write. Also, get a laptop with a lot of battery life. This frees you up to write outside, in a car, or on a plane! My new 11" Sony Vaio has like a 6-8 hour battery life and it says up to 10 hours. In my old heavy Dell Lattitude, I have taken out the CD and replaced it with a 2nd battery for 6-7 hours of battery life.
- Avoid high quality journal fixations: I talked to Dr. Grace Lin at the University of Houston about this issue (not that it was a problem for her or anything; it was just a conversation). Do not be so fixated on quality that you fail to publish or submit something. When in Thailand a month ago during an e-learning conference that I was keynoting, Randy Garrison (one of the other keynotes), from the University of Calgary, and I discussed problems that new Ph.D.'s face. You can read our conclustions below the following pictures. (this particular conversation was on December 17th, our final day in Bangkok and the day after my b-day, while visiting different Buddhist temples--see my blog on Taiwan and Thailand below; Randy is entering one below).
(See pics below of Randy and I in Bangkok at the golden palace below--he is just a tad taller than me. Bangkok, Thailand, December 17, 2007)
(#27 Continued)...After some discussion, Randy and I concluded that new professors and post-docs and visiting scholars and so on are told to go after the top tier journals and do the highest level of research that they can. I know my training at the University of Wisconsin was to always read from and look to publish in Tier #1 research journals. High standards are great but adopting such an approach may not get you tenure or even published. (As an aside, Randy's expertise is in social presence, inquiry learning online, Dewey’s inquiry model, asynchronous discussion, blended learning, etc.). We both cited former students who have become caught in this trap to be the best that they can be. They will not try to publish it unless it can compete theoretically and methodologically with the top people in the field. I had the same problem as a new person. I think my best writing was from the years 1988-1994, but little of that ever got published and it nearly cost me tenure. I was one 30 minute edit away from a major publication on cooperative reading for Review of Educational Research (RER) which is the best journal in the field. I still shed tears about that one every so often. But I had writer's block and a sense that the paper could still be better and I was jumping to a different paper and conference every few months. Later on I just dove into data (less planful I know) and I lowered my standards a tad (not a lot) and poof, the publications flowed. I also switched fields and found something to be more passionate about--online and distance learning. I simply am not smart enough to compete with the highest level brains in psychology and my interests are much more pragmatic--I want to see things make a difference not simply dream up new theories that have little relevance to life. I found out that I have some pretty good creative ideas nonetheless that are publishable. And so do you. Look inside. I have faculty colleagues who also have suffered from this focus on tier #1 journals and they struggled with the tenure process as well. My recommendation—get some stuff in high quality journals, other stuff in books, and publish the other stuff where you may. Quality is important but so is quantity. Do not let anyone fool you. Everything counts! (Also in here is a picture with Dr. Kevin Koury, my first graduate student from WVU and now an endowed chair in Pennsylvania.)(Kevin Koury (my first grad student at WVU) and other speakers in Thailand.)
(Curt with Thitinun Boonseng (known as Ta) in Thailand--Ta organized the conference--is a Univ of Missouri graduate student of David Jonassen).
28. Quantity matters as well as quality (sometimes more so): As I noted above, despite what almost everyone says (i.e., that quality is the most important variable in tenure), quantity also matters. If you are 1 publication away from tenure and people like you at your institution, they will make a case for you. At that time, they will use conference proceedings, book chapters, books you have written or edited, technical reports, and so on, to help build that case. Now, they prefer not to do that but these things all matter and help in the end. Of course, having a coherent research path and focus will help when making such a case. In my opinion, 10 or 20 publications in a year in Tier 2 journals outweigh 1-2 Tier 1 journal publications. Others will, of course, disagree and note that it depends. Ok, I agree with you. But my point is to not listen to all the people who tell you that a book or a book chapter will not help you get tenure. In the end, it will. And it cannot ever hurt you. Most of this is about getting national and international reputations. And so, technical reports and white papers that are cited heavily as well as books do help in that regard. Do not let them fool you that they do not. And if you are worried about this one, write to me for advice or a joke and I will tell you both. Smile! (By the way, my wonderful colleague here at IU, Dr. Jonathan Plucker, has a nice response to this issue in my blog feedback that you might want to check out.)
29. Prioritize: Cecil notes that if you want many publications from your dissertation research, you need to prioritize them. What is the most publishable? What is the least publishable? What could appear in a high quality journal? What might be a minor publication? What might be spin-off projects? Etc. You (and your mentor) must do some of this--ok, see mentor comments below.
30. You are just a grasshopper, so get a mentor and use him/her: Last point--so read carefully! As in the 1970s TV show (about like in the 1870s), Kung Fu featuring David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine or just "Caine," (see http://www.kungfu-guide.com/), you are just a grasshopper, hopping from one research project and idea to the next. Hop, hop, hop, hop and off you go. As I pointed out earlier, you need to focus some of that hopping behavior. Don't get me wrong, it is better to be an inquisitive hopper young grasshopper than to be perpetually dormant like an old volcano or spending an exorbitant amount of time hybernating like a bear in winter. However, sometime the little hopper must also listen. So, my final piece of writing advice is to get a mentor to help with all the points mentioned of the above! A mentor can keep you on track and focused on your writing and publishing goals. A mentor is a great one to run ideas by. A mentor can lighten up conversations and make your problems with teaching, research, writing, etc., seem less severe. A mentor can also contribute to your research in a minor or major way. And that mentor can help you out at promotion and tenure time and when looking for a new job. Cecil also noted that you might email a senior colleague in the field and get some candid ideas and feedback. Most people love to discuss their research and ideas.
(#30 Continued)...I have had various mentors. When I arrived at WVU, Dr. Michael Reed, took me under his wing for a bit since we were both writing and technology researchers. Great guy who left WVU for NYU a couple of years after I left (see http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/faculty_bios/view/W._Michael_Reed). In addition to Mike Reed, shortly after I arrived at IU, the late Dr. Ben Bailey become my educational psychology mentor. Ben had me pay him $10 a month to buy a recliner from his office (cost me $120). I would give him the $10 and sit in the chair and he would mentor me once a month. At the end of that year (summer of 1990), Ben retired and gave me the chair. What an excellent way to mentor somebody. Despite being one of our statistics professors, Ben was a humanist who had studied with Art Combs in Florida and it showed. At the end of each semester, he made up awards for each and every student in the class. Ben also warned me that factor analyses (of which I was running several on new instruments I was developing for metacognition in reading and writing as well as a scale for social constructivism called the SCALE (Social Constructivism and Active Learning Environments) and still other scales, were voodoo statistics. None of that work was ever published. I wish I would have listened to my mentor Ben Bailey. Advice: do NOT develop new instruments and scales as a new professor. It sucks the life blood out of you and there are bound to be many problems, barriers, limitations, and headaches. Convinced? This stupid research track nearly cost me tenure. Do you see a theme here? When I got to IU, Sam Guskin became my mentor. Same was also fantastic to talk to about my research plans and publications ideas. He too has since retired.
Alright, that is 30 ideas and guidelines and there are many more inside of those. And the 2 articles references below have 30 more ideas. Read them! Ok, that is enough? What have your learned young grasshoppers, bumblebees, and ants? I will not ask if you can now snatch the pebbles from my hand as Master Kan said to Caine in Kung Fu, but can you now start writing and publishing? I hope so. And with some emotional spirit and passion and thirst for discovering and disseminating new knowledge. Spend some time as grasshoppers, bumblebees, and ants listening and learning, and later on you can be butterflies, moths, and birds who connect people and can look down and provide a big picture on your field. And, if you take on human form, you can also become expedition leaders, tour bus guides, and even sought after mentors.
I think my friend Cecil Smith could expand all the points above into a book of advice for new faculty members including issues related to mentoring, teaching, testing, advising, and having a personal life. I have told him this for nearly three years now. Perhaps someday he will do it. I think he would sell a lot of books!!!!
Cecil did read through this and wanted me to point out one more thing, "avoiding meetings at all costs"--this is a big one. People love to meet and chat and exhaust your writing time. I use an office in the basement of my house to write. At IU, I have a corner office as far from people as I can be. I can sneak in the back way and up the side elevator without people knowing I am in. That being said, I have an open door policy. But Cecil is right again, do not get overextended when it comes to meetings. I do not have a computer or PDA keep track of my schedule. I have a regular small daily planner with a small space for each day. I figure if I cannot fit all my meetings in that space, I have too many meetings and if I miss one so be it. There is only so much one can do.
Oh ya, 2 more things, I sometimes doublebook meetings as students often never show up or their schedules change. And when you have a student waiting outside, the one inside will not go on and on and on. And I will often teach on Fridays since that is when my university likes to schedule meetings. So this way I miss those silly meetings. And most of them are really silly.
Ok, those are just a few tips. There are many more, many of which you know. Still, I hope these are helpful. Write me an email if you want to let me know what you think or if you have more ideas. My email is: cjbonk (at) indiana.edu. There is a nice discussion already taking place in the responses to this post. Bye for now.
One more reminder to read these other 2 articles on this topic from point #18 above:
Smith, M C. (2004, April). Advice for new faculty members: Getting your writing program started.Discussion presented as part of Division C New Faculty Mentoring session at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego. Retrieved February 2, 2007, from http://www.cedu.niu.edu/~smith/Conferences/2004/Writingmentor.doc
Cecil Smith's homepage is at: http://www.cedu.niu.edu/~smith/whatsnew.htm
Charles C. Fischer, (2004). Managing Your Research Writing for Success: Passing the "Gate Keepers." Retrieved February 2, 2007, from http://www.westga.edu/~bquest/2004/gatekeepers.htm
Perhaps you all can share more such articles with me!!! I hope to later post another set of ideas for young scholars on how to present and speak. And also some ideas related to job hunting. Perhaps some on teaching and service too. Not sure when. Depends on my writing plans. Smile. Best of luck to you!
Final Quote: "Quickly as you can, snatch the pebble from my hand. When you can take the pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave." - Master Kan said to Caine (i.e., David Carradine) in the 1970s TV Show Kung Fu.
You are amazing! I will share this information with my friends! Thank you so much.
Sure thing! Glad to help!
Thanks very much for sharing the writing tips. They are surely helpful for a Ph.D. student like me. And good pictures, too.
Glad you use our paper as an (bad?) example. Haha!
Sure Vera. It is a good example--it got published!
Did you write this whole blog on a Kleenex before church??
Just kidding, Curt. Very useful comments for all of us, no matter what level of academia we are on.
Regarding #28 (quantity is important, too), there’s substantial empirical and theoretical support for the belief that the impact of one’s work is dependent on productivity. For example, chance configuration theory (Simonton) posits that the most influential work comes from the most productive scholars. At the same time, a lot of that person’s work will not have an impact. But “influence” and “impact” have proved very difficult to predict empirically, so producing a large body of work provides a better chance that at least one of your contributions has that big impact. Empirical studies of citation patterns provide some support for this, too. I'm working on a study that examines citation patterns within gifted education journals. We are finding that the authors of that small set of "highly cited" papers also tend to be the authors of papers that are not cited often at all. The key characteristic is that the highly-cited authors are publishing lots of quality pieces.
I can't agree with you more on #1 "Editing your paper a lot", Curt. I co-authored a paper with a colleague recently and I'd say we edited at least 15 times in a span of one and half years.
In the process, we sent our paper to some graduate students as well as some experts for comments, while we continually searched for latest information/publication on the area, thanks to the Internet.
Our efforts pay off, our original one paper evolves into two papers, both have been accepted by an ejournal and are to be published this year. And it was the journal's editor who recommended that we break our paper into two.
So I am reasonating with the #2 and #3 as well.
Thank you for sharing the tips with us, Curt.
Thank you for many insightful tips... I especially like the idea of balance. Having a good balance makes you happy, and that is helpful for getting inspirations...
I believe staying current is important, too. It takes time, though. We may combine it with finding collaborators--people who not only collaborate with you because they share similar interests but who also note different new stuff and share it with you! That will be more efficient..
(Dr Plucker?)The research on citation patterns and the implications of the importance of quantity is very interesting.
Got a little scared --though I have passion for writing, too, do i really want a life that is haunted by writing and pulication? Smile...
This topic has been on my mind...like all the time...since here at Wisconsin our faculty evauations are due today! Thanks for this Curt!
What Guohua failed to indicate, I think, is that his faculty colleague on all those revisions was me. I benefited from working with Guohua who was passionately interested in the topic of open source. And our one paper was split into 2 and published as open source in North America and open source in China. Cool! And when we started on the process, we had never met before; he had simply come to one of my talk in Edmonton and invited me to join him in this writing. That is cool! Ditto an accepted paper I had with Vera Chen this morning who is from Peking University in Beijing (a master's student). We have been collaborating for 2 years since my talks at Beijing Normal University in October of 2004 and now that collaboration has turned into a publication related to blogging in China (after only 17 or 18 edits). Right Vera?
Lesa--I missed church a lot recently so most of my notes for this were definitely not done in church (me bad). But I did write notes on a piece of paper in my pocket.
Jonathan--thanks a ton for the statistical verification of what I was thinking in terms of quantitative stuff. It is good to know that! Many people believe that if an idea takes less than 2 years to crystallize and get published, it is not high quality. Some students trained in qualitative research recently told me that it takes at least 2 years to do. I guess some does but not all research. It is time to act and do something!
Mike--glad this was helpful to you. Hope you had a good year of writing. See you at AERA. Blues clubs like Kingston Mines.
Thank you, Curt, for providing us 30 Writing Tips. They are very insightful. I am lucky I came to know you.
If I can add to your 30, I would say:
Extend your friendship to different generations. An older generation who succeeded in his career will give you insight that you cannot see from your eye-level. A younger generation will give you energy.
Different eye-levels are important.
Exacly, Yayoi!!! I had older mentors whom I discuss in pt #30, Ben, Mike, and Sam. All three proved valuable in providing that big picture point of view. We are too often chasing clouds instead of being happy with what we are doing. Established experts can help you realize that you are moving in the wrong direction or too many directions. Younger people can also mentor you and give you advice. This happens to me many many times. I respect all age groups for their wisdom and perspectives and insights. Thanks again.
Good work, Curt!
To make your post a better sale, I think maybe you could also organize based on the timeline sequence. I get this idea from Littlejohn's book. The author gave new comers a great description of how academic research is conducted in the field of communication research field. That is also quite helpful. Such as starting with a good idea, communication with whom, go to conferences, refine and try to publish (where to publish) as well as how your work is reviewed. And then he also extends into how diff academic schools are formed, what do experts do and how they form guideline for newcomers.
Wow, keep on editing, combiner, maybe publish a book in the future (and don’t forget to mail me one thenJ).
Like what you said about being persistent like an ant (tip #7):
I remember Thomas Edison once said that geniu is 98 percen of sweat and two percent of inspiration. Working like an ant is the minimum
requirement for being a productive researcher. In fact, editing a lot
(#1), being a voracious reader (#6), and staying current (#3) all
involve working diligently. On the basis of them, one can be so well
immersed in the field in terms of charts, figures, frameworks, graphs, models and more importantly, s/he realizes the limitation of them and want to improve them, thus, s/he becomes creative (#8). Moreover, this
person may have the desire to put her/his toughts and deeds in words in a professional format such that others can benefit, a new theory, or an improved model is perhaps in the making.
Yes, Vera, some type of visual might help someone better understand how to sequence or use these 30 tips. A timeline is one such of an approach which you suggested and I might do. Guohua, yes we are all ants if we want to survive. However, we cannot just run around with our respective heads chopped off or we will not know where we are going. We direction and focus too. I am sure Thomas Edison had some of that as well as perspiration. But, yes, once we are successful ants, we can do many things.
Like your addition to #1, 5, 7, and particularly, 30. I felt it important to have a mentor - one that has had much publication and most likely, one who works somewhere else rather than in the same place. We always want to be better off than the people around us. Hence, a competitiveness exists, consciously or unconsciously, between and among people of same place, of same team in particular. This is not a bad thing - it is this competitiveness, this desire of always wanting to get better that advances human beings, in arts, science, in economy, in manufacturing, sports, in almost every aspects of life. And the research we conduct is to improve existing theory and/or practice, again, to get better. Its potential downside, however, is that people may find it difficult to help immediate collegueas to become better than themselves. Some disputes might arise in cases of mentorship within same institution/team. Ownership, credit, etc. So, an ideal mentorship, I suppose, is one in which mentor and mentoree work in different institutions, like the one between us.
Right Guohua--mentors from another institution are helpful is seeing beyond the prevailing politics of the one in which you are in. They can offer you ideas or perspectives outside your own. Take advantage of that. It is perhaps the reason why institutions often shy away from hiring one of their own graduates. And the mentor benefits from a chance to work with any student anywhere in the world. Just like me working with you now. I am glad you like the rewrites and updates to #1, 5, 7, and 30.
You are one of the very few people I have met that have the energy and sharing hearts of this high degree. The best blogs on the planet!!! You rock and inspire!!!
I have added a link to your blogs from my personal website.
Thank you dearly,
Hey Snea, I am just glad it has helped you and the others who have responded here. You, too, taught me quite a few things since taking my P600/R685 class a few years ago.
Curt, nice tips. I liked Yayoi's comment about inter-generational mentors too. It reminded me of Brian Ford's amazing insights.
Also "avoiding meetings at all costs" is a crucial one. I was Head of the School of Media Arts for a while at COFA and it totally sucked my time with a whole load of really pointless meetings (you know the ones where people read out documents they could have e-mailed).
I just posted a response to this over on the Omnium blog.
You might also like to read the chapter from 37 Signals' Getting Real book called Meetings Are Toxic
Glad you like them Andy. Yes, I too, appreciate Brian's insights and timely mentoring. Intergenerational mentoring can relly help accelerate one's writing plans and boost one's self-confidence.
Thanks OMS! That link is helpful. Glad you liked the list of ideas. This took a while to produce and I am still refining it.
Hi. Some of the points you make will be reinforced by a panel session on Wednesday at AERA called Communiating Your Research To The World. Janet Angelis will talk about writing and editing in particular; Ron Dietel will talk about presentation tips; and I'll talk about using blogs, news feeds, podcasts, and social bookmarking as communication tools.
Wisconsin Center for Education Research
I am often described as a high energy person but as I started my real academic life three years ago, I have found that I may not survive in the Taiwanese academia. I work in a mid-way technical university and you wouldn't believe how much they overly stress the importance to publish with SCI and SSCI journals. They even hold that criteria for evaluating how much a persona deserves to be promoted. I simply can't buy that. And, like Curt, I am more pragmatic in my research. Now that's another problem here. I am starting to think maybe it is not a right niche for me. I would like to work in an international small interdisciplinary program where creativity and cross-disciplinary and cross-national work are promoted and encouraged. Is there such a place in the world that I can go to?
Paul--yes, we need alternative ways to present! See this article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed today: http://chronicle.com/weekly/v53/i41/41b00601.htm
Loretta--well I wish I could help on that. You have the penultimate research question and interests--creativity, collaboration, cross-disciplinary, and cross-national interests! Way too cool! If you ever write something up, send to me.
Hi Curt many thanks for sharing these tips and for the link to Cecil Smith's page I got to read her paper on writing. Cheers Rossana
Enjoyed this blog. I teach BCOM and think students could use a simular list to encourage them to be curious about the world and transfer their skills learned in the classroom to real life.
Thanks for the kind remarks. It is good to visit my post 3 years later and see some ideas in there that are useful.