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A writing and productivity presentation for PhD students from @thesiswhisperer
Write that Journal Article - in 7 days!
(or how to be a plotter and a pantser)
Dr Inger Mewburn (a.k.a @thesiswhisperer) & Dr Judy Maxwell
You can turn a messy bunch of
'academic stuff’ into an article
quickly… but you must have:
• Data, ideas or artifacts,
• Preliminary analysis or thoughts
What sort of academic do you want to be?
This is an image of an early viva…
… can you find the student?
RMIT University©2008 Information Technology Services 4
What sort of scholar do you want to be?
Where will I publish?
• Where do people I like to read seem to get
• Which of these journals seem to get more
citations? (impact factors)
• Do the editorial guidelines seem sympathetic
to the work I do?
• What are the open access policies of this
Choose your flavour…
What sort of paper will you write?
Rugg and Petre (2003) claim journal articles can be
understood as falling into genres:
– Data Driven
– Methods Papers
– Agenda Setting / Consciousness raising papers
– Review papers
– Theory papers
Writing in a range of genres shows your versatility as a
Data Driven papers should contain:
• What question is being addressed and why?
• A description of the study and how it was
• The results (data collected, analysis, findings)
• Discussion (significance, limitations, claims to
• Conclusion (implications, further work)
Data driven paper variations:
• Work-in-progress paper
• Meta studies paper
• Artifact paper
And don’t forget the pictures!
• What it is
• How it works
• What it's good for
(both utility and how
• Any constraints
• Agenda setting papers
• Consciousness raising papers
‘Look at me’ papers
Are usually written every ten years or
so - when someone (like a thesis
writer!) "bothers to read everything in
a field" again summarises it and
provides evaluative judgment.
Theory papers should:
• Refine or extend
existing theory and / or
• critique and debunk it
and / or
• Set an agenda for new
They WON'T want:
• Lots of information they already know
• a long winded literature review
• lots of process-focused information.
They WILL want:
• A tight, useful review of the literature
• Well supported conclusions
• A clear and well stated contribution to the field
“The tiny text”
An abstract for this workshop
Many Doctoral students have to write journal articles
for their PhD. While there is a lot of written advice on
this topic, it is often hard to follow because it is not put
in context with the daily activities of a professional
writer ( Kamler and Thomson, 2006). This presentation
collects the best parts of this advice and puts them in a
'temporal' frame work, based on days of the week. This
framework helps PhD students see writing a paper as a
purposeful, step wise process, rather than a list of "do's
and don'ts which are hard to operationalise.”
Write an abstract
• Start with a couple of sentences:
• Aim (“This paper explores….”)
• Main argument (“In this paper we argue that….”)
• Method (“The study was conducted….”)
• What’s new? (“this paper contributes to the debates on….”)
• Share your 4 sentences with the rest of your
Pay attention to the verbs!
Examines / Analyses
Reports on / Outlines
Argues / justifies / recommends
Compares / Contrasts
Discusses / Demonstrates
Shows / Refutes
highlights / Illustrates
Add a title… for now
Thesis Whisperer Jnr (aged 10 and 1/4) wants to do his PhD about
“rocks” (with a side interest in gold). Dr Barry White advises there are
a range of theses Thesis Whisperer Jnr would write on this topic
depending on how he phrased the title:
• As a question: “What do school children know about rocks with
gold in them?”
• As an exploration: “Rocks in ‘scrap heaps’ found in the Victorian
• As a statement: “Why most school kids are not interested in rocks
(even if there’s gold in them”
• As an investigation: “Rocks with gold in them: places they are most
likely to be found”
• As a hypothesis: “If rocks have gold in them, they are more likely to
be dug up”
• As a thesis: “rocks are cool, especially if there is gold in them”
“The spew draft”
What stops us ‘just writing’?
"They feared that what they wrote
would be ‘wrong’ and unspecified
people would laugh at them”
Have you got useful notes?
• Good note taking helps you to avoid plagiarizing ‘by mistake’
• Ballenger (2004) claims good papers start with good note
taking. As we write notes (with verbs!) we write parts of the
paper, which saves time.
• Some note-keeping methods are
• Researcher log book
• Double entry note taking
• Narrative note taking
Write as much as you can about “what’s new?”
for 5 minutes.
If you are stuck for a word use another
/different / better word and keep writing
How to write 1000 words a day
• Write new stuff just after breakfast and before lunch. Cut
and paste free writing into / around / through notes you
• Use pomodoro technique to focus (25 min writing sprints
with 10 min breaks between)
• Take the afternoon off
• Come back in the evening, outline, edit and rearrange your
“the scratch outline”
Title: "Write an article in 7 days"
• explain why you should write
• talk about the importance of doing
research to find out the best place
• Talk about different types of
articles in academia
• Talk about the importance of
audience - explain how academic
• Introduce the idea of a 'tiny text'
as a way of focusing for your
• Talk about the value of doing a
The Big List
Write everything you have as a list:
Organise these in the best way to tell your story
then delete those that are not essential.
“Cleaning up the mess”
Time to reassess
Identify the strengths and weaknesses of your
work so far. Ask yourself:
• Do I have enough literature?
• Am I making 'knowledge claims' or just
• Is this an argument - or a manifesto?
• Is my data sufficient to the claims I am making?
• Am I being sufficiently speculative?
Excessive ‘tinkering’ is a
deferment strategy. If you find
yourself endlessly 'polishing' and
not moving on, plan what to do
the next day. Go straight to that
section next time you open the
document. At least you will be
‘polishing’ where it is needed.
You might find yourself bouncing
around between these steps for
awhile. It usually is a sign that you
didn't have enough 'stuff' to make
the kind of paper you are aiming
for, or you lack confidence in your
“Murder your darlings”
Stephen King once said: “… kill
your darlings, kill your darlings,
even when it breaks your
egocentric little scribbler’s heart,
kill your darlings.”
Too many words?
• Using the strike through tool - can you live
• Moving some text to footnotes
• Starting a 'maybe later' folder
• Triaging your text paragraph by paragraph
• Performing 'bypass surgery’
Zinsser suggests you put brackets around words which could
be cut or replaced:
“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). One of my (pet hates) is (the word) ‘also’. If you search
and replace all instances (of this word) you will find you can
live without it and your writing will improve (instantly).
(Likewise the word)’very’.”
Let it rest
Kate Chanock’s 7 stages of resentment
1. Outrage, noise, unladylike rejoinders
3. More outrage
4. One or two of the comments might make sense
5. There’s a bit of truth in that one
6. I’ll just have a go at doing what they said to do
7. Actually, the paper is a whole lot better for all
How will I ‘market’ this paper?
Your paper is one of thousands… how can you get it
to be noticed? Some ideas:
• Send it to authors you referenced
• Tweet / blog about it
• Lectures to professional gatherings
• Write opinion pieces for the paper
• Radio / TV
• Make a film of it!
Some useful references on writing
• Becker, Howard (2007) Writing for social scientists: how to start and finish
your thesis, book or article, Chicago University Press, Chicago.
• Ballenger, B (2011) The Curious Researcher, Longman
• Becher, W (2009) Writing your journal article in 12 weeks, Sage.
• Boise, R (2003) Professors as writers: a self help guide for productive
writing, New Forum Press
• Chanok, K. (2008). Surviving the reviewing process and getting published,
Journal of Academic Language & Learning. Vol. 2, No. 1.
• Kamler, B & Thomson, P (2006) Helping doctoral students to write,
Routledge, New York.
• Murray, R (2009), Writing for academic journals, Open University Press.
• Rugg, G & Petre, M (2010) The unwritten rules of PhD Research, Open
University Press, Maidenhead.
• Silva, P (2007) How to write a lot, American psychology association
• White, B (2011), Mapping your thesis, ACER Press.
• Zinsser, W (2003), On Writing, Pan McMillan.
Writing a paper is what designers call a ‘wicked
There are no right or wrong papers, just better
and worse ones. The more you write, the better
your papers will be.
We hope this presentation helps you write
more and more papers.
So which one should you bother writing if you want to be cited? All researchers (including you) are selfish, time constrained creatures who will only read something if it’s worth their while. If you always know the WIFM ('what's in it for me?') for your audience you will be a successful writer.
According to Rugg and Petre they should be 'solid' and 'interesting'In the sciences it's the type of paper that is designed to help others to replicate the studyYou need good data: Sample size, quality, representativenessFindings should be (ideally)useful and/or surprising
Work-in-progress papers stake out territory - helps you to lay claims to ideas you are working on (important to thesis writers)Needs: strong idea, clarity about how the idea fits in the field and how it is distinguished from other work, speculation about the implicationsMeta studies papers compile and analyse multiple existing studies.Needs: a clearly stated purpose; good data and clear analysis methodAnd a good discussion sectionArtefact papers publicise a new artefact, tool, system, pedagogy, instrument etc & provide information for critique / applicationNeeds: what the thing is, the gap it fills, why it's novel, what ideas it embodies, an evaluation and implications.
Rugg and Petre say these describe a new method, technique, algorithm or process well enough for other researchers to replicate it. Usually written for a very particular audience or communityMethods introductions: describe a new method invented or developed by the author and justify it (what is it good for, why do you need it, how do you know it works?).Tutorial papers: describe a method and how to use it. Usually includes an example. Journals are usually reluctant to publish these, although they are widely quoted when they are.Method mongering paper: describes a method with the aim of promoting it to other scholars in the field. Often includes an example without too much description of the method itself.Demonstration of concept paper: demonstrates that a particular concept (method or framework) is feasible, useful and interesting. Can get away with using less data than other paper types.
Rugg and Petre claim such papers help you to act like a 'navigator' for your research community. They are likely to be cited heavily by people... who either love or loathe youRaise awareness of issue which have not received enough attention in the field. They might give other researchers "interesting new toys to play with", usually by importing an idea from another discipline.Good ones need:vision!genuine authority based on comprehensive and current knowledge of the fieldStrong critical and creative abilitiesMake sure your complaints about the field are justified before proceeding!
Introduce new theory or explain someone else's theory in a way which makes more sense…Different types of papers will appeal to different kinds of researcher audiences. A scientist will be more interested in a methods paper which gives them ideas for what they can do next, than a theory paper which questions the veracity of the scientific method.
Kamler and Thomson suggest your abstract should have four "moves":1. Focus2. Locate3. Explain4.Suggest Implications
Kamler and Thomson suggest you use a series of questions to help you start:What's the research problem being addressed?How do I locate the significance of my work?What conversation am I in? Where am I standing in relation to this research problem?What do I offer as an alternative to existing research?What is my argument (thesis)?
Cut and paste bits of writing you already have into your word processor and start writing the bits that are missing!The trick is to write as fast as you can - not as well as you can. Think "bee": you are flitting between pieces of text when you get stuck - not trying to 'finish' anything.
Don't give up. You have two options:1) Gather more evidence and read more, keep massaging the draft until you have enough to move on, or:2) Go back to week one and rethink which sort of paper you can write with what you do have.
Editing is part of the process, not an end point: there is no such thing as 'writing' - only 'rewriting’There's not room to deal with the whole topic here, so here are two techniques
Don't despair if it's rejected.A 'soft rejection' is when amendments are requested.If rejected outright, consider sending to another journal.