Showing posts with label PhD. Show all posts
Showing posts with label PhD. Show all posts

Thursday, 10 July 2014

27 tips on academic writing and publishing

The path to publication is arduous!

"Publication is a self-invasion of privacy." - - -  Marshall McLuhan

You can't publish unless you've written something ...

1. Ban thoughts of failure or rejection; by starting to write you are improving on the blank page of terror

2. Write a rough draft quickly; the quality of the writing should be worked on later

3. Familiarise yourself with an appropriate academic phrasebank

4. Learn to use a range of connectives in order to make your ideas flow

5. Avoid writing marathons - they seldom produce quality outcomes

6. Learn to use short stretches of highly focused writing time

7. Check that your have displaced all potential distractions

8. Identify SMART targets for your short periods of writing:
  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
  • Assignable – specify who will do it.
  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

"Democratic societies are unfit for the publication of such thunderous revelations 
as I am in the habit of making."   --- Salvador Dali

Finding a method and style suitable for publication

9. Don't try to justify every intuition by slavishly seeking out a reference to someone else's work

10. Describe and develop your ideas

11. Broad theoretical brush-strokes are exhilarating, but remember that you are not writing the history of everything

12. Avoid going off on too many tangents as these tend to confuse editors and reviewers

13. Communicate your main point(s) early

14. Include some memorable sentences that effectively summarise your work/contribution

15. Clearly demonstrate the thought-pathways leading to your conclusions

16. A clear focus beats a sprawling display of acrobatic leaps

17. If the ideas proliferate consider splitting your project into several articles

18. Be explicit and precise about your original contribution to scholarship

19. Fine-tune your writing at a later stage

20. Ask a trusted friend/colleague to read and comment on your final copy

21. Employ a proof-reader if you are unsure about the quality of your English

22. Research the most appropriate journal for your work

23. Listen to advice from colleagues and supervisors

24. Check that the format of your article has a perfect fit with each journal's requirements

25. Revise your work to suit a journal's ethos and style guide

26. Don't be disheartened - 80 to 90% of  submissions to leading journals are rejected

27. It's your chosen way of life. Enjoy!

"Search for the truth is the noblest occupation of man; its publication is a duty." --- Madame de Stael

“I finished my first book seventy-six years ago. I offered it to every publisher on the English-speaking earth I had ever heard of. Their refusals were unanimous: and it did not get into print until, fifty years later publishers would publish anything that had my name on it.” ― George Bernard Shaw


Friday, 29 November 2013

Restricting the Quantity of Citations

Nowadays, so much academic writing is simply a rehash of other people's work. Textbooks, in particular, are prone to the vice of uncritical recycling.

Clearly, however, there is a virtue in building on the work of others. Work in the humanities has become very specialised (since the 1970s) and this means that we are standing on the shoulders of an army of scholars, not to mention the proverbial giants and geniuses of the past.

Nonetheless, excessive use of citation suggests perhaps a lack of confidence in your own thought and creativity. A literature review may be the starting point of a research project, but it is not the final destination.

I was led to these rather banal reflections having recently picked up a copy of John Russell Brown's engaging and thoughtful book: Shakespeare: The Tragedies (2001). This book has four citations, two of which refer to the work of Peter Clark, The English Alehouse: A Social History 1200-1830. (1983)

Now that's perhaps the limit to downsize your references: citation lite !

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences (2013) ... also available on Kindle, or to downloadA bargain!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Citations and references: the solution to the Kindle / ebook dilemma

If you own a Kindle, Nook, or other ebook reader you will be familiar with the problem that the majority of texts do not have fixed page numbers. They will also display the same text in different way. This means that the location of a quotation in one digital format will be different from another.

Obviously if you are downloading a pdf there will be fixed page numbers to refer to. Readers who want to locate and check your quotations can of course simply search for key words within the text. Also, you can indicate which section of the book you are referring to by including a chapter reference.

Therefore you ought to write in this style

McCormick (2013) outlines the art of disputation (ch. 7) and the art of the supplement (ch. 6).

and quotations like this

McCormick (2013) argues that 'the use of transition words is highly effective in logical thinking' (ch 1.5).

Note that in the example above, the reference helpfully also provides a note of the subsection 5 of chapter 1.

In fact, my epubs included page numbers based on the printed version of the book. These are printed in [square] brackets throughout the text. This means that it would be possible to be more specific:

McCormick (2013) argues that 'the use of transition words is highly effective in logical thinking' (p. 23).

Finally, the basic citation looks like this:

McCormick, Ian. The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences. Quibble Academic, 2013. Kindle file.

According to the MLA, it is even possible, with less information, to cite as follows:

McCormick, Ian. The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences. Quibble Academic, 2013. Digital file.

I'm still unsure how you deal with geographic location of the purchase as this may define the place of publication, e.g. a copy purchased in the UK comes under Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.; or in the United States as Amazon Digital Services, Inc. Does it really matter, if it is the same product? Any thoughts?

Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Art of Connection: The Social Life of Sentences

Do you find that you waste time wondering how to start the next sentence?
Do you find yourself lost for words when you are required to link your ideas coherently and persuasively?
Do your sentences flow together and support the larger structure?
Do you want your writing to communicate more effectively and efficiently?

The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences is an innovative practical book that explains the Nine Arts of Connection: Location, Timing, Comparison, Contrast and Difference, the Supplement, Disputation, Sequence, Example and Illustration, and the Summary.

By following the easy to use guides and examples provided in this book, writers can learn how to write fluently and begin to enjoy the process of composition.

Whether you are a student or learning English for the first time, this book will assist you to write successfully to achieve your goals. By dividing the common words and phrases used to signal transition and connection into nine categories this book guides the writer through the principles of effective writing and outlines everything that you need to know about the Nine Arts of Connection. Two thirds of the book are devoted to tried-and-tested examples of practical usage. This approach enables the writer to identify the value and effectiveness of connectvity as an active principle in composition.

A thought-provoking critical introduction also outlines in detail how effective writing employs a balance between creative flow or spontaneity, and the need to provide coherence, logical and structure.

 The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences (2013) Also available on Kindle, or to download.


1.0 Introduction

1.1 The Social Sentence
1.2 The Use of Connection
1.3 Understanding the Psychology of Transition
1.4 Style, Oratory, Elegance
1.5 The flow of spontaneity and passion
1.6 Power, Rhetoric and Repetition
1.7 The Philosophy of Association
1.8 Beyond the Logic of Connection
1.9 Écriture féminine
1.10 Openings: the genesis of this book

2. The Art of Location
3. The Art of Timing
4. The Art of Comparison
5. The Art of Contrast and Difference
6. The Art of the Supplement
7. The Art of Disputation
8. The Art of the Sequence
9. The Art of Example and Illustration
10. The Art of the Summary
Further Reading

About the Author

Dr Ian McCormick served as a Professor at the University of Northampton until 2009. He holds degrees in English Language and Literature (University of St Andrews (M.A.) and a doctorate awarded by the University of Leeds (Ph.D).

Ian's published work has been featured on BBC Radio and TV; in the Times Literary Supplement, The Observer, The Guardian, TimeOut (London), and in several academic journals. Awards and Prizes include the King James VI Prize (1989); the Lawson Memorial Prize (1985); British Academy Studentship (1990-93). Ian has also published and edited books on Gothic literature and Romanticism; sexuality and gender studies; modern and contemporary literature; teaching and learning strategies; drama education; and literary, critical and cultural theory.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Finding your authentic academic voice

Are you still sharpening your use of academic language, or are you loosening the reins?

The title of this blog points to the tensions involved in professional educational writing. In one sense the purely personal, original, pre-academic voice is a fiction. By joining the ranks of academe your voice has already begun to switch from a personal to a public voice. Taking the micky becomes parody or satire, for instance. Academic writing loses colloquial speech-like qualities and takes on the jargon of professional authenticity. And speech also tends to lose the accent and dialect of your class roots. Sadly, standard academic English is a rather middle-class business proposition. There is a gain but there is also a loss.

But academic voice in the arts and the social sciences need not be the bleak accent of dry neutrality and emotionless abstraction. Surely there's an error in losing the individual idiosyncrasy of the human pulse in this domain of work?

While it is true that the lexis of academic disputation is often overused it is clearly helpful if you want to signal degrees or shades of difference in your interpretation. In that regard arts and social sciences judgements are not derived from logical positivism, and evidence and interpretation have shades of gray. All writers also deploy a variety and range of connectives to link ideas and signpost the flow of thoughts. The trick is not to use them too much, or too little, because you will end up sounding like a robot, rather than a sentient and sensitive human creature! In summary ...

Language is your tool, not your master.

Is it worth pointing our that grammarians are divided between those who describe actual living usage, and those who try to enforce, regulate and prescribe based on tradtion? Our greatest writers, such as Shakespeare, were often ungrammatical by modern standards.

Have we become too prescriptive and normative in our deployment of academic writing skills? Academic composition has certainly spawned an academic sub-industry of poorly and well-paid tutors who will offer you the keys to success. They will help you to pay lip-service to the discourse of acdemia.

Academic discourse is a specialist use of English which is still evolving. I suspect that it’s becoming less stiff and stylised nowadays. An example of the current informaility is the tendency to use the first person pronoun “I” instead of the neutral objectivity of the third person. Even abbreviations and speech like contractions are now common, as I’VE noticed in recently published academic books. By claiming to be a common language of transparency academic discourse pretends to show us the ideas, rather than the person speaking them. Eventually by playing them game you lose your consciousness of the rules by which it operates.

At its worst academic discourse serves as a defensive armour or shield; at its best it supports the elegant deployment of necessary subtleties.

Any thoughts? Have you been sharpening or loosening your academic style?

Useful Sites

Academic Phrasebank. Created by the University of Manchester.

Using English for Academic Purposes. A Guide for Students in Higher Education

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

PhD Roadmap: 9 Tips for a Successful Doctoral Submission

From time to time PhDs are submitted and they are failed. Your 3 to 7 year investment does not come with any guarantee of a pass. Nor is it enough complain that the supervisory team did not tell you that you might fail, or that you are at risk. While failure is very uncommon, there are no guarantees of success.

Most examiners are looking for positive evidence of success, but they are also required to identify weaknesses and errors. Both roles comprise the work of critical scrutiny and the professional process of examination.

On one occasion when I was serving as a PhD examiner we required major corrections with a 24 month timetable as that seemed to be the alternative to a failure. But the alarm bells ought to have been clear well before submission. Multiple errors and weaknesses may result in protracted re-submission or even outright failure.

Examiners often spot weaknesses that your supervisors may not have identified or scrupulously checked. It is not uncommon for examiners to check the accuracy of all your sources, for instance. Sometimes examiners will compete to find the most errors in your work!

Cumulatively minor changes are alarming because they point to a lack of accuracy and a poor standard of professionalism. Even minor corrections many involve months of tiresome (and expensive) checking of sources in overseas research libraries, if that’s where you used unique texts...

Here are some quick fix solutions to help you avoid the dreaded F-verdict.

1. Original Contribution is the Key

Be clear about your original contribution to the body of human knowledge. That’s what the doctoral qualification is based on. This does not mean that you will not be heavily dependent on a collaborative engagement with others and with past scholarship. But is does help you case if you are able to outline what you have discovered that is new. It’s not enough to create patchwork, a new mix, or a mash-up. Therefore stress the unique contribution of your work and be clear about which parts offer fresh interpretations or challenges to the orthodoxy. This does not mean that your work has to revolutionise the entire discipline or field of enquiry. But you will need a balance between humility and a realistic sense of what your achievements have been.

2. Errors in References, Footnotes and the Bibliography

These are the anchor for your work and the foundation for professionalism. If you have maintained these accurately from the start then your final preparation of your thesis will be stress free. It is essential that your format corresponds with that recommended by your institution, and that it is consistent. Check punctuation and title formats in italics, publisher, place and date of publication in the right order. If there are 12 or more mistakes you may be in trouble.

Also check that you are using standard editions of key works. Penguin Books, for instance, often modernise spellings and style, whereas Oxford UP does not.

3. Fat or Thin Bibliographies

Don’t force feed a bibliography with stuff that you never read or did not use. At the other extreme don’t just list the texts that you worshipped as your guiding lights. Omissions suggest you did not read enough, or that you are concealing your influences. On the other hand, unnecessary additions suggest a forest of confusion; they are the vice of excess packaging.

4. Ideological shorthand and sleight of hand.

A theoretical bag of tricks often appears to be essential for the post-post-post-structuralist. Don’t mix and match schools of ideas and concepts just for show, and don’t be shallow. Critical and theoretical terms often have distinctive histories and traditions.

You might hang yourself by a loose use of deconstruction and signifiers left hanging on inappropriate semiotics. Key words and ideas require careful and consistent use. Sloppy and inconsistent use suggests that you are unsure about the progression of your thesis.

5. The solution to the word/world/universe thesis.

If your thesis is too big it may buckle under the pressure. Don’t pretend that you can overturn a major scholar’s life’s work in 3 years' scholarship. Unless your are blessed with genius and superhuman powers your most original work will be achieved in your post-doc years.

6. Research sources need to show a chronological range.

If you just rely on research undertaken since 2000 you may well be losing vital evidence that supports the foundation and origins of your work. You may miss minority or contested debates. Similarly, your work also needs to show evidence that it is up-to-date. Again, sweeping generalisations about Descartes or Darwin, or Hegel or Derrida should be avoided. Be precise about intellectual phases and developments and reference works and texts rather than author summaries.

7. Avoid general statements that lack evidence

Scholars agree that...
Many critics have proposed that...
A minority of academics would disagree.

We need names and footnotes. Sweeping statements tend to betray lazy scholarship
We need precision and we are looking for nuance and detail. Demonstrate your familiarity with all relevant secondary critical texts by footnoting and discussing appropriately.

8. Tell-tale signs of the rushed submission

Apart from the multiplication of errors relating to accuracy, the obvious signs of a rushed submission will be evident in the style of writing. The style is uneven, sometimes colloquial, often fuzzy. The lack of lucidity and precision fogs the sense of your work. Baggy or half-baked sentences stifle communication.

9. Heads and Tails.

It is essential to write a solid introduction and a firm conclusion. These require more careful thought, and more studious revision than any other part of your work. They open and close the doors to success or failure. Poor openings and endings suggest a lack of confidence or an unseemly rush to complete against the clock.

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)

Also available on Kindle, or to download.

Also try: The Art of the Abstract

A Quick Guide to Writing and Abstract.