Saturday, August 25, 2012

Publishing 2: Selecting A Paper, Schedule, Writing Site and Obstacles

Continuing yesterday's post, today I will be posting advice from Belcher (2009) on identifying and selecting a  paper to edit for publication, establishing a more realistic, productive and encouraging schedule, choosing a writing site and responding to common obstacles.

I. Identifying and Selecting a Paper for Publication 

Potential candidates for a publication paper

1. Praised paper - professor saying a particular paper should be published or feedback that it is particularly good and insightful. My own brilliance was never spotted by a professor :), so does not work for me. Some of my friends got a 'publish' feedback from a professor, decide on your own story

2. "Pleasure"-ful paper - any paper that was fun or enjoyment ro write and is gratifying to re-read. I, personally, don't have any paper I really enjoyed writing more than I enjoyed doing something else. If you have untraditional feelings towards your papers, maybe this will work for you

3. Relevance - a paper relevant to current debates and dialogue in the discipline. Or when you read something in a journal or a professional list and think of a paper that would add to the dialogue. I also saw some people re-doing or re-considering their papers in light of current events (Syria, Mubarak's fall, Russian protest dynamics) and then putting it on MonkeyCage or writing an open-ed in NYT or Washington Post and then getting huge attention. The latter part of this might be more relevant for Krugman or something, but not for a junior faculty or a graduating PhD, though there are notable exceptions.

4. Findings - strong or unusual findings or an original insights

5. Conference paper - seems to be a more common track for papers to be published

6. MA or PhD thesis - parts of it might be relevant as a publication. The keyword is parts and it would take considerable revising. My own MA is better left ntouched in the library archives. Maybe yours is a better case. As for a PhD publishing chapters from it are, in my view, the essential source of one's first publications to get the necessary record to apply for a job. Moreover, writing dissertation parts with publication in mind is an additional quality assurance mechanism and might serve as an external deadline. But here again, the kayword is parts and there is a lot of revising to be done.

7. Rejected article - to be resubmitted to some other journal. Might be the easiest track.

Candidates for papers that can be scrapped right away (according to Belcher. I think some of this stuff she discourages from submitting for a review, I still can get away with and publish).

Broad surveys of the literature - Belcher claims they are better done by veterans that have observed teh evolution of a discipline for a longer time. She still thinks you can put parts of it as an introduction in some other article. Two personal caveats are in order: I have a friend who published a literature review in a computer science journal, a place where one would think no one publishes that. He did some original work though, which was to typologize and classify literature according to some novel technique. I still want to go ahead and get my LR published, and the way I see forward is to organize the literature in some novel way. At the very least, Belcher says, you can write a review essay, which I think I would keep as a plan B. If you LR is rejected choose four or five books and write an informed review of then united by a single theme. You know those review articles in journals that review three or four thematically united books?

Research that is purely theoretical (no quant data or case studies), outdated, outside the discipline (don't publish a film critique term paper if you are a polisci student) and polemical (better published as an op-ed) is discouraged from being submitted to publication.

II. Choosing a Writing Site

It is recommended that writing becomes a habit that you practice for shorts amounts of time, but do daily. To encourage this habituation it is recommended that writing is done at a writing site - a special space designated for writing, which is comfortable and non-distracting. The most popular seem to be workshops and it is advised to change them if needed.

It is recommended that a writing cite has no internet/email and cell phone coverage. One extreme example from the book was a coffee shop or McDonalds which had renovation works going on and which had to wifi because of that and which was so loud you could not hear your cell phone ring. Email/Facebook/Twitter were said to be expecially distracted.

My own problem is staying close to sources - be it paper (library) or electronic (internet connection). The advice that Belcher gives is that it is better to leave out segments of text that you have to re-check through books or internet and carrying on. This is claimed to be very productive and to improve the quality of scholarship - I will definitely try it.

III. Schedule

The widespread belief is that you need big chunks of time to write and you need good ideas to begin. Both are attacked in the book as wrong. This book is built on the premise that writing for thirty minutes a day is much better in terms of quality of scholarship and much more productive that writing in big chunks of time (more than four hours).

Moreover, it is claimed that working on a single project is a bad idea and that it is better to diversify work on several projects. This has been my own experience as well. Writing a single paper the whole day I get burned out, too distracted, unproductive and what not. I tried to divide up the 4-6 hours every day I sit on computer writing and getting distracted into chunks of 1.5 hours and found out that working on two simultaneous projects made me much more concentrated and productive.

Regarding ideas being born before writing, both this particular author and many other people I have consulted told me that the best way to get ideas is to actually write, write whatever that is, criticuq of other people's work, blog posts and what not. In my own experience, one of the more important parts of my Dissertation Chapter 1 i started as a one-page reaction i wrote to myself on a news story.

it is also claimed that writing daily in small chunks of time (15-30) mins keeps one much more focused. Writing more than that is actually discourage, even when you have 'a flow' because, again, the book is based on the premise that writing is a regular unemotional exercise and not a bolt of insight.

The only thing is that planning and goal setting has to be there, so that at some point a writer will stop and submit his paper to a journal instead of waiting for a perfect paper to come out in three more years of regular wrting.

IV. Obstacles

I will list all obstacles that Belcher listed, but will only discuss those that I found common and my own. If you want more, let me know I will scan those sections to you or something. j

So the obstacles are:
1. I am really busy - you really really have no time, because you are so overloaded. Belcher's advice (and my own experience and advise) is that you have to seriously review your priorities and time management. It is just abnormal. Many 'too busy' people are actually 'too busy' to follow this advice of Belcher, so it is kind of a trap.

2. Teaching prep takes too much of my time
3. I'll start as soon as __________________
4. Too depressed to write
5. I will make writing my number one goal in life - that is just abnormal, as well as counterproductive
6. Could get to my writing site - print out a draft of your paper and work on it where you are in your limbo
7. Still reading up and review the literature - this is my personal problem as well and it is aggravated by all th online research tools that give you references, quotes, similar articles, suggestions and what not. The great advice given in this book is that you have to start writing to find out what exactly you have to read up on. To pu tit differently, leaving holes in the draft text keeps the literature review much more focused and narrow, saving tons of time. With the current amounts of literature it is impossible to skim everything. The mastery, Belcher's argument goes, comes from writing, not reading.
8. Can't get started
9. My topic too emotional or controversial
10. If I screw up my early publications it will hurt me later, when I become an established scholar
11.Not in the right mood
12. Kids
13. Can't work on this project any more - don't. Switch to other project or other type of writing (grant application, other article, chapter of the dissertation. In my personal experience this even works with sections of the paper. I could not finish a section of the paper in a very long time, so I just dropped it and moved to the other one, to come back in a couple of days and move it forward considerably.
14. My idea sucks - still write it down and you will see where exactly it sucks and what can be done baou tit. Good ideas are born in writing, they don't precede writing.
15. My supervisor is an obstacle with his critique
16. Can sit still - write in small chunks of time, put alarms and tie yourself to a seat with a belt (the last one is an anecdote from the book)
17. Feel guilty about not writing
18. Write slowly and don't get much done - that's normal, that's how the industry works
19. Long productive day and burn-out the next day - don't have a long productive day, limit your writing efforts so that there is no burnout. The book reports that some over-writers who used this advice found it helpful.
20. Don't want to change my writing habits.
21. Want to write but don't have scholarly or material resources. I come from this background. The advice given in the book is that you can have comparative advantage by having unique data, because those who don't have access to resources are usually on the ground, so they have better access to data and texts (as well as people, I should say).
22. Several projects with similar deadlines, I am in panic - that is actually good. I have this thing right now and I found that several projects simultaneously makes me more productive and focused.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Publishing: some tricks and report from the field. 

I have not published a single article in an academic journal (yet). I have my own reasons for that, part real (I prefer to get paid for writing and submit my texts to journals that pay for them), part imaginary (1. can't finish a paper due to constant revising and updating 2. 'really busy' writing my dissertation and conference papers).But I have about five papers which I am now working on and hope to get them in for review by the end of the year.

So I was really happy a couple of weeks ago when a school I am currently at announced two workshops, publication workshop and dissertation workshop. The first one is a writing group, essentially, where we submit and discuss our potential publications and work alongside a well-defined timeline and the second one is another writing group where we discuss content, style and 'angle' of our dissertation chapters.

Both groups have people with similar interests, but also from neighboring fields (I work on authoritarianism and regime breakdown, but there are people working on social capital, euroregions and higher education quality assurance). It has been amazingly productive, I never had such a productive time and so much encouragement and constructive feedback. Moreover, people don't have to be from the same field as yours or know your literature to give good feedback. Highly recommend to everyone.

On a side note, we are also reading a text by Wendy Belcher on how to publish a journal article in 12 weeks. Though the book might not answer your immediate and particular concerns (after all it is a generic manual for all people and an average writer, not a genius like yourself :), it is still very very very useful and I found that some of the advice the book provides was not given to me before during the numerous and great 'how-to-publish' workshops I attended (here's a link to a presentation from one of them, Benjamin Sovacool, that guy really publishes a lot!).

So I thought I should take notes on the book and also post it here, so that others can also benefit from some of the advice the book gives. I will also benefit because as I write this, I reflect on it and internalize the ideas better.

Wendy Laura Belcher, Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks, Sage, 2009. 

Part of Chapter 1 is called Keys to Positive Writing Experiences

Four of them are identified (I list the first three, rename them a bit and add some of my own experience)

1. Write 
The most common excuse is that people are busy. Though a minority might really be, the majority are busy because they do not write, and not vice versa. It is possible to finish a journal article in 12 weeks by writing 15 mins a day, the argument goes. So one really just needs to take an old paper, old idea, draw a schedule, choose a writing 'site' and start working alongside the timeline. I always thought timelines were for idiots and buraucrats, and only recently did I start realizing their great potential.

No waiting for inspiration or big blocks of free time to concentrate on writing. All you need is a plan (timeline) and a habit of writing a bit everyday.

2. Socialize Writing
No matter what we think or might believe, writing is a social activity, even for the smartest ones (yes, I have you in mind, the one who thinks everyone else is an idiot, you still need to write in the language and at the level  idiots can understand).

I would love to be working in isolation for fifteen year and coming out like Niklas Luhmann with a groundbreaking thing, but most of the good publications I saw were 'polished' with a host of graduate students in a class, at a bunch of conferences and were even co-authored.

My own experience is the same. People gave me advice on how to rearrange my ideas to make them less confusing, how to name sections or specific phenomena I had in mind and also how to put the arguments and infographics in the best possible way. I have done the same for others.

Socialized writing strategies might include the following:

1. Start a writing group, like my school did, preferably with a writing instructor or an assistant professor.
2. Take a writing class, the one specifically aimed at supervising through the whole process and not a one day seminar where you would be handed in a book and will only finish your thesis statement and abstract by the end of the course (some of my classmates know what I am talking about)
3. Convince another student to co-write an article with you - it works best when both share the same timeline and can meet in person to concentrate and write together. if physical presence is impossible try skype. I tried working on Google Docs with editing and commenting an essay and it was superb.
4. Conferences and seminars. Not only do they push one to write because of the deadlines, but also give a superb contact opportunity. I don't mean big shots, I mean our peers who work on similar things and share similar awkwardness and need for collaboration. One advice given to me about conferences was 'small is good' in terms of finding a collaborator and getting good feedback on your paper, as well as staying updated on the state of the narrow field of yours. I was advised to approach assistant professors and post-docs instead of big guys, since it is these people slightly senior than you that are engaged in most projects and will be more keen to draw you inside to work with them. And they are also happier to be recognized and appreciated than big fat ivory tower geeks.
5. Discussion lists - I don't know of any particular discussion lists, but I found blogosphere most rewarding. The blog I read to follow up on the latest stuff in my field is The Monkey Cage. Their comments section is a great venue for discussions, I always enjoy reading stuff from there and occasionally do contribute. They are also great for staying updated on the latest debates, theories and concepts in the field and really make one relate his argument to the overall discourse.
6. Introducing oneself to academics - I have never found this one comfortable and hated to be looking like a brown-nose or invading someone's email space or stealing his time. The claim made by Belcher is that established people actually are interested in meeting junior colleagues and are usually grateful for others' taking the first step. Also, many others enjoy giving advice. I had to ask for advice from a couple of academics I never met personally - all answered my emails and gave good advice. The ones who did not write back turned out to be busy, but none seemed to be offended or irritated by someone contacting them. Now with twitter, facebook and blogs it became much much easier, especially with the younger generation of bright and technically advanced academics.

Final concerns,

1. Many feel uncomfortable networking and contacting others - everyone does. Step out of the comfort zone with tact and persistence.
2. Many people are horrified of sharing their work, because this will make them seem idiots or they are afraid of negative comments. I had some stupid ideas shared with others, but my happy and very encouraging finding was that people actually never read them as stupid and fill stupid ideas with their own 'smart' content, thus adding to the process and upgrading the initial argument. So there is very little cost and very large benefits, why not take a shot? Moreover, many people actually hate giving negative feedback, even if the paper sucks. So there is really little chance that a shared paper will be 'raped'
3. Many will till the paper is complete to share it - very very very wrong. The purpose of sharing is improving, not showing off. so sharing at an earlier stage saves a lot of stupid ideas, re-writing time and even gets the 'sharer' organized, so that the rest of the paper will flow faster and more efficient.
4. Many fear a shared idea will be stolen. That might be the case, but sharing it actually protects the original proprietor - there are many witnesses to attest that it is you who publicized it first. I had a fear of sharing my stuff over Social Science Research Network and losing my credit to plagiarists, but now I think I will go ahead and post some of my papers there.

3. Persist despite Rejections

Review, I was told, is very subjective and conditional on things that have nothing to do with the quality of the article. The way we are doing it in the publication workshop is to select two journals - one top and the other second tier and submit it to top first and, if necesary, second tier second. We were advised to study journals for editors, submitting authors (whether there are PhDs or just big names), frequency of publication etc. I will be posting more stuff on selecting journals later. 

Hope this helps and good luck! Please let me know if this was helpful or if I made any terrible omissions or mistakes. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Transitions from Neopatrimonialism

Place your favorite transition on this typology and see if Snyder's 1992 theory works. For me worked on one country, failed on another.