I’m just finishing up the first day of a 3 day “writing for publication” retreat, hosted at the Mont Fleur conference centre just outside of Stellenbosch. We spent the first half of today covering some of the underlying ideas and concepts around the first sections of an article, which was useful for me because I write what I think sounds good, rather than having a more nuanced understanding of what exactly it is that I’m writing.
After this we spent a few hours getting everyone signed up to Google Docs and sharing the articles we’re currently busy with among our respective group members. We’ll be using Docs over the next few days to provide feedback to the other participants. Even though I’ve done this at a few workshops now, I’m still amazed at how there are always a few more complex cases that take up the bulk of the total time spent.
I’ll be writing an article based on a presentation given at the HELTASA conference in December last year, which was based on a survey I conducted of my fourth year students following a wiki based assignment I’d given to them earlier on in the year.
Here are my notes from the day’s session.
Identify a journal
Identify your journal early on in the process of writing, rather than trying to force an article into a journal
Publication = joining the conversation
- Who is already participating in the journal (reviewers, editors)?
- Who decides who can join in?
- Do you know anyone who is participating?
- Who has been excluded and on what grounds?
- What is under discussion?
- Who do you need to know in order to join
Know the aims and scope of the journal. Does your material suit the journal’s agenda
Email the editor to ask what the interests of the journal are
Finding an argument could involve responding to another publication by another author
Genre = type of expression which has features that all examples of this type share, they shape the thoughts we form and the communications by which we interact
Browsing articles in different publications may give you an idea that’s more creative than you might be used to
Argument = trying to convince your readers of a particular point that you’re trying to make
This was a short exercise where we were asked to “Write your abstract as a bedtime story”. Here’s mine (the underlined sections were provided as cues):
Once upon a time researchers believed that the use of emerging technologies in clinical education would magically create better teaching and learning practices.
But I began to wonder what this magical process was, and if it was as simple as everyone made it out to be.
So what I did was to conduct a small experiment in one of the classes I teach, where students used a wiki to collaboratively construct articles on paediatric conditions.
I discovered that there was little difference in student behaviour as a result of using the wiki, and that the technology wasn’t the problem.
This changed the way I think about integrating technology into my teaching practice.
It was just an idea to begin thinking about the abstract in a different, slightly more creative way.
Make your abstract, concrete. It’s an advertisement for the rest of the work. Is it going to make your reader follow through?
Your work isn’t only about the content and form, it’s also about establishing your identity as an academic. What does this work say about who I am?
Questions to ask about the abstract:
- What conversation is the researcher in?
- What is the researcher’s stance?
- Does the voice sound “expert” enough?
- Is the research clear?
- What is the argument? Can it be made stronger?
- Is the “so what/now what?” question answered?
- Will the reader want to read the rest of the article?
Begin by establishing a context and / or a conventional idea, and then challenging it.
Identify areas where you should be tentative, and areas where you can be definite.
Some characteristics of an abstract:
- Locate – what is the relation of this paper to the bigger picture
- Focus – what questions or problems that will be explored
- Report – summarise the major findings
- Argue – open out the argument and indicate a point of view, returning to the angle e.g. the theoretical framework → closing the circle
Introductions tend to follow a set pattern, regardless of the discipline. But, be careful of sticking too closely to any one formula or pattern
Create-a-research-space (CARS) model:
- Establish a territory → highlight work already done in the field
- Claim centrality
- Make topic generalisations
- Review previous research
- Establish a niche → what are my questions / comments on the topic?
- Counter claim
- Indicating a gap
- Identifying a gap
- Continuing a tradition
- Occupy the niche →
- Announcing present research
- Outlining the purpose of the present research
- Announcing principal findings
- Stating the value of the present research
- Indicating research article structure
A critical friends asks provocative questions and takes time to fully understand the context
- Provides an audience
- Direct and explicit questions and comments
- Constructive, rather than destructive
- Look for meanings, but don’t take over