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Howacademics
write:7findings
fromresearchInterviewswith 23 leadingscholarsaboutwriting
processandproductivity.
scholar.pro...
Publishor
perish?
Theobjectiveoftheresearchwastolookinto
howacademicsandresearcherswrite–the
writingpracticestheyadoptandt...
Theresearchcomprisedqualitative
interviewswith23academicsfrom
universitiesacrosstheUK,EuropeandUnited
Statesand1senioruniv...
SummaryWritingisthesinglemostimportantthing
academicscandotoadvancetheircareers–but
timeforwritingisverylimited.
Productiv...
Finding#1 
Heavyteachingandadminresponsibilitiesleaveacademicslittle
timetowrite.
Perhapsunsurprisingly,everyrespondent
reportedthatteaching,administrationandan
ever-growingworkloadwasresponsiblefor
preve...
Quotes
“Thedemandsonmyattentionjustswampme.Iget
ahugevolumeofemail–everyday.”
“Ionlyteachninehoursaweekbuttheadmin,
studen...
Finding#2 
Academics‘timeblock’togettheirresearchwritten–theydon’t
writedaily.
Productivescholarscarveoutperiodsoftime
fromtheircalendartowriteanddedicatethose
timessolely towriting.3 methodswereused: ...
Quotes
“IactivelytrynottowritewhenI’mnotsupposedtobewriting–
evenifIwantto.Ifindfittinginbitsofwritinghereandtheretobe
sod...
Finding#3 
Productivescholarshavedevelopedasystemtokeepthemwriting
(eveniftheydon’tthinktheyhave).
Academicsandresearcherswhoarethemost
productiveintermsoftheirwritinghadall
developedsomekindofsystemovertheyears
tohelpthe...
1.Self-imposeddeadlines
Scholarsareawaretheydon’thaveexternaldeadlinesimposedon
themwhenthey’rewritingthingslikebooks–soth...
2.'Freewriting' 
Whenstuckforideasorlackinginmotivation,many academics use
anunblockingtechniquecalled‘freewriting’morecom...
3. Finding'flow'
Productiveacademicsknowthattheyneedtogetintoacertain
mindsetor‘flow’todeliverawritingproject(especiallyal...
4. Accountability
Productivescholarstendedtousesomekindofaccountability
system.Eg,theydeliberatelysoughtoutfellowacademics...
5.Incrementalism
Intervieweestypicallysaidthattheyhad learnedhowtostructure
theirwritingprocesstoavoidbeingoverfacedwithve...
Finding#4 
Academicsfindwritingbooksfarharderthanwritingjournalarticles-
buttheygaingreatersatisfactionfromwritingbooks.
Wefoundabigdifferencebetweenhow
academicsapproachwritingbooksasopposed
tojournals.
 
Whereasjournalarticlesareconsidered‘p...
Quotes
“Idon’treallyconsiderjournalwriting,writingatall.It’sjustpartof
thejob.Journalwritinghastofitin–it’snon-negotiable....
Finding#5 
Lessexperiencedacademicsfinditeasiertowritethanmore
experiencedones–althoughthereasonsarecomplicated.
Wefoundthatwhilstmorejunioracademics
findithardtodeveloptheappropriateacademic
styleortofallintoagoodwritinghabit.They
ten...
Quotes
“Whenyoucan’tdeliverbecauseyou’retoobusyyoustart
thinking:maybeI’vechangedasaperson.Maybe,Ijustcan’tdo
thisanymore....
Finding#6 
Academicsoftengetblockedinthe‘chasm’betweenresearch
projects–andthemoresenioryouaretheworseitgets.
Wefoundoneofthetoughestpartsofthe
research/writingprocessforscholarswas
startingsomethingnew.
Academicsoftenreport‘getting...
Quotes
“Ifinditreallyhardtomotivatemyselftostartsomethingnew–
it’slikestaringatamountain.”
 
“Ifindthetransitionbetweenpro...
Finding#7 
Dependingonyourambitions,writingisaboutthemostimportant
thingyoucandoforyouracademiccareer.
Everyoneagreedthatwriting/communicating
wasanimportantpartoftheirroleandmany
believedtherewillbeadditionalpressuresto
writ...
Quotes
“It’sreallyimportanttokeepwritingformycareer.Youhaveto
communicateyourfindingstothepublic–thisisthemost
importantth...
About
Prolifiko
Prolifikoisadigitaltoolforwriting
productivity.Wehelppeopletotrack,
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How academics write 7 findings from research

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Interviews with 23 scholars about writing process and productivity. By Prolifiko and Emerald Global.

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How academics write 7 findings from research

  1. 1. Howacademics write:7findings fromresearchInterviewswith 23 leadingscholarsaboutwriting processandproductivity. scholar.prolifiko.com I @beprolifiko
  2. 2. Publishor perish? Theobjectiveoftheresearchwastolookinto howacademicsandresearcherswrite–the writingpracticestheyadoptandthe processestheyuse. Researchinterviewswereconductedby phonebetween20thNovember–8th December2017.Weareverygratefulforthe timegivenbythealltheinterviewees–who remainanonymous.      
  3. 3. Theresearchcomprisedqualitative interviewswith23academicsfrom universitiesacrosstheUK,EuropeandUnited Statesand1senioruniversityadministrator whohadsetupainstitution-widewriting programme.  Intervieweesrangedinageandseniority- from27yearstosixmonths'experience. Mostintervieweeswroteamixtureofjournal articles,papers,booksandmonographs.  Theresearchwasconducted inassociation with EmeraldGroup,aglobalacademic publisherofmanagementandprofessional titles.
  4. 4. SummaryWritingisthesinglemostimportantthing academicscandotoadvancetheircareers–but timeforwritingisverylimited. Productivescholarshavedeveloped somekind ofpersonalsystemtohelpthemwrite. Booksandmonographsareconsidered‘harder’ towritethanjournalarticles–buttheprocessis farmorerewarding. Lessexperiencedacademicsfindit‘easier’(and lessstressful)towritethanolderandmore experiencedfacultymembers. Scholarsmostcommonlygetblockedinthe ‘chasm’betweenresearchprojects. scholar.prolifiko.com I @beprolifiko
  5. 5. Finding#1  Heavyteachingandadminresponsibilitiesleaveacademicslittle timetowrite.
  6. 6. Perhapsunsurprisingly,everyrespondent reportedthatteaching,administrationandan ever-growingworkloadwasresponsiblefor preventingthemfromengaginginmorewriting. However,howanindividualacademicfeltabout thatsituation(whetherthiswasaconcernto themornot)wasdependentonthreefactors: 1.Whethertheyhadmanagedtoadopt    systemsandprocessestoenablethemtowrite outsideoftheirteachingschedule.  2.Whethertheyconsideredthemselves primarilyateacheroraresearcherandthekind ofinstitutiontheyworkedfor.  3.Whethertheyenjoyed(ormissed)thewriting process–ornot. 
  7. 7. Quotes “Thedemandsonmyattentionjustswampme.Iget ahugevolumeofemail–everyday.” “Ionlyteachninehoursaweekbuttheadmin, studentenquiresandmanagementresponsibilities mountup–youjustdon’tgetanytimetowrite anymore.”   “IfounditeasytowritemyPhDbutnowI’m teaching,it’sfarharder–whenyouhavetwohours in-betweenclassesyoucan’tgetdownto anything.”
  8. 8. Finding#2  Academics‘timeblock’togettheirresearchwritten–theydon’t writedaily.
  9. 9. Productivescholarscarveoutperiodsoftime fromtheircalendartowriteanddedicatethose timessolely towriting.3 methodswereused:    1.Blockingoutlonguninterruptedstretchesof time–writingonlyonsabbaticalsandholidays. 2.Blockingoutregulartimesinthescheduleto write–halfdaysordaysperweek/month. 3.Blockingouttimesin-betweenteaching sessions–twotofourhours.  Whilstdifferentmethodswereuseddepending ontheindividual,everyintervieweesaiditwas importantforthemtoknowthattheyhadthis timecomingup.Thissuggestsit'smore importanttofocusontheplanning-inoftime ratherthantheamountavailable.
  10. 10. Quotes “IactivelytrynottowritewhenI’mnotsupposedtobewriting– evenifIwantto.Ifindfittinginbitsofwritinghereandtheretobe sodamagingtoyouroverallconcentration.Forme,eitherI’m teachingorI’mwriting–neverboth.” “WhenIneedtowriteIblockouttime.I’mluckyinthatIcanwork fromhome–Iblockoutacoupleofstraightdaystodothewriting andIplanitinbefore-hand.Icouldn’treallywriteinanyotherway thanblockingoutthattime.” “IusebiggapsandspacesinmycalendaraswritingtimeandIjust getitintomyheadthatthat’swhatI’mgoingtobefocusedonat thattime.Idon’thavetophysicallywrite‘writingtime’inmydiary– butIknowit’scomingupandthat’stheimportantthing.” 
  11. 11. Finding#3  Productivescholarshavedevelopedasystemtokeepthemwriting (eveniftheydon’tthinktheyhave).
  12. 12. Academicsandresearcherswhoarethemost productiveintermsoftheirwritinghadall developedsomekindofsystemovertheyears tohelpthemwrite–evenifthissystemwasn’t inanywayformalised.Infact,mostdidn’tthink theyhadone. Wefeltthatthisfindingcorrelatedstrongly withthoseacademicswhoalsoappeared‘less stressed’andintimidatedbythewriting process. Wefoundthatwhilsteveryone’sproductivity systemwasdifferent–thereweresomeclear similaritiesandthemesbetweenacademics. Weclassifiedtheseintofivethemes:
  13. 13. 1.Self-imposeddeadlines Scholarsareawaretheydon’thaveexternaldeadlinesimposedon themwhenthey’rewritingthingslikebooks–sotheyimpose artificialdeadlinesonthemselvestokeepthem movingforward. Quotesinclude:  “I’lluseconferencesasdeadlinesintermsofwhenIneedtohave thenextthingready.Iknowtheresearch–I’mapsychologist.Iuse anartificialmilestonestokeepmemotivated.” “Themajordriverformeisdeadlines.Formeit’sallaboutthenext milestone–letmehitthat.Iwritelikeajournalist.” 
  14. 14. 2.'Freewriting'  Whenstuckforideasorlackinginmotivation,many academics use anunblockingtechniquecalled‘freewriting’morecommonly used amongstcreativewriters.Thisinvolveswritinginanon-judgmental way–withoutediting. Quotesinclude:  “WhenIgetstuckIjustputmythoughtsonpaperandjustwrite- justcontinueanddon’tlookback.It’snotperfectbutyourideas areonpaper.Atleastyourideasarethereinfrontofyouandnotin yourhead.“
  15. 15. 3. Finding'flow' Productiveacademicsknowthattheyneedtogetintoacertain mindsetor‘flow’todeliverawritingproject(especiallyalong-form one)sodeliberatelyarrangetheirworkinglives withthis objective. Quotesinclude: “Ican’twriteduringtheday,Ionlytendtowriteintheevenings– whenIdon’thaveanydistractions.Whenyoureallyfeelthatyou cangetintoyourwritingbubble". “Ifit’snotflowing–Ithengooffanddosomeresearchandcome back.It’sabouthowdoyouenabletheflowtohappenandbeing strategic.”
  16. 16. 4. Accountability Productivescholarstendedtousesomekindofaccountability system.Eg,theydeliberatelysoughtoutfellowacademicsto partnerwithorusedconferencestokeepfocused. Quotesinclude: “Iaskcolleaguetoholdmetoaccount.Wetelleachotherwhatwe wanttodoandwecheckinoneachother’sprogress." “Iuseco-authoringasapsychologicaltrigger.Whenyouhaveto delivertosomeoneelseitreallymakesyougetyourbuttinthe chair-disappointingsomeoneelseisalottougherthan disappointingyourself.” 
  17. 17. 5.Incrementalism Intervieweestypicallysaidthattheyhad learnedhowtostructure theirwritingprocesstoavoidbeingoverfacedwithverylarge writingprojects.Mostoften,theydidthisbyusinga‘smallsteps’ methodologywherebytheyapproachedalargegoalincrementally. Quotesinclude: “WhenI’mstuckorfeelingoverwhelmedbyalargeproject,Ifind it’susefultostartwithsmallerandshorterarticlestogetmeback intotheswingofthings.” “IfinditmucheasierwhenIhavesmallsectionstowrite–soIcan setmyselfsmalltargets.”
  18. 18. Finding#4  Academicsfindwritingbooksfarharderthanwritingjournalarticles- buttheygaingreatersatisfactionfromwritingbooks.
  19. 19. Wefoundabigdifferencebetweenhow academicsapproachwritingbooksasopposed tojournals.   Whereasjournalarticlesareconsidered‘partof thejob’,bookwritingisthoughofassomething morepersonalandcreativeinnature.    Asaresult,peopletendtofindbookwritinga harder–butoverallamorefulfillingthingtodo. Manyalsodescribedbookwritingasa‘creative process’andsomethingthatyouneedto‘get moreheadspacetodo’.   Also,dependingontheirdisciplineand institution,interviewssaidtherewasfarless pressureonthemtowritebooksasopposedto journalarticles.
  20. 20. Quotes “Idon’treallyconsiderjournalwriting,writingatall.It’sjustpartof thejob.Journalwritinghastofitin–it’snon-negotiable.”   “There’snorealpressureonmetowritebooksfromtheuniversity. They’renotinterestedandnobodyreallycares.There’sno incentive–it’salabouroflove.Thismakesthemhardertowrite.” ”WritingbooksiswhenI’matmyhappiest–it’swhereIgetmy creativity.It’sthereasonIdowhatIdo.”
  21. 21. Finding#5  Lessexperiencedacademicsfinditeasiertowritethanmore experiencedones–althoughthereasonsarecomplicated.
  22. 22. Wefoundthatwhilstmorejunioracademics findithardtodeveloptheappropriateacademic styleortofallintoagoodwritinghabit.They tendtohavemoretimeandarelessburdened bypeerpressure. Whilstlessexperiencedscholarsmightlack practicalwritingskills,theyhaveacertain ‘confidenceofyouth’whichpullsthemthrough –andmakesthemcarelessaboutfailure.   Asacademicsbecomemoresenior,theymight becomemoreconfidentintheirwritingabilities, buttheyalsobecomeincreasinglybusywith administrationandmanagementandthey becomeburdenedbyaweightofexpectation andcanexperiencea‘crisisofconfidence’.
  23. 23. Quotes “Whenyoucan’tdeliverbecauseyou’retoobusyyoustart thinking:maybeI’vechangedasaperson.Maybe,Ijustcan’tdo thisanymore.Andthatmakesyouthink:willIstopwriting altogether?Youhitabrickwall–andthatcanspiral.” “I’vebeenacademicforover20yearsbutsometimesIsitthere andthink,‘whythehellwouldanyonewanttoreadthis?Thisisn’t important–thisisn’tinteresting.’Youloseconfidence–youcan loseyournerve.”   “WhenIwasyounger,Iusedbethekindofpersonthatwould alwaysgetroundtodoingthewriting–thatwouldgetthingsdone. ButnowIjustdon’thavethetime.” 
  24. 24. Finding#6  Academicsoftengetblockedinthe‘chasm’betweenresearch projects–andthemoresenioryouaretheworseitgets.
  25. 25. Wefoundoneofthetoughestpartsofthe research/writingprocessforscholarswas startingsomethingnew. Academicsoftenreport‘gettingstuck’inthe chasmbetweenprojects–atthepointwhere onelargeprojectendsandanotherbegins.   Again,theretendedtobeadifferencein attitudedependingonhowseniortheacademic was.Youngeracademicstendedtorelishthe challengeoftakingonsomethingnew. Olderormoreexperiencedonestendedtosay theyfeltincreasingly‘stuck’atthispoint– againthisseemedtogobacktofeelinga burdenofexpectationduetotheirseniority.  
  26. 26. Quotes “Ifinditreallyhardtomotivatemyselftostartsomethingnew– it’slikestaringatamountain.”   “Ifindthetransitionbetweenprojectsreallyhard.You’reanexpert intheprojectyou’vejustfinished–butyou’reboredwithit.You don’tknowmuchaboutthenewprojectyou’retakingon–soyou getscaredbyit.”   “WhenIfinishedmyPhDIhitawall.Insteadoflookingoutand seeingalandscapeofmountains,Iwassuddenlylookingoutata desert.Itwascompletelyflat–therewasnothingthatinterested me.” 
  27. 27. Finding#7  Dependingonyourambitions,writingisaboutthemostimportant thingyoucandoforyouracademiccareer.
  28. 28. Everyoneagreedthatwriting/communicating wasanimportantpartoftheirroleandmany believedtherewillbeadditionalpressuresto writeandpublishoverthecomingyears. Manyexpressedastrongdesirefortheirwork be‘outthere’andfeltapersonalresponsibility towriteaspartoftheirdiscipline’s advancement. ManyacademicsintheUKreferredtothe pressureofmeetingResearchExcellence Framework(REF)targets.Manybelievedthese targetswereplacingasignificantburdenon bothuniversitydepartmentsandindividual scholars.USscholarsmadereferencetosimilar targets.   
  29. 29. Quotes “It’sreallyimportanttokeepwritingformycareer.Youhaveto communicateyourfindingstothepublic–thisisthemost importantthingforacademics.”    “I’mataninstitutionthat’sincreasinglyemphasisingwritingand scholarshipaspartofthepromotionprocess.Theruleofthumbis threeorsopeerreviewedarticlesinordertoqualifyforatenure.” “There’sincreasingpressureonacademicswho’veneverpublished beforetobemoreactive–Icanonlyseethispressuregrowing.” ”TheREFisplacinganunbearablepressureonmanydepartments– personally,Ithinkit’saflawedsystembutthat’swhatthejob’s aboutnow.”
  30. 30. About Prolifiko Prolifikoisadigitaltoolforwriting productivity.Wehelppeopletotrack, optimiseandimprovetheirwritingprocess throughasystembasedinbehavioural scienceandpersuasivetechnology. Thisuserresearchwasundertakentoinform thedevelopmentofanewproductaimedat mid-careeracademicsandscholars.  scholar.prolifiko.comI@beprolifiko

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