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Flourish: An Electronic Newsletter for Scholarly Writers April 2007

vol. 3, no. 4

This month I have been noticing that writing always takes longer than I think it will. You would think that I would have developed a sense for it, after all these years, but the only sense I’ve developed about writing is that it always takes longer than I think it will.

Productivity Research

A study published last year in the journal Gender and Society found that those academics who specialize are more productive than those who don’t. That is, those academic who focused on one subfield rather than spanning many fields were more productive.

A cheeky way to put this is that if you write multiple papers on the same topic, you will find it easier to churn out work. And, really, there is no reason for me to be cheeky. It works! Writing successive papers and projects closely related to your previous work is a good idea. Specializing allows you to master the related literature in your subfield, “including the relevant debates and research methods, thereby making successive” articles on the topic easier. Further, those in your field better know you, so you get a better chance at promotion and publication. In other words, you create “professional capital.” If you rarely publish twice on the same topic, you will be slowed down by the extra research you have to do for each article.

Unfortunately, men are more likely to specialize than women are. Since women specialize less than men do, they miss this important means of increasing their productivity. Another way of saying this is that women publish less because they tend to write more broadly.

What to do? I personally am loathe to give up breadth for depth, but there is a lesson here. If you tend toward specialization, embrace it wholeheartedly. If you tend toward breadth, think about what you could do to repeat yourself at least occasionally. Leahey, E. (2006). Gender differences in productivity: Research specialization as a missing link. Gender & Society, 20.6, 754-780.

Avoiding Avoidance

Is there a task that you are having a tough time getting around to doing because you know how much time it will take up? Say, reading student papers? Taking notes on a book? Filing papers? Dealing with bills? Starting a new chapter? I have found that a good way to deal with something that I’m avoiding is to start it right before I am scheduled to go somewhere else to do something fun. For instance, if I am supposed to meet a friend for dinner at 7:30, which means I need to leave home at 7:00, which means I need to shower at 6:30, then at 6:00 I will spend a few minutes on the project I am avoiding. It’s easy to do when I know I simply cannot finish it and am about to have fun. And often that brief experience is enough to see that the project is nowhere near as unpleasant as I thought it was going to be. The next day, it is easier to return to it.

In the News

A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman (Little Brown, 2006). These authors argue that having a messy desk or house is a sign of productivity. Their research demonstrates that desk mess increases with education, salary, and experience.

Playing the Game: The Streetsmart Guide to Graduate School by Fredrick Frank and Karl Stein, IUniverse 2004). Check out the debate at Amazon and decide for yourself. Crazy good or just crazy?

How to Recover from Overwhelm by Susan Johnson. This article is getting a lot of play on the internet. Johnson argues that when you start to feel overwhelmed, you have to stop, take a deep breath, start moving more slowly, and then pick any one task to complete.

News from the Editor

At the end of this month, I am going to Sudan to hold a week-long session of my workshop “Writing and Publishing the Academic Article.” I will be working with faculty from the University of Khartoum and the Afhad University for Women, assisting them in getting their extraordinary research to peer-reviewed journals. I am grateful to the Chr. Michelsen Institute of Norway for providing me with this wonderful opportunity. Some friends have expressed concern, but Khartoum is some distance from the Darfur region, see map. Then, I will be traveling to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a short research trip and back to Los Angeles to keep working on the book.