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Flourish: An Electronic Newsletter for Scholarly Writers July 2008

vol. 4, no. 5

Our productive lives are not infinite. We will never accomplish all the things that we imagined we would as teenagers. For me, that means that whatever amorphous number of books and articles I imagined that I would write over my life time, I now see that I may not get around to writing them all. If that’s true, maybe it is time to start thinking about which ones to put on the back burner and which ones to prioritize. On my deathbed, what would I most regret not writing?

Perhaps these thoughts will seem morbid, but in many places and times, folks thought that dwelling on their own mortality was healthy. I quit my first job to complete my first book when my high school boyfriend was killed in a crash. Flying home from the funeral, I thought: You must do now what is most important. Since then I’ve often wished I could recapture that sense of urgency, keep my eyes on the prize.

I invite you, then, to spend some time this month thinking and talking about your life-long writing goals. What would you like to be doing creatively over the next so many years? What must you do to attain those goals? What thoughts do others have about those goals based on their experiences? After all, you must make a goal to attain it and completing our most important goals is a key to happiness.

Referee the Inner Critic

Brian Martin, who has written and peer-reviewed hundreds of articles, had some lovely advice on giving peer reviews, written up in the most recent issue of the Journal of Scholarly Publishing. His argument is that too many peer reviewers focus on what is wrong with an article rather than on what should be improved. This small but vital distinction is one from which we can all learn. As he points out, describing a sentence as “confusing” or a literature review as “incomplete” may seem helpful but it isn’t. Much better, he writes, is to describe what is working about the article (so the author knows what not to change) and then describe what could be done to improve the article. Have “no free standing criticisms,” he concludes. For instance, Better than saying ‘This sentence is confusing,’ say ‘Rewrite this sentence to make it clearer.’ This may seem a trivial matter, but it reflects a mode of thinking: By phrasing comments in terms of actions for improvement, we focus attention on what the author should do, not on the author’s inadequacies. Brian Martin. "Writing a Helpful Referee's Report." Journal of Scholarly Publishing 39.3 (2008): 301-306.

Workshop My Title!

Thanks to everyone who wrote in last month on how to improve my writing workbook title (and apologies for forwarding to all of you two of those emails!). Since arriving at a good descriptive title is one of our most important tasks as writers, I thought I would let you know how the title changed and why.

The original (too-long) title was: Writing and Publishing the Academic Article: A Step-by-Step Guide to Sending an Essay to a Peer-Reviewed Journal in Twelve Weeks (23 words) I suggested instead: Writing Your Academic Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Getting Published in Journals (14 words) The final title I arrived at with all your help is Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success (13 words)

Here’s how you inspired those changes. Many readers wrote in to say that I could change anything I wanted about the title so long as I didn’t change the words “twelve weeks.” Several mentioned that those words were what “sold” the book to them: “as someone who struggles getting things done, the twelve-week part was especially compelling.”

An editor of a peer reviewed journal commented that my original term “academic article” is not typical. Indeed, it appears on only 70,000 web pages according to Google, while "journal article" appears on 11,000,000 pages. So, I went with the more familiar term, which also clarified that the book was not for writing classroom papers.

Another person noted that the word "getting” was wasted space and another that it would be great if I could insert the word “success” in the title somewhere. Since I wanted to keep the keywords, I deleted "getting" and placed “academic” and “publishing" together with “success” to create a new subtitle. I miss the words "step-by-step," but I think the words “twelve weeks” do the job.

Several other discussions occurred that were not reflected in the final title but did shape my thinking. A reader who had worked in elementary textbook publishing recommended avoiding the gerund and changing “Writing and Publishing Your Academic Article” to “Write and Publish Your Academic Article.” As she said, “we liked the no-gerund approach because it sounded crisper. But it does risk sounding bossy: You WILL Write and Publish Your Academic Article!!!” I then stumbled across some website complaining about the ubiquitous gerund in Hollywood movie titles and others defending its use. I ended up deciding to keep the gerund. Similiar decisions were made regarding a number of good points that others raised.

The new title and basic information about the book is posted at Sage.

News from the Editor

Just trying to get myself ready for the move. I’ve managed to give away some of my books and to start sorting through the endless amount of paper that I’ve stored over the years. It’s slow going but important. (Do I really need three copies of the whole journal in which I published that article ten years ago?) As the archivists might say, nothing is valuable if nothing is thrown away. Onwards!