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Flourish: An Electronic Newsletter for Scholarly Writers March 2006

vol. 2, no. 3

When I designed my “Writing and Publishing the Academic Article Workshop” and started teaching it at UCLA in 1997, I looked far and wide for models on how to teach graduate students and junior faculty about getting published. I couldn't find any. I did find Robert Boice's wonderful research on faculty writing, on which I based my course, but I couldn't find a single university where they were actually teaching graduate students something like what I thought was needed.

Now, there are lots of such workshops at universities, a sign that departments have stopped bemoaning the increasing professionalization of academia and started preparing their students for this new reality. There is still a gap, however, between the need and the supply; I frequently get requests from graduate students or junior faculty who say that their university does little or nothing to train scholars on writing for publication.

What can you do if your university is one of the ones that needs to be encouraged to provide more support? I have a recommendation.

Cite the Research

We're academics, research is our deity. If you run a research article up the flag pole that says press subventions or junior faculty writing workshops improve publication rates, most deans are going to salute.

How do you find such an article? Scholars in almost every discipline have now done research and written articles about how to improve graduate student and junior faculty writing for publication. Quite a bit of this research suggests that peer support is essential to getting better at writing and feeling better about writing. Scholars also respond well to editorial feedback and a series of concrete deadlines.

Find the recent research study in your discipline that makes recommendations on how to improve scholarly writing and productivity. Then consider sending it to the administrator at your university in charge of faculty development (if there is one) or graduate education. Add a note asking whether such a strategy could be tried at your university. It never hurts to ask. The dean or chair may turn around and ask you to facilitate its happening, but that's okay. You will earn a lot of good will by helping colleagues with the ongoing challenge of writing.

One Research Study

Here's an abstract of the kind of article you could forward to a chair or dean. Although it is a study in the sciences, which has a higher general publication rate than in the humanities or social sciences, it is still useful.

“Scholarly writing is a critical skill for faculty in academic medicine: however, few faculty receive instruction in the process. We described the experience of 18 assistant professors who participated in a writing and faculty development program which consisted of seven monthly 75-minute sessions embedded in a Collaborative Mentoring Program (CMP). Participants identified barriers to writing, developed personal writing strategies, had time to write, and completed monthly writing contracts. Participants provided written responses to open-ended questions about the learning experience, and at the end of the program, participants identified manuscripts submitted for publication, and completed an audiotaped interview. Analysis of qualitative data using data reduction, data display, and conclusion drawing/verification showed that this writing program facilitated the knowledge, skills, and support needed to foster writing productivity. All participants completed at least 1 scholarly manuscript by the end of the CMP. The impact on participants' future academic productivity requires long-term follow up.”
Pololi, Linda, Sharon Knight, and Kathleen Dunn, “Facilitating Scholarly Writing in Academic Medicine: Lessons Learned from a Collaborative Peer Mentoring Program.” Journal of General Internal Medicine 19 (2004): 64-68.

In the Meantime

Most of us would never imagine teaching a class, writing a book, or buying a car without doing research first. Yet many of us take notes, read books, and write papers without ever reading the research on how to do this more effectively. It often surprises people to know that almost every aspect of what academics do every day has been studied.

Think you could be making stronger arguments? There are whole books devoted to making arguments. Want to make your office more conducive for working? There are books on organizing paper and electronic files. Having trouble getting motivated? Plenty of books recommend techniques for dealing with writer's block and procrastination. Wonder how to combine motherhood and getting tenure? There's a book. A couple of books are recommended at my website and new ones are coming out all the time.

I know, I know: “What, read one more book?! I don't have time!” But this kind of research can make you feel better and be more productive—can you say that about the last article you read? Besides, once you know this information, you can be a better teacher and a better colleague.

News from the Editor

I'm thinking about workshops because I'm holding quite a few over the next months. As is the case with all of us, balancing teaching with writing will be my challenge. That is, keeping the ship of writing steaming steadily ahead despite the stormy sea of work demands.