Writing Advice for Academics

For most graduate students and faculty members, nothing will be more important to success in obtaining jobs, promotions, or a sense of well-being than producing prose for publication. Likewise, nothing is more inclined to induce a wave of anxiety and belatedness in scholars than the thought of producing prose for publication.

Unfortunately, graduate education and the publishing world itself offer little effective instruction, feedback, or encouragement on how to get academic writing published. When it comes to academic writing today, it’s rather like Freud’s analysis of sex in nineteenth-century Vienna–everybody does it, but nobody talks about it. Of course, some of my students insist that nobody does it and nobody talks about it or everybody does it badly and nobody talks about it, but whatever the reality, it tends toward repression.

This causes a largely natural act like writing to become dysfunctional–for instance, the procrastination-binge cycle of most academic writers or the endless waiting for a sufficiently large block of uninterrupted time or the belief that writing is a solitary activity. The great secret of academia is that writing dysfunction is the norm rather than the exception.

A recent survey of over 16,000 U.S. faculty revealed that 17 percent of professors spent zero hours a week reading and writing scholarship, and 17 percent had never published a peer-reviewed journal article (Eagan et al., 2014) . In addition, 28 percent had not published any piece of writing in the past two years. The majority, 63 percent, had never published a book. Put another way, over half of faculty  spend less than an hour a day reading and writing scholarship and only 40 percent of faculty had produced more than two publications in the past two years. Furthermore, these statistics are self-reported and reflect the activities of only those organized enough to respond to the survey. One study without this bias (using a complete bibliographic database of all faculty at one university) found that 24 percent had not published anything during the past three years (rising to 36 percent among those in the humanities). As a result, many academics are looking for advice on how to be more productive published authors. I try to be of assistance on four fronts.

My Workbook

The repressive environment of academic writing led me to write my workbook Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success and to occasionally teach workshops for institutions. Combining my experiences as an instructor of writing for publication courses, an academic editor, a scholarly writer about Africa, and a graduate student at UCLA, I created this workbook to address the tremendous pressure on graduate students and faculty members to publish and the dearth of sound advice and practical encouragement they get to do so. I have also published related articles on journal article writing, for instance, Reflections on Ten Years of Teaching Writing for Publication to Graduate Students and Junior FacultyJournal of Scholarly Publishing January 2009); “When a Journal Says NoInside Higher Ed (April 27, 2009); “Parsing the Decision Letter: Why Is It so Difficult to Determine Whether a Journal Editor Has Accepted or Rejected Your Article?” Chronicle of Higher Education (February 13, 2009); and a review of A. Suresh Canagarajah’s “A Geopolitics of Academic Writing,” AsiaMedia News Daily (July 2006).

My Website

This website itself also provides advice and support for academics searching for writing assistance. You can learn more about writing a journal article or a book review, or even how to teach an article writing course at your university (a great way to learn something is to teach it!). You can learn more about what types of articles specific journals in the humanities and social sciences are looking for by using the peer-reviewed journal evalation website I created with graduate students at Princeton. It has short reviews of a variety of journals. You can learn about how to hire and work with a copyeditor, including what copyeditors do and what a fair rate is. If you want to be on the other side of the writing process, you can learn a little about how to start and manage a peer-reviewed journal.You can also follow me on Twitter at @wendylbelcher to ask questions about writing. Finally, you can check out Flourish: A Free Electronic Newsletter for Scholarly Writers. There is a lot of good stories in there about individuals’ successful struggles with writing!

My Workshops

I rarely teach long-term writing workshops anymore, now that I’ve published my workbook on the topic, but you can see how I organized writing workshops in the past, including the one-week international journal article writing workshop I’ve taught in Norway, Malawi, Indonesia, and Sudan. I have also regularly taught a one-day journal article writing workshop all over the United States and a one-hour journal article writing workshop. These workshops are pragmatic and have been very successful in helping participants get published in peer-reviewed academic journals, including PMLA; Semiotica; Political Geography; Behavioral Sciences; Race, Ethnicity and Education; Journal of Asian Studies; Psychiatric Services; Review of Black Political Economy; Nineteenth Century Contexts; Medieval and Renaissance Drama; Latin American Perspectives; Journal of American History; Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences; Marketing Education Review; Grey Room; World Politics; Journal of Southern African Studies; and Canadian Journal of African Studies.

I should say that I always taught these workshops at institutions for their faculty; so if you would like to take my one-day or one-hour workshop, you need to get your institution to invite me. However, the best way to learn about journal article writing is to buy my workbook and work your way through the exercises over twelve weeks. There is no substitute for putting in the time. If you can get your institution to fund the purchase of workbooks and set up a writing group of faculty or graduate students who keep each other accountable, that works great as well.

My Writing Walk and Talks

If you have a Princeton ID, you can sign up for hour-long morning walks with me to talk about any aspect of writing. Just go to the Writer Center Appointments and and select Walk and Talk Conference with Professor Wendy Laura Belcher.