Tag Archives: writing

Link round-up: literature reviewing and analysis

Here’s a signal boost for some recent writing advice I have found useful, or older posts that I’ve recently shared with my dissertation/thesis writing colleagues.

Structuring

Here are notes on some of Patrick Dunleavy’s always great structuring/editing advice for papers and dissertations.

Reading, planning, starting writing

Raul Pacheco-Vega has excellent posts on planning and doing your writing and reading. They are aimed at developing academics but have use for students too.  I especially like this quote in How many sources is enough? (Number one question I get from students):

How many sources should I read for my literature review?

This is an absurd question that is prompted by arbitrarily setting a random number of sources as “enough”. If you read the right five sources, you’ve probably covered a full field. But if you read 40 sources that all tend to pull in different directions, you’ll still be unable to cover all the sources.

And this too:

“When should I stop reading and start writing?”

My answer to that question is: you should be reading AND writing. Apparently, a lot of people feel like they need to Read All The Things before they can write a literature review… But you should ALWAYS be writing as you read.

In that post, there are a few links to ways to write notes and memos while reading. My own approach has been something like that too: read with the purpose of your writing in mind, and construct your own sentences that might be lifted into your writing. even if they start off descriptive, you can work on making these sentences more explanatory and analytical later.

Writing literature reviews

Wendy Bastalich’s in depth explanation of critical literature reviewing is an important reminder to go beyond describing the previous research and make it work for you.

On a similar note is Pat Thomson’s point about not just naming the authors, but using the literature to frame your own study. I call naming the authors the ‘shopping list’ approach to literature reviews. Smith said…; Jones said…; – in this, your own voice is lost and the reader knows nothing about what you think about all these sources. If you’re a student, you’re probably partly being graded on your knowledge and understanding of the issues. For all writers, it is important to build your own argument, starting from signalling what the literature offers you and how it links to your purpose – not making the reader do this work.

Analysis

Analysis needs to be so much more than coding and comparing your data to the literature. It sounds really obvious to say but your results chapter must use the data to answer the research question. The number 2 question I get from students goes something like, how do I turn my qualitative data into a results chapter? When I studied my Masters at Sussex, my dissertation was supervised by Dr Alison Phipps who a little while ago wrote about taking analysis beyond the coding and organising stage to interpretation stage, to really look at what your data say, how to build theory, and what you can conclude from the data.

And back to Raul Pacheco-Vega, who has this post on the difference between analytical and descriptive writing. The number 3 question I am asked!

If you’ve reached this point, I hope there is something useful amongst these links for you!

Spring update 2017: recent research activities

Is this thing still on?

Sweeping the dust off and trying to get back into blogging my research and teaching life. Here’s what I’ve been up to lately…

This year I have got involved in a few projects that have led to there being six papers ‘on my desk’ at the moment – metaphorically on my desk, as some of them are still only concepts. So managing my time is a priority at the moment, or even managing my expectations about what I can successfully complete. Getting back into my teaching after maternity leave (updating units to improve them, thinking about long term changes, remembering everything after an academic year off) has taken a lot of my energies this year but as designing and delivering teaching is a never ending task, there comes a time when it must no longer get in the way of my research activities.

My attention is on three main projects:

Social Justice in PETE

Following the creation of over 70 interviews with PETE and PESP faculty across the English speaking world, I have three papers to contribute to:

The knowledge base for social justice and socio-cultural issues in PETE…how do PETE and PESP faculty know what they know or believe to be social justice and socio-cultural issues? What professional development could be offered for teacher educators?

International perspectives on social justice in PETE…what is called social justice in different areas? How does local context affect what we see as social injustices and how to educate for social justice?

Whiteness in the PETE curriculum… prompted by the question generated by a student movement ‘why is my curriculum white?’, we examine the construction of curriculum on two PETE courses.

PE textbooks and children’s colouring books

Data collection and analysis is all complete for both elements (one on PE textbooks, one on colouring books) of this project so it is just (‘just’!) about editing and refining the text of both papers and ensuring sufficient theoretical basis and educational implications. I presented this work at BERA in September 2016 and more in depth in a research seminar at York St John in December 2016.

Student journeys: narratives in student experience

Over two academic years we are collecting interviews with Level 4 and 5 students on their journeys (geographical and metaphorical) to and through university to understand more about their dreams and intentions in coming to university and succeeding. We have carried out some interviews and observations and will be inviting participants to engage collaboratively in developing teaching and learning changes.

Listening to ‘during the break’ discussion at conferences

Is what we value about conferences not the scheduled speakers, but the dialogue during question time and in the coffee breaks?

As audience at academic conferences, we sit down to listen to speakers present, we have an opportunity to ask questions, and we have breaks during which we might discuss the presentations. Conferences might audio-visually record speakers for an archive or to share their ideas, and individual audience members might make notes on the presentations for our own use, might discuss what interesting or controversial topics we heard. However, usually nothing of the ‘during the break’ elements of a conference is recorded and the very nature of a conference – the opportunity for dialogue – is not retained as part of the record of the conference.

In the last few years the notion of ‘back channel’ at conferences – sharing content and developing ongoing conversations online, beyond the speakers at the podium – has grown (McCarthy and boyd, 2005; McCarthy et al., 2004), with much of the impetus for this development arising from microblogging and social media sites such as Twitter (Ross et al., 2011). These enquiries have largely emerged in computer science and have aimed to understand the potential of social media to enhance conference experiences and increase speakers’ social networks.

However, this skims over the valuable face-to-face conversations happening during the gaps between presentations on the day: among audience members in the queue for coffee or lunch, and between audience and speakers during the question time following a presentation. Presentations are used to share thoughts and create dialogue. In these spaces, speakers’ presentations prompt insights, additions, reflection and debate among audience members.

I attempted to research the value that ‘during the break’ discussion at conferences can provide, but beyond the social media-based research cited above, it was surprisingly difficult to find writing on the importance of sustaining conversation or learning beyond listening to the speakers. Conferences as an opportunity for collaboration can have significant value in pushing one’s own academic research forward and opening up new avenues. There are academic conversations regarding future research, collaborations and suggestions of reading, but it might be the personal/political conversations that generate so much. The extension and development of speakers’ subject matter by audiences (in dialogue with the speakers) during the breaks is a vital part of conferences, not least for demonstrating the value of multiple voices in creating and shaping dialogue within and beyond academia.

 

McCarthy, J. F. and boyd, d.m. 2005. Digital backchannels in shared physical spaces: experiences at an academic conference. CHI ’05 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, April 02-07, 2005, Portland, OR, USA. (pp. 1641-1644).

McCarthy, J. F., McDonald, D. W., Soroczak, S., Nguyen, D. H., and Rashid, A. M. 2004. Augmenting the social space of an academic conference. Proceedings of the 2004 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work, November 06-10, 2004, Chicago, Illinois, USA (pp. 39-48).

Ross, C., Terras, M., Warwick, C., and Welsh, A. 2011. Enabled backchannel: Conference Twitter use by digital humanists. Journal of Documentation67(2), 214-237.

 

Writers’ group second session: overcoming hurdles and planning a writing schedule

The second virtual meeting of the writers’ group was this week, opening a new month of writing. We started by recapping our goals for May and whether we had met them. As my goals involved two papers that had fixed deadlines during May, I was happy to report that I had submitted these revisions. One paper has also since been granted final acceptance so I was pleased to see that get to the end.

Discussing whether we had met our goals, we started to talk about hurdles in the way of completing goals or even in the way of writing at all. For me, the end of the teaching year has enabled me to concentrate much more on writing than I can do in term time. Others in the group, however, raised issues that had distracted them or affected their motivation. It was suggested that we have a splinter group aside from the main writing group, in which we could share frustrations! Just a few minutes talking about problems felt therapeutic.

Turning to strategies to help get the writing going, we noted the differences between concentrating for short bursts and trying to sit writing for a whole day. While some people could only get going with a long period of time, others saw the difficulty of arranging long periods and the greater practicality of fitting writing around other demands. In my experience (and supported by the reading about writing that I have been doing lately), a lot of it comes down to planning. This helps to avoid wasted time trying to get into some writing. I can have a designated writing time but if I’ve not planned what I will write during it, I sit doing nothing, staring at the screen or moving bits around. So I have been breaking my to do list into micro pieces that will fit around other jobs.

And so to plans for this month. The meeting was useful for me as it prompted me to think about what I need to get finished this month, as I’ll be on leave for a lot of July. My plans are to have full drafts of two chapters, see a paper that I am second author on sent to journal (it’s very close to done), and try to do the analysis for a further project. There are other jobs also on my bonus list that I won’t feel bad about not completing, but that would help if they are done. By setting some goals and reporting back on them, the group members can have some accountability and hopefully get done what they planned.

Selecting a journal for a publication in a new-to-you field

One of my current projects has taken me outside of my typical academic fields into new territory (early childhood and colouring books). I love reading in this area and really delving into the topic. I don’t have to worry about getting bogged down into reams of literature, or misrepresenting something I read years ago, or getting bored due to over-familiarity. In a way, my lack of knowledge (or my ignorance!) is good for both my motivation and for the writing I will do: I think that I won’t be trying to show off my depth of knowledge and end up with a 20 page literature review, I’ll be happy with focusing on the specifics. Of course, I may end up trying to reinvent the wheel because I’ve missed something vital, or risk upsetting editors and reviewers who are much more grounded in the field than I am. I’ll try to remain aware of that.

Once the research and the resultant paper(s) are ready to make their way to these editors and reviewers, I need to select the journal(s) where I’ll send them. When I first had this thought, I had to stop and think. What on earth would be a good journal? In my own field, I have a fairly good awareness of the range of journals available. I peer review for many of them, and I have a long term publication strategy that is aiming to send my papers to the journals that are right for each paper and that will establish my name in my field. My working knowledge of each journal, and my relationships with editorial staff, mean that choosing a journal in a field I know is not really too difficult. But now I’m encountering a new field (for the meantime anyway – I’m hoping this project will grow and will be guided back into my own fields), a new set of editors, and really just lots of unknowns.

I had to return to the drawing board to think about journals for this new project.

Which journal has the best metrics?

This sprang to mind as the best way to find the “best” journal, initially. I visited the Scientific Journal Ranking (SJR) site and ran a search on journals containing a keyword related to the area my paper is in, “childhood”. For each of the journals this search returned, I made a note of the SJR number (a measure of how many cites the journal receives in a year against how many articles it published in the last three years), the h index (the journal has h papers that have h citations). Then I visited Google Scholar Metrics and ran a similar search; Scholar keeps slightly different metrics including h5-index (the h-index for articles published in the last 5 complete years; it is the largest number h such that h articles published in 2009-2013 have at least h citations each) and h5-median (the median number of citations for the articles that make up its h5-index). I did this to get as full as picture as possible. As well as enabling me to put some sort of ranking on the journals, I was able to see that some journals appear in SJR but not in Scholar. This raised a few questions for me as I wondered whether this would affect how a reference to this journal would be dealt with on my own Scholar page. Would Scholar struggle to find citations to my paper in the future? Would it not include these citations in my own h-index?

For my search, there was a clear “best” journal that had a h index twice as high as the next journal. However, I couldn’t just take that journal as best for my paper. Firstly, I had noticed that a lot of the journals I had found through the SJR searches were only founded in the last 10 years. They had significantly lower metric scores than the more established journals, suggesting to me that metrics (inadvertently or not) favour long-established journals. That makes sense, but doesn’t give us a full picture of the newer journals – what if they are becoming highly regarded? What if they are being highly cited this year (SJR’s most recent data as of 2015 is for 2013)?

So I turned to other ways to find the best journal.

Which journals have I cited in the paper?

This should also be a key factor in choosing the journal, and in my particular search, led to me dismissing some of the higher ranking journals from my SJR and Scholar searches. If you’re trying to publish in a journal whose work you have not engaged with, this will raise questions around why you thought this was a suitable journal. I once heard a journal editor say that one of the first things they do when they receive a submission is look for their journal in your reference list. You need to be engaging in the previous material in the journal in order to show you’re making a contribution to its debates.

On a related point,

Which journal takes topics like yours?

Murray (2005) states that what is acceptable for a journal is, in a way, what’s already been published there – you should be able to meet their conventions but offer something sufficiently new, a clear contribution. The questions you will need to ask yourself include, what do these conventions and new contributions look like for my target journal(s)? What will the audience know about your subject, and if your paper challenges accepted knowledge, what will the audience assume does not need to be questioned?

The clearest place to look is the journal’s aims. There it will outline the remit of the journal and the sort of topics they are interested in. In my case of “childhood” journals, I was looking for key words such as curriculum, representation, social … and steering away from journals that focused on teacher education, policy, cognitive development.

You could then skim recent topics in the journal to see whether your material suits the subject, methodological or theoretical frameworks commonly or recently used (Murray, 2005). This will give more specifics or context to how those journal aims are actually met in practice.

Who are they published by?

Is the journal published by a big publishing house? Does that put you off or encourage you? Have you published through that publisher before and was it a good experience? Do you know whether they promote their new publications, what their website is like for searching and accessing papers? Is the submission site user-friendly? You might personally be encouraged or put off by smaller, or open access, publishers, or online-only journals.

Where do highly regarded people in the field publish?

Check the websites of top-rated departments, or individuals academics you admire, to see where they publish (Murray, 2005). Of course in a new-to-you field you might not know which are the top-rated departments, but if you put any merit on university league tables that filter by department you can find some sort of rankings there.

Who is on the editorial boards?

Among other tips, Becker and Dencolo (2012) suggest looking at the editorial boards for the journals you’re considering – who is there and do you cite any of them? Do you want to work with any of them in the future? You could also drop a line to the editor introducing your paper and ask them whether they think it would be suitable and would welcome your submission.

Get advice from a knowledgeable friend

Talk to a friend or colleague who does work in the chosen field, who could advise on journal prestige (Becker and Denicolo, 2012). They might know more about recently founded journals, those to whom metrics give low scores simply because they are new and haven’t built up years of citations and impact. They might also know which editorial boards and publishers are easy to work with!

Ultimately, I have used a combination of these to help me find the best journal. The decision is not final yet, as there are three journals I’ve short listed. A little more consideration of the journals’ aims, their recent papers, and the take home message from my paper should help. This exercise in examining the journals in this new field has certainly made the way clearer.

I would love to hear your advice for selecting a journal, in comments!

Becker, L. and Denicolo, P. (2012). Publishing journal articles. London: Sage.

Murray, R. (2005). Writing for academic journals. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Writers’ group: the first session

The new writers’ group that I mentioned in my last post had its first meeting just over a week ago.

This was a Skype meeting, and enabled us to introduce ourselves (I only knew one other member before now). We started by discussing what writing we hoped to get done this summer and how that had motivated us to join the writers’ group. As I will be starting maternity leave in August, my aim is to complete a few pieces of analysis and writing, and to leave longer term projects in a tidy state while I am away from work.

We also outlined what this group could do for us and how we might progress over the next few months. Suggestions included regular Skype sessions that include actual writing time; sharing writing to gain feedback; and setting our own targets for the next meeting.

We settled on making targets for our next meeting in early June, at this stage at least, although the group will develop as we go along and see what works. We also decided that at this early stage it is better to have small targets so that we don’t each fall at the first hurdle, having set more than could be managed! So I chose to set myself three things for May: complete paper that was due back with reviewers on 8th May; complete paper due back with reviewers on 18th May; and draw up a list of jobs for the summer. Perhaps it was a cop out to choose things that have specific deadlines this month, but at least I have already completed one and have the other well in hand!

There were also chances for mutual support on the journal submission process, responding to reviewers, and encountering new fields slightly outside what you’re familiar with.

Since the meeting signed off, we have already had an exchange of a couple of pieces of writing – one paper and one set of responses to journal reviewers – so that we could provide a new perspective for another writer.

Writers’ groups: establishing or joining a new group

I recently joined a newly established academic writers’ group. As we are new, our first steps are to set goals or discuss strategies and structure.

I have written previously about the value perceived by many academics in having someone to whom you are accountable in terms of writing, whether it is about actual outputs or daily targets. The growth of initiatives like AcWriMo and Shut Up And Write indicates the appeal of not being on your own when you’re trying to begin or maintain a writing habit.

Coincidentally I joined this group shortly after I had picked up a couple of books in the library by one of my favourite writers about writing, Rowena Murray. The first one that I have started to read, Writing for Academic Journals, has a chapter (‘Dialogue and Feedback’) that discusses the benefits and aims of writers’ groups.

I’m aiming to write a few posts about my experiences in this new group and whether it has any effect on my writing plans this summer. Before I embark on the initiative, I would like to share my thoughts on what Murray has to say about writers’ groups.

Murray on writers’ groups
Unsurprisingly, the first point Murray makes about the purpose of a writing group is simply that it can encourage you to make time for writing. When writing might not feel like legitimate use of your time in the face of teaching, marking and admin demands, “cloaking” the writing as a meeting might feel more like an outwardly acceptable use of your time.

Trying to make more time, on your own, without support, would be more likely to fail (p171)

She then recommends that each group member think carefully about what they want to achieve from the group. Is it just accountability and collegiality? Or to share writing with each other and get feedback? Communicating with others about your ideas might lead to a new way to express those ideas. I can certainly vouch for this suggestion, with many a breakthrough coming from articulating my thoughts to others. Perhaps it is discussion about writing practices, or to share information about journals and their review process? These aims might develop and become more specific.

Crucially however, Murray advises that each group meeting involve at least some time spent writing, and not just talking about writing, since productivity is the bottom line for the group. I think this might be easier with offline groups compared to online.

Each writer will also, Murray says, need to have a writing project they are working on, and “everyone in the group should know each other’s writing goals” (p173).

So what should we talk about at each meeting? If everyone is in a similar field, we could analyse the journals we are targeting (this may not work because of my group’s disciplinary variety); discuss plans; do some writing; set goals and monitor others’ progress; give and receive feedback; discuss strategies for quality writing and publication (p174).

Ultimately there is scope for writers’ groups to support positive feelings and, later, success. From this advice I get a sense of the tone of the rest of Murray’s book (that I’ve read so far): writing needs to have small goals and doable tasks. For instance, “my next 30 minute task will be…” These work much more successfully than”finish xyz paper”. Her aims for writing groups fit in with this.

For me, I think my aim is to have a space on my calendar to state as writing time because of accountability to a group. I would want to have made progress before the next meeting! It is, I find, easy to put off the deeper thinking and writing tasks because of the feeling that they need long periods of sitting and concentrating – a valuable commodity. I am also hoping that sharing my plans with the group will help to clarify my next steps and my priorities.

The group I am in has its first online meeting on Friday.

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