Academic Writing Month

I just caught on to the fact that November is Academic Writing Month! The hashtag #AcWriMo had crossed my radar a few times on Twitter this week, but it wasn’t until this weekend that I found out what it is all about. I wrote you a brief introduction to the concept if, like me, you hadn’t yet realized this month is special for academic writers.

This is how it works, in brief:

• Decide on a goal that’s word, time or task based (and stretches you)

• Publicly declare said goal (this gives you a push from the start)

• Draft a strategy (planning in advance will focus you)

• Openly discuss your problems and progress

• Don’t slack off

• Declare your results at the end

The longer version by Charlotte Frost, the woman behind Academic Writing Month, can be found on PhD2Published.

The idea of setting a goal and drafting a strategy is something I do regularly (as a GTD disciple). What appeals to me in this project is especially the fourth bullet point: talking about your writing practice with other writers, exchanging experiences and advice. As Tarrant puts it: “Social media platforms offer a great hybrid space – somewhere between the formal institution we’re affiliated to and the comfort of our own homes – where we can think out loud, ask for advice, build a support network, write and research collaboratively.”

Declare your goals on the AcWriMo Facebook page or use the Accountability Spreadheet on Google Docs, and share your experiences using the #AcWriMo hashtag.

For inspiration, see also my page with Writing Tools.

Why researchers blog

The online journal First Monday in its August edition features an article about researchers’ motivations for blogging. Since I just decided to make my return as a ‘hard bloggin’ scientist‘, I read the article with interest.The reasons for blogging mentioned by the researchers from Sweden, Denmark and The Netherlands interviewed for the study conducted by Sara Kjellberg are not very surprising. They include dissemination of content;  interaction with other researchers, expressing opinions, keeping up-to-date with work in your field, and trying out bits of your argument in small pieces of writing.

After my year-long blogging hiatus, the things I really miss about Serendipities are its function as a research support tool, its possibilities for interaction with other researchers, and the subtle pressure a blog always exercises to keep up with recent developments in your field of research. I could really identify with a comment in the Kjellberg article that while a lot of people think blogging steals time from your research, in fact it is a writing/research support tool.

What I have noticed in the past months is how often I returned to Serendipities to look things up, even if I never wrote anything new here. For example, I was writing an article on The Spanish Tragedy which discussed the soliloquy in which Hieronimo enters with a book of Seneca’s tragedies in his hand and cites bits and pieces from it, and I suddenly thought of Kevin Sharpe’s Reading Revolutions. Using the search function on the blog, I found my review of the book very quickly and remembered the ideas I had at the time – the blog entry even contained a very useful quotation from the book. This kind of function as a research journal also figures in Kjellberg’s article. One researcher calls it a “personal thinking space” in which she collects and sorts material for her research, which is then accessible from any computer linked to the internet.

For me, one of the great things of Serendipities is the people I’ve connected with just because of the blog, and whom I might otherwise not have met at all. Kjellberg’s article has something interesting to say about this kind of interaction on academic blogs. Usually, reader’s reactions and ‘crowdsourcing’ are mentioned as one of the main advantages of blogging. But only a few of the academic blogs I know (such as Mercurius Policitus or The Long Eighteenth) has a relatively large number of comments on their posts. This is also what one of the interviewed researchers remarks upon:

the interaction in blogs is exaggerated and […] blogging is more of one–way communication than a dialogue. […] [Kjellberg counters that:] the interaction does not necessarily show up in the blog. There is certainly communication taking place, where readers contact the blogger not only by using the commenting function in the blog, but also through direct e–mail messages and, in rare cases, by using the phone or through face–to–face contacts, for example when meeting at a conference. Interaction can thus happen outside the blog.

In this view, the blog is more a means to keep others up to date of your ideas and work, and let them know that you are out there. Of course, that means a normal website would do as well, so I hope to be posting things that trigger responses in the coming years! as a research tool

delicious logo

My system of keeping track of interesting sites is quite muddled. I use old-fashioned bookmarks in my browser; sticky notes with urls can be found lingering in the corners of my Apple Dashboard; I mail interesting links to whoever I think is interested; I stick links into WordPress posts I think I might at some point write about a subject; I use the nifty research tool Zotero to keep track of research links; and I haphazardly use – but that hasn’t kept me from growing a collection of tags that already looks too unwieldy to me.

If you are like me, then Wess Daniels’ Tips for using Delicious in (doctoral) research may be the thing for you. The post is full of useful tips on organizing your tabs, using the notes feature, and combining your use of with tumblr and DevonThink.

See also how is changing academic research and the blog itself for ideas on the use of social bookmarking in education.

h/t: Academhack