What writing practices work best for academic writing?
There are three routine practices that prolific academic authors use. I strongly advise adopting each one of them if you haven’t already.
- Read academic journals—every week. (More on this below!) Read often in order to:
Keep up with the conversation in your discipline
Learn the structural and rhetorical expectations in your discipline’s scholarship
Find the gaps in the current scholarship – i.e., places for you to add to the conversation
- Use reverse outlining to learn the genre. Create a reverse outline for a couple of articles from the academic journal you cited the most in your most recent research or that you suspect you will be citing soon.
- Follow the habits of others. Adopt the simple, basic writing practice known to the most prolific scholars:
Draft a writing schedule
Read the research
Annotate the sources
Outline your ideas
Write one section at a time
Revise, revise, revise
How do academic writers use colleagues as resources?
Accountability and community are huge factors in terms of publishing. You need an audience for your ideas and drafts that is safe, a person you can trust to help. This does not always need to be someone inside your discipline! In fact, the best reader of your drafts may be someone in another field. If you struggle with clarity or are working on public-facing writing, an outsider may be just the person. Either way, you need to pair up with someone you can trade ideas with. Here are some practices to keep that going:
- Establish a writing schedule and routine that is sacred and unbreakable. Make a weekly “appointment” with a fellow academic who also needs to get writing done if you need to, and swear a blood oath with that person that you will not break it.
2. Use Zoom if you can’t meet in person–don’t use distance as an excuse not to work together. If you have a trusted colleague you went to grad school with but you live 2,000 miles away, no problem.
3. Use Google docs or other document sharing tech to comment on one another’s drafts. That keeps the conversation going when you’re not meeting.
4. Ask for specific comments, and respect your partner’s requests for comments, too. And always lead with the positive. The best comments are about developing ideas, not destroying them. What do you want to hear more about? What are the best ideas and how can they be highlighted?
5. DO NOT SHOW OFF. We’ve all seen it: you ask a colleague for a few comments, and they return your draft with a sea of negative comments. Barely a sentence is left unchanged. He/she/they used the comments to upstage you. Definitely don’t do this.
How can I create and keep a schedule?
The sample below shows you what a month’s work might look like. How you schedule at the granular level of day-to-day “to do” lists is up to you, but here are a few tried and true methods for scheduling work:
Have a day with handwritten work only. It may sound nuts, but this will help you draft in amazing ways, and it’s a distraction-free option for habitual procrastinators.
Use a colleague to talk and trade work, as described above.
Manage your time at the year, then month, then week, then day levels. And create a written plan as a document you can refer to and revise as needed.
Stick to one kind of work per day or week. Don’t try to research, annotate, draft, and revise in one day. Switching gears leads like that leads to a lot of blank screens.