Publish more by writing less: How to repurpose your writing and expand the reach of your research

publish-more-by-writing-less

The online academic: why bother?

Teaching and authoring scholarly publications are time-consuming pressures and are the core responsibilities of an academic. Which leads to the question: why be an active, online academic? After all,

So why bother taking on more work and publishing your work online?

digital-academic

There are clear benefits to being a connected academic:

 

  • You can participate in your wider academic community in between conferences (and with the many people who don’t go to them)

 

Don’t limit participation with people in your field to the annual conference. There is a global community of academics, journalists, and enthusiasts ready and willing to engage with you. Right now, these people are interested in solving similar problems to you and you can support each other in your respective quests.

 

  • You become discoverable – your activity helps ‘claim’ your research space

 

When you are actively writing about and participating in your research area people can find you and your research. Over time, your activity will be indexed by search engines and you will be associated with the topics you share, discuss, and write about.

This is about demonstrating your interest in your area, you don’t have to be the leading expert in order to be discoverable. Your digital footprint shows: “I care about these topics”. That’s a good start.

 

  • You give yourself the opportunity to ‘think’ via your writing – you sharpen your research ideas by working on them in public

 

Regularly airing your ideas gives them the opportunity to breathe, grow, and improve. The process of converting your ideas into text is an important step in the research process. Ideas are fluffy and fleeting. Text is linear and static. Why not conduct this process in public and get support, comments, and credit for all your hard work along the way?

 

— An important interlude —

Dealing with fear

You: “But Nick: These are early stage ideas! My first drafts are written like a child! The negative comments will be demotivating! My academic reputation will be tarnished and I’ll be laughed out of my department!”

fear

Let’s address this fear of sticking your head above the digital parapet and airing your work in public.

 

  • What’s the worst that can happen?

 

You will not be laughed at. Trust that your audience understands the difference between an exploratory, experimental blog post that you’ve written and an edited monograph that’s been professionally edited and published. These won’t be considered on equal terms; you will not be ‘judged’ when, over 350 words, you sketch out an early-stage research question that you’re working on.

 

  • No-one is out to get you

 

Who are these trolls that you fear will ridicule your writing? If you blog about 12th Century book history, who do think is more likely to come across your blog? Someone genuinely interested in 12th Century book history or someone determined to say nasty things about your ideas? To be honest, you’ll be lucky to get trolls coming to your corner of the internet – it means you’re getting website traffic (and then you can turn off comments).

 

  • The truth: obscurity is your most frightening fate

 

Rather than worry about who will be reading what you write and what they think of it (and you), consider: what if no one cares about what you do? Think about your online activity as an extended process of helping people to understand why your research interests matter and why anyone should pay any attention to what you do.

— Interlude ends —

A scholarly writing mentality

scholarly writing

A key shift in academic writing in our digital age is the ability to be generating and publishing work throughout the research cycle and not just at the very end.

Because it’s now virtually free to share and discuss ideas, academics are able to think in terms of continuous academic output. There’s an opportunity to ‘always be creating’ without too much effort.

Before you fall off your seat: This doesn’t just mean writing daily journal articles, live chapter writing, or books every month (although you are clearly working towards these important scholarly formats).

What I mean is that you can repurpose the work that you complete on a daily basis that builds towards these research outputs. With minimal additional work you can publish/share in appropriate venues. Sharing your research activity contributes both to your academic community and to your own research profile.

 

Where can you find material worth publishing?

Create an academic workflow that allows you to capture the ephemera of research and easily retrieve it. [I’ve written about such a workflow here]. The key to this approach is to make your work easy to share. It defeats the purpose of the exercise if it takes ages to collate your work in order to share it.

Here are some easily shareable materials that every academic has floating about on their hard drive:

 

  • Reading notes

 

When you read books or journal articles, you take notes and record your reactions to the text. What are the key ideas that have struck you? Are there connections to other texts you’ve been reading? Is the text really important to your field and therefore worthy of a summary?

 

  • Marginalia

 

Notes in the margins. Where do you make scribblings in your reading? Take a quick photo or screen-grab of what’s peaked your interest and you’ve got a Tweet / Post right there. Share the subjects of your curiosity; you’ll be surprised how many people will relate.

 

  • Conference abstracts and reports

 

Successful (and failed) conference abstracts are ready made postings. What made you consider contributing to the conference? How does your research fit into the theme? What are you hoping to explore at the conference? Afterwards, what did you learn from your participation? Will you now alter your approach to your project? Why?

This is usually reflective writing: be sure to capture your thoughts the day after you apply to present your work and then note down your reactions to the conference on the train as you travel home.

 

  • Funding applications

 

Failed funding applications don’t have to be a total waste of time. How did you attempt to relate your research to the funding guidelines? What were the themes that you thought would have been fruitful? What vision did you have for the project? All of these ideas are valid whether or not you secured the funding.

 

  • Orphaned writing

 

When you cull sections from your writing, don’t discard them. Save them in a clippings document. A rejected chapter section can make the perfect blog post: you have a point to make and you’ve already got some explainer text. Edit the section so that it becomes a self-contained article and hit publish.

Traditionally, scholarly output comes at the very end of the research process. What I’m suggesting is that you adapt your research workflow so that the text that you generate at every stage of the process can be easily tweaked and published in a suitable venue. Here’s a visualisation of the approach I’m advocating.

Not:

research-publication-not

But:

research-publication-how-to

Where to put your academic writing

 

academic-blogging

 

1) A self-hosted WordPress or WordPress.com blog – there are many guides on how to do this. Google it.

How should you blog? Do you need a schedule?

First, work out how you like to write. Do you already set aside a regular time to work on your research projects?

If so, great! Schedule a little chunk of time at the end of your session. This is your editing time. It’s your job to convert some of your research into some shareable content. Once a week/fortnight/month schedule an hour for editing and publishing that content. That should be enough to tweak writing you’ve already done and get some of your ideas ready to publish in some digital format.

Think of your blog as your research notebook. When you start, don’t worry too much about an audience: you don’t have one. Just focus on getting some thoughts — coherently stated — on the page.

 

2) Your institution’s blog

Your university’s blog will be interested in your research. After all, they want to highlight all the good stuff happening on campus. The caveat is that you have to think beyond the research diary approach that you have for your own blog. Instead, can you answer two key questions?

  • Who cares?
  • Why now?

If you can answer these, then you’ve passed on the ‘newsworthy’ test. Get in touch with your university’s communications teams and demand attention for your research. Just make sure that you can explain why a general audience should care and why your work is relevant right now.

 

3) The Conversation – ‘Academic Rigour. Journalistic Flair.’

the-conversation-logo

If a topic related to your research area is in the news, consider writing a comment piece for The Conversation. After registering a profile on the website you are able to pitch content ideas. If your idea is accepted, you then work with an editor to hone your article’s angle and offer your expertise. The platform can result in a substantial audience for your work.

This kind of public engagement work is very important.

(If your idea is rejected, just type up a version for your blog.)

 

REMEMBER: Focus on your research. Centralise the text you generate. Then repurpose it.

 

In some form, you are already generating text as you complete your routine research tasks.

When you consider what you might publish from your in-progress research, don’t set the bar too high. You’re sharing interesting text that people care about already. All you really need to do is add an introductory paragraph – to explain the context of your post – and edit yourself for readability.

Editing is a vastly easier task than coming up with ideas and writing them up in the first instance. You are collating some of your research work, lightly editing it, and then sharing it. Don’t make this an onerous task; let people know what you are working on and why it matters.

 

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that everything you publish should be regarded as a separate project. Instead, take the attitude that you are incorporating continuous publication into your research process.

sharing-academic-work

The rules:

  1. Centralise the text you generate – make it easy to retrieve and repurpose your writing
  2. Have an understanding of venues that you can place it in
  3. Publish early, publish often

Trust this system. It means that you publish regularly but that your attention is still focused on core scholarly activities:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Discussing

… just take that additional step to make these activities available in digital formats. I promise that you won’t regret it.

Good things happen to the connected academic.

happy-academic

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