Sunday, 28 May 2017

Impact of Social Sciences – 30 tips for successful academic research and writing



30 tips for successful academic research and writing

something that you are passionately interested in to research is a
great first step on the road to successful academic writing but it can
be difficult to keep the momentum going. Deborah Lupton explains
how old-fashioned whiteboards and online networking go hand-in-hand,
and offers advice for when it is time to just ‘make a start’ or go for a
bike ride.
As part of preparing for a workshop on
academic publishing for early career academics, I jotted down some ideas
and tips to share with the group which I thought I would post here. In
the process of writing 12 books and over 110 peer-reviewed journal
articles and book chapters over a career which has mostly been part-time
because of juggling the demands of motherhood with academic work, I
have developed some approaches that seem to work well for me.
These tips are in no particular order, apart from number 1, which I consider to be the most important of all.

Planning your research schedule
  1. Choose something to research/write about that you are passionately
    interested in. I find that most of my research and writing tends to
    spring from wanting to find out more or understand more about a
    particular phenomenon that intrigues me. In explaining it to myself I
    end up explaining it to others, hopefully in a new and interesting way
    that is worthy of publication.
  2. Be organised – planning time use is essential when there are many demands on your time.
  3. Make sure that you set aside one or more periods of time each week
    when you devote yourself to research and don’t let other demands impinge
    on this time.
  4. So I can easily see what I need to do and by when, I use a
    white-board with a ‘to do’ list with tasks listed monthly and their
    deadlines. I rub off tasks as I complete them (usually with a great
    sense of accomplishment!). Very low tech, I know, but effective as a
    visual reminder.
  5. Plan your research in chunks: this morning, today, this week, this
    month, next few months, this year, next three years. Have a clear idea
    for what you want to achieve in these time periods and try to stick to
    this as much as you can.
  6. I don’t tend to think more than a year ahead when it comes to
    research outcomes I want to achieve, but I find it helpful to write up
    at least a one-year research plan at the beginning of each year. Some
    people may also want to prepare a 3- or 5-year research plan.
  7. Be strategic about every bit of research time available. Think about
    the best use of your time. Difficult cognitive tasks requiring intense
    thought often need a lengthy period of time, so plan to do these when
    this is available to you. Easy or less time-intensive tasks such as
    correcting proofs, editing or formatting a journal article or chapter
    for submission or reading some materials and taking notes can be fitted
    in smaller periods of time.
Making a start
  1. Use whatever research time you have to do something, however small the task.
  2. Make a start. Once you have an idea for a piece of writing, create a
    file for it on your computer and write down anything, however rough and
    however brief, even if it is just a provisional title and some notes
    about possible content. It can always be polished and developed later or
    even discarded if you decide eventually not to go ahead with the idea.
  3. Organise your writing into different computer files: articles in
    progress, submitted articles, accepted articles, conference papers, blog
    posts, book proposals, grant applications etc.
  4. Organise your PDF journal article collection under topics in files on your computer.
  5. If you are feeling unenthusiastic or have hit a wall – leave that
    piece of writing for a while and work on another piece of writing.
  6. If no external deadline has been set, set yourself deadlines and try
    to meet these as much as you can, so that you can then move on to the
    next piece of writing.
Getting the most out of your writing
  1. Use your writing in as many different ways as you can – conference
    papers, articles/chapters, books, blog posts. Turn the small
    (unrefereed) pieces into bigger (refereed) pieces whenever you can and
    vice versa. What starts out as a blog post can be later developed into
    an article, for example. Conversely some of the main arguments of an
    article can be used in one or more blog posts.
  2. Never let a conference/seminar paper stay a conference/seminar paper
    – turn it into an article/book chapter as soon as you can. If there is
    simply not enough substance for a piece that is the length of a journal
    article or book chapter, consider polishing and referencing the paper
    appropriately. Once it is at a standard where you consider it ready to
    be available to others, publish it on your university’s e-repository as a
    working paper. That way, anyone will be able to access the paper
    digitally and reference it.
  3. Decide on an appropriate journal as you are writing an article and
    tailor the argument/length to the journal’s requirements before you
    finish it.
  4. Once you think that you have finished a piece of writing and are
    ready to submit it, put it aside for a least a day and come back and
    read it again with fresh eyes. You will most probably notice something
    that could be improved upon. Once you have done this and are feeling
    happy with the piece, go ahead and submit. As another commentator
    has argued, you need to conquer your fear and send your writing off
    into the world: ‘we owe it to the words we have written to send them
  5. Receiving feedback from academic referees on a writing piece or
    research proposal can sometimes be demoralising. Don’t let negative
    comments get you down for long. Grit your teeth and revise and resubmit
    as soon as you can, however tedious it feels. See this as an opportunity
    to make your piece the very best it can be. If the article has been
    rejected, take a good hard look at whether the referees’ comments are
    valid and if necessary, revise and then submit it to another journal.
    Remember that all successful academic writers have received negative
    feedback at times: that is simply part-and-parcel of academic writing
    and publishing.
  6. Rather than simply deleting material when you are editing a piece of
    writing, make ‘edits’ computer files into which to ‘paste’ this
    material when you cut it (I make several edits files under topics). You
    never know when you may be able to use this material somewhere else.
  7. Think about how one writing piece can lead to another as you are writing it.
  8. Make sure that your abstract is well-written and will lead others to your work (see here for guidelines on writing an effective abstract).
  9. Keep on top of the latest research published in the journals you use
    for your research. One easy way to do this is to sign up to email
    alerts with the publishers of the journals and you will be notified by
    them of the contents of each new issue.
Connect for inspiration
  1. Inspiration for research can come from many places. Attending
    conferences and seminars and reading the latest academic literature in
    your field are all extremely important, but so are other strategies. As a
    sociologist, I have generated many ideas from listening to good quality
    radio programs, reading newspapers and my favourite online sites and
    blogs regularly and engaging in social media such as Twitter and
    Facebook with people interested in the topics I research (see more on
    social media at no. 25).
  2. Connect, connect, connect. Publicise your research and make
    connections with other researchers as much as you can. Make contact with
    others working in areas related to your interests even if they are in
    different departments or in other universities. Join relevant research
    networks or start your own.
  3. Strengthen your online presence.
    Think about using social and other digital media to promote your
    research, engage with the community and make academic connections. Set
    up a profile on at the barest minimum. Make sure your
    university webpage is kept up-to-date with your latest publications and
    research projects. Write blog posts (if you don’t want to commit to your
    own blog, do guest posts for others’ blogs or for online discussion
    forums), sign up to Twitter and relevant Facebook pages, put your
    PowerPoints on SlideShare, make Pinterest boards (see here for my introduction to social media for academics).
  4. Use digital bookmarking sites such as, Pinterest, Delicious or Bundlr to save interesting material you have found on the web (see here for a discussion of using tools like these for academic work).
  5. Use a computerised online reference manager such as Endnote, Zotero
    or Mendeley. Get in the habit of loading citations straight into this
    each time as soon as you come across them.
  6. Think carefully about who you collaborate with on research before
    agreeing to do so. Good collaborators will add immensely to your own
    work: bad ones will make your life difficult and you won’t be happy with
    the outputs you produce.
  7. Seek out the advice or mentorship of more experienced academics whose research you respect.
  8. Take regular walks/runs/bike rides. This will not only keep you
    physically fit but will also provide a mental space to think through an
    argument or come up with new ideas. Some of my best ideas have come when
    I have been in motion and my thoughts are unencumbered.
Note: This article gives the views of the author(s), and not the position of the Impact of Social Sciences blog, nor of the London School of Economics.
This blog was originally published on Deborah’s blog, ‘This Sociological Life’ , and is reprinted here with permission.
About the author:

Deborah Lupton is a sociologist in the
Department of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Sydney. She is
the author of 12 books and many research articles and chapters on topics
including medicine and public health, the body, risk, parenting
culture, childhood, the emotions, obesity politics, and digital
Impact of Social Sciences – 30 tips for successful academic research and writing

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