About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving policies, technology, and higher education

This week is Thanksgiving in the US. In the past, Thanksgiving had a special place in the hearts of Americans, especially as we became a mobile nation. It was the day when people would go back to their hometowns, families, and communities. But last year, the envelope was pressed and Thanksgiving became a day when retail establishments decided they could force workers to report to work. This year there are even more. However, for college students, higher education policies over the last decade has slowly been disintegrating the importance of the holiday also.

Higher Education and Thanksgiving in the Past

Some might contend that there has been no change in the policy for attending classes the week of Thanksgiving. Yes, as an undergraduate, I had classes until Tuesday (although it was usually Tuesday at noon). But to understand the current issues, it is important to understand the changes to Higher Education since the 1980's.

During the 1990's two things changed in Higher Education: the merging of "continuing education" or "night school" with the traditional undergraduate schedule and the "nationalization" of higher education. The impact of allowing traditional students to take courses at night and soon the desolving of two different systems (one for "working" students and one for "full-time students" meant that now there were night classes ending at 10:00 PM. In the past "commuter" or local "continuing education" students would be available for Tuesday night classes while traditional students who may not be local would have travel time.

Another thing that impacted the educational system was the recruiting of students from outside of the local market. This happened in the 1990's when the demographics of college age students changed to a smaller population to draw from. In addition, US News and World Report changed the basis for assessing and categorizing colleges. Now smaller colleagues could gain status by drawing students from around the US and internationally, moving from "Regional" to "National" colleges. National colleges continue to have more status than regional. However, nationalizing your student population means that students need more time to get back home for holidays such as Thanksgiving. Many of these colleges, however, have not made adjustments to their policies or schedules that consider the new profile of their students.

Problems and Solutions

How did (does) this affect Thanksgiving? It used to be that classes ended in plenty of time for students to travel back to their home towns. However, when night classes were opened up to traditional students a number of problems resulted.

These problems can be resolved with some simple policy changes:

1. Problem: Tuesday classes that meet once a week. If students miss the class they miss a week's worth of instruction. There is a real problem with accreditors and even some students that want their money's worth.

Solution 1: Schedule classes to end for Thanksgiving on Monday. There are plenty of Monday holidays that this will not result in too many Monday classes if the school year is extended to add a Tuesday class at the end of the schedule.

Solution 2: Allow for alternative instruction. I usually have an online class the week before Thanksgiving. My students who are on a train (and soon on a plane) or waiting for transportation, many of them with G5 mobile phones with access anywhere, can participate live. Those who don't have access during class time can go to a library and participate before or after the class. I have a colleague that has one on one meetings with students during the week of Thanksgiving. If students need to leave earlier, they can make an appointment for that meeting the week BEFORE Thanksgiving during her office hours. There still is the same amount of contact hours, however, it is not in a classroom. These are very useful for her students because they discuss research work they are doing. In both of these cases, it is important that an instructor document (i.e. save online interactions, save sign up sheets for "tutoral") that the same time was spent on instruction.

2. Problem: Students who have to leave early due to travel will miss classes. Other students will take advantage of it and it means the professor is teaching to an empty classroom.

Solution 1: Allow for alternative instruction (see above). Online classes that are set up well can have just as much of an impact as face to face and requires the same effort by an instructor.

Solution 2: Institute a policy in which students CANNOT be penalized for missing class the week of Thanksgiving. This means no tests can be administered and credit cannot be taken away due to absence. My daughter had a letter grade taken away from her final grade because she had to be picked up early due to the storms this week. My son received a 0 on an oral test which he was not allowed to make up because the only ticket he could be home before dorms closed was during the class where the oral exam was being given. I have heard faculty brag that they had almost full attendance except for the students who lived in the snow belt of upstate New York. It was too bad that they missed the exams, but they made the decision to leave early (despite the closing of roads later that night)so would not be allowed to make it up.

Solution 3: School has a process to get clearance for travel during this week. Students that live far away which requires travel earlier in the week or road conditions that will be unfavorable will be cleared by an administrator.

Solution 4: Students can be rewarded for attending classes the week of Thanksgiving. I know of many teachers who will give the answers to exam questions on the day before Thanksgiving or students get extra credit for the assignments they do in class during the week of Thanksgiving. This puts the responsibility of attending on the student. While the student is not penalized for going home early, the student that stays is rewarded.

3. Problem: Students need to leave less than 24 hours after their last class. This is especially problematic for those who have night classes as they may need to travel during the night when driving difficult or they may not be able to get a ticket for mass transportation because of the demands during Thanksgiving.

Solution 1: My son goes to a Big 10 school (which like all Big 10 schools are in the middle of nowhere with limited transportation options) a 6 hour drive away from our home. He had a choice of leaving before his exam (which he was not allowed to make up) or leave the next day by 10:00 AM. The problem was that would not give us time to pick him up. He also would have to wait outside for 5 hours between the time his bus left and he had to be out of his dorm. Last year the policy changed because there was a football game scheduled. Students had until 5:00 the next day to leave their dorms. The solution then should be to either give students 24 hours after the last class has ended to get picked up or find a common area where students can wait/get food/go to the bathroom before they need to leave.

Solution 2: End classes on Monday or the Friday before Thanksgiving. This makes it possible for families to pick up children without taking time off from work and/or more options for traveling. Likewise, dorms should open on Saturday afternoon to allow for students coming from long distances to return in time for classes on Monday. Giving a small window to return means students may not be able to make it back to campus on time.

Impact on Change of Policy

The goal of these changes are to reconcile the needs of administrators, faculty, students, parents, and accreditors. Colleges and Universities need to stay current to the changes in their environment and demographic make up. Parents don't want to get involved, but they are a factor in many undergraduates' lives. Many help pay the bills, pick up students or make travel arrangements, and need to coordinate their own schedules with that of their children. Likewise, faculty and administrators need to deliver instruction being accountable to accrediting organizations, government, parents, and students. With some tweeking of policies, all stakeholders can be accommedated.

Finally, Thanksgiving, more than any other holiday, has a great impact on students. This is a time to reenergize, reconnect, and prepare for the transition back home for the Winter Break. For many students, it will be the only vacation they have as they will work or study during the 4-5 weeks of Winter Break. For the family, especially those who live a considerable distance from their children's colleges, this is the first time they will have been together as a family. While there are those who would like to minimize the importance of Thanksgiving to just the day before Black Friday, the majority of the country still values Thanksgiving as a day for family, however you define family.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Mobile Professor

One thing that #acwrimo has done is to remind me to blog my research ideas and insights as I'm developing them. With that in mind, I've decided to talk about some new research I am considering. Many of the ideas are still in the early stages, but the more I read and participate in online groups, the more I'm convinced this is research that needs to be done.

The Mobile Adjunct

Currently, I am involved in #adjunctchat, a community that meets on twitter at Tuesdays at 4:00 PM, New York time. This is open to anyone in the world who is interested in contingent faculty issues, either as a researcher, an administrator, faculty friend of contingent instructors, or (of course) an instructor that works in a temporary position, full-time or part-time, long-term contract or short-term contract, for one university or multiple, by choice or by necessity.

Recently, we had one of our followers suggest that we discuss online contingent faculty issues. We also have discussed controlling the adjunct's work environment. In many cases, adjuncts either share office space, don't have office space, or work in a virtual office, connecting with colleagues, administrators, or students online.

My own officemate teaches at two different universities, resulting in managing her resources, physical and virtual, between two distinct university cultures (one school is a large public research university with a high level of diversity, the other is a world renowned technical university with many international students, but little diversity). At times, there have been some comical mix ups as she has arrived at school with the wrong resources for the class she is about to teach. She is not as open to new technology, but she does rely on a netbook to access student records, courses resources, and student communication.

The Personal Communication Society

Yesterday, while reading an article I am writing for contribution to a book a colleague is working on, I came across Campbell and Park's (2008) idea of personal mobile communication. They point out that research indicates that people communicating using mobile devices in a public place, in fact don't necessarily perceive the conversation private (they are in a public place), but rather as personal.

This distinction is important because people become uncomfortable if they are forced to hear a personal conversation in a public place, trying not to ease drop or infringe on those who are in the middle of a personal conversation in a public place. In addition, Rettie's (2008) research suggests that there are different ways in which devises are used depending on the level of intimacy between people using mobile devises. The deeper level of intimacy, the more likely communication in a public space and time will be disguised.

In other words, communication perceived as deeply personal can still be conducted in public spaces, but some type of code will be used to allow for personal interaction (e.g. teens using texting and abbreviations when parents or other friends are in the room). There may also be signals given that an interaction should be conducted in private (i.e. change in location or devise) in which the interaction may not be personal. An example of this would be taking a business call in a restaurant.

By separating personal from private, I was able to understand a phenomenon my students and I noticed last year. My students interacted on facebook differently depending on what devise they used. While the privacy settings were the same for computer and mobile technology, they were more familiar (slang, communicated on topics in a way that was less socially acceptable, swearing)on mobile devises than when they communicated on a desk top computer.

It is possible that young adults perceive mobile technology, as Campbell and Park suggest, as more personal, resulting in a more intimate register. This would also explain the dichotomy between published incidences of sexting, uploading of socially unaccepted behavior on youtube, and cyberbullying against Pew's findings that American youth are concerned about their privacy. Pew pointed out this dichotomy in their report saying to teens managed their privacy while also sharing more personal information online.

While I have been looking for data (primary research reports and journal articles) on mobile technology use that supports Campbell and Park's theory, Rettie is the only one that I have found so far that begins to address this dichotomy. One reason is that it may be difficult to operationalize private and personal.

Researching the Mobile Professor

So, combining my interest in contingent and temporary employees, and my current interest in mobile technology, I have decided to create a research agenda looking at mobile devise use of adjuncts/contingent faculty. My first research will be on private, public, and personal in mobile communications. This is especially important for adjunct faculty who may have to use their own personal devises to communicate with students, and at the same time have federal laws that require their interactions be private. However, faculty that do not have private physical spaces to interact with students will need to carve out a public space that allows for personal interaction or personal interaction that needs to be conducted in private spaces such as a car or online space.

Part of the conditions that add (or negatively impact) an adjunct is his or her social network. Therefore, it would be interesting to understand what social networks adjuncts create and how they maintain them. For example, now with mobile technology, adjuncts can create more permanent relationships with their students without a close intimacy. Likewise, as an adjunct leaves a position for a semester, are they better able to maintain professional relationships with administrators? With the potential of mobile technology creating sociomental communities (Chayko, 2007), why aren't adjuncts better socialized within departments or the universities? Are adjuncts now being heard because they are creating sociomental communities because they are being forced to interact with mobile devices? Related to this would be determining how adjuncts find each other (which has been a problem with unionizing specific campuses).

By starting with these questions in looking at contingent faculty and mobile technology, I will be able to then extend this research into all types of temporary and/or contingent workers including consultants (private and government), emergency workers (including local government, hospital, utility, national guard, first responders), temporary or seasonal workers, and per diam workers (nurses, teachers, laborers).


Mary Chayko (2007). The portable community: envisioning and examining mobile social connectedness. International Journal of Web Based Communities, 3 (4), 373-385.

Scott W. Campbell and Jong Jin Park (2008). Social Implications of Mobile Telephony: The Rise of Personal Communication Society. Sociology Compass, 2 (2) 371-387.

Ruth Rettie (2008). Mobile Phones as Network Capital: Facilitating Connections. Mobilities, 3(2), 291-311.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tips on revision: The final edit

The final edits

These last suggestions are based on my experience as a peer reviewer for a journal and a writing teaching. I find that changing writing mode helps to pinpoint mistakes. I usually print out a hard copy to review. I ALWAYS find mistakes on print even if I have reviewed a paper digitally numerous times. The following are some of the more common mistakes I often see:

1) Make sure you review the style standards. This includes paragraphs, headings, and reference styles. Working across disciplines, I am familiar with the various styles you may be asked to use. if no style has been chosen, choose one style and stick with it. Often, though, there is a document you can model.

2) Make sure you paragraphs are not too long. I often read papers with page long paragraphs; this is too long. Review your document to see if you can break up overly long paragraphs.

3) Review, check, and recheck references in text and your reference list at the end of your writing. I usually do this with a partner to make sure I don't miss something. I will have them read out a citation which I check against my reference list, making notes on adjustments as I go.

4) Check figures, tables, and illustrations and their headings. Make sure they are close enough to the copy and/or there are references to them.

5) Check for orphaned lines/headings. One of my pet peeves is to have a heading end a page.

6) Write for scanning and search. Don't forget to include relevant key words. Also make sure a paper or report or even dissertation/thesis has enough sections and headings. Most people today don't have a lot of time. So the first thing they do is scan. This is where graphics, headings, subheadings, and short paragraphs help. If writing is too dense, you'll lose the reader from the very beginning.

7) Set a deadline. I mentioned this in my first post on revision tips and it is especially important as you end the revision process. Allow yourself only a short time to make revisions (i.e. 2 weeks). This will help prevent you from overthinking your revisions and trying to create the "perfect paper" which never gets published or presented to the appropriate audiences. You may need to make revisions a 2nd or 3rd time, but leave that decision up to the reviewers.

Monday, November 18, 2013

#Adjunctchat Nov. 19: Ways to change / control the work environment

Over the last few months there are number of things we have learned in #adjunctchat:

1) There are basically 5 different types of adjuncts based on the reason they adjunct. I like to refer to them as: traditional (augments full-time job), professional (they make their living adjuncting at numerous sites), transitional (hoping to transition into a full time job), TA (pays for their graduate education), and online (can be any of the others, but teaches exclusively online). Each one has different needs, work environments (i.e. professional often works out of car/mobile office, traditional may have office for their full time work on campus, online may not have any face to face interaction with work environment at all), and time management pressures.

2) There is a feeling of invisibility or lack of acceptance/input within a department. For some this is a problem, for others they prefer this because they don't have additional responsibilities.

3) There is a lack of permanence which makes adjuncts reluctant to speak up within a department. Likewise, most work is defined by the department and the relationship most adjuncts have are with their departments.

In an article by Gary Rhodes in Thought & Action, Fall 2013 (not yet available online), "Disruptive Innovations for Adjunct Faculty: Common Sense for the Common Good" he gives 3 suggestions for creating a collective adjunct voice, starting at the dept. level. Two of these suggestions we are doing with #adjunctchat: create virtual visibility. He also suggests creating a "hiring hall" in which adjuncts share knowledge about adjuncting. The more information we know, the more ideas we can generate to improve our working conditions.

So, what can we change and how should we go about it?

Here are some possibilities (some from the article, some from my own diverse background at different institutions):

1) Just in time hiring: Ask dept to put teachers names on courses, not "staff"
2) Have database/online source for syllabi that adjuncts can access
3) Have office space with full-time faculty (this has helped the "invisibility" factor).
4) Have faculty working lunch/dinner meetings that include adjuncts
5) Create "real world" partnerships between working adjuncts and faculty
6) Create hiring clusters so long term adjuncts can move across depts when needed
7) Create more virtual spaces for adjuncts, faculty, and researchers to "meet".
8) Advocate focus groups, research funding, travel funds, and administrative training opportunities for adjuncts.
9) Set work boundaries including "online office hours" to limit work to paid time.
10) Keep personnel files and faculty data sheets updated.
11) Have access to dept letterhead for formal work related correspondence
12) Have access to support services and resources

This is just a few and hopefully we can come up with some more.

So we will be discussing these questions tomorrow at 4:00 EST:

1) What are some things you'd like to change about your work environment?
2) What are some strategies you can use to make those changes?
3) Who can you enlist to help make those changes?
4) What resources will be needed to make those changes?
5) How will those changes affect the work you do?

Tips on revision: Troubleshooting sections Conclusion

The conclusion

The conclusion is perhaps one of the hardest things to write; revision is even more difficult. As I mentioned in the Abstract section, the conclusion is tied closely to the abstract. If you are having difficulty revising the conclusion, try writing the abstract first. Then go back to writing the conclusion. This is especially useful if you have to cut out words. By keeping your conclusion close to the abstract, you conclusion becomes more focused.

So let's just review the purpose of the conclusion. The conclusion is the last thing your readers will read. However, realize also that many readers will stop reading at the findings/discussion. So while it is important to have a conclusion, it is not important to put in too much. Also, the conclusion should reinforce your message/thesis that you established throughout the paper. If you have hypotheses, it should summarize what your research has found. Therefore, the conclusion should 1) match your introduction and body, 2)NOT have new information, and 3)be easy to skim for key ideas.

Anything that does not align with what you have written in the rest of the paper or ADDS information should be cut from the conclusion. It is especially important to see if your summary in the conclusion aligns with your stated goals for the piece you are writing set out in the introduction. If you have stated that your research is going to answer questions, have you done so? If so, what are the answers? If not, why not? (There are times when more questions come out of research than answers or failed research adds to lit but does not answer questions). If you state that you are going to present a theoretical framework, did you do so? Did you explain the relevance or use of that framework to the field? If you have hypotheses, have you summarized the results in one or two lines? If there are hypotheses you were unable to confirm, have you explained why?

The final two lines or so should let the reader know what you want them to do with your research. If you receive comments like "How is this relevant" or "Not sure this research is useful", you have not let the reader know what the relevance is for them. If you want them to use the framework, for example, to conduct further research, you need to state that. For proposals and reports, you need to tell the reader what you expect their next step will be and how the report or proposal is relevant (will support the reader's work). This will be the last thing they read and you want it to be fixed in their mind.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Tips on revision: Troubleshooting sections: Body of writing and visuals

Body of writing

Academic writing, whether it be papers, books, dissertations, reports, or even proposals, need to prove that research and data is relevant, reliable, and representative. The body is where an academic does this. So if there are questions about your research, you need to determine if 1) you have described your data, analysis, and methodology in a way that the reader/reviewer understands (easily rectified if you haven't) or 2)the reviewer/reader has problems with your data, analysis, methodology, or underlining theories (harder to rectify).

In the first case, one recommendation I had in revising my dissertation was to write as if I were giving the reader instructions on how to replicate my work if they wanted to do the research themselves. Often we assume readers understand the methodology we use when in fact they may not. I have often had to look up the methodology as outlined by a specific author when reviewing articles or reports. If you don't provide citations or definitions/assumptions that have informed your research, you leave interpretation of your methodology to your reader. A good example is "grounded theory". There are many interpretations of how grounded theory can be applied. As a reader, I'd want to know what process you used and what was the basis.

In the second case, you may need to analyze where a reader might be having a problem and decide if you are going to make changes. If you decide not to make changes, you need to justify your choices to support that your research is relevant, reliable, and representative. One article I wrote was consistently being rejected by one reviewer in particular. In the end, his basic theoretical beliefs were different than ours (I had a cowriter). Because of these differences in beliefs, he would never accept any of our published material/methodology. We were pushing a new view of an established theory. However, we did realize in the first and second revisions that we needed to address the need for a new perspective and method of analysis for the readers or many would have the same reaction. We had to demonstrate first that we understood the prevailing theory and then present an argument for looking at it from a different angle. This way, the audience would not evaluate our article as being uninformed, but rather a new perspective (which they still might have disagreed with). In the end, our revised justifications for our methodology and the basis for analysis convinced the editor to publish over the opinion of the reviewer. It also helped that the other two reviewers changed their opinions about the article so that by the 3rd revision, they were strong supporters for publishing the article.

Once you have written a description of your process(es), it is important to include analysis. New writers and researchers in particular, are adverse to presenting their own interpretations. As a result, the body of a report, dissertation, article, paper, or even book becomes a compilation of facts. It is difficult to realize that feedback may want more of your educated opinion based on your analysis rather than more facts. I see this often when reading articles written by practioners or graduate students where they may not have ever been encouraged to draw their own conclusions. Going back to communication/rhetorical theory, you need to make a claim in your writing. This can be a conclusion, observation, hypothesis, or theory/model. Without the claim, your writing only is descriptive or data. If the feedback you have received includes questions such as "what does this mean?" or "how is this relevant", you have not made a strong enough claim. Likewise, if you have been asked to cite one of your own claims, then you have not made it clear to the reader that this is your claim based on your analysis. Even seasoned writers have this difficulty and you need to take possession of your original ideas in your writing.

Another related problem is supporting your claims. While you may have good reasons for making your claims, most readers will need to be guided through your thought processes for a claim. It is not enough to make a claim and follower up with data in a table. Rather, you will need to point out relevant data and how that supports your claim. If you have feedback such as "Why is this relevant?" or "Can you support this?" (even though you have listed the data), you need to work on explaining how data supports your claim.

Another aspect of revisions of the body is choice of visuals to support your written analysis. I was reminded of the APA guidelines that visuals must be relevant and augment, not replace your writing.
As the Purdue OWL says:

Visual material such as tables and figures can be used quickly and efficiently to present a large amount of information to an audience, but visuals must be used to assist communication, not to use up space, or disguise marginally significant results behind a screen of complicated statistics. Ask yourself this question first: Is the table or figure necessary? For example, it is better to present simple descriptive statistics in the text, not in a table.

Don't assume reviewers won't look at your visuals and tables. Often they will ask you to reformat, add, or delete information that is not necessary. I had to simplify a model I had for my dissertation because it was too complex to follow. Instead, I broke the model up into smaller components which my readers found easier to follow. Of course, sometimes if you have word/space constraints, your first inclination is to put everything into one visual. It is better to simplify so there is a general visual and leave the details for your text when you can relate it to your analysis. Another possibility, if you want the data accessible, is to set the data on a website which you can give readers access to through a note. On the other hand, sometimes a visual will allow you to cull full sections. I just read a revised article that used a visual to explain the various variables used in the study and their relationship to each other. The original version had the explanation in the text which covered 6-7 pages. By the end of the section, I was confused as to how the complex research all related to each other. The one visual allowed the author(s) to cut this section down to 2 pages with a visual, which gave me a better understanding of both the complexity, relationships, and structure of the study.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Tips on Revision: Trouble shooting sections: Introduction and Background/Lit review

Introduction: What goes into the introduction may vary stylistically depending on length, discipline, and purpose. However, a good introduction will allow the reader to decide if they want to continue reading. When you have been asked to revise the introduction, the first thing you need to determine is was this the result of your writing not being focused or clear enough or is this the reviewer wanting you to change direction or refocus your paper? If it is your writing, you need to go back and reread your paper, especially findings/conclusions to make sure your introduction aligns with the rest of the paper.

It might help to do your introduction revisions last. This way you can frame your paper so the reader knows what to expect. This is contrary to your first draft where you frame your paper so you can write. Revisions usually move towards the reader's ability to understand what you write. So leaving introduction revisions to the end means you have a better idea of where you want your reader to end up.

Background/literature review

Often times, we have made claims or framed our paper based on previous theories, but then find that our research does not fit with those theories. This is the section where those that must cull words can do the most culling. This is also the section where you need to craft how your research is relevant.

1) If you are using hypotheses, make sure your develop how previous research supported the development of your hypotheses. This is where you explain you logic in developing the hypothesis, supporting it with research. You don't need to include all the research you have ever read (especially if there is a word limit or the piece is shorter; this is not necessarily true for a dissertation or thesis where breadth of literature is important) but only those pieces that had the most impact on your hypothesis development.

2) If you are using research questions (usually qualitative) to organize literature, use only the research that was relevant in creating the questions or will support the questions you asked.

3) If you have findings that you did not initially anticipate, you need to go back and revise your background information to explain your findings. During my dissertation, my focus was moved from collaborative writing to knowledge creation. As a result, I had to go back and see what the literature was on knowledge creation. I realized that in reframing my question (the question was the same, the answers were different than anticipated and a different discipline explained the answers better), there were no theoretical frameworks for the type of research I was working on. I ended up creating a framework based on the literature I collected AFTER my analysis. This is not an indication that you had a problem with your initial research but rather that you kept an open mind and did not change the data to match your assumptions. This is an attribute of good research.

4) Target any new literature searches to only those areas feedback has indicated as weak. Academic writers have the tendency to want to find new literature which might take them into new areas or give them new understanding of the topics. That is fine for the first draft. But the 2nd and 3rd drafts only need research that supports or frames their hypothesis/message/research questions. One thing I've found helpful is to save new ideas/literature for future articles by writing up memos I can revisit. This way, I don't feel as if I'm missing anything.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Tips on Revision: Trouble shooting sections: Abstract/Executive summary

Troubleshooting sections

If your style is more working section by section, here are some tips for each section.

Abstract/Executive Summary: ECPublishing had a great insight into the importance of your abstract:
Make sure your abstract and title truly reflect the content of your paper and are written well. You need to sell your paper and its significance. We can’t rewrite your abstract to make it more attractive to reviewers; you need to make it concise and full of impact.

Although this is the first thing read by most readers, it is often the last thing written. Many people are afraid to give the results/conclusions of the paper because they want others to read it. However, without results/conclusions, a reader will not know if the paper is relevant. In fact, I never download a paper where I'm not sure what the results are. I tie the abstract closely with the conclusion of a paper. It forces the conclusion to be focused and it makes the abstract relevant to your paper's message. Another way to think of it is: If someone were to ask you what your paper was about and what impact it has for researchers in 5 sentences, what would you say? This is why most people say to write the abstract last.

One of the main problems in revisions, however, is that your message/conclusions and how you word them may change. If you have a teacher/supervisor/editor who wants you to shift focus, you may rewrite your conclusion. Remember to revise your abstract also.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Tips on Revision: Major revisions

Major Revisions

The first thing you must determine when faced when major revisions (including total overhaul of organization, reformulating your research, cutting out large amounts of your document) is whether to start the writing process over or try starting over. The reason most people don't do this is because they feel they will have wasted time writing the first draft. However, sometimes the structural or content changes are so major it is better to start from scratch, using the ideas and insights you created while writing your first draft.

One suggestion in starting over is to answer the question: What are the three major things I want the reader to take away from this. This is the equivalent of the 3 minute pitch. This should help you to focus your writing on only the most important elements for this one particular piece of writing. Once you have these three major points, you can use them to write your introduction. If you have specific passages that support those three points, you can cut and paste them into your new structure, but only as they support your introduction. Anything else should be excluded and saved for later. I did this for my dissertation. While editing and revision was an interesting topic, it did not fit my introduction, nor did it really answer my research questions. As a result, I am now doing further research just on that topic for a journal article.

This last suggestion also works when you need to cut a lot out to fit a required word limit. By focusing on your research questions and introduction, you can cut out parts that are not directly relevant. You need to be ruthless in your cuts, however, keep the sections for further publications.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Tips on revising: Overview

My original intent was to have one comprehensive post. But as I was putting the finishing touches on the post, I realized it was a lot of reading (especially for #acwrimo participants who may not have time to read it all in one sitting. So I have decided to divide this into a daily post over the next week. Hope it is helpful.

Making Revisions

All writing will need revisions. Hopefully in the previous two posts, you have identified when to get feedback and the tasks and roles in the editing process. Now you need to take the feedback and make revisions. This can be difficult. The first thing to do is to identify what you will change. You don't have to take all recommendations, but you do need to review and evaluate feedback.

Because the revision process can be emotional, you may need to take a few days between the time that you read over the feedback and when you actually make the revisions. This will allow you to evaluate the suggestions and address how you will approach revisions you need. You may also want clarification about the feedback also during this time. Finally, revision can be tedious and tiring. After all of the work, there still might be the feeling that you have not accomplished much. One of the suggestions on #acwrimo was to set a page goal (3 pages revised a day, for example). This will make you feel as if you have been productive.

Finally, set a deadline. Allow yourself only a short time to make revisions (i.e. 2 weeks). This will help prevent you from overthinking your revisions and trying to create the "perfect paper" which never gets published or presented to the appropriate audiences. You may need to make revisions a 2nd or 3rd time, but leave that decision up to the reviewers. Remember, now that you are revising, the focus will be on the reviewer/reader as much as your own ideas. Therefore, it is important to check back with them during the process if you have a question. But you do still have control over the process. Revision then becomes a balancing act of pleasing the reader and making the paper what you perceive as perfect. Let go of your concepts of perfection and give yourself over to negotiated expectations!

The series:
Major revisions
Abstract/Executive Summary
Introduction and Background/Lit review
Body of Writing and Visuals
Final Edits

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Roles and Tasks in Academic Editing #acwrimo

We are told repeatedly that feedback in an important part of the writing process. However, very little has actually been written/researched about writing feedback (other than that it should be done). My own research has indicated that there are seven different roles an editor/reviewer can play which will result in different types of feedback. These might help when you are submitting a paper (whether to an adviser/supervisor, an editor, an instructor, or a colleague).

1) Contributor: This person adds content to your writing. This is found in collaborative writing projects, but also in some academic writing. An instructor or reviewer may require that you add something verbatim into your written product. I think of grant applications or review board/ethics forms.

2) Owner: This is the person/entity that owns your product. This could be you (as the writer), a group, your instructor, your department (for which you are writing on their behalf), your institution (especially if writing is being used to evaluate), funders, publishers, or stakeholders (especially if you are doing participatory research). According to my research, sometimes it is easier to accept criticism if ownership is not the writer per se. However, this also means the writer needs to align their writer with that of the perceived owner of the document. So outside feedback from the owner becomes even more important.

3) Approver: This is the person that has the final say. This can be group members, an instructor/adviser/supervisor, a manager, a funder, participants. The approver will give you an okay or not okay, perhaps some reasons why, but not much feedback on how to change it. Papers/writing should not be submitted to Approvers until you are almost finished, although informal conversations may be needed to make sure writer(s) are on the right track.

4) Formatter: The formatter’s job is to make sure a paper is structurally, grammatically, stylistically appropriate. Many times the formatter is the writer. However, the formatter can also be a group member, editor, or consultant used to ensure writing aligns with stylistic/language/structure in which writing is situated. For example, an American writing for a British based journal will need to check for spelling conventions. This is the “mechanics” editing many of us learn in school.

5) Gatekeeper: This person has two major roles: a) make sure the writing process progresses through to completion, and b) make sure final product meets the expectation of the audience. This person can give verbal feedback throughout the process, maintain writing tasks and draft versions, and do targeted reviews at any time in the writing process. The gatekeeper is different from the approver in that he, she, or they do not have the final say. Rather they keep the process going.

6) Negotiator: The negotiator identifies when there is ambiguity in the writing. The negotiator does not change the writing like the owner or contributor would. Rather, they give feedback on their understanding of piece and identify areas needed for clarification. Through their feedback, they help the writer(s) to develop their message and supporting information. The negotiator plays the role of the audience so the writer can understand the impact of their writing on the reader.

7) Author: The author is public face of the writer. The name(s) that go(es) on the document is author. They are ultimately responsible for the final written piece. The author can be different than the contributor (in collaborative writing, for example, the writer may just put together contributions or may have someone else who formats). However, many times the author plays many of the roles outlined above, especially for academic papers for evaluation (such as dissertation or class paper).

In analyzing these roles, the types of editing/feedback/revision tasks can be divided into formative (developing a written document), technical mechanics (structure, style, grammar), authoritative (approval), and meaning making.

It is important when asking for feedback that you identify which of these tasks you are expecting the reading to do. It is useful if you are able to identify what role you perceive the reader to have. Not only will that help guide the reader in the type of feedback you want, it also helps you choose reviewers at different stages of the writing process.

For example, asking a teacher to review one of your papers at the beginning of the writing process may not get you the formative or meaning making feedback you need. Instead, their feedback might be authoritative without the type of feedback that you need to help develop your ideas. On the other hand, expecting a friend or colleague to understand the alignment a paper needs to have with academic standards or a journal (which approvers have) means that the approval they give a paper will lack the authoritative feedback you may need. It may be better to submit a draft for preapproval feedback before it is too late to make revisions.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

#adjunctchat Nov 4: Attending conferences

As adjuncts, we are not expected to contribute research to our profession. However, the reality is that long-term academic positions have changed over the last 20 years and there is an expectation of academic publishing or presentation at conferences. However, there is little funding available for research or conference participation. So adjuncts that want to continue on an academic route may not have the opportunity to participate in conferences.

In a recent post for Vitae (the chronicle of higher education job search function), Kelly Baker spoke of the love of research and writing, and her ability to publish which did not get her that tenure track job. So while some adjuncts feel this is the only way to get a tenure track job, research tells a different story.

So the first question is:

1) Are conferences worth the time and effort for an adjunct?

If you decide conferences are work the time and effort, then:

2) What are the benefits to participating in a conference?
3) What are the challenges to participating in a conference?
4) What are some strategies finding conferences and participating in them?
5) What are realistic expectations for participating in conferences and the impact it will have on your career?

Even if you have never and never want to participate in a conference, I hope you'll participate in the discussion.

Friday, November 1, 2013

When, how and who to ask for academic writing feedback #acwrimo

In honor of Academic Writing Month (#acwrimo), I have decided to write a weekly series on feedback/revision/editing. This is an often overlooked, yet important, aspect of academic writing.

So now you’ve written your piece or perhaps you’re in the planning stages. It’s your work, so you want to maintain ownership. However, you also know you’re going to have to have your piece reviewed. Who do you ask? What type of feedback should you get before you submit a piece? How do you get feedback so that you maintain ownership of your scholarship, yet still are able to produce a publishable piece?

First, recognize that there is a difference between writing you do as a student compared to writing you do as a professional academic or researcher. As a student, you are writing (for the most part) to be evaluated on your knowledge of a topic. Therefore, when you write, there is a piece of you that goes into your writing. If your writing is evaluated as lacking, it reflects on you, the student. It is important as a student that you demonstrate what you know to the evaluator (teacher, evaluator(s), dissertation committee).

Professional writing, on the other hand, is to provide information/a view point/research to a readership that may be interested. As a result, peer reviewers and editors want your writing to align with the expectations of the readers. They are not looking at WHO wrote the piece, but the written piece itself. If they reject or want you to change something about your written product, they are not rejecting you as a person (many times, especially in blind reviews, they don’t even know who you are), but your writing, ideas, or the appropriateness of the writing for the audience they represent.

When to ask for feedback

This depends on how you write. I like to ask for feedback in the planning stages. I know of colleagues that send ideas to publishers and editors to ensure it is viable or get suggestions on how to frame a piece of writing for a particular audience. This can save you a lot of editing in the long run. On the other hand, if you are someone prone to writer’s block, this type of feedback could build the wall up to reinforce the writer’s block.

Book writing is very different than article writing. Often you need to submit an outline which includes an audience and justification for publishing. This is when feedback from colleagues or others in your profession come in handy. Identify some experts to submit your outline to for feedback. If you are in a very competitive discipline send them the general concept (as opposed to a fully developed proposal). Their feedback can then become part of your proposal.

Before you submit a first draft, have someone unfamiliar with the topic review what you’ve written. They can assess the clarity of your writing without having to analyze your content. Then you may want an expert to review your piece for the content/theoretical basis. It helps to identify for your editor/reader what you want them to look for. If you don’t ask them to correct typos or grammatical errors, don’t expect that they will do so.

Finally, expect you will need to make revisions. Sometimes this helps take the pressure off to be perfect which can create writer block. If the draft you submit is not perfect, don’t worry. Even if you think it’s perfect, most likely the peer reviewers will have suggestions. Don’t take this feedback for publication personally as the reviewer is probably just trying to align your writing to reader expectations. Once you get suggestion back, review each piece of feedback. It is not necessary that you make changes for everything suggested by reviewers. Rather, think of what they are saying and keep those things that you feel are important to keep. If you have reviewers that are contradicting in their feedback, work with the editor to determine what he or she wants you to do. The editor has the final say.


So, 1) Don't be afraid to ask for feedback at any time during the writing process;
2) You don't have to accept everything a reviewer suggests, but you do need to consider his or her comments and be able to justify your choices;
3) Have at least one person who knows nothing about your topic review your writing for clarity;
4) During the formative writing process, tell your reviewers/readers what you want them to focus on in their feedback;
5) Don't take feedback personally, especially if you are writing for publication.