posting below has some great advice on making regular, sustained progress in
research writing. It is by Brian Martin, a professor of social sciences at the
University of Wollongong, Australia. He is the author of twelve books and
hundreds of articles on nonviolent action, dissent, scientific controversies,
democracy, education, and other topics. Email email@example.com, web http://www.bmartin.cc/
NEXT: Helping Faculty Members Sharpen Their Focus
to Publish More? Then Train Like an Athlete.
many years, I have observed new faculty members devote enormous time to their
teaching, neglecting their research. When I recommend putting a greater
priority on research, they listen appreciatively but postpone action until
?things aren?t so busy? ? a time that never comes.
in early 2008, I came across a short, punchy book by Tara Gray titled Publish
& Flourish (Gray, 2005). It spells out a 12-step plan to become a prolific
academic author and cites research to back up the plan. Gray?s plan enabled me
to support faculty and graduate students to become much more productive.
foundation of Gray?s 12-step program is quite simple: write for 15 to 30
minutes every day. Yes, that?s it: the core requirement is daily writing, at
least five days a week, preferably seven.
draws heavily on the work of Robert Boice, who studied the habits of productive
new academics (Boice 1990, 2000) and found that daily writing is the key to
success. Should this be surprising? Coaches expect their athletes ? swimmers,
runners and so forth ? to train daily. Junior athletes are expected to show up
for training every day, at the same time. Swimmers put in the laps and runners
put in the miles. This sort of training enables dedicated high school athletes
to achieve times better than world champions a century ago.
what were top athletes doing back then? Those were the days of amateurs,
usually from the upper class with spare time and access to facilities, who
trained when they felt like it, typically on weekends. Very gentlemanly. But
their performances weren?t outstanding by today?s standards.
about writing? Most academics seem to be operating like the gentleman athletes
of the past. They wait until they feel like writing. That usually means when
they have a big block of time, or are forced to meet a deadline.
found that aiming to write in big blocks of time is not a good approach. The
first problem is finding a big block. An earnest academic might say, ?I?ll wait
until the weekend ? or until teaching is over ? or until I?m on sabbatical.?
Some never get started at all. Then, when the putative writing times arrive, it
is all too hard to actually write.
second problem is that a big block of time for writing makes the task seem
onerous. Some writers are able to overcome their inertia ? often when a
deadline is looming ? and push themselves into a marathon session of frenzied
writing. This is exhausting. When finished, there?s little energy left for
writing on following days. It takes a while to recover before mobilizing the
mental strength for another lengthy session. Weeks can go by with only a few
days of actual writing.
pattern is analogous to a weekend athlete who is physically exhausted after a
long workout and takes days to recover. Boice calls this pattern binge writing.
It?s analogous to drinking or eating too much ? you feel terrible afterwards.
academics learn binge-writing from doing assignments in high school or
undergraduate years. Bingeing becomes increasingly dysfunctional as tasks
become larger. Writing an essay overnight is possible, but completing a 300?page
thesis requires planning and sustained work.
alternative is simple: brief regular writing sessions. For academics, the
easiest regular pattern is daily. A daily writing session might be for half an
hour, or even less.
academics, as soon as this option is proposed, begin a series of objections.
?It takes me quite a while to get started ? to get myself immersed in the
subject.? ?I can?t just turn on inspiration at will.? True enough. If you write
infrequently, it does take a while to get back into the topic. If you write in
binges, you won?t feel like doing it again soon.
sessions provide a solution to these obstacles. When you get used to writing
every day, you don?t need as much start-up time because you were dealing with
the topic yesterday. The result is greater efficiency, as memory is primed and
maintained more easily.
for inspiration, Boice (1984) found that waiting for good ideas simply doesn?t
work very well. Writing is the crucible for sparking ideas, rather than ideas
being the trigger for productive writing.
core of Boice?s and Gray?s prescription for productivity is daily writing ? but
not too much. The idea is to make writing so inoffensive, over so quickly, that
doing it doesn?t seem like such a big deal. When expectations aren?t so high,
it?s easier to overcome your internal censor, that little voice that says to
you, ?What you?re writing is no good. In fact, it?s crap. Give up and wait for
a better time.?
is a deadly enemy of good performance. It?s like being judged every time you
write a sentence or paragraph. It?s far better to go ahead, make mistakes and
learn from them. Rather than expecting great output from a burst of frenzied
inspiration, the idea behind Boice?s brief regular sessions is to work with
moderate daily expectations, knowing this will lead in time to better results.
next step was to encourage others to adopt the Boice-Gray writing program. I
started with my PhD students, most of whom were highly receptive. Six months
into the program, one of them, Jody, wrote ?It is just wonderful and I know if
I keep it up I will get better and writing will become easier for me.?
also set up programs with faculty and graduate students in the Arts Faculty.
One of the participants, Nichole, wrote that the program has ?provided me with
a non-threatening way of untangling my messy thought process, thread by
thread.? Running these programs enabled me to learn much more about obstacles
to writing and what helps to overcome them.
and Gray recommend that writers make themselves accountable to someone, as this
will help sustain the habit of writing regularly. I asked my students to send
weekly totals to me listing the numbers of minutes they had written each day
and the number of new words produced. That way I could assess how they were
doing and discuss, in our weekly phone calls, ways to fine-tune the program.
helping others use the Boice-Gray writing program, I make some specific
recommendations. I suggest making notes about the points to be covered in your
new writing, doing this a day or week beforehand. I recommend that when you sit
down to write, you close or remove all books, articles and other polished text.
Why? Because reading the polished text switches your mind into its
flaw-noticing mode, the enemy of creating your own new words. I also recommend
not reading yesterday?s writing, but instead using just your notes to provide
guidance to today?s writing.
also recommend closing the door, turning off the telephone, closing email and
web applications and generally removing all distractions. Producing new words,
for many writers, is a delicate process. Interruptions are temptations to do
academics say they are so busy they have no time to do 15 minutes of daily
writing. What this usually means is that they have put writing too low on their
priority list. These busy academics spend hours preparing lectures, marking
essays, attending seminars and committee meetings ? and checking emails, surfing
the web, and gossiping with colleagues. Devoting 15 minutes to writing at the
beginning of a nominal eight-hour working day can?t make much difference to
getting other things done, can it?
title of chapter 4 in Boice?s 2000 book Advice for New Faculty Members is a
single word: ?Stop.? If the first principle of productive writing is to start,
the second is to stop ? before doing too much. For regular writing, you need to
feel fresh when you start. If you feel worn out from too much writing yesterday
or the day before, then you may postpone your session until tomorrow, starting
a cycle of boom and bust, namely binge writing. So, Boice says, stop sooner
rather than later.
in her 12-step program made the advice more specific: write for 15 to 30 minutes
per day. This means stopping when you get to 30 minutes. That may not seem like
much, but it?s only the writing part. There?s a lot of additional work required
before this becomes publishable prose: studying key texts, obtaining data,
running experiments, seeking comments on drafts, submitting articles, and
perhaps revising and resubmitting. Writing is the core activity, something akin
to the highest intensity part of an athletic training program, but it has to be
supplemented by a lot of other work.
added one tweak to the Boice-Gray program. I ask participants to begin each
15?30 minute session by writing new words, for 5 to 20 minutes, and only doing
other writing activities, such as taking notes or editing previous text, after
the new words have been produced. I request this because composing new text is,
for most writers, the most difficult task they face and the one most commonly
of the common laments of people using this program is ?I don?t know what to
write,? often accompanied by ?I?m not ready. I need to do more reading, or
thinking, or investigation.? This is an indirect expression of the familiar
formula of researching first and then writing up the results. Boice and Gray
want to turn this on its head. Their motto: ?Write before you?re ready!?
means starting writing even though you don?t know enough about the topic, you
haven?t read all the background material and haven?t done the experiments or
fieldwork or interviews. Indeed, you?re just starting work in a field that?s
entirely new to you. How can you write about it?
approach is to write about what you?re going to do. Describe the things you
know and the things you need to find out. Tell about the experiments you?re
planning and how you?ll set them up. Tell how you?ll analyze the data.
approach is pretty similar: start writing the paper that you?d normally write
at the end of your research. When you come to any part that you don?t know or
don?t understand, just do as well as you can and keep going.
feels very strange at first. Here?s how it works. By writing, you stimulate
your thinking. In order to make progress on your project, you need to think
about it ? and writing is an efficient way of making this happen. Even after
you?ve finished writing for the day, your unconscious mind will be working away
at the topic, trying to address the matters you expressed.
course it?s quite possible to think about your topic without writing about it.
Writing is just a reliable way of sustaining and focusing the thinking process.
How many people schedule 15 minutes per day of concentrated thinking about a
topic? If you?ve tried it, you?ll know it?s not easy to sustain.
mental processing ? during the time you?re not writing ? is one thing that makes
daily writing more efficient than bingeing. When you do a long stint of
writing, you?re attempting to do all the thinking in one burst. This intensive
effort can be exciting, but despite appearances it?s not as productive as
harnessing the mind over longer periods. The brain is like a muscle: it
responds best to sustained, incremental training.
another, more practical reason why writing first ? before doing all the
research ? is more efficient than writing only at the end. Let?s say there are ten
major books in the area you want to write about. The normal approach is to read
them first, and probably you?ll want to read even more books and articles just
to be sure you understand the topic.
you write first, before doing all the reading, you find out exactly what you
need to know. You find gaps in your argument, points where you need examples,
and places where you need a reference. So when you turn to the ten books, you
don?t need to read them in full. You know exactly what you?re looking for, so
you can just check the relevant bits.
this mean you learn less? Not at all. When you read a book or article with a
purpose, you?re much more likely to be able to remember crucial information
because it fits within a framework you?ve developed.
writing is a powerful tool, but for many it is extremely challenging. The
temptations of procrastination are powerful. Therefore, rather than relying on
willpower every day, the key is to establish conditions in your life that help
develop and maintain a habit. These include finding a dedicated place and time
for writing, keeping tallies of minutes spent writing, and reporting to a
mentor. The task of undertaking writing sessions that are brief and regular
helps reduce psychological resistance to starting, which is often the greatest
barrier. Putting these steps into place can make it far easier to establish and
maintain a habit that leads to high productivity.
only a few writers find themselves in the fortunate position of being
encouraged and supported to make these sorts of arrangements. The wider social
circumstances are not particularly supportive ? indeed, they are at the
foundation of bingeing behavior. Boice says that established writers and
editors are actually unsympathetic, as they think people who aren?t publishing
don?t have anything to say. He quotes one editor as saying, concerning a
writing program, ?Why bother? Too much is already being written and good writers
don?t need help.? (Boice, 1990, p. 126). This sort of view, which Boice calls
?elitist,? assumes that writers are born, not made.
Boice-Gray program challenges this sort of elitist attitude. It is based on the
assumption that with the right conditions, just about anyone who wants to
become a much better writer can do so. The program is also a challenge to every
academic ? you can do better too.
R. (1984). Contingency management in writing and the appearance of creative
ideas: implications for the treatment of writing blocks. Behaviour Research
& Therapy, 21, 537?543.
R. (1990). Professors as writers: A self-help guide to productive writing.
Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.
R. (2000). Advice for new faculty members: Nihil nimus. Boston: Allyn &
T. (2005). Publish & flourish: Become a prolific scholar. University Park,
NM: Teaching Academy, New Mexico State University.
thank Sharon Callaghan, Don Eldridge, Ian Miles and Kirsti Rawstron for helpful
comments and Tara Gray for inspiration and encouragement as well as detailed
advice. This is an edited extract from Brian Martin, Doing good things better
(Ed, Sweden: Irene Publishing, 2011), http://www.bmartin.cc/pubs/11gt/
Tomorrow's Professor Blog: Want to Publish More? Then Train Like an Athlete (Rick Reis)
here are some more detailed ways to use Google tools to boost
productivity and student engagement:
1. You can use Google Forms to create all sort
of questions (we've previously written about about Google forms and
student self-reflection). For our purposes, though,
you can also use Google forms to collect quick homework / reading
check answers, poll students on their technology experience or
ownership as a set-up for class activities, or ask students to
briefly share their understandings of or questions about key
concepts. If you create a question on your form that asks for the
student's name, there's no need for your students to have their own
Google accounts to complete the form (you can set up your form as a
public or public with link form and allow anonymous submissions).
This is a great primer on the
benefits of using Google Forms for online surveys.
2. The way in
which Google displays search results has changed recently; Google has
added a Knowledge Graph
panel to the right of the returned search results. This panel
leverages Google's powerful analytics about what information users
are usually seeking when they search for a given term and which pages
they generally end up reading. While perhaps shepherding users toward
easy and common information, the Knowledge Graph is also helpful by
providing ready-made contextualization of information. If one doesn't
know a particular term or personage provided in the Knowledge Graph,
discovering the meaning or relationship is but a click away. This is
a nice piece about Knowledge Graph and
3. Are you a Google
Scholar user? Did you know that Google Scholar can
integrate with the catalog of your local library, telling you whether
material you've found is available nearby? Likewise, when paired with
your work in Google Docs, Google Scholar will actually locate and
then format your references in APA, Chicago, or MLA format.
this approach is a little clunkier and not as robust as one of the
paid citation / reference programs, but, hey, the price is right!
Last, Google scholar can tell you not only the number of citations a
certain piece has, but also produce a list of them. Read all about
these tricks in this post about Three Things You
Probably Didn't Know about Google Scholar.
Please consider to participate in, and/or to inform your
colleagues about, the Special Track on "Action-Research and
which submission deadline is on *September 14th, 2012*.
Programs Closing the Loop--Integrating Evaluation into Planning Consistency and Compatibility for Data and Methods Consumer Marketing and Intelligence Evaluating Energy Products and Services Understanding Customers and Customer Behavior Process Evaluation Monitoring and Evaluation of Markets and Market
Transformation (MT) Energy Efficiency in the Context of Sustainability
Demand Response (DR) Programs Evaluation Designs, Implementation, and Results Regulatory Issues Evaluation Standards and Guidelines Public Policy Issues International Energy Program Evaluation
Chicago!--The Renaissance Hotel on
the river at 1 West Wacker Drive, Room rate will be $189/night plus
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hotel committed to improving profit margin through efficiency.
Business and university
studies consistently cite the absence of critical thinking in
graduates' workplace readiness and lifelong learning skill set. We know
critical thinking is important-but perhaps we have become so immersed
in the why of critical thinking that we have forgotten about how to do
critical thinking. This session examines how to use video, music, text,
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This workshop goes beyond why. It provides practical information you can
use immediately on how to teach critical thinking for academic success,
career readiness, and personal development with understandable,
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learn how to apply an effectively simple model for critical thinking
and recognizing cognitive biases and traps.
how to apply a simple-to-use critical thinking model across
the skill of recognizing assumptions using multi-media sources
(video, song, text, and interactive activities)
common cognitive biases and emotional traps that hinder critical
critical thinking model in academic and personal contexts
Webinar Speaker Steve
Piscitelli has dedicated himself to the processes of teaching
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Steve is a tenured professor at Florida State College at Jacksonville.
Steve earned degrees from Jacksonville University, the University of
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