Author blog: A year in the life of an academic writer

Helen Kara

Helen Kara, author, independent researcher and academic writer

For the next year Policy Press author and independent researcher Helen Kara is going to be providing us with a regular blog on the trials, tribulations and triumphs of that most mysterious of art forms, academic writing.

Helen has tons of ideas of things she’d like to write about but is also really keen to make this blog something that is not only interesting but also useful to all of you – academic writers, academic readers and people hovering somewhere between the two – so please feel free to chip in with your thoughts in the comments section!

About me

Hello and welcome to a year of weekly posts from me about my experience of academic writing.

Over the next year I plan to cover a range of subjects, such as: how to deal with publishers, open access, cranking out the word count, honing and polishing, the different approaches I use for long and short pieces, article abstracts, book proposals, and so on. If there’s anything you’d like me to address, please let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to oblige.

However the first thing you need to know about me is that I’m not an academic. I’ve been an independent researcher since 1999, working mainly in social care and health, for statutory and third sector organisations and partnerships. I have always been fascinated by research methods; for me, it is often more interesting to learn about how something was discovered than to hear about what was discovered.

Mongolian puddings

I was awarded my PhD in 2006, and it had a strong methodological component. I knew in my final year that I wanted to write a book about research methods. But they’re a bit like cookbooks: there’s no point writing another one unless you’ve got a new angle, like Mongolian puddings or food for divorce celebrations. Or if you’re a celebrity. Which I’m not. And I didn’t have an angle, either; mainly because I was so busy with commissioned research work that I didn’t have time to think.

All that changed in 2010, soon after the coalition government came to power. My work dried up, I had plenty of time to think, and after a while I came up with the idea for my last book: Research and evaluation for busy practitioners: a time-saving guide. I brought the idea to Policy Press, because I liked their collaborative approach and non-profit status, and they were enthusiastic. The book was published in October 2012, with a wonderful launch at the British Library, and is selling well around the world.

I also began working on articles for academic journals, three of which were published in 2013 and a fourth this year. This was partly because I’d taken a voluntary position as an Associate Research Fellow at the Third Sector Research Centre, University of Birmingham (TSRC), in May 2012. I needed access to academic literature which I could only reach through affiliation with a university, and I wanted help with getting published in journals. TSRC offered mentoring in exchange for writing work, and this was a good bargain from my point of view.

“I can’t write all the time, I also have to earn a living.”

Last year I began work on my next book: Creative Research Methods for the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide. This is scheduled for publication next April, and I’m currently working on the second draft, following very helpful input from two anonymous typescript reviewers. I need to finish this draft in October, and then I’ll be back to writing academic journal articles.

There are several articles I want to work on, but as an independent researcher, I don’t get salaried time in which to write. This means I can’t write all the time because I also have to earn my living. (And yes, I do know that lots of salaried academics that can’t write all the time and write on their own time too. But still, they have a regular salary, and no need to work on their business as they would if they were self-employed, so it’s not the same. But I wouldn’t swap!)

You can probably tell by now that I love to write. Which is why I’m also writing these posts! And although I’m not an academic, I do enjoy the many challenges and satisfactions of academic writing. I hope to convey some of this enjoyment, and show how I overcome the challenges and find the satisfactions, in the coming weeks and months.

Next week I’ll be sharing some of the other blogs on academic writing that I like to read, and explaining why I think there’s room for this one too. See you then!

Related links:

My PhD

My first book – Research and evaluation for busy practitioners: a time-saving guide

(Or a quick ‘Byte’ Writing for Research lets you dip into specific areas quickly)

Third Sector Research Centre


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