As part of our special ‘A year in the life of an academic writer’ series, Policy Press author and independent researcher Helen Kara continues to provide us with her regular blog on the trials, tribulations and triumphs of that most mysterious of art forms, academic writing.
You may think this is the first and only blog about academic writing – if you’ve been living under a stone for the last few years that is.
Actually there are a number of other excellent blogs out there that I enjoy and find useful. You might too.
My first port of call is always Pat Thomson’s blog, which is very readable, regularly updated, and contains a wealth of information about thesis and journal writing, and academic writing in general.
Especially if you’re doing a PhD, The Thesis Whisperer is essential reading, and Eva Lantsoght’s blog, PhD Talk, is also very useful. Both cover various aspects of the doctoral experience, but focus primarily on writing, and so are also helpful for academic writers who are not currently doing PhDs.
There is a short but excellent collection of resources from Patrick Dunleavy called Writing For Research; it’s not a blog as such, but well worth a look.
And there are many others too – but those are my favourites, and the ones I would recommend.
So if there are all these journals, and books, and blogs already, you may be asking, why does anyone ever bother writing anything else? What’s the point of another blog on academic writing? One more book on research methods? Yet another journal article, representing weeks of work, which may only shed as much light on the subject as if you were trying to illuminate a rural beach at moondark midnight with a single match?
One reason people produce academic writing is because they think they have something to add: because they have identified a gap where there is something to be said, something they can say, which nobody has said before, or not in that way, or not for a long time.
“does it fill a gap?”
When you’re thinking about your writing you need to think about this too. One of the questions publishers ask before they will commission a book is: does it fill a gap? They will ask each other, prospective authors, proposal reviewers. Is there already a book like this? Even one published by Little Titchy Press Ltd from Middle-of-Nowhereville? And similarly with journal articles: editors will ask the author, have you published anything like this elsewhere?
Blogs, of course, are less discerning. But I’ve not come across another ‘year in the life of an academic writer’, still less one written by someone who isn’t an academic, and definitely not one written by me. So I’m hoping this blog can add a bit of value, simply by being different.
A question people sometimes ask me is, how do you come up with ideas? Reading is a great help here, and talking to people, and thinking, and writing too. Sometimes I find out what I think as I’m in the process of writing it down; a strange feeling, counter-intuitive, yet oddly addictive.
You could say a book starts with an idea. But there are many ways to tell the story of where a book starts – just as there are many ways to tell any story. I’ll write more about this next week.