10 issues that will end your academic writing career (Writing Newsletter #2)

the writing newsletter Jun 02, 2022
Image of Professor Lennart with pen in hand wanting to write something. Zen-like room in background. The headline says: 10 issues that will end your academic writing career.

Happy June. Thank you again for subscribing to my Writing Newsletter. Once a month, I am sending you this email with writing tips and updates from the world of my writing course. The following tips will take only a couple of minutes to read.

1. Escape distractions.

Academic writers love distractions. Laundry becomes an important chore all of a sudden. So, does chatting with lab mates about your research results. Avoid putting yourself into a situation that lets you get away with not writing.

2. Under-edit your first draft.

Academics love a good debate about finding the most appropriate term for something to be crystal clear about their topic. This takes some time though and prevents you from getting words on paper. So, forget about syntax and grammar and just throw up some words on a page. Done. Edit in detail later.

3. Avoid over-iterating the manuscript.

You've been there. It's called thesis hell. You keep on editing and finding mistakes in your writing. The reality is though that you will probably never be completely happy with a manuscript. At some point make the call and submit. This is why CHI writers love the CHI deadline. It gives them a reason to finish. When submitting to a journal, set yourself a deadline with a colleague that holds you accountable to achieve the same results and actually submit.

4. Prevent procrastination.

Yes, sometimes it is not just distractions keeping you from writing your paper. Sometimes, you just keep putting off getting that first manuscript done. You keep wading through data but no words are hitting the paper. The secret here is to just create a daily writing habit. Put yourself in a chair and do not allow yourself to get up until you have 500 words ready. Quality doesn't matter. Get words on paper. 

5. Build your confidence.

At the beginning of every academic writing journey is a lack of self-confidence. You don't really know what you are doing and whether you are doing things right. Fun fact, most academics are making the process up as they go. You become more confident over time. Reframe your mindset that confidence is built by writing regularly. Your writing skill will build as a result.

6. Face the fear of scooping.

Yes, some academics get scooped. This is a thing in research. However, it's usually not the end of the world and often it just requires a reframing of your initial idea. I constantly see graduate students afraid of someone having already done what they are doing. The thing is when you find very closely related work, it allows you to steer the ship of your research away from that tide. The best way to overcome this is to always work on being highly specific about your research question and results. This makes it less prone to being scooped.

7. Overcome impostor syndrome.

You constantly ask yourself why anyone would believe you with your research results, specifically when you are just starting out as a grad student. However, even the most achieved academics suffer from impostor syndrome. There is always someone higher up in the food chain that has done more. The goal is not to climb to the top of the mountain but to stay in the village and socialize. Be vulnerable about your fears and you will find an army of supporting academics around the world who are going through the same challenges.

8. Be a consistent writer.

If you want to set yourself apart from anyone else doing research, really the only criterion that matters over time is to consistently work on manuscripts. Manage the scope to keep your work-life balance in check, but definitely consider academic collaborations to allow you to keep consistent in your writing even if you have not run your own study for one year.

9. Strategize for publication venues.

You are obviously as part of this newsletter very interested in publishing at the CHI conference, but there are (a) other subcommunities in CHI with their excellent conferences, like CHI PLAY, CSCW, UbiComp, and others, and (b) journals with equally interesting articles but a more forgiving revision process for manuscript submissions. Settle on 1 to 2 venues per year and focus your efforts on those. Being specific is good for your research visibility. No need to submit to every conference out there.

10. Create a time and space for your writing work.

I am highly creative at night when everyone is asleep and I have large writing spaces in the house to myself to take my laptop to and write away. This is not everyone's jam. Some people love writing first thing in the morning or in the afternoon. Whatever it is for you, it is important to schedule this as a regular thing in your calendar and turn off everything else on your computer, so you can focus on writing itself. That - more than anything - will get your paper accepted at some point.

Don't worry. A lot of writers are struggling with these issues and it's common to face these challenges as an academic writer.

I wish you good luck on your journey and hope this tip was valuable to you.

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P.S.: The How to Write Better Research Papers Course is on sale this June: Use the coupon code SUMMERSALE2022 during checkout to get the 50% off pricing and a free abstract template.

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