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What does Joli Jensen’s “low stakes, constant contact with a writing project” mean in practice?

One of the best books I’ve ever read about academic writing was Joli Jensen’s “Write No Matter What“. Ever since I read it, I pondered, “what does ‘constant, low-stakes contact with a writing project‘ mean, in practice?” This notion of regularly contributing to a piece of writing, even if it’s not daily writing, was one of the most impactful statements that Jensen made in her book, perhaps the center piece of her writing about scholarly prose. But I also have wondered, what does Jensen mean by this, and how can this be implemented in practice?

Workflow at my CIDE campus office

As anybody who reads my blog knows well, I try as hard as possible to write every day. Writing is a muscle, as Jane Green said, and doing so on a regular basis is what has enabled me to produce what I have published. For me, writing is an integral part of my daily routine – I wake up at Ungodly O’Clock (4:00 am) and write, and I guard my dedicated time for reading, research and writing very jealously. I make writing (even if it’s just a little bit) one of my #2ThingsADay. I like doing AIC-CSED combos (reading and systematizing one paper per day into a row of a Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump to stay on top of the literature the literature). But like any human being, there are days when I can’t write for some bizarre reason (usually, jet-lag or extremely booked up days, where I can’t even wake up early to drop a few words on paper or in a Word document). Or, when I fall sick, or I’m in physical pain that I can’t reduce.

This made me realize that I needed to ponder what, to me, was “frequent, low-stress contact with a project that interests me, in a supportive environment“?

Here are a few ways in which I stay in frequent, low-stress contact with my writing projects. I should say I am lucky to have supportive environments, particularly right now where I can dedicate entire days to research and writing.

1) Writing thoughts about my research or taking notes off journal articles, books and book chapters in my Everything Notebook.

This should be pretty obvious – jotting down thoughts and transcribing ideas are ideal strategies to maintain low-stress contact with a writing project.

#AcWri on the plane

2) Highlighting and scribbling a paper, and dropping those notes onto my Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump or a memorandum or a synthetic note.

Generating these notes prompts me to write, and keeps me in touch with my project.

AcWri and reading - staying on top of the literature

3) Editing a draft.

While I find editing drafts very hard I do enjoy checking whether I have cited stuff properly a much more amenable and enjoyable activity.

My full process for writing a paper

4) Reading across disciplinary and methodological boundaries and live-tweeting my reading notes.

These reading notes often either become blog posts or written material for memoranda.

Stationery, highlighters, pens and editing a paper

5) Revisiting my projects’ progress and re-planning my writing deadlines and targets.

This process of reviewing my progress weekly and monthly allows me to shift priorities around, depending on what I’ve received as feedback from editors and journals.

Reading outlining and calendar cross-posting

6) Mind-mapping concepts, ideas, connections within my research projects.

Sometimes, the kind of work packet I need is a mind map of a specific field (read my blog post on how I map an entire field of research) or sub-field, or area of the literature. Drawing this mind-map reconnects me with my writing project and reopens avenues for closer examination, and often prompts me to write.

Stationery, highlighters, pens and editing a paper

7) Preparing and giving a talk about a paper I’m writing or one that I’ve already written.

This process serves a little bit like a reverse outline strategy as Rachael Cayley calls it. Generating the Power Point slides associated with my talk allows me to see if my thoughts flow freely and whether the argument comes out clearly.

AcWri focus on one thing

More importantly, while I continue to champion daily writing, I acknowledge that this may not always work, even for me. So I think any written content that allows a researcher to stay in touch with their writing project should be considered #AcWri. Yes, even if that content is within the text of an email to a coauthor, an RA or oneself.

Posted in academia, writing.

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Backcasting a Revise-And-Resubmit (R&R) manuscript

This morning, as I was reflecting on a topic I’ve been mulling over (what does Joli Jensen mean by “constant contact with a writing project entail”?), I reviewed potential blog posts I could pre-schedule, and realized that there’s one that I give very little play, even though it’s a really good one: my reverse-planning technique for project planning. This technique is is also called backcasting.

Since I’m currently working on returning Revise-And-Resubmit (R&R) manuscripts to the editor, I wanted to explain how I break projects down into manageable pieces. Basically, I back-cast the entire paper from the deadline, breaking it down in components. For example, I have 2 R&Rs that need to go back by March 18th. I have backcast each component, starting with the response-to-reviewers.

My revised version of this backcasting diagram includes the fact that I drop every comment INTO my Drafts Review Matrix, and then draw FROM the DRM, dropping every work packet INTO my Everything Notebook, creating daily and weekly task lists, in a very similar fashion to how I do a yearly plan using my Everything Notebook and monthly printed calendars.

Breaking down an R&R revised

Knowing what I have to do by when to have a revision resubmitted to the journal editor by a certain date allows me to plan my writing. This process works for revise-and-resubmits, first submissions, theses, conference papers and dissertations. Simply choose the type of project, and then backcast and create task lists from work packets. The beauty of this process is that you can break down the total project in as many (small or smaller) work packets as necessary.

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Reading, scribbling, highlighting, taking notes and organizing information from a journal article or book chapter – walking through my digital and analog processes

I have written several Twitter threads about how do what many people call “active reading“: I read, highlight, scribble on the margins, take notes and then store these in digital and analog media. I use highlighting and writing marginalia to engage more deeply with the reading materials I am working with. I’ve also posted here on my website the most recent iteration of my colour-coded highlighting and scribbling process. This note-taking process generates material that I then store either in analog form (Everything Notebook, index cards, Cornell Notes), or in digital form (memorandums, synthetic notes, rhetorical precis or Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump rows)

My #AcWri process integrating reading CSED

A couple of days ago, I posted a Twitter thread showcasing my highlighting and scribbling and note-taking, as well as summarizing and organizing information digitally (and analogically). I decided to transfer my Twitter threads to a more permanent medium (my blog) so those who are interested in following similar approaches to active reading, literature reviewing and note-taking can do so. In this post I included several threads in order to make it easier for people to see different examples.

For literature reviews and reading and note-taking, I use both digital and analog methods, as shown here.

As I mentioned above, I’ve written SEVERAL Twitter threads showcasing my highlighting and scribbling. Here is another one, that also includes the process of filling out a Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump (CSED) row.

I often use Twitter threads to showcase my highlighting and as pedagogical tools for my students, but at the same time live-tweet insights I gain from reading specific articles, books or book chapters. This is one of these examples.

And here is yet ANOTHER Twitter thread where I highlight, scribble and store my thoughts in memoranda or CSED rows. This particular thread focuses on argumentative writing, and explains each highlighter colour, which relatese to my colour-coded hierarchical organization of ideas. This is a nested approach.

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How to write an academic CV

One of the documents that I find is most required not only in job applications for the academic job market, but also generally to assess scholarly contributions is the curriculum vitae (CV). I have designed and re-designed my own academic CV quite a few times, and for the most part, all I did was to follow examples I saw from other scholars. I got asked last year to write a blog post on how to write an academic CV, and I left it in my queue until now.

After a few years on the tenure track, and having sat on several hiring committees and chaired a few of them, soI think I have an idea of what elements should be on an academic CV, though I don’t want to presume my own CV is perfect, or even an example (you can access my CV here). Here are a few recommendations before I share a few examples of CVs that I think are well crafted. Obviously these suggestions reflect advice *I* have been given as well!

1. Include your production *primarily*.

This is particularly a jab at Latin American CVs, where I see a list of the courses scholars have taken, or conferences they have ATTENDED. I believe that what should be reported on a CV is what a scholar produces. So, opinion pieces, consultancy reports, books, edited volumes, journal articles, and other types of products should be listed on a CV. A short list of courses taken (listed under “Additional Training”) could showcase special skills/computer software, but I don’t believe in listing every single course, nor conferences attended, rather than presented at.

2. Make your CV as brief as possible.

This is problematic once you’ve reached a certain number of years in the profession (my old CV was 23 pages long, and I’m not even a senior professor!). But I think that there are ways in which you can make your CV shorter. Instead of listing every paper you’ve presented at a conference, list the conferences (e.g. “APSA 2015, 2016, 2017″).

3. Clearly and honestly present what you’ve produced

I do not like when book chapters and journal articles are conflated. A number of scholars simply list “Publications”, but I believe that it is important to list what is peer-reviewed, what isn’t, book chapters separated from journal articles, opinion pieces, consultancy reports, etc.

4. Include “Work in Progress” well after your publications.

I always doubted whether I should include my work in progress, as I thought that since it wasn’t published yet, it would be problematic to say that I was working on something. A lot of senior scholars suggested that I should include it, but be very clear that it is Under Review. A number of academics also include what they’re preparing (In Preparation) though I am also not totally clear about whether or not it should be included. Still, it shouldn’t be in the Publications main section, but towards the end.

5. Include only the personal information you feel comfortable with.

In my CV I don’t post my personal address, and I certainly don’t post a photograph (though some countries require this, as well as your age!). I think you should only post what you feel comfortable with, and therefore I use my campus address. A number of people have asked me if they should include hobbies, past times, travel, etc. in their academic CV. I haven’t done it, but I don’t see why it would work towards their disadvantage.

6. Ensure that your CV is visually appealing and READABLE

My previous CV had a lot of fonts, underlining, highlighting, etc. My new one is a lot more sober. Depending on the font you use, you may get away with italics, etc. But I find that using white space, underlining and simpler fonts makes it easier for people to read your CV.

A few examples I really like are linked here. Obviously, I did not link to EVERY CV I like, but wanted to showcase a number of these that I think could help ECRs and PhD students. I tried to include CVs of assistant, associate and full professors, as well as PhD students.

Here you will find a few resources I deemed interesting on how to craft an academic CV.

Obviously, different countries and academic cultures have different idiosyncracies, so you may find that some or a lot of these suggestions may not apply to your particular case. As I mentioned at the top of this blog post, I crafted mine through a number of iterations and comparisons between my CV and that of other scholars. You may want to use a similar approach.

For additional examples of well-written CVs, please check the responses to my tweet below:

Posted in academia.


Circadian rhythms and classifying tasks according to energy required

I work according to my circadian rhythm, which may be completely different to that of other people. I do wake up at Ungodly In The Morning (4:00am, or 4:30 when I’m a bit tired, or 6:00 am on weekends – for my reasoning for doing this, you can read this blog post), and obviously by the time I hit mid-day (12 noon), I’m done with the day. At most, I’m coherent around 1-2pm. And then, I need food and a nap, which normally lasts 1.5 hours (for my bi-phasic sleep cycle blog post, you can click here).

I think you can understand why I sleep with this at night :)

I strongly believe that we ought to listen to our bodies and circadian rhythms. And try to stay healthy as much as we can.

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My word for 2019: NO

I have the hardest time saying NO. While I am an incredibly busy person, I am also someone who works super fast. As a result, I tend to overestimate how many things I can do, and end up saying YES to things I should have said NO. No longer. This year, for the very first time in a very long time, I was able to say “NO” to peer reviews. Remember, I’m a journal editor. Saying “NO” to peer reviews makes me feel really bad because I depend on others’ willingness to say YES.

No

Creative Commons: Duncan C on Flickr.

BUT…

I’ve said YES enough. I’ve supported dozens of journals (both those on whose editorial board I am and those who are random). Sometimes I feel that I am asked to do more service because I don’t say NO. But this year, I’ve said NO to meetings, NO to peer reviews, NO to additional writing commitments, NO to conferences (yes, when did you hear me say NO to giving talks or presenting papers at conferences?), NO to anything that could potentially derail me from my objective (which is to finish 3 papers that I have on R&R).

No

So if you are receiving a NO from me right now, remember – I still love you, but I have other commitments and it’s time for me to say YES to myself.

Ironically, in 2018 (my worst year to date) I did not do a Word of The Year exercise. In 2016 it was FOCUS and in 2017, CONQUER.

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Does “writing every day” work?

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of online commentary against the “write every day” mantra. Helen Sword, in a 2016 article, released results from surveys, interviews and focus groups she conducted with academic writers, challenging the results of Robert Boice’s research. For ME, writing every day (even if just a tiny bit, as I’ve explained in my #2ThingsADay blog post) really does help me. It is also true that there are some days when I can’t write for the life of me. When I travel across the ocean and I try to adjust to the new time zone, it’s really hard for me to write every day. I have also written ad nauseam on why I think we should consider emails to coauthors, draft notes, writings on the margins of journal articles, book chapters and books, calculations, etc. all forms of academic writing.

AcWri at the Comfort Inn Santa Fe Bosques

To be perfectly honest, I get tired from having the same conversation all the time. For a lot of people, writing every day works. For others it doesn’t. Therefore, people should just do whatever they think is best for them. Regardless of the Sword-Boice debate, I think we ought to consider that making a concerted, systematic effort to write every day, or at least, some semblance of whatever writing every day looks for each person may be actually helpful for discipline purposes, or for strategic purposes. Blocking time for research (whether it’s used for writing or for reading or for researching/calculating/analysing data) is perhaps the biggest challenge we ought to consider. Given the many demands on our time, I think this is what we should be discussing (how to make the time and challenge current institutional structures that place so many responsibilities on us so that we can more effectively do our job, including research and proper time allocation for teaching preparation), rather than whether we should be writing or not every single day.

#AcWri on the plane

I tell my own students (undergraduate, and graduate) to write every day because I have seen through time that’s what helps them develop a systematic routine. That’s also why I recommend that they come to the office every day, for a few hours, to my lab. This is not for me to force them to just BE there, but to allow them to slowly but surely develop a framework from where to work.

AcWri while travelling

I come back to Joli Jensen’s mantra: what we need is constant, low-stakes contact with a writing project. This means, write every day even if just a few words, so that you can feel you’re still in touch with your project, or write as much as you can/want/are able to endure. Constant, regular, daily contact with a project is a good thing. And yes, there are weeks when I am unable to make any contact with a research or writing project. So no, nobody is perfect, we are all trying to improve on a regular basis.

Reading highlighting scribbling and Everything Notebook

Again, the constant contact mantra is also one that Joan Bolker champions in her “write a PhD thesis in 15 minutes a day” book. It’s not that doing this in 15 minutes a day will get the dissertation written, but that you need to be in contact with your doctoral thesis or research at least 15 minutes every day. It’s again the “constant contact” mantra.

The “block time for research and writing” mantra posited by Zerubavel in the Clockwork Muse combined with the constant contact paradigm is perhaps the best combination of strategies that can help us develop a writing practice. Work around when you can’t write (mark those times) and then make time to research/write/study/learn/read – but also protect those times.

Hopefully this will be the last time I write about whether one should write every day or not. You do you.

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On the value of drafts

One of the things I have begun to appreciate with time is the value of drafts. I am pretty good at cranking out a first draft of a paper, and then I hate editing and revising it. The editorial process for me is way more painful than the writing process itself. But as I said on Twitter, I feel like we are afraid of drafts. We want things done well on the first round. I will admit that my first few years I got plenty of papers “Accepted with Minor Revisions” which might have hindered my ability to cope with rejection and the need to rewrite multiple drafts.

Drafting stuff gives you the mental space and permission to refine it. Knowing that stuff will always need to be polished also makes you resilient to R&Rs that are very demanding. And drafting goals and To Do lists helps you prioritize the most important ones. This is something I realized in 2018. This 2019, I made a promise to myself to be more willing to write drafts of things (weekly plans, to-do lists, papers, etc.) and then finalize once I’ve considered all the relevant factors. I hope to be able to stay with my resolution!

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Taking stock as a motivational strategy: Sum up what you’ve accomplished, not what you haven’t done

My students often come to me frustrated to my office and tell me “Professor Pacheco-Vega, I am making such slow progress with my dissertation/thesis/paper. I feel like I need to read faster, or read more”. I know this feeling. I often feel like I haven’t done enough. What I always tell them is what I try to live by as well: “take stock of what you’ve read, learned, digested, comprehended, understood. THAT should be your measuring yardstick”. And for me, visually taking stock (seeing in print, in handwriting, electronically) of all I have done is quite important.

Taking stock

One article read and highlighted produced 3 pages of quotations in Cornell Notes, plus one row in a Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump.

Note-taking techniques

I think the biggest challenge is to not let the mountain of work looming in the horizon beat you down. Little by little, you can get things done. I survived 2018, I should know.

For me, taking stock is a key strategy to keep myself motivated. Yes, I have four bazillion things to do, but this year I accomplished a lot and that is what I am reminding myself, over and over.

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Note-taking techniques IV: Use abbreviations and/or shorthand

When I was a child, I learned Pittman and Gregg shorthand because my grandfather taught me about them. He learned Gregg shorthand in secretarial/administrative assistant school, and I learned both Pittman and Gregg when I took a class (I was in grade 7 but this was not part of the school’s curriculum, so I had to take it outside of my campus). I knew that shorthand would be useful to me as an employable or hireable skill, but I never imagined it would also be helpful to my scholarly life down the road.

Shorthand

Photo credit: Christopher Newsom on Flickr. Creative-Commons Licensed Attribution-Non Commercial.

Note-taking - arrows and abbreviationsWhile I don’t usually insert Gregg shorthand symbols into my notes anymore (for fear of not being able to understand them down the road), I do sometimes when I am pressed for time and I need to capture ideas from a workshop or a conference. Nevertheless, I DO use abbreviations and I strongly encourage my students and research assistants to use them as well. I usually abbreviate “with” (w/), “because” (b/c), and I also use arrows and superscripts to indicate where I ran out of space and I need to make a note (like a footnote if you will, but on paper, and by hand). I’m a chemical engineer originally so I also use delta (the greek letter) as a symbol for “increase”, and the mathematical notation for “which is demonstrated”. I use arrows to indicate “therefore” but also “causes”, which sometimes becomes a bit confusing, I know.

I strongly believe that every student/scholar/practitioner should adopt whichever abbreviations and/or shorthand techniques they want to or need to, but I am hopeful these posts will be of use for their practice.

RESOURCES:

  • Handout with a few common abbreviations.
  • This post by the Learning Center of the University of North Dakota is golden.
  • This one from the University of Redlands also offers additional abbreviations that might be useful.
  • This blog post from the University of South Australia offers a few more insightful abbreviations.

You may be interested in my other posts on taking notes, which you can access by clicking on this link.

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