Week 6: Structure

Week 5 was all about situating your article in the existing scholarly literature on your topic. I found it immensely helpful. Not only did the activities make me realize I had NO citations for my theoretical framework or methodology (oops!), but it also served as a helpful reminder about simple strategies for figuring out where exactly I fit in that literature. It was also a helpful reminder that the literature review for my article doesn’t have to be as exhaustive as the one for my dissertation, which narrows down the works to include and relieves some of the anxieties — common, I imagine, to many grad students and early career researchers — associated with the feeling that you have to include everything ever written on your topic lest you look like you don’t know what you’re doing. Finally, it forced me to write a lot, and think A LOT for both my article and my dissertation, which is always good.

Week 6 continues our close engagement with the article itself by looking at its structure. As a writer and writing teacher, I can never stress enough to my students the importance of good structure–from the micro level of word choice and sentence construction to the macro of paragraph/section order–to moving you towards a well-written and easily-readable paper. Unsurprisingly, Belcher is of the same opinion and provides a helpful analogy: “You can think of structure as the skeleton of your article: invisible but essential. Without a skeleton, you have a collapsed biomass. With a skeleton, you have a living, breathing, moving entity. With a structure, your article can support the weight of your own ideas” (172). In this chapter, Belcher discusses the levels at which article structure occurs, provides sample outlines for well-structured papers in both the social sciences (quantitative and qualitative) and humanities, and includes a series of questions that encourage you to think critically about whether or not your paper has structural problems. In addition to these starter questions, Belcher’s primary tactic for analyzing your article’s structure — and another thing I always encourage my students to do with a near-final draft of their papers — is to put your article into an outline, rework that outline until you have the article you want to produce, and then restructure based on your new outline.

Week 6 tasks:

  • Day 1: Read through page 185, do the activities, and start documenting time.
  • Day 2: Read page 185 and outline the model article chosen in Week 1.
  • Day 3: Read page 186 and create an outline for your own article; revise as necessary.
  • Day 4: Read page 186 and restructure your article as needed.
  • Day 5: Read page 186 and continue restructuring your article as needed.

For all posts related to this project: Week 0 (Introduction), Week 1 (The writing plan), Week 2 (Getting started), Week 3 (Arguments), Week 4 (Choosing a journal), Week 5 (Literature review), Week 7 (Evidence), Week 8 (Strengthening the intro and conclusion), Week 9 (Giving and receiving feedback), Week 10 (Editing), Week 11 (Finalizing the article), Week 12 (Send!)

Week 5: Literature Review

Week 4, selecting the journal you want to publish in, was a very helpful week. Like Week 3, which forced me to make sure my entire paper revolved around my argument, Week 4 was very helpful for getting me to think about the purpose of my article. I got a little off track with my writing practice, and was only able to write 15 minutes a day four out of the seven days (Can I count writing this blog post as one day of writing?? If so, five out of seven, which sounds better…I’ll go with that).

Week 5 brings us back to the article and focuses on the scholarly literature the article engages with. While I’ll be following the course set by Belcher more closely, my writing partner is going to use the week to check out some articles he’s been wanting to read. This is one thing I’ve enjoyed about the book – you can follow it as closely or as loosely as you like, depending on your needs and the needs of your article.

Anyway, back to Week 5. The chapter starts out by getting you to really think about the type of literature you might incorporate – or need to incorporate – in your paper, and continues by discussing strategies for reading said literature. Belcher then addresses how to identify your relationship to the existing literature and how to avoid plagiarism. The rest of the chapter, and the tasks for the week, revolve around writing thorough and efficient literature reviews.

Week 5 tasks:

  • Day 1: Read through page 163 and do the activities on those pages. Start documenting your time.
  • Day 2: Read pages 163-164 and evaluate the citations currently in your article.
  • Day 3: Read pages 164-167 and identify and read the literature related to your article.
  • Day 4: Read pages 167-168 and evaluate the related literature from Day 3.
  • Day 5: Read page 168 and write and/or revise your literature review.

I’m looking forward to a week of reading and writing. What are you looking forward to this week?

For all posts related to this project: Week 0 (Introduction), Week 1 (The writing plan), Week 2 (Getting started), Week 3 (Arguments), Week 4 (Choosing a journal), Week 6 (Article structure), Week 7 (Evidence), Week 8 (Strengthening the intro and conclusion), Week 9 (Giving and receiving feedback), Week 10 (Editing), Week 11 (Finalizing the article), Week 12 (Send!)

Week 4: Journal Selection

For those of you who have been waiting in anxious anticipation for the next installment of the 12-week to journal article project, apologies for the delay. This past week of travel and vacation-ing was too busy (sorry, Belcher, it really was!) for me to stay on top of things. Thankfully, Belcher does allow for this, and notes in the introduction that if you have to take a week off, that’s alright.

While the second half of Week 3 was quite busy for me with travels, the 20 hours of plane travel did me some good in getting through the tasks for the week. I spent at least 15 minutes almost every day of Week 3 writing and was able to do all of the activities, including reworking my paper around the argument. (I should note that I’m not totally done with this, and will continue to revise as I go through the process)

Week 4 is about selecting a journal in which to publish your article. As usual, the beginning of the chapter focuses on demystifying the article-writing process by talking about the various types of journals in which one can publish, including a discussion of the types of publications you should avoid. The rest of the chapter, and the week’s activities, is devoted to finding a fitting journal for your article, with activities that have you searching for and evaluating journals before choosing a journal and sending a letter to the editor of your chosen journal.

Week 4 tasks:

  • Day 1: Read through page 112, do the activities on those pages, and start documenting your time usage for the week.
  • Day 2: Read pages 112-118 and search for journals in your field.
  • Day 3: Read pages 118-127 and evaluate the journals for appropriateness for your article.
  • Day 4: Read page 128 and read articles relevant to your own article in the three most suitable journals (chosen Day 3).
  • Day 5: Read pages 129-136, make a decision about which journal you’ll submit to, and draft a query letter to editors and send it.

For all posts related to this project: Week 0 (Introduction), Week 1 (The writing plan), Week 2 (Getting started), Week 3 (Arguments), Week 5 (Literature review), Week 6 (Article structure), Week 7 (Evidence), Week 8 (Strengthening the intro and conclusion), Week 9 (Giving and receiving feedback), Week 10 (Editing), Week 11 (Finalizing the article), Week 12 (Send!)

Week 3: Arguments

Week 2 was a bit better for me than Week 1. As part of your weekly schedule and time-keeping, Belcher suggests you create a set of tasks that you aim to complete for that week. In addition to getting through all of the workbook activities, I aimed to finish reading over the original draft of my article, to add revisions and suggestions I had made to it previously, finish marking it up for needed revisions, and complete my abstract and send it to my writing partner. I was able to complete all of these tasks and wrote for at least 15 minutes per day. Though sometimes these 15 minutes were less productive, especially when my planned morning writing plan didn’t work out and I ended up doing it at night (when I am the least productive), they still got done.

Week 3 moves us from the planning and preparation stages to getting into the nitty gritty of making a publishable article. After opening the chapter by going through the various reasons articles don’t get published, Belcher focuses the meat and activity of the chapter on one of these reasons: no argument. She then goes on to talk about what makes a good argument, how to write a good argument, and provides examples from specific disciplines (alas, History isn’t included) of what good arguments might look like. This appears to be a heavy revision and feedback week, which might be difficult for me as I’ll be traveling (!!). But, travel also means long flights and airport waits, so it might just work out.

Week 3 Tasks

  • Day 1: Read through page 92 and complete the activities; begin documenting time.
  • Day 2: Read pages 93-94 and draft a statement of your argument, discuss it with several people, and revise based on those discussions.
  • Day 3: Read pages 94-96 and review your article, paying particular attention to when you argument disappears and where your argument should appear.
  • Day 4: Read page 96 and revise your article around your argument
  • Day 5: Continue revising your article around your argument.

For all posts related to this project: Week 0 (Introduction), Week 1 (The writing plan), Week 2 (Getting started), Week 4 (Choosing a journal), Week 5 (Literature review), Week 6 (Article structure), Week 7 (Evidence), Week 8 (Strengthening the intro and conclusion), Week 9 (Giving and receiving feedback), Week 10 (Editing), Week 11 (Finalizing the article), Week 12 (Send!)

Week 2: Starting the Article

Well, Week 1 saw me off to a bumpy start. In the good news department, some contacts I’ve been forging over the last couple months finally yielded some results and I was very busy this week with site visits, interviews, and reading. In the bad news department, my attention to this project was a little less than it should have been, and I fell back on at least three of the excuses Belcher points out that writers make to avoid writing. As I mentioned in my post last week, Belcher suggests that you create a writing agreement and keep it by your work space, where you get ready in the morning, posted on your door so you see it as you leave for the day, wherever. Part of this agreement is having consequences for when  you fail to meet your writing goals for the week. The punishment I’ve set for myself is two-fold: 1) on the weekly basis, I will post here about any of the goals I fail to meet 2) for the entire project, if I fall too far behind or don’t have a decent article by the end of it all, I’ll take my writing partner and his wife out for drinks on me (alright, this might not be a terrible punishment, really, as I want to do it anyway…). You also get to choose a positive motivation; mine is going to dinner at an incredible Armenian restaurant I discovered about a month ago here in Beirut.

To the task at hand then, and with no further ado:

Week 2: Starting Your Article. This chapter opens with a discussion of the types of articles you can write (a surprisingly large number, I thought), the myths and realities of what makes an article publishable, and the components of a good abstract (since this book is tailored to article writing in the humanities and social sciences, she focuses on the characteristics of good abstracts for these two fields). Belcher then moves on to the daily tasks for the week (see below) and reminds the reader, finally, of the importance of tracking your time in order to maximize your effective use of it. (Note: If you don’t skim the chapter ahead of time, tracking your time usage will come as something as a surprise when you get to the last page of the chapter, so I suggest skimming the chapter on the first day of your work week to avoid any surprises in the course of the week.)

Week 2 Tasks

  • Day 1: Read through page 60 and discuss your article topic with a writing partner and start documenting your time.
  • Day 2: Read pages 60-61 and print out and reread your chosen paper, discuss it, and make a list of revisions.
  • Day 3: Read pages 61-62, draft an abstract, and get a review of it.
  • Day 4: Read pages 62-63 and find a read a model abstract in your field.
  • Day 5: Read page 64 and revise abstract according to reviewer comments.

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What kind of projects are you working on right now? How do you keep yourself motivated to see them to completion?

For all posts related to this project: Week 0 (Introduction), Week 1 (The writing plan), Week 3 (Arguments), Week 4 (Choosing a journal), Week 5 (Literature review), Week 6 (Article structure), Week 7 (Evidence), Week 8 (Strengthening the intro and conclusion), Week 9 (Giving and receiving feedback), Week 10 (Editing), Week 11 (Finalizing the article), Week 12 (Send!)

Research Update 4: Organizing, Storing, and Otherwise Making Data Retrievable

To be honest, I generally have no idea what I’m doing. I think this is, in fact, the usual feeling of the average graduate student. My tendency, when I don’t know what to do, is to organize. While sometimes this results in bouts of procrastination-induced spring cleaning, abroad I don’t have these types of distraction since I’ve only got the one room and almost nothing to organize. So, I make to-do lists, five-year plans, and data spreadsheets. I also offer to do all the dishes.

Since organizing is my go-to method of dealing with the unknown, before I began my research year abroad, I approached the library staff at UCSD about my options for managing and storing the vast amount of data I was sure to be collecting over the course of not only the next year, but probably the next decade or so. I met with a bunch of different people, which felt kind of weird, but also awesome, and we figured out what we think will be the best platform for me. Below, you can find the questions I asked, or was asked, to determine my organization and storage needs, as well as the solutions we developed in response to those questions.

Things to think about when choosing data management and storage solutions:

  • What do you want from your data management system? I want to be able to easily access all of my data in one place, and to be able to search by key words or themes, all in order to make the writing process as easy as possible.
  • What will your storage needs look like? I knew I would have a lot of images. Turns out, from my time in Nantes alone, I have over 12,000 images. In addition to space, I need to be able to easily retrieve my data as well as to make sure it is all saved and backed up, many times over.
  • What kind of data are you working with? Pretty much all of my data are written documents. For the most part, I’ve been able to take pictures of the documents. So, I’m mostly working with images I’ve taken, though I also have descriptive items for those times when I wasn’t allowed to take pictures.
  • How will you use your data in the long-run? I plan on using the data I collect this year for at least the next decade, probably (nothing happens quickly in academia). I want to be able to access, organize, and search the data easily and quickly in order to facilitate writing and analysis.

The result is a multi-pronged approach that gives me endless storage space, the ability to organize my data (which includes images, metadata, and commentary and analysis) in one place, and easy access. So, what does this look like?

  • Data entry. As I briefly outlined in my post on my time in Nantes, I had a daily routine that involved downloading new images and inputting new data. For inputting data, I have an Excel spreadsheet (it’s a template that’s formatted for the storage and data platform I’m using but follows the one that I made for my work at the Arab American National Museum, which you can see in this post) that allows me to include all the metadata (image number, archive and collection name, box and folder numbers and names, image descriptions, commentary/analysis, and key terms/themes) for each image. Unsurprisingly, this is the most time consuming of my tasks and I am, in fact, still making my way through writing close descriptions of each of my images from Nantes, three months later.
  • Storage. My images and spreadsheets are stored in three places: 1) two 1-terrabyte external hard drives, 2) Google Photos (if you don’t need archive-quality images, you can upload an infinite number of photos here; my spreadsheets are saved to Google Drive, rather than to Google Photos, for obvious reasons), and 3) my data entry + storage platform, discussed below. I’ve organized my images the same way on both my drives and on Google Photos to make access easier.
  • Data entry + storage + access. The final piece to the data entry, storage, and access puzzle is a platform called Shared Shelf. We decided to go with this because it’s made for storing images and the metadata that goes with it, and can be customized to include the things that I want like analysis and thematic tagging for each image. By including these tags, accessing my materials by theme can be accomplished by selecting the desired tags. My initial commentary and analysis will be helpful for reminding me why I might have taken the picture, a particularly important aspect of the document, or a helpful translation. I’m only able to get this through my library’s subscription, and it will remain available to me once I’ve graduated.

So that’s that. A (kind of) quick overview of how I organize all the material I’m collecting abroad so that it stays safe and can be easily accessed and manipulated once I get to writing.

*  *  *

What kind of data organization systems do you use, whether it’s in daily life, at work in a non-academic setting, or in the academic world? What kinds of tips and tricks do you have for making the process of data management and processing a little less cumbersome?

Week 1: The Writing Plan

I’m big on planning. I make weekly and daily to-do lists. I have a five-year plan. So, when the first chapter was titled “Designing Your Plan for Writing,” I knew that not only could I get on board, but I would also enjoy it, probably.

Week 1: Designing Your Plan for Writing. Writing in academia is one of those things that its practitioners love to hate (or hate to love?). It’s so nice to get your thoughts and ideas into words, to write a close analysis of a source, to take all that time you’ve spent and material you’ve collected researching into some coherent thing. But, writing is hard. So, this chapter really asks you to engage with the process of writing – starting with how you feel about it, thinking about what you want to write or revise, engaging with the place you write, and making, sticking to, and reflecting on a writing schedule.

The goal I set for last week was to approach a potential writing partner. I did, and I’m happy to say that he accepted. The introduction includes an agreement you can sign with your writing partner to hold yourselves and each other accountable. Belcher encourages you to print out and keep the signed agreement by your writing space. We’ve done an electronic version as I’m in Beirut and he’s in London and I’ll put it on my desktop since my writing space moves (even though one of the Week 1 tasks is to “choose and improve your writing space.” I’ll let you know how that goes next week) (1).

So, I’ve got my writing partner and agreement in hand. To the task list. The book is designed so you spend 5 hours/week, or 1 hour/day working on your article.

  • Day 1 (Monday). Read through page 10 of chapter one and fill in the boxes provided on those pages to get you to think about how you feel about writing.
  • Day 2 (Tuesday). Read pages 110-18 and select a text to develop for publication.
  • Day 3 (Wednesday). Read pages 18-19 and choose and improve the place that I write.
  • Day 4 (Thursday). Read pages 19-39 and create a daily and weekly writing schedule for the next 12 weeks, including the possibility for obstacles and interruptions.
  • Day 5 (Friday). Read pages 39-40 and start documenting how you spend your time.

*  *  *

When you begin a new writing project, do you create a plan? If so, what does it look like? If not, what does the start of a new project look like for you?

For all posts related to this project: Week 0 (Introduction), Week 2 (Getting started), Week 3 (Arguments), Week 4 (Choosing a journal), Week 5 (Literature review), Week 6 (Article structure), Week 7 (Evidence), Week 8 (Strengthening the intro and conclusion), Week 9 (Giving and receiving feedback), Week 10 (Editing), Week 11 (Finalizing the article), Week 12 (Send!)